I’m real tardy on this one. I don’t know quite exactly what happened, but something like a little over a month ago, I saw this very nicely done performance, from of all places, Calgary. I don’t quite know what happened in between then and now, that caused me to postpone writing this for so long (actually, I’m being disingenuous, I know exactly what was up, I’m just not quite prepared at this time to be completely transparent about it, bear with me, if you will) but this morning I received a copy of Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux and I made a solemn vow to myself. I would write up all the other reviews that I had been lollygagging about while reading Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux in order to have a completely clear conscience.
Hmmmm, I think it might be a good thing that I am a very slow reader. Unfortunately, I’m not a very fast writer. But if you hadn’t figured it out already, “baited breath,” breathless anticipation,” and flat, outright drooling don’t even become close to expressing how much I’ve been anticipating Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux.
I also apologize, because I now realize that I might refer to some of the other shows while reviewing the one at hand, and while a month or so might be bad in terms of a performance, my behavior has been completely and utterly unprofessional when it comes to the books (I don’t have exact dates, but I think I might be more than a year behind schedule with regards to things that are bound). But, with some luck (and some understanding PR folk) I’ll be able to get everything back in order in something like two weeks. Bear with me, and I hope that the catching up is entertaining.
A couple of things to point out in advance of me opinionating on things, A) after reading a number of negative reviews of Lucy Lost her Heart by Mark Lawes at Usine C I wondered if anyone had bothered to keep track of the positive versus the negative reviews of shows at Usine C. Usine C is pushing whatever is beyond the edge of the envelope with regards to theatre and dance and performance and that sort of stuff, and while I have not done a systematic study, my guess would be that negative reviews are the norm, and they have become accustomed to it. B) There’s some sort of new hybrid-type of performance that really needs to find a name soon. Because a hybrid performance with some dance, some theatre, some video and some other stuff is not likely to appeal to a dance critic, nor a theatre critic, nor a film critic. C) I wish I would have had the opportunity to ask Mr. Lawes if he knew about Centralia, PA and D) given the current state of affairs here in Canada how can you not just unconditionally love some bilingual hybrid performance art that pushes the envelope and comes from Calgary?
Now that I’ve got that off my chest (especially the part about Centralia, PA – despite reading that Wayne, AB served as the inspiration for the performance, I feel extremely strongly that Centralia, PA echos the concept better) let’s get it on with regards to the actual performance that I saw (or what I can remember about it a month after the fact).
The thing that strikes home hardest, is that in my notes I wrote, “this is pretty cool.” During a performance, when I am writing my notes, I’m never quite certain if I want to be like the Danny Gallivan and try and describe every gosh darn movement that happens on stage, or if I want to be more like Dick Irvin Jr. and just relax and explain why and how things are happening. So when I discover in my notes, that I actually wrote something opinionated, I gotta take a step back and accept it, even if I don’t remember writing it. Because for the most part, I end up writing more play-by-play than color.
Then combine that with the fact that more than a month after having seen the hybrid performance (does anybody else have a better term that can be used? Please!) upon re-reading my notes I can actually remember the performance (and while I wouldn’t quite say the words “Broadway Smash!” I would say “Two Thumbs Up”) leads me to believe that Mr. Lawes and Co. are on the right track.
I guess at this point, it would be as good as any to try and explain the plot: In short; five people are stuck in an abandoned mine and can’t quite find their way out. I’m not quite sure if the plot really is the be-all-and-end-all, From where I was sitting it seemed to me to be more like some sort of vehicle to further Mr. Lawes‘ idea of what should be contemporary performance.
As an example Stephen Turner, playing the part of Pierre; for the most part I have self-identified as a dance critic, and went into Lucy Lost her Heart by Mark Lawes at Usine C as if I was covering a dance, but what are you going to do when one of the performers looks like they have a BMI of 35?
Stephen P Turner, photo courtesy stephenpturner.com
Where I was brought up, dancers were supposed to have BMI’s of 15 or less. And it is exactly this pushing of the boundaries that makes Lucy Lost her Heart by Mark Lawes a success.
I think that for the most part, trying to make sense out of the story ultimately is an exercise in frustration. As far as I could tell, it wasn’t really intended to do more than impart a feeling, a sensation or an emotion depending on where you are in the performance. Letting it flow over or around you kind of like a river is how I ended up dealing with it. Yes, each of the characters has a name and a history, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. Hence why I identify it more with the history of Centralia, PA instead of Wayne, AB.
I also gotta say that there is a tremendous difference (for the good) when a performance (hybrid, or not) is done with live music. Chris Dadge did a great job as both musician and narrator kind of, not exactly holding things together, but more like making sure that they didn’t stray too far away.
Which is not to say that the other performers, Raphaele Thiriet, Ian Killburn, Isabelle Kirouac and Mike Tan weren’t carrying their weight. Just that they were playing music or painting rocks. In an ensemble piece, like this one, there are certain times when the sum of the individual parts is less than the total of the whole. And that was most definitely the case with Lucy Lost Her Heart.
I’m not quite certain what to think. Nor how to think. Do I approach each show separately? Or do I group Valérie Blass, Ghada Amer and Wangechi Mutu all together and do just one review? If I was good, I think I would have preferred to have done separate reviews for each one. But since I’m not, I’m going to group them all together, just like the museum did.
First order of business; did you know that in between January 8, 2006 and November 5, 2008, 1,032 days, or about two months short of three years, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal did not have a single solo exhibition by a woman? I can’t help but thinking that this set of three solo shows by women was somehow organized to make up for that. But then again it has been over three years, maybe it just worked out that they happened to schedule three solo shows by women all at the same time by coincidence.
Second order of business; juxtaposing a Quebecois artist with limited international exposure up against two internationally known artists can and does have a way of biting you in the ass.
Third order of business; I don’t know if it is due to insecurity, incompetence or insomething else. But I would bet dollars to doughnuts with anyone who is interested, that I am the only person writing about art exhibits at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal who is also a member of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal’s foundation. As a consequence I was quite surprised to find out that I was not invited to neither the press conference nor the vernissage for the latest exhibit they mounted, La Question de l’abstraction. Insecurity, because I get the distinct impression that my series of humorous rhymes about the Triennale went over like a lead balloon. Incompetence, because if you can’t manage to invite the people who give you money without being asked there is something seriously wrong. I will wait with baited breath to see what happens at the end of May for the Zoo exhibit.
But all of that is neither here, nor there when it comes to talking about the art of Valérie Blass, Ghada Amer and Wangechi Mutu. More along the lines of background material, so that you know where my thoughts are coming from as I type this. To get the easy stuff out of the way first. I’ve never been much of a fan of Valérie Blass’ work and I had never heard of Ghada Amer and Wangechi Mutu before seeing their work at the museum. After seeing the shows I still wasn’t much of a fan of Valérie Blass’ work but I now was familiar with the work of Ghada Amer and Wangechi Mutu.
If I were to try and sum up each artist’s work in a line. I’d say that Ghada Amer sews images on to canvas. Wangechi Mutu scares the living bejeezus out of me. And Valérie Blass make three dimensional collages. For what it is worth, it is actually fairly easy to see the common line that links the work of all three artists. It’s spelled C-O-L-L-A-G-E. But you’d figure that the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal wouldn’t be as simplistic to group three artists just because they were women who combined things that they found into new assemblages, would you?
But anytime you juxtapose art, there’s bound to be some joker who tries to link everything, no matter how tenuous that link is. I guess I’m that joker, today. One way to avoid things like that in the future would be to have three separate openings for the three separate shows. Something like one every week or month probably would be sufficient to make each of the shows by the artists separate in the mind of the public. But then again, I could be wrong, and be the only person in the entire universe who was unable to think of the exhibits as being unlinked. Oh well.
So now I think it’s time to get down to brass tacks. So that no one gets their nose out of joint, I’m going to approach each artist’s section of the show separately, before trying to link them together in a more formal and structured manner (if I can) and I’m going to do them in alphabetical order by their first name. Everyone knows that a last name is a social residue left over from when society was not only patriarchal and patrilinear, but also run by jerks and assholes. I’m also not going to give any background on the artists. If you are at all interested in that, there are some mighty fine catalogues that the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has published which in and around the multisyllabic words give you a good idea of where each of the artists came from. Or you can use Google.
Ghada Amer. The first time I saw Ms. Amer’s work, it looked extremely delicate, not quite lace-like, not quite like cotton candy on canvas, not quite like teased hair. But like the middle section of a Venn diagram of the three. From a distance, it wasn’t easy to tell what materials she was using and for the most part everything seemed pretty abstract.
The second time I saw Ms. Amer’s work, I realized that the first time I had been very wrong and must have obviously been smoking some crack that was stronger than I was used to, in order to have thought her work was delicate. There’s a quote going around the internet that’s being attributed to Betty White, but probably wasn’t said by her, nonetheless it makes a point. “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding” Ms. Amer’s work is like that vagina, it’s been pounded. Pounded in order to be created, pounded in order to be looked at, and pounded in order to be understood.
Betty White on balls and vaginas.
Let’s start with the easiest first. In order to make her work, I believe that Ms. Amer has either got to be using some kind of super industrial sewing machine, or an awl that could also double as an ice pick. While the holes she punches in the canvases aren’t necessarily large in and of themselves, they are all over the place and way more than it would take to fill the Albert Hall. She then threads some thread (duh!) through the holes.
The reason you need to pound in order to look at her work – and in case you hadn’t figured it out I’m using the word “pound” as a synonym for “work hard” – is that there is an awful lot of threading going on in each individual piece.
Installation shot of Ghada Amer exhibit at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.
And you have to work hard when looking at her work, because behind just about every bit of thread is a second set of images, mostly copied from mainstream culture. Giving all sorts of fodder for the Phd’s in the house to go wild over layering and contrast provided by the two very separate images, ideas and thoughts.
There’s also a large egg shaped object made out of some type of plastic called 100 words of love
Ghada Amer, 100 Words of Love, picture courtesy Art Hag
Which basically takes this idea translates it into Arabic and makes it three dimensional. When I saw it for the second time I spent way too long going over it looking for a seam or a seal or something to indicate how it was joined together, but couldn’t find one. Personally, I think that while it’s a pretty enough object and a nice enough sentiment, something got lost in translation (sorry, I couldn’t help myself there).
Wangechi Mutu is apparently known mostly for her collages. But I would never have known it in a million years if I based it on my impressions on what she’s got up at the museum. And while I’m certain that there were some collages on the walls of the museum, somewhere, they got completely wiped from whatever little memory I had of the exhibit because there are five (or six, depending on what you call art) pieces there, that just completely and utterly blow anything and everything else out of the water, blow them out of the way, and blow my mind.
Unfortunately, I have no idea what the heck they are called, because I was left so slack jawed at them, that I completely forgot to take notes and incorrectly presumed that the museum would be responsible enough to make some reference to them in the catalogue. But nope, no such luck there. If all you were to do was to read the catalogue for Ms. Mutu’s show you’d get the idea that there was some completely different type of exhibit that happened. While I recognize that it is a document of and about the exhibit, it’s like an entirely separate universe.
The catalogue is all brightness and light, big on the feminist theories and post colonialism, using two-bit words like they’re going out of style. Whereas the exhibit itself is darkness and brooding, somewhat threatening (I told you it scared the living bejeezus out of me) very spooky and completely (sorry about the two-bit word) visceral. Kind of like having someone throw a bag over your head and then start beating you with a bag of oranges. Not quite, but close enough.
Most of the space for Ms. Mutu’s work has walls that are covered in brown felt, which makes for a very somber environment. Then after walking around I came across what I’m calling The Thrones.
Installation shot from Wangechi Mutu's exhibit at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.
Now that I’m looking at the picture closer, they don’t look half as intimidating as they do in real life. The feet are really pointy, and someone could easily lose an eye if they were careless. They towered over me not like a Goliath, but more like a very angry sasquatch, or Dr Honorious, or Dr. Maximus from the original Planet of the Apes films. I have no idea if they were supposed to make me feel weak, insignificant and beholden, but they did. And even weirder, was the fact that I found it really hard to look at them straight on.
Once I had those kind of emotions running around inside me, there really wasn’t any holding back. Over on the other side of the gallery were a bunch of wine bottles suspended upside down from string over some white plates. But the bottles themselves were full had some sort of contraption over their mouth that if I squinted slightly and used some free associative techniques could be considered to be like a miniature Hannibal Lecter mask.
They hid just enough, and enabled the wine to drip out very slowly. Slowly enough that I have made a note in my agenda to go back to see the show a third time just before it closes so that I can see just how much wine has been spilled.
Now it’s not like each bottle was lined up precisely over each plate, and in case you hadn’t realized it already, the wine was red. So without too too much of a stretch, if I’m already feeling weak, insignificant and beholden due to what I’m calling The Thrones, it wasn’t hard for what I’m calling The Bottles to get me feeling all vulnerable and guilty. What with the wine looking like blood, and the bottles being a replacement for some kind of lynching scene. I’m kind of annoyed with myself that I wasn’t able to get back to the museum before the show closed to see how much wine/blood was on the plates and the floor.
Then again, I could be very wrong and it all could be just some kind of elaborate physics experiment to measure the effects of gravity on colored water and openings a various diameters.
In between what I’m calling The Thrones and what I’m calling The Bottles was what I’m calling The Tinsel. And while it probably would be fairly easy to succumb to some kind of dark thoughts while experiencing it, it left me in wonder and awe, instead. Basically it’s a large cube like space that stretches down from the ceiling that has golden tinsel streamers as it’s walls. As a consequence, it is extremely easy to walk through the streamers and get inside the cube. Kind of like finding a place to stand behind the waterfall, or the latch to the hidden chamber.
On the flip side, it’s also real easy to assume that The Tinsel itself was some kind of wall or barrier. Especially since a lot of the other walls of the museum were covered in felt. And as a consequence not even think to wander into the inner sanctum – probably because of the lack of a creaking door.
There also was some awesome and amazing structure in front of the Moth Girls – the piece that the museum bought that probably was influential in enabling them to get the exhibit – that looked for the life of me like some sort of 150 year-old gnarled tree or something.
I’m not quite what to make of Moth Girls. It definitely is not half as terrifying or scary as what I’m calling The Bottles and what I’m calling The Thrones. Obviously requiring more contemplation than I was willing to give them (it’s tough to bring your pulse down when it’s going like a pneumatic drill) it also didn’t give off that “I found something!” sensation that what I’m calling The Tinsel did. And so while I’m certain that something significant can and will be made of it, I quite like the idea that it was made because Ms. Mutu’s apartment was infested with moths.
There were other pieces by Ms. Mutu in the show, and I’m kind of annoyed with myself that I can’t remember more about (or took a picture of) the piece with the naturalized animal, but the only memories I have of her collages are from the catalogue, and as I said that is a whole ‘nother thing.
Which brings us to Valérie Blass. I wish I could write something really witty cool and nice about her work. Sadly I can’t. And while I could write something witty, sarcastic and mean – which if done well would make for some entertaining reading – I really don’t have that in me either. Ms. Blass’ work not only leaves me “blah” it also makes me sad.
Installation shot of Valerie Blass' exhibit. Image courtesy of Valerie Blass and Facebook.
For the most part I believe down to the marrow of my bones that there are an awful lot of really amazing and super-duper artists here in Quebec (and by extension Canada). But recently the Google Art Project went global. And when it did, there was not a single Canadian Museum included (for comparison there were six in Australia, two in New Zealand, one in South Africa, and, and, and. Since the global launch the AGO has signed on – but still no Quebecois institution.
I can’t help but thinking that it has something to do with the fact that institutions like the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal are promoting and hyping artists like Ms. Blass. The contemporary equivalent of whomever did the copy of the Mona Lisa at the Prado. Significant and important, but only to a point, and not really doing anything original.
Gluing found objects together and then casting them in porcelain is all fine and dandy, and makes for some pretty shiny objects that you can look at while holding your chin and nodding your head slowly (I said I wasn’t going to write something witty, sarcastic and mean, sorry). Pretty and shiny objects, do not, by virtue of being pretty and shiny deserve to be exhibited in a museum.
Dans la pose très singulière qui est la mienne, by Valérie Blass. Image courtesy http://cuisineetc.wordpress.com/
I am 100% convinced that Ms. Blass’ technique is superlative. That her instincts are true, and that she makes really nice things. But if anyone out there can explain to me how Ms. Blass’ work affects them as emotionally as Ms. Amer’s or Ms. Mutu’s work did me, I’m all ears. While Ms. Blass’ pieces didn’t repulse me, they just left me feeling like I was walking through some high-end home furnishing store looking for something that would be perfect in the nook. (OK, I apologize, I obviously wanted to get mean and sarcastic – Ms. Blass, when you read this, it is not intended as a personal attack, it is intended as a way to keep any readers who are left at this point, entertained.)
Déjà donné, by Valérie Blass. Image courtesy http://cuisineetc.wordpress.com/
When I see what I think are the equivalent of home furnishings in a major Canadian museum, I can kind of understand why Canadian (and by extension Quebecois) art doesn’t get the respect it deserves on an international level. Frustrating, yes. Annoying, yeah. But, if they don’t invite me to the press conferences after I write about the art they exhibit and the openings after I give them money to be a member, it’s obvious as the nose on my face that they and I don’t see things the same way. So what am I going to do?
This is almost up at 3,000 words now, I kind of get the impression that if there is still anyone reading this far in, they are a blood relation. So in order to tie everything up (I said I was going to try) and enable my family to get on with other things more important than reading what I write… It’s obvious that there is an extremely limited public who is interested in Quebecois art, and I betcha dollars to doughnuts, unfortunately, that it isn’t likely to change in the near future.
By my count there were approximately 120 (one hundred and twenty) shots. More than 4½ bottles of vodka. More than enough to kill someone. Back at the end of March I got to see Thierry Raynaud in a play called Kolik by Rainald Goetz, which was directed by Hubert Colas at Usine C. (That’s a mouthful!) That’s where the shots were. It’s a fairly sparse play, in short, M. Raynaud is sitting on stage in front of a table with a bunch of glasses on it. During the course of 70 minutes (an average if 1.7 shots/minute) he rants on and about a variety of subjects and in general portrays a very ugly drunk. But that’s not the half of it. That’s kind of like saying there are a couple of books at the library.
But before I go on, I probably should give some background, since in poking around on the internet, there isn’t too too much about Kolik, Mr. Goetz, Mr. Colas and Mr. Raynaud in English. As far as I can tell, Mr. Goetz is some kind of avant-garde, experimental German playwright. Mr. Colas appears to be a very influential and important director of plays in France and Mr. Raynaud a kick-ass French actor who has worked with Mr. Colas since 1994.
Back in the eighties he wrote a trilogy called “Kreig,” (War in English). In the first part, I think it’s about how society deals with war, in the second part, family and war, and the third part – Kolik (colic in English) brings war down to the personal level. I have no idea if the first two parts played at Usine C and I just missed them, or if this was a oneshot deal.
But no, never mind, Kolik stands up on its own, and it was only in reading the press kit and other stuff that I could find on line, after the fact that I discovered it was part of a larger whole. As far as I could tell while it might have been cool and/or interesting to see the first two parts of the trilogy, it was not necessary.
Kolik, by Rainald Goetz. Photo courtesy of Dipthing.com
Anyhows, now that we got the background out of the way, we can proceed to the foreground. 120 shots. 1.7 shots/minute for the entire duration of the play. But despite the overdosing on alcohol, one of the first things that occurred to me was, did the Automatistes ever do any spoken word performances? The way the shole things was done, if I didn’t know any better, it would have been extremely simple to think that Mr. Raynaud was just doing some sort of stream of consciousness rant – and in fact I might have believed he was, had Mr. Goetz not been given credit for the text.
Brain dog dirt
Grime fucking dog fucking
God fucking damn dirt
Outside of dog shit
Each word being barked out, as if Mr. Raynaud was himself the Tip-shit Brain dog dirt in the grime. Just a little bit aggressive, although to be honest I wasn’t thinking that it was going to be a nice relaxing night at the theatre.
At various points, I was thinking that maybe they were trying to make some connection to Tourette’s Syndrome. But then given the amount of drinking involved, there was also the one time, when I kind of wished I had seen Broue. Not that I honestly thought that the two plays shared anything in common, beyond the drinking, but so that I would be better able to see the extremes. But despite Broue having been performed since Methuselah was knee high to a grasshopper, somehow I haven’t been able to get my act together to go and dee it. Pity.
And then there were the two pages of notes that I took that consisted of the word “drink,” repeated about two dozen times on each page. Given the nature of the performance (it being in French, me being a bloke and a a squarehead, along with me writing my notes in English) there were sometimes where it just seemed appropriate to let the words cascade over me. Not quite like music, nor like a shower, but more like dirt. You know the sensation when you’re digging a tunnel and suddenly part of it caves in on you? And you end up with dirt in your eyes, ears, mouth and every other place you can think of? Like that.
Kolik by Rainald Goetz with Thierry Raynaud. Photo coutrtesy dipthong.com
Question why Word
Answer strict order
Question why strict order of words
Response in exercise maximum rigor of the test material
Question why resistance test word
Word-response shut up
Word hush ai ai
I hate repeat
I do not ask why
I say I say this material is
I say hate
Again from rue89.com and Google Translate. And did I mention the approximately 120 shots that are consumed during the course of the performance? Easily the equivalent of three 40 pounders.
Mr. Raynaud’s character is angry and pissed off, and as far as I can tell probably dies. While I was watching him perform, I was not quite as conscious of any specific war-like parallels or analogies. But now safely ensconced in the library, where they have some of Mr. Goetz’s work if some teacher asked me to knock together some sort of paper outlining how Kolik was about the war, I wouldn’t balk too too much. Just from my Psych 101 knowledge of Post-traumatic stress disorder it would be fairly easy. Using just a little brain power, it would become a slam dunk. But since I don’t have much of the script to quote from, and seeing how it’s really early in the morning and I don’t quite have access to all the brain power I would like, you’re just going to have to take me at my word.
Kolik by Rainald Goetz with Thierry Raynauld. Photo courtesy 23h32.com
During the course of the performance I only heard two people leave, so obviously, it isn’t for everyone. But now in retrospect, I kind of get a feeling that some people would walk out on a play by Eugène Ionesco or Samuel Beckett. And while I don’t want anyone to infer that I think Kolik is theatre of the absurd, going to see it in the same frame of mind as you would The Bald Soprano or Waiting for Godot. Although now that I am doing cursory research, I’d venture a guess that there are some striking similarities to the plays of David Mamet. I should also mention the almost ghost-like video that is projected on the back wall of the theatre that kept me engaged for far longer than it should have, given that I was barely able to make out what was on it.
In the middle of the play things get very dark and Mr. Raynaud’s speech comes out of a bunch of speakers in different places in the theatre. But despite these bits of high-tech gadgetry the play really remains and belongs entirely to Mr. Goetz and Mr. Raynaud. The power of the words, and the the power of their presentation is such, that even if you were to watch the play with your eyes closed you’d understand it completely.
Continuing the photo-essays on obscure Métro stations, today it’s Métro Charlevoix. It was my home station for about a year in the mid-eighties and at the time I hated it, because it was so deep, and being forced to take the green line one stop from Lionel-Groulx was a pain in the neck. Since then it has kind of grown on me, because I don’t have to use it two times every day. It was inaugurated on September 3, 1978. From a cursory search I can’t find any other buildings that the architects Ayotte and Bergeron built. More information about the station can be found at the STM’s website, Wikipedia and Metro de Montreal.
Some spooky ventilation duct at the Métro Charlevoix
Some spooky ventilation duct at the Métro Charlevoix
The ornamental brick work on the platform at the Métro Charlevoix
The benches on the platform at the Métro Charlevoix
The exit from the platform at the Métro Charlevoix
Looking down at the entrance to the platform at the Métro Charlevoix
Looking up at the exit to the platform at the Métro Charlevoix
Another spooky ventilation duct at the Métro Charlevoix
Another view of the other spooky ventilation duct at the Métro Charlevoix
Some fancy grill work at the Métro Charlevoix
Looking up one of the escalators at the Métro Charlevoix
Looking down one of the escalators at the Métro Charlevoix
Color me embarrassed! Last month I went to go see The You Show by Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM, and it wasn’t until long after I had seen the show that I discovered that instead of it being one dance performance in four acts, that it was in fact four separate dances combined together to make an evening’s program. Oooops. (And it’s obvious that my habit of going into a performance attempting to be a tabula rasa works). Then on top of that, my notes, which get scrawled in the dark, and sometimes are extremely difficult to decipher after the fact, somehow got mixed up and taken out of order. So I wasn’t certain that lines that I had written, such as “repetition of voice / with new moves / switch to her” were referring to something that happened before or after “moving together / all others leave / and we’re back to two.”
But I think I have everything sorted out as best as I can, and can attempt to make some sense out of what I saw (apologies, again for my lack of timeliness, but as per normal, things here have been busy). I find life is so much easier when I don’t really have to force some sort of narrative on something that doesn’t have one. Plus in this case, there are a whack of other reviews and articles to draw from and react to.
In this particular case I find it fascinating that without too much trouble I was able to find over a dozen reviews from a variety of places (at first I was concerned that they were all from North America, but then looking at Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM’s website it appears that it has only been performed outside of North America in three places. It’s also a little weird that it has been performed 22 different times in eight different cities in the rest of the world versus nine times in two cities here in Quebec. I wonder if there are any other international touring companies that spend 30% of their time here in Quebec? But I digress).
The reviews, as you might expect, were all over the place. Most took advantage of the fact that there were four different pieces to say that three of the four were great and one was not. But there was no consensus on which one sucked. I particularly enjoyed Wendy Perron’s take over at Dance Magazine, where she wrote “I’m skipping the third duet because it didn’t add much…” Imagine skipping the third side of Tommy, because it didn’t add much. Or skipping the lobster omelette in your review of the Pied de Cochon’s sugar shack? If you’re reviewing it, review the whole thing. Not just the good bits.
Anne Plamondon in A Picture of You Falling, picture by Micheal Slobodian
As for my take? Overall I thought it was quite good. The dancers (Eric Beauchesne, Peter Chu, Ariel Freedman, Sandra Marín Garcia, Yannick Matthon, Anne Plamondon, Ji?í Pokorný, Cindy Salgado and Jermaine Maurice Spivey) were all amazing to varying degrees – great amazing, really good amazing, very good amazing and just plain amazing.
In my notes the only dancer that I singled out happened to be Ms. Plamondon. I wrote “she quite accomplished dancer (sic).” But at the time I didn’t know that in fact she was who she was. Personally I think that her background (or what I know of her background, I’m no walking dance encyclopedia) in both Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and Rubberbandance Group serves her well in dancing to Ms. Pite’s work. Where Rubberbandance does a very obvious and direct combination of hip-hop and classical dance techniques. From what I have seen of Kidd Pivot, their work appears to me to be more variations and modifications on hip-hop while leaning heavily on the rigorousness of both classical dance techniques and training.
Eric Beauchesne and Jiri Pokorny in The Other You, photo by Michale Slobodian
The variations and modifications, for the most part work way more often than they don’t. Again, I think when it works, it has more to do with the caliber of the of the dancers in Kidd Pivot and when it doesn’t more to do with the caliber of the choreography. Or in blunter terms and plainer English, Ms. Pite is obviously trying to combine old moves (for the lack of a better term) in new ways while at the same time develop new moves. Because the dancers in her company are so good, most of the choreography shines really well. But occasionally, Ms. Pite stretches too far, tries too hard and no matter how good the dancers are, the moves aren’t as bright. Unlike Ms. Perron, I thought that the parts that didn’t work, were exactly that, small parts within the larger piece, not entire pieces.
If I were to get specific, one of the parts that didn’t work for me was when everybody else turns Ms. Garcia and Mr. Spivey into Transformers in A Picture of You Flying
I must’ve spent over an hour searching through my files trying to find the other time I’ve seen dancers become Transformers, however my searching skills are obviously not up to snuff, because for the life of me, I can’t. But I am completely convinced (unless I made it up) that I’ve seen something similar before. But whether or not I have almost becomes secondary, because beyond being derivative I thought there were other reasons why it didn’t work.
While it was obvious that Ms. Pite wanted something cinematographic, it ended up turning the piece into something more cartoony. During the piece Mr. Spivey recites what I was calling simplistic pop psychology. Things like “It’s about thinking about later, later / And know your own limits / And know what makes us vulnerable.” Or “It has nothing to do with the glory / You do it because you love it.” Which had the effect of making the piece comedic in nature – the audience laughed at some of the jokes in the text. However, I presume that Ms. Pite wanted the subject matter and the dancing to be taken somewhat seriously. In the parts when there weren’t any jokes, it was possible to take the subject seriously. But once they turn into the Transformers it makes it extremely difficult to take the dance very seriously, which then also ends up making the subject matter silly as well. And I am not convinced that that is a good thing. But as I mentioned, it’s a small part of a larger whole, and not a profound fault. More like a scab the day before it’s going to fall off. Something that you’re aware of, and is mildly annoying, but not major.
I guess at this point I should mention The Other You, and Das Glashaus, the other two pieces in the evening’s performance.
I’m not sure why Ms. Pite decided to use the Moonlight Sonata as part of the score to The Other You other than the fact that it is a very pretty piece of music. The dancing is also very pretty. Ms. Pite steals the idea from numerous other dance performances in that she has Mr. Beauchesne and Mr. Pokorny mirror each other and/or control each other like marionettes, but with invisible strings. But in this case, the moves that they do, again modified hip-hop, in my notes I called them “funky chicken” “kung-fu fighting” and “robot,” are pretty good. In performances like that the dancers need to be perfectly synchronized and Mr. Beauchesne and Mr. Pokorny were.
There’s not an awful lot I remember about Das Glashaus, and it also is the piece where my notes got all out of order. There was some crashing sounds (which other people called breaking glass, probably due to knowing the title in advance) there’s some wrestling or aggressive cuddling, and modified yoga according to my notes, but overall it mainly draws a blank. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, just how it happens to be.
I think that trying to combine the four pieces thematically is a little bit of a stretch – especially if you’re viewing them with no prior knowledge. Instead of “The You Show” it just as easily could have been called the “You Two Show,” or “Four Duets.” But that does not take away from the fact that the dancing was pretty gosh darn good. For the most part when I go to see contemporary dance, I’m not expecting a story. I’m hoping to see some spectacular moving. It seems to me that dance has become so technically sophisticated that for the most part trying to combine it with some other art form (like theatre) ends up making a mess. Either because the dancers aren’t as accomplished in the other art form as they are in dance, or that the choreographer isn’t as accomplished or quite frequently both. In this case, while I recognize that there was an attempt to combine things thematically, because I went in not knowing that, it was mighty tough to figure out on the fly. Which does not take away from the dancing or the choreography, in fact to me, makes them even that much better.