Lets get this out of the way first and foremost: For the past two weeks I have been living and breathing Jocelyne Montpetit almost 24/7. Back in August I interviewed her, and if you’ve been watching this website regularly, you already know that there is a six-part interview with her available for your viewing pleasure. Well, in order to get that six-part interview here, I needed to do some editing. And in order to do the editing, I had to watch the film, again, and again, and again, and again, you get the picture.
All that being a kind of long winded way of saying that I’m not objective in the least. But then again, I rarely am objective about anything. But I digress.
The short version of my review of Avril est le mois le plus cruel by Jocelyne Montpetit at the Agora de la Danse could be summed up as “It’s great! Go see it.” But if you want the longer more detailed version, keep scrolling.
As you might have guessed, it was inspired by the first four lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem from 1922, The Wasteland. But, not the English version (obviously), the French. I transcribed the version that were in the program notes, but then noticed that they seemed a little bit different from what I was used to.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
The version in the program notes
Avril est le mois le plus cruel
Il engendre des lilas qui jaillissent de la terre morte
Il mêle souvenance et désir
Il réveille par ses pluies de printemps les racines inertes
And then a version I found online
Avril est le mois le plus cruel, qui fait surgir
Des lilas de la terre morte, mêle
Mémoire et désir, réveille
D’inertes racines avec la pluie de printemps
I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one you prefer and if the differences are significant or not.
I very deliberately did not re-read The Wasteland, not even the beginning before going to see the performance because a) I thought that it was inspired by the first four verses of the poem (my mistake; vers in French doesn’t mean verses, it means lines) and b) I did not want to make the mistake of wanting, or expecting, the performance to be a literal representation of the poem (I’ve already seen one of those).
And I’m glad I didn’t reread it until after the performance, because, knowing myself I would have gone looking for direct connections between both, and there really aren’t any. The performance is all about sadness. It just as easily could have been named after Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Fauré’s Requiem in D minor or anything else imbued with an overwhelming sense of sadness.
Anyhows, now that I got that out of the way we can get on with everything else. Before anything begins there’s a humongous block of ice (about four feet high, two feet wide and eight inches thick) front stage left and a bed with some glasses underneath it back stage right. I don’t know if it was intentional (and somehow I think it wasn’t) but on the night I was there (opening night, September 14) it looked like there was an image of a really really big tulip that hadn’t quite gotten around to blooming, yet. There also seemed to be something like pollen squirting out of the top.
I mention this, because if you use your imagination a tulip that’s just about to bloom with some pollen squirting from the top can, and does look like something else, and neither of them look like lilacs. I also mistakenly thought that the glasses under the bed were bubble wrap. I think I might have to go see my optometrist to make sure my prescription is correct.
Dressed in a white nightgown to start, Ms. Montpetit comes out on stage from the rear and starts wandering around the stage. Although I should be horsewhipped for using the word wandering. Unfortunately words fail me when I try to describe how Ms. Montpetit moves and I end up sounding like a blathering idiot. After thumbing through my thesaurus, I guess it could be called a combination of slow, in control of every muscle in her body, deliberately ungraceful, beautiful, and emotionally moving. But that’s 121 letters, the word wandering is nine letters.
As is mentioned in the program notes, Avril est le mois le plus cruel is the first in a trilogy of Elegies (or if you prefer, Élégies) that Ms. Montpetit is creating. Dedicated to Tomiko Takai, who died in May, I do not know if it was directly inspired by her death, but as I have already mentioned, her performance is very emotionally charged almost completely permeated with anguish, despondency, disconsolateness, dolefulness, dolor, dysphoria, forlornness, grief, heartache, melancholy, mournfulness, mourning, poignancy, sorrow, sorrowfulness, and woe (man I adore thesauruses!)
To quote another famous and sad piece of English literature, “there’s the rub,” expressing a difficult and deep emotion without saying a single word. But Ms. Montpetit makes it look as easy as falling off a log.
At this point, I gotta remember to mention Sonoyo Nishikawa who did the lighting, he (she? Are Japanese names like Italian names and the boys get the “O” and the girls the “A”?) did a phenomenal job. Not only did I think a bunch of glasses were bubble wrap, but about two thirds of the way through the performance, they made the bed disappear. Solely through judicious use of spotlights. I can’t say I was as enthralled by the soundtrack, some Arvo Pärt, Louis Dufort and Alessandro Scarlatti (at least I presume it is Alessandro Scarlatti, since the other two Scarlatti’s weren’t known for their vocal compositions and his first name is not noted in the program notes).
Beyond that, there’s not much more I can say. If you’re interested Ms. Montpetit not only “wandered” around the stage, sometimes she lay down on the bed, or next to the bed. There were a couple of times she writhed around on stage or crawled from place to place. She changed costumes three times, and by my count there were six parts (although other people who probably know far more than me say there were only three). And it all takes about an hour.
But basically, Ms. Montpetit is a living and breathing testament to the concept that somethings truly can’t be spoken or written down. They need to be experienced. Avril est le mois le plus cruel is one of them.
Avril est le mois le plus cruel continues at the Agora de la danse, tonight, tomorrow and Friday the 23rd at 8 pm. Tickets are $26. And I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts that it has a couple of more engagements both here in Montreal and elsewhere.