Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Theatre) Paradisiacal Rites (Luminato)

You Will Feel It
by Beat Rice

I have just walked away from one of the most unforgettable performances I have ever witnessed.

Paradisiacal Rites is a two and a half hour performance piece by the company Saint Genet, led by Ryan Mitchell, and presented in partnership with MOCCA at Luminato. This is the Canadian premiere from the American company.

When you first walk into the gallery you feel a space that is alive. It is a world in which nature collides with the unnatural. There is always something moving, and countless sights that all vie for your attention.

The meticulous installation consists of hundreds of stalks of long grass, and occupies the majority of the space. Within the grass move unidentifiable dancers with beautiful headpieces that shift with their subtle movements. In the air spin avian creatures that look as though four different types of birds flew into each other and amalgamated.  At the front are two men, one bleeding, crying, and drinking wine, the other breathing in and out of a small balloon. In this, one is free to decide how they came to be there, but it is not necessary. The space transforms over the evening and new surreal images are continuously being created. For me, there was a constant image of the circulation of breath and blood. Literally, the things that give us life. 

Perhaps the most challenging and enjoyable part about Paradisiacal Rites, is the realness and unabashed rawness that come from the performers. There is no hiding anything. Every risk that conventional theatre companies and unions worry about is taken in full. There are no fake food props, fake glass, or fake blood. There are no stage tricks and no illusions. One could even argue that there was no acting, but people on stage exploring something suppressed in the recesses of their minds and bodies. There is individuality amongst the strong ensemble. However, I would say the score, performed by musicians situated upstage, was magical. It was sublime and pulsated through the space.

The three acts are each inspired by a different theme that encapsulates an extreme in American culture: Obsession with the Oscars, The Charles Manson trials, and the Jonestown Massacre. These themes are interpreted and communicated differently, with some being less abstract than others, but every depiction has a ritualistic approach that stimulate all of the senses. There is a mixed experience throughout the hysteria: we laugh at the ridiculousness and absurdity of it all, and then stop laughing once we realize the highly disturbing side of humanity. 

In the program there is a quote that says that audience members must encounter themselves. This is so true and important when we see performance for more than just entertainment purposes. This is an absolute guarantee with work like Paradisiacal Rites. I cannot tell you what you will feel, but only that you will feel. It is impossible to witness this without having something shifted inside of you. 

June 10 - 14

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