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.
Color me confused, today. Last week (see? I’m almost all caught up on the dance. Unfortunately, I way backlogged on the art…) I got to see Birth of Prey by Lisbeth Gruwez and Voetvolk at Usine C. It’s a piece that they created in 2008. They flew over here from Belgium specifically to perform it. And then flew back. In other words this was not part of a North American tour or anything. They are also touring a piece that was created this year, called, It’s going to get worse and worse and worse, my friend. I have no clue as to why the fine folk at Usine C decided that the older piece was the one that they wanted to present. But that’s neither here, nor there.
If you hadn’t figured it our by now, in Birth of Prey for the most part Ms. Gruwez does a kind of 21st century contortion act. Not the 19th and 20th century type where the performer twists various body parts into positions that would make most people wince, and for the most part confined to sideshows and boardwalks. The first word that comes to mind to describe her style is “refined,” quickly followed by “discreet” and “focused.” Hers is much more about individual muscles and bones, than the whole body.
If you watch all 21 minutes of the video, you’ll get a real good idea of what the show is like. But please don’t confuse watching a 560 pixel wide video on your computer screen with the real thing. Sorta like confusing CliffsNotes with the original. When you take a step back you can realize that they are in fact two separate things.
The first obvious difference between the video and the real, live stage performance was that for the performance, we had to enter into Usine C using an entrance more normally used for props and actors than the audience. Normally when at Usine C, you walk up a set of stairs to enter into the large theater from the top and then walk back down to your seat. For Birth of Prey we entered at stage level and then walked up to our seats.
For those audience members who had previously been to Usine C the variation on the entry was, while not quite disconcerting, slightly confusing. Added to that was that while we entered the entire stage was completely covered in smoke, from some kind of smoke machine, and I definitely was dislodged from my normal theater performance routine. Which was as I presume, its intended effect. Making me much more aware, questioning what was about to happen, and paying precious little attention to the normal chit-chat that happens pre-show. I have absolutely no idea how full the theater was, nor if there were any vedettes in attendance – both things that I normally write down in my notes because the extent of my notes before the show started were “Enter from the side, with lots of smoke. WHY?” And the “why” was written approximately four times larger than anything else on the page.
Then we were informed that the show had started because some rather loud generic guitar/drum, not quite punk, not quite boogie, music was played. I always like dance to live music, even if the music isn’t the greatest. This music while immediately reminding me of the late and lamented Deja Voodoo
Although I am 100% positive that if you grew up in a different town, there is some other guitar drum duo that you personally remember. But I do appreciate that Dave Schroyen & Maarten Van Cauwenberghe reminded me of Gerard van Herk and Tony Dewald. I hadn’t thought about van Herk Dewald in far too long. Although now that I am thinking about them, I do remember one Deja Voodoo barbecue where my houndstooth check overcoat with a vertical slash pocket got stolen. Something like 30 years ago, man! how I liked that coat. I’m still convinced it is going to reappear (like, magically) in my life. I bought it for $2 in Schenectady, New York. But I digress…
But back to the performance; once the music started, I (and I presume everyone else) started to peer into the smoke. I knew that something was going to happen, I just had no idea what. have you ever seen a newborn gerbil? Newborn hamster?
Well that’s kind of what Ms. Gruwez looked like as she entered the stage. Although now that I think about it, I can probably come up with a bunch of other hairless tubular living things that she would also look like. It’s amazing how some theatrics, smoke and serious lighting presented by someone who knows what they’re doing can look like something else.
But, once she got to center stage, it was all Ms. Olympia all-the-time, almost like what I would imagine a performance by Iris Kyle would be like (if there were loud generic guitar/drum, not quite punk, not quite boogie music played).
And that’s the point. I have absolutely no desire to see Ms. Kyle (or anyone else for that matter) win the 2012 Ms. Olympia Championship. However, Ms. Gruwez’s manipulation of her musculature was completely and utterly riveting to the point where I was hanging on the next move of her latissimus dorsi. Go figure.
At various points she got up and attempted to sing, but whatever. I wasn’t there to hear her sing, scream or shriek. And she did scream and shriek. There were also some points where she actually looked like she was doing modern (or contemporary) dance. But just about anything was going to fail in comparison to what and how she manipulated her back.
Then, there was the point about three-quarters of the way through the show when through the smoke I suddenly saw something like a small rivulet of blood that flowed absolutely perfectly right down her spine. I think at some point I was able to see some kind of tube, but given all the other theatrical tricks it might have just been smoke and mirrors. I dunno.
There were a couple of other salient points. During the performance that I saw Mr. Van Cauwenberghe broke a string at the absolute perfect moment – in between two very different sections that were separated by a scream from Ms. Gruwez – so from an audience perspective it was just like an extended pause while he changed strings. But it did occur to me to wonder why they didn’t just travel with two guitars. I also didn’t quite understand why she started singing Helen Kane‘s signature song.
I‘m positive that there’s some kind of connection between the animal nature of the performance and the title, as in some sort of evil being born – but ultimately I think this one comes down to just how spectacularly Ms. Gruwez is able to manipulate her body, and then some sort of title, music and theory were wrapped around it after the fact.
In short, in comes down to getting a seat front row center, focusing on Ms. Gruwez’s scapulae for 50 minutes and not blinking.
I’ve definitely been out of touch with the music industry for the better part of a decade. On Thursday I went to see a band that I had never previously hear of, that I initially thought were derivative because they were just starting out, and then after doing a little bit of digging discover that I need to eat my shorts as they have been around since the mid 1990s and have recorded and released 24 CDs (according to Wikipedia 31). Ooops!
But let me backtrack slightly. I’ve always had a kind of love/hate relationship with the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht. Music by Kurt Weill is wonderful in my humble estimation, so there are some versions of the Threepenny Opera that I adore, and others that aren’t so hot.
Initially The Tiger Lillies had been peddled to me as a kind of Brecht/Weill, Threepenny Opera kind of thing, and seeing as how I was feeling slightly frisky I figured “what the hey!” And went with open ears.
They started with more than a bang, coming out on stage and playing Heroin and Cocain. As you can hear, they lyrics are kind of (if you squint slightly) like Brecht (via Marc Blitzstein). But the music isn’t quite Weill
It isn’t quite Welk, either. But it is a tad closer. At first I was quite charmed. Martyn Jacques sings similarly to Jimmy Somerville although I doubt he is a Smalltown Boy.
But once I made that connection, I was off to the races. Over the course of about two dozen songs (of which I only recognized one, Autumn Leaves) I was able to come up with a bunch of different performers who had some sort of connection to The Tiger Lillies. Ranging from Mel Torme
While the references are all over the place, the songs I heard seemed to be mining a fairly similar terrain. I don’t know if that was due to my being unfamiliar with the songs and as a consequence concentrating mainly on the lyrics and the stage show, or if in fact most of the songs that the Tiger Lillies have recorded over their 24 CD career (maybe 31) indeed sound alike (somehow as I write that sentence, I’m not too certain even I can’t believe that all their songs sound alike).
While it is all fine and dandy to try to shock people with graphic content, I was quite surprised while listening to realize that the rapes, murders and debauched behavior that they sung about was quite similar to what was sung in the 1920s and 30s to shock people. Somehow I would have presumed that someone singing in angry clown makeup in the 21st century who was looking to offend people’s sensibilities would have sung about something potentially more on the edge than straight heterosexual rapes, stabbings and standard issue drug addicts. It gives The Tiger Lillies a faintly quaint air, which almost has a wistful aura of nostalgia.
Kind of like “why can’t we go back to the gold old days, when it was much clearer and easier to understand what behavior was bad?” While at the same time they were definitely members of the 21st century as there wasn’t a single glass of alcohol anywhere on stage. I’m still trying to work out if I like the nostalgia schtick, or if I was disappointed that they hadn’t revised their book of sins so that is was more contemporary.
I gotta hand it to Adrian Huge,
who while not quite the reincarnation of Keith Moon
he comes about as close as I’ve ever seen anyone since Uncle Ernie.
The other Adrian in the band, Adrian Stout, played a mighty fine bass and musical saw, but I was a tad dismayed to see the Theremin that he had set up in front of him go unplayed for the duration of the concert.
Given the crowd and the band’s predilections, I can’t understand why they played in the big hall at Usine C, the smaller stage which is much more cabaret-like would have been absolutely perfect for them. Instead of fairly large and cavernous soft-seater where there was a distinct sensation of an awful lot of empty space right behind us. I was very happy to hear that this was their third time performing at Usine C, which means that they have played in Montreal at least three times. But I would be worried for whomever is promoting the fourth time.
It’s tough after one two hour and fifteen minute (including intermission) performance to really have a complete and comprehensive understanding of any band, let alone one as on the fringe as The Tiger Lillies. I’d love it if there was some sort of connection I could make to the Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. Or if there was anyway I could figure out to connect the band and/or their songs any of the flowers called Tiger Lily to the fact that none of them are native to England (where the band is from) but I can’t. Which leaves me having to make stuff up on my own.
After having read the various raves about them from people as diverse as Matt Groening, Alex Kapranos, Mark Mothersbaugh, Marc Almond and Nan Goldin on their website I’m almost tempted to believe I might have missed something. But I don’t think I did. On the other hand I am not as completely over the top and gung-ho about The Tiger Lillies as they are. I’m definitely going to have to find a copy of the Gorey End, because I like Edward Gorey and the Kronos Quartet, before I commit to a final judgment on and about them.
And now, finally, while copy and pasting that link – I think I unearthed why I distinctly have this sensation of having missed something during their show. The Tiger Lillies are a theatrical band, the music that they perform is all about characters and events. Sometimes the Tiger Lillies even perform an opera. The show that I saw did not have any songs that were linked, there was no connections between anything. It was as if someone had given me a bunch of photographs of people without any background information and then wondered why I did not know any details about the people in the photographs after having looked at the photographs once.
On Tuesday night I went to Usine C to see Laurie Anderson perform Delusion. It occurred to me as I was heading over there that I had never seen a bad performance at Usine C. Although afterward I realized that in fact while most of the shows I have seen at Usine C have been amazing, there have been some clunkers, not many, but some.
The reason I bring this up, is that I’ve never really been a big fan of Laurie Anderson. I saw her perform once in the 1980s and it didn’t really impress me. So I was kind of hoping that the venue would have a strong influence on her, or on my impression of her performance.
Unfortunately whatever power Usine C had previously had over performances there, wasn’t working on Tuesday. In a nutshell Ms. Anderson told some stories that wandered all over the place while a bunch of videos played around (and once on) her. Occasionally picked up her fiddle and sawed away at it aimlessly.
When I was transcribing my notes, I was very surprised to discover that for the most part I had not written down anything about the actual content of her stories. I had notes about the stage (16 lights scattered about) notes about the videos (looks like Kentridge) notes to myself (don’t forget to buy milk) but not an awful lot on what she said.
And two days after seeing her, I don’t really remember much either. You could make the point that the ephemerality was intentional, but on the other hand you could also make the point that she was just making a lot of hot air move through space. If there was some unifying theme to what she said, I would have to venture a guess that it was about mortality.
Somewhere at the beginning she quotes from the sermon in Moby Dick: “for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?” Although the whole quote is
O Father!- chiefly known to me by Thy rod- mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?
And then somewhere towards the end she talks about three types of dying where she quotes David Eagleman: “you die three times, once when your heart stops, again when your body is buried or cremated, and then the last time someone says your name.”
Contrary to what was written in the Gazette, there were French surtitles. I found this very strange. Ms. Anderson obviously pays particular attention to her phrasing, breath and the timing of her speeches. By using the surtitles it was possible to read what she was saying before she said it, which ended up lessening the impact of what she said. While I have never gone karaoking, I seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere that there are karaoke machines that time the display of the words, or maybe I just dreamed it, but I definitely think that Ms. Anderson should invest in one of those machines for the next time she decides to use surtitles.
At one point she starts to recite “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and whomever did the translating of her text wasn’t completely bilingual, because they ended up translating it literally.
Scintiller, Scintiller, petite étoile,
Comment je me demande ce que vous êtes.
Au-dessus du monde si haut,
Comme un diamant dans le ciel.
Instead of using the proper French nursery rhyme
Ah ! vous dirai-je, maman,
Ce qui cause mon tourment ?
Depuis que j’ai vu Clitandre,
Me regarder d’un air tendre ;
Mon cœur dit à chaque instant :
« Peut-on vivre sans amant ? »
What can I say about the videos? There were leaves, lots of leaves. Someone taking pictures of a body on the floor (I wrote a note asking if the woman with her back to the camera was Ms. Anderson), a dog’s eye view of a field gone to seed (which enabled me to discover that in fact dogs are not colorblind). The aforementioned animated videos that copped from William Kentridge and some footage from NASA that might have been the Moon, or perhaps Mars, I’m not sure which as I have never visited either. For the most part they did not serve to move the narrative forward, nor was I able to really make any direct connection between the video and the narration (except perhaps for the one of the body on the floor).
I was quite struck by one of the videos which was a simple loop (I think all of them were looped) of a pane of glass with drips of water running down. Just like the windshield of a parked car during a light rain or drizzle. I might have to go and make something like that myself.
At this point I should probably mention something about the music. Ms. Anderson played an electric fiddle. And sometimes pitch shifted her voice. But this review is veering dangerously close to becoming a Laurie Anderson performance, winding all over the place, not really saying anything and feeling self-important, so I should probably wrap it up fairly quickly. Thankfully someone snuck a video camera into a performance she gave in Israel, while it isn’t the same as being there. It can give you a fairly reasonable idea of what the show was like.
Me, I’m just very happy that I didn’t fork out for a plane ticket to see it during the Olympics.
The theme song is Jan + Dean, Glenn Cambell, Richard Hatch, Bruce Davidson, and Papa Doo Run Run’s version of Do You Want to Dance, the dance poem of the week is My Dance by Blaise Cendrars, and the music played during the show is from the CD Convergence by Brent Mah and Alex Goodman.
Chris ‘Zeke’ Hand reviewing (and raving about) The New Cackle Sisters (Gabrielle Bouthillier + Danya Ortman accompanied by Jasmin Clouthier, Bruno Bouchard + Simon Drouin + Simon Elmaleh) performance at Usine C.