Before tackling the plethora of dance and theatre events at Montreal’s robust and prestigious Festival TransAmériques, an important point should be made.
When theatre or dance shows have been originally created in French, they are not given English surtitles. This means that many shows, particularly by Quebec artists, are off the table for audience members whose French is not up to speed (including me, so I did not review most of those shows).
International shows have surtitles in both languages. To be truly inclusive, FTA has to make sure that all presentations are available in both official languages. Quebec artists are not well served by the current policy.
Alain Platel and Frank van Laecke (Ghent, Belgium)
Platel is the well-known artistic director/choreographer of Les Ballets B de la C. For Gardenia, he has joined forces with writer/director van Laecke. The result is melancholy dance theatre, tinged with dark humour, that overwhelms the heart and soul of the watcher.
The Gardenia is a drag club that is about to be closed. Seven aging drag queens come together for one last hurrah. Also in the cast is one woman and a muscular young man. The woman, who goes through all the choreography of the men, is there to remind us of reality. The young man represents the contrast of the drag queens and vibrant masculinity.
We first see the men in suits looking ordinary and middle-aged. They transform themselves into women to Ravel’s Bolero in one of the most stunning scenes in dance theatre. As they add on each layer – makeup, wig, dress, shoes – they promenade to the rhythmic beat, each time coming closer to looking complete. Steven Prengels’s score is a wonderful mix of found and original music.
Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido Campo (Ghent, Belgium)
Still Standing You
To say that this contemporary dance piece is memorable is an understatement: You can’t forget watching two naked men manipulate each other’s penises in a game of one-upmanship.
Belgian’s Ampe and Portugal’s Campo have created a duet that is the quintessence of testosterone. The show is built on physical “gotcha,” as each man tries to win control and power from the other. The brutal, violent choreographic language is as much gymnastics and wrestling as it is dance.
The positions the two get themselves into are astonishing. Each coupling segues neatly into another, but all speak of torture. The men literally walk on each other’s bodies, hurl each other through the air and entangle themselves together so that breaking free is almost impossible.
The piece generated a lot of shocked laughter. For me, beneath the humour is a representation of the violence at the basic core of the male animal.
Toshiki Okada (Tokyo)
Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner and The Farewell Speech
This disturbing dance theatre piece by writer/director/choreographer Okada is made up of three linked acts.
Hot Pepper is a monthly guide to Tokyo restaurants and is used by three office temps to plan the farewell party for Erika, a colleague whose contract has been terminated. In Air Conditioner, one permanent staff member at the same firm complains bitterly to another about how cold she always feels at work. In the final act, the five form the group at the party who listen to Erika’s heartrending, stream-of-conscious farewell speech.
While the focus of each act may seem banal, they are all underpinned by a new voice of Japanese nihilism. Okada wants to present the sense of disillusionment affecting young people now that the Japanese dream of never-ending prosperity and employment is over.
The text is accompanied by dissonant jazz music and awkward body language. There is not one ounce of the stately grace we associate with traditional Japanese theatre. Rather, these young people pour out their hearts through their tortured physicality. Simple, yes, but this compelling play is ripped out of today’s headlines.
Luisa Pardo and Gabino Rodriguez (Mexico City)
El Rumor del Incendio
The translation of the title is the Rumour of Fire, and the show is a crash course in modern Mexican history, beginning with the student uprisings of the 1960s and ending with the communist terror plots of the seventies and eighties. Against this violent backdrop is the parallel story of one radicalized woman.
The production involves three actors, historical projections, head masks of real people (such as former president Luis Echeverría), and little army figurines and maquettes of buildings that are used to re-enact battles. It is, in terms of props, a very busy stage.
The thought behind this absorbing play is a sobering one. Today, Mexico is locked in drug wars. Where are the present-day revolutionaries, the heirs of Benito Juarez and Pancho Villa and the fighters portrayed in El Rumor, who want to create a better world?
Chanti Wadge (Montreal)
This duet for Wadge and David Rancourt is absolutely beautiful in terms of theatrical elements, but needs work in creating a seamless through line. At the moment, it is too obviously episodic.
Wadge has clearly been inspired by nature and the animal world. This piece is awash in gorgeous choreography that evokes animal imagery and stunning costumes that transform the dancers into animals. The use of projections and props (a series of driftwood shaped antlers) adds to the quiet serenity of the piece.
The work is strong on details, but weak on totality.
- At various venues
- In Montreal, May 30 to June 2
Festival TransAmériques continues in Montreal until June 11.