I’m a big fan of the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes. Used by (what I presume) are locals it kind of gives me a sense of what life in Montreal must’ve been like back in the 1940s and 50s. Back when everybody, and I do mean everybody, went to church. I have never seen the place empty, and they hold at least six different services every day.
For the squareheads, blokes and Protestants in the house, the inscription reads:
Those of you who pass by / high society or street people / people who contemplate God / or those who have forgotten / enter into this House of the Father / prostrate yourself in front of him / adore the incarnation of his son / and remember supreme being / is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost / And before you leave / gaze upon Mother Mary.
Going through the Ben J. Riepe Kompanie‘s YouTube videos you can easily see things (costumes, moves, dialogue, etc.) that are common to things in the Images and The Piece. But let me back up a bit. When the show starts there’s a guy at a table in the back and a woman beside a stuffed deer on the other side of the stage also in back. The rest of the stage is bare except for some microphones.
What carries the performance, is that for just about the rest of the show, everyone is wearing some sort of animal mask. Besides the bunny masks, ape masks, sheep masks and there were probably some animals that I missed. The dancing itself isn’t so much dancing as structured and controlled movement. There’s some screaming, some simulated sodomy, some weird yoga poses and talking through a megaphone.
In other words it’s kind of rough, violent without any real bloodshed and the type of show that can make you wince if you aren’t quite prepared for it. But trying to find a plot or narrative was beyond me. I’m fairly certain that there wasn’t supposed to be one. But I’m still at a loss of trying to figure out the point.
Since I am not familiar with the Ben J. Riepe Kompanie or seen any of their previous work I was left scratching my head. It is obviously absurdist, with a strong dose of nihilism, angst and perhaps some surrealism, too. But no matter which angle I looked at it from, nor how hard I squinted I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how it was depicting death, love or the devil for that matter.
Part of this obviously has to do with the fact that it is movement and not a play. But I also can’t help but wondering if the “greatest bits” nature of the piece is also a factor. Kind of like trying to make sense of the Variatio 4. a 1 Clav. from the Goldberg variations and the E flat-minor fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier after hearing them played like they were parts of the same piece.
Overall I’m not quite sure what to make of the piece. On one hand I do recognize that just because Mr. Riepe is speaking a language that I don’t completely understand doesn’t mean he isn’t making sense. But on the other hand it isn’t like I don’t understand it totally (kind of like my relationship with the language of Molière) and what parts I do understand don’t really make sense to me, if you get my drift.
Which brings us back to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and longer since I studied it closely. But I’m certain I can find enough connections to make it worthwhile.
The first one that literally jumps up at me (ok, the second, after the rabbit) is where Fa-Hsuan Chen gets lifted up by her head. In chapter five, Alice meets the caterpillar and after eating some of the mushroom her head grows instantaneously. The third one is… OK, maybe there isn’t that much a similarity between Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Love | Death | Devil – The Piece.
Actually I might be confusing my Lewis Carrol and my Charleton Heston. With all the ape masks I might be able to find some commonalities with The Planet of the Apes.
But like Alice and to a lessor extent Planet of the Apres, The Piece has it’s own internal logic and once you are party to it, everything comes together and makes sense. They just forgot to invite me to the party.
Last month I the opportunity to go to the Joliette metro station. As you might have suspected, I found it very cool (the general critical consensus is that it isn’t all that hot). Finished, just in time for the 1976 Olympics, it was one of two metro stations designed by Marcel Raby. M. Raby was an architect for the city of Montreal and the only other thing that I can find that he worked on was the dome of Marché Bonsecours in 1978 after it had had a fire. But my guess would be there is lots more, it’s just not on the internet.
While quite a lot of people don’t like the yellow bricks and the rather pedestrian nature of the buildings. I was enchanted by the color on a gray and snowy day. And just about pee’d my pants in delight when I discovered the back entrance which leads to an alleyway (ruelle in Montreal-speak).
It kind of went over big back in the middle of January when the first show opened. But it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep up the hype for an entire year. It being the year-long, 15 exhibit, one book celebration of Publicité Sauvage‘s silverish anniversary (see if you can find the typo on the anniversary website).
They rolled the exhibitions out at Foufounes Électriques at the beginning of January, quickly added Café Campus in February and organized a third and larger one at the Écomusée du fier monde that just closed last week. So this seems as good of a time as any to start on the reviews.
I initially thought of reviewing each exhibit separately. But after seeing how sparse the one at Foufounes Électriques was I kind of made the executive decision to group some together. Hence the reason why I can’t tell you how many separate reviews there will be. Sorry.
I was quite surprised when I got to Foufounes, somehow I had not only expected bigger, larger, more. I had also expected older. 25 years is a long time, a very long time. And I had thought that there would be more than the dozen and a half, or so posters that they exhibited.
While I was looking at them I was trying to remember if I had actually seen any of the shows or events that they were talking about. Sadly for the most part I hadn’t. While Foufs was a great place to see bands from out of town (off the top of my head I can remember seeing KD Lang, Tackhead, Nirvana and Jonathan Richman there) for the most part I would go see local bands in either smaller, cheaper venues or bigger more impressive ones where they would really be able to puff out their chests and say “we made it!”. So while I saw the Ripchordz, I never saw them a Foufs.
So as an exercise in nostalgia this particular exhibit did not strike any chords with me.
I was also surprised to discover that the posters in the exhibits were not the same as the posters reproduced in the book (I’ll get to the book later in a separate post) hence the vagueness with some of the dates. I was also surprised to discover that not all the posters on display were for events that had taken place at Foufs.
Now, if I were writing for a more mainstream publication, this is the place where I would launch into some sort of brief history of Foufounes Électriques and Café Campus. But I’m not, so you can click on the links and/or read the book that accompanies the exhibitions.
The Café Campus part of the exhibit was similarly sparse. I actually got to see it during the daytime, which meant that the lighting was much better (but not sufficiently better to make my camera skills any better) and I think since I was already kind of glomming onto the concept, it made more sense to me.
That, or now that I think about it, I’ve always had a much stronger connection to Café Campus than I did to Foufounes Électriques. If there were someway to go back and calculate time spent, money spent, or amount of enjoyment received, I’m 100% positive that Café Campus would win on all three counts, or in any other measurement that could be counted. Somehow it seemed (and still seems) more locally grounded to me. Or it just might be due to th efact that I was never much into the goth scene.
The other thing that struck me was how small most of the posters were. I think that because they are relics of an ephemeral event those that stand out in my memory take on some sort of oversized significance in my brain, and therefore I expected the same kind of oversized poster.
Which leaves us with the first large scale and more general exhibit. The “good causes” posters at the Écomusée du fier monde. They were charging $6 to get in, and believe-you-me, it wasn’t worth it. There were about 40 or so posters there.
While the lighting was head, hands and shoulders above anything at Café Campus, somehow the idea of paying about 10¢ per poster seen didn’t quite sit right with me. And since it is down now, and for the future if there are any Publicité Sauvage posters you want to see, head on up to the Archives nationales du Québec, they have most of them, and while there might be some bureaucracy and red tape to slog through, they won’t charge you a dime. If they ask you “why” you want to see the posters, tell ’em you need to fact check this article…
Like the two previous iterations, there was a paucity (how’s that for using two two-bit words in one sentence!) of posters from the 1980s and 1990s – although now that I know what’s in the book and what’s in a show are two separate things, I’m going to be taking much closer and careful notes.
Things were grouped together with something obvious linking them. Either the organization
Or by cause
And while this was a nice touch, I still found myself trying to make connections to my past. Did I remember the poster? Had I attended the rally? Since my memory is sketchy at best I kept drawing blanks which then forced me to look at the posters as works of art, separate from the events that they promoted and it occurred to me that quite a few weren’t.
Look at the set of posters above. There’s one, the one for La Journée de l’air pur which could be, to me, considered as a work of art. The rest were specifically designed so as to get a specific bit of information across. And to do so in an engaging way. While that can and will make for some pretty things, for the most part, it isn’t the driving force behind making art. Yes, there are exceptions, but you get the point.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t go to see the 12 other exhibits – the fourth one is up right now someplace in Dawson College until the 24th of March – no in fact quite the opposite. You should go and see the exhibits. They are the tools in the fight against collective amnesia. And fighting a collective amnesia is a very good thing.
I just wish that instead of the roughly 15 years worth of posters that are being exhibited, there truly were selection from all 25 years. I also wish that all of them were as large, if not larger than the exhibit at the Écomusée du fier monde. 25 years is a lot of time, there should be a lot of posters to show the passage of time.
I‘ve been twice to see the show, and might just go a third time before it closes on April 15. If you want the short version, it’s a very nice show. A little small, but a fascinating way to spend 90 minutes or so.
Once there, it kind of becomes obvious as to how and what gets displayed. There are are pictures of trees (lots of pictures of trees, depending on who you believe, trees are either good for your health or bad for your health) ranging from Robert Burley’s photographs of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (good for your health) to Cesare Leonardi’s awesome drawings of trees (bad for your health). There are floor plans for old age homes, plans for a pig apartment building and lots of other cool things that all have some connection between design (more so than architecture) and health.
To get the crotchety stuff out of the way quickly and early. Given that The Canadian Centre for Architecture is in Montreal, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more local content. It’s not like every city in the world can boast that they have park designed by Olmstead. But sadly, there was no picture of Mount Royal and given that there are not one, but two hospitals being built here now, I would have thought that they might have incorporated something from those projects into the exhibit.
There is a preponderance of information in how buildings can be bad for your health – a significant portion of one room given over to asbestos, which is really the only local content, and a whole other section devoted to dust and materials that cause allergies – while at the same time there are also numerous plans of buildings that are supposed to be good for your health (from OMA and SANAA specifically) I would have loved to have seen some information on older medical architecture. Something like how the Royal Victoria Hospital developed, or the evolution of hospital wall colors, or pill design, or, or, or. You get the picture. Something slightly more historical.
I wasn’t obsessive about note-taking but it struck me that for the most part there was nothing prior to 1960 or so. I don’t know if that has anything to do with what actually got archived, and therefore was available, or if there was some executive decision not go further back. Because of the heavy emphasis on contemporary practices and the fact that it wasn’t as large and sprawling as previous exhibits at the CCA, I was left imagining the gaps. What type of stuff could have been there.
The stuff from the 60s was tremendous. There was a section devoted to Sun City, AZ the “first and finest planned retirement community for active seniors.” They had a selection of floor plans
and a video on the history of Sun City that I wouldn’t watch there, because they insisted on playing it on an endless loop, which as I have said before (and will say again) makes no sense when the film or video that you’re watching has a beginning, a middle and an end. But was able to find it on YouTube.
The Sun City film was part of the exhibit on aging. The exhibit itself was loosely built around six health related topics: allergies, asthma, cancer, obesity, epidemics, and aging. As an introduction to each section there was a bulletin board with a variety of clippings, reprints from websites and other assorted ephemera. Some worked better than others. I never really ever thought that I would see a page printed from The Globe and Mail’s website as something displayed in an exhibit at the CCA.
While each object in the show was presented in order to raise questions, I think that the allergy room was the least effective. There were samples, under plexiglass of building materials that could potentially cause allergic reactions, and other samples for you to handle that wouldn’t cause allergic reactions. I would guess that they were there in order to facilitate the younger viewers to the exhibition. But I haven’t been young for a while, so as you might expect I found them a tad juvenile.
And speaking of questions, one occurred to me last night. The exhibit comes down fairly hard and strong in it’s condemnation of asbestos, and I’m fairly certain that everyone, myself included, knows that breathing in asbestos fibers will cause cancer. But the reason it was used so much as a building material was because of it’s fire-resistant properties among other things. I wonder how many people would have died in burning buildings if asbestos had not been used, and how would that compare to the number of people who died (or will die) due to asbestosis?
One of the prettier, but more obtuse parts was from Ms. Calvillo. He attempts to map the atmosphere are quite nice. But the attendant documentation in the exhibit was somewhat sparse. In doing further research after the fact I came across this article by Javier Arbona that did manage to explain her work in plainer language and also had a link to the website for In the Air.
And that I think is one of the other small faults I would note about the exhibit. It seemed to me that far too much of it was the internet made material. Kind of like the exact opposite of their previous exhibition 404 ERROR The Object is Not Online.
All of this is not say that Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of Architecture at The Canadian Centre for Architecture is flawed or not worth it. As I wrote at the top, “it’s a very nice show. A little small, but a fascinating way to spend 90 minutes or so.” it raises questions, and for the most part I always think that raising questions is a good thing. But like with anything that I am fond of, I always wish there was more. Or that things were slightly more nuanced (or in other cases slightly less nuanced). But you get the idea, there is always something that could be done to take something very good and make it exceptional, or to go from great to amazing.
Your level of enjoyment of the exhibit will be roughly inversely proportional to the amount of time you spend on line looking at and reading about theoretical architecture. Or exponential to the amount of time you spend in the galleries of the CCA taking notes and then entering them into Bing or some other search engine. Given that I don’t do much of the former and a lot of the later, it worked out quite well for me. But as the kids say, “your mileage may vary.“
Last week I was cordially invited to the press conference to announce next year’s LMMC season (fondly referred to as “The Ladies,” it used to stand for Ladies Morning Music Club. Now, like KFC and BMO, I think they only go by the acronym). Anyhows, they are the premier chamber music series in town, their concerts always start at 15h30 on Sundays, an extremely civilized time, and I’ve got some pretty kick-ass seats, too.
A subscription costs $235 (taxes and all services fees included). Which is kind of like a $17 ticket with a $3.50 service charge and tax for each concert. There is no better bargain in the city. Next year’s performers are
Tickets go on sale to new subscribers sometime in April. But it probably wouldn’t hurt if you got your money to them before then. Thankfully, there is no conflict with either Super Bowl XLVII or the Daytona 500 next year, so I will be able to see all ten concerts without worry or anxiety.
Last Friday I saw Hora. If you want the short version; it was good, very, very good. If you want the slightly longer version, keep reading. If you want the really, really long version, I will try to oblige. I discovered from this article in the NYTimes that the word Hora not only means “hour” in Spanish, “slut” or “whore” in Norwegian, apparently is like “howdy” in Japanese and is some type of Indian astrology and also a Roman goddess. But the most obvious and significant Hora is the Israeli/Jewish dance.
Given that the Batsheva Dance Company and Ohad Naharin (the choreographer) are Israeli, it’s kind of tough to avoid the comparisons. However, there really aren’t any in any literal sense. I’m also trying to figure out if there was any connection between their performances here in Canada and the visit by Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s nice to think that the Prime Minister of Israel travels with the dance company. Or that he likes to be able to highlight Israeli contemporary dance while globetrotting. But I’m not entirely convinced.
I think the more obvious connection to mine is Gaga, the movement language developed by Mr. Naharin.
While I’m not quite 100% certain that I understand Gaga fully, after watching the videos, I think I have a better understanding of Hora. Which is what we’re here to talk about, right?
When it starts, there are 11 dancers sitting, evenly spaced apart, on a wooden bench along the back wall of the stage. The stage itself has been kind of transformed into some large bright green square with no visible entries or exits. The dancers all rise together and slowly walk forward, they turn to their right, hold a pose as if they are resting their arms on a counter (or possibly playing like a kangaroo or T-Rex, animals with short arms that are held loosely in front) and then turn to the left assuming a pose kind of like some sort of construction crane or back hoe.
The only reason I mention it in such detail is that it gets repeated four or five times during the course of the performance. Which turned it into some kind of touchstone for me. I still wasn’t able to figure out if it had any other more significant meaning and I somehow doubt it. To me, Hora really was just about moving bodies in and through space.
This concept of moving bodies in and through space was most obvious when all 11 dancers veered from the line and each did something different and original. I’m certain that there were a bunch of moves that were repeated, but by having so many dancers on stage and having them all do different things it was extremely hard to focus on one dancers or one movement.
That sort of thing happened numerous times over the course of the performance. But every now and again something (or someone) would squirt out and do something solo-like, or duet-like. One of the one’s that jumped out at me as being particularly well-done was I decided to call “The Twins.” A section where Ian Robinson and another dancer who didn’t quite have as a distinctive haircut go all out at 60 miles-an-hour doing these wild funky chicken type of moves that ended up reminding me of the Mirror Scene by the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.
There were a bunch of bits like that. A part where all they all end up in a similar position to how sprinters crouch before a race, except that they are using the tops of their toes instead of the bottoms (ouch). Another one where they sit on the stage with their legs extended perfectly flat, and their knees at an exact 135 degree angle, while spinning in absolute unison. And a third where the woman who I referred to as “The Russian Spy,” actually stood on her toes, twice, despite not wearing toe shoes.
It was obvious from the get go that they knew how to dance and move way better than a bunch of stuff that I had seen recently. In going through the bios of the dancers (in a vain attempt to try and figure out who was who) I was happy to see that that Bobbi Smith had previously danced with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Mr. Robinson with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (Go Canada!).
Another thing that made the performance rather kick-ass was the soundtrack. Back in the 70s and 80s (and 90s as well, but by then I had stopped keeping up with pop music) there was this guy Isao Tomita who performed some of the better known classical music cannon on synthesizers. At the time I wasn’t a big fan (I was much more into guitars and drums) but I quite vividly remember coming across his records at the time.
One of the things I’ve realized about dance performances, is that it does help every now and again to offer the audience some kind of hook to hang their collective hat on. Or in slightly clearer language, something with which they can identify. And actually as I write those sentences I realize that in fact it has nothing to do with any other members of the audience, and everything to do with me.
I like it when there is something that I can identify with, or make some kind of association. Since for the most part the movement itself is extremely difficult to describe – at some point I’d love to have an opportunity to try and do a play-by-play of a performance in much the same way that a sports broadcaster would. I see lots of similarities – having some identifiable music makes it extremely easy to make that connection.
Back when I was younger, I would scan the program to see what music was being used and make a judgement on how good the performance was likely to be based on the music. Now it’s way more complex, but as a similar type of rule-of-thumb if they’re dancing to live music, it’s got a better chance in my book of being a better performance than if using pre-recorded stuff (but I digress, Hora did not have a live band).
Nonetheless, since I find it easier to make an emotional connection to music, getting something recognizable aids immensely. Which is not to say that I was able to figure out any specific connection between the music and the movement. Quite the contrary, I would go so far as to presume that the music was laid on top of the piece after all (or most) of the moves had been thought out. In the same way that you would first figure out the menu for a dinner party before deciding on the playlist.
Sometimes dance can be movement for movement’s sake. I think that Hora is one of those cases. I’d love to be able to sum it up in one pithy statement, or witty phrase. But, unfortunately I’m not that good a writer. I also would have loved to be able to talk about the specific dancers more, because they truly were spectacular, but unfortunately the tiny jpg headshots on the Batsheva website don’t really correspond with my memory of what the dancers really looked like. And I’m certain there are tons upon tons of other things that I missed. Nonetheless Hora is pretty gosh darn kick-ass and while I realize that it is unlikely that the Batsheva Dance Company won’t be coming to Montreal next year, I do eagerly anticipate their next visit.