I’m not certain which “Family Affair” is more appropriate. The one by Sly and the Family Stone
Or the one starring Brian Keith, Sebastian Cabot, Kathy Garver, Anissa Jones and Johnny Whitaker.
Or It’s Just Wrong from the Howard Stern Show.
OK, let me backtrack a little bit. Last Wednesday I went to Usine C to see a performance by Angela Laurier. She’s a contortionist, who also used to be a child performer on TV in Canada
In between being a child performer on TV in Canada and mounting her second traveling contortionist stage show she worked for a bunch of different circuses (circii?), did some Shakespeare for Robert Lepage and a whack of other pretty impressive stuff that I did not know until after the show.
This was/is the third show (I think) that she has made having to deal with her family (I didn’t see Mon Grand Frère, but I did see Déversoir [spillway for the squareheads in the house] and there might be others that I am not aware of) but the first with her family. Besides Ms. Laurier, her brother Dominique acts in it, her sister Lucie directed it, and another sister, Charlotte did some filming for the show.
Apparently most of this is common knowledge to fans of Quebecois theatre. But as I am a bloke, it was all news to me. I’m not a big fan of theatre to begin with, and French theatre even less so. I’m not certain how to handle it. On one side, I’d like to think that each and every performance stands on its own merits and is independent of anything else, and as a consequence I’ve almost kind of been able to to train myself to to go into any performance without any expectations. On the other side, I’m kind of miffed, or maybe surprised, at myself. I would have figured that I would have been more aware of Ms. Laurier’s ranking within the galaxy of Quebecois vedettes. But obviously I don’t.
But enough of the backstory. What about the show itself?
I was surprised that it wasn’t a full house, I’ve kind of gotten used to the concept that opening nights for dance shows (of dance-like shows) have fannies in every seat. I’m not certain what to think. Is it a case where they couldn’t find people? Or did they decide that paying customers were more important? The stage was covered in some sort of white cloth with what looked like two skate ramps at either end. Which I promptly forgot when the lights went down. Because my notes read: “smoke machine, way cool.”
In retrospect the Laurier sisters had come up with a “way cool” effect. One of the “skate ramps” was something like in industrial fan, which then blew air underneath the white cloth, making it ripple quite fast, which in turn in the darkness made it look like smoke from dry ice streaming across the stage. I need to remember that for the next time I do something on stage.
I identified eight separate parts. I’m not certain if I would go so far as to classify them as scenes or acts. Perhaps if I wanted to get fancy, vignettes. But I think I’m most comfortable with “parts.”
In the first part, Angela Laurier is underneath the cloth on one of the things that I was calling a skate ramp. In this case it wasn’t a fan either, but a pedestal with a recessed spotlight, so the shadows cast as Ms. Laurier contorts underneath the cloth are not only quite dramatic, but also not that easy to decipher. Kind of like a living x-ray, if you get my drift.
In the second part, she comes out from underneath the cloth and continues contorting. (Unlike dance, where I know the words like plié and pirouette but don’t quite know how to use them to describe the action on stage, I don’t even know a single contorting term, so you’re just going to have to bear with me on this.) For some reason or another, I thought she kind of looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor.
But now upon looking at pictures of Elizabeth Taylor, I think I should modify it slightly so that the word “glamorous” is involved as well.
She alternates between underneath the cloth and not underneath the cloth moving and contorting in ways that I would have never thought off. At one point she “walks” with her legs straight up in the air, kind of like you’d imagine a double amputee would “walk.” There’s another time where she balances on the edge of the pedestal upside down. In between there are moments where it looks like she might be masturbating, or posing like a bodybuilder.
While all of this is happening she’s dressed in a pair of skin colored shorts and the soundtrack is for the most part some sort of looped guitar.
Then she hops off the pedestal and rolls it off stage. A video that is some kind of family photo album (a sure sign that it is a new and different part) starts. Her brother (or what I presume is her brother as I have never spoken to him) talks over the video, explaining himself. There are some humorous moments (there are nine Laurier siblings) and an early ballet recital by Ms. Laurier. The video is projected on a scrim and as it finishes there are these large shadows projected on it just before it drops, and Ms. Laurier and her brother Dominique are seated and clothed. There’s a second scrim behind them where it becomes possible to see a band playing. And then it starts to get weird.
Ms. Laurier and Mr. Laurier start walking around in circles, sit back down, she moves the chairs loudly, and then starts spinning her hands around like a windmill. As she’s spinning her hands they begin to get very red. Unfortunately I can’t find any video to accurately give you an idea of what she does with her hands. And I have no idea if it is due to something having to do with all the blood in her arms moving to her hands because of the centrifugal force. Or if there is some sort of fancy lighting effect being used (Richard Croisé gets credit as the lighting director, and he is pretty gosh-darn good). She then continues in what I noted were probably extremely difficult movements.
There’s a duet of sorts between Ms. Laurier and Mr. Laurier, which strangely enough got applause from the audience. And then another video, this time not some family slide show, but of Ms. Laurier heavily oiled up and contorting. It’s a very disorienting video, where I found myself not always certain of what body part I was looking at. Some more people walked out at this point (I didn’t note down when the first couple left, sorry).
And then it goes over the top. As I wrote, Ms. Laurier is “in a sheet with dramatic lighting and a reverse shadow time lapse something or other.” No, even now I have no clue what it was that I actually saw. I’m convinced that it was interesting and well done. I just for the life of me can’t figure out what exactly was happening as it was happening. (I told you Richard Croisé was pretty gosh darn good at what he did.) There’s something where Mr. Laurier is drawing on something where Ms. Laurier is moving, but you can see something else that might be Ms. Laurier, or might be something else. Suffice it to say, I was both very impressed and very confused. And then it’s over.
I’m not quite certain what J’aimerais pouvoir rire is exactly about, other than family is complicated. (And sorry, for the squareheads reading, I should have translated the title much earlier; it means “I’d like to be able to laugh.”) I’m always transfixed by Ms. Laurier’s productions for a variety of reasons. One is the extremely simple fact that contortionists are like the proverbial three-headed goat. You gotta look. The second is that for the most part I’ve been brought up to view contortionists as part of the “freak side show.” This is due to the three-headed goat effect, and because there hasn’t been any tradition of using contortion to tell a story. Much like a statue, contortionists are there to be looked at. However, Ms. Laurier’s productions are not “freak side shows.” They definitely have a story to tell, it’s just that I haven’t quite figured out how to interpret the method that she is using to tell the story. Almost like listening to someone read a poem out loud in a foreign language, or using your hands to understand a sculpture.