Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: (Montreal / Theatre) Culture, Administration and Trembling

(photo: Stephen Thompson, Dominique Petrin)
It's Not About Seeing
by Chad Dembski

I haven’t been to church in a really long time.  My parents used to take me every Sunday until I was 13 and had confirmation. (a bizarre ritual where you discuss the ultra-repressive Catholic religion with other kids all hitting puberty). Once confirmed I was told I could decide if I wanted to keep going to church; I decided that I never wanted to go again. Apart from one or two Christmas services I haven’t been back and can’t say I miss the Catholic church but miss the ritual, communion and the room full of strangers looking for transcendence. Last night at Agora de la danse I was reminded of the transformative power of performance, the ability of the live experience to provide a jolt of unexpected pleasure and confusion that offers to take you to a new place.  I felt I was brought into a new church, a place where transformation is not only possible but permitted as well.

“…A live collective experience, consisting of the mutual exchange and communion between artist and spectator…” – Fannina Waubert de Puiseau
I have often felt the pleasure in traditional theatre is that you know what will happen and that comfort is what provides the ability to enjoy it. While the pleasure in performance or performance art is that you don’t know what is going to happen, and that provides the excitement in the experience. Last night I was treated to a revelation of unexpected surprises; slowly evolving sculptures of human installation, snakes brought out and dropped on stage (not as dangerous as you would think), hypnotic and simple dance gestures, video manifestos, dogs running around the space (small + mighty), bell choirs and a male breastfeeding sequence that was extremely touching and tender. I would dearly love to go into more detail about each sequence but the thrill of this piece lies its ability to do the unexpected. While the bizarre and unexpected can often seem to be done just to confuse, here it seems to be done out of care, hope and love. There is a presence that each performer, musician, and guest (there are so many I lost count) have that says, everything is going to be ok, we can do this together. A silent manifesto brought out in extreme patience, a simple smile, jokes that have a hard time finding a punch line, visual artists transforming a space with paper (gorgeous designs by Dominique Petrin), lights that transform the space into other worlds.  
It is the element of the unexpected and unknown that will either have you enraptured with the piece and its constant evolution or walking out early like a couple of the audience members. I was constantly reminded of the potential communal experience of live performance last night, looking at my fellow audience members. It questions how we watch, how we experience, how we judge, how we consume, and how we often ignore our common everyday experience together.

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