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dance and theatre review

Festival TransAmériques

At various venues in Montreal on the weekend

You'd think Montreal would have enough performance art in the streets alone these days, but it's happening on the city's stages too, with the opening this past weekend of the annual two-week Festival TransAmériques of theatre and dance. Dedicated to the avant-garde, the festival always offers hits, but also misses so outrageous you can only sit in amazement at the end of the performance. That, however, is one of the fun reasons to come to FTA.

Here are three of the most interesting shows so far.


Sideways Rain

Guilherme Botelho, Geneva

Brazilian-born Botelho is a master of minimalism and repetition. During the course of one hour, his 14 dancers keep crossing the stage from left to right. They begin on the floor like insects, with arched backs, using their hands and toes for locomotion. By the end, they are walking upright.

They seem to be re-enacting the evolutionary tide, or maybe not, because Botelho throws a curve into the mix. When one dancer changes a movement pattern, sooner or later all the dancers are executing this new sequence. If one tries to resist, he or she is ultimately swept up by the crowd and forced to join in.

Rather than being caught up in evolution, are they lemmings going over a cliff? This piece is disturbing, yet mesmerizing.


Chante avec moi

Olivier Choinière, Montreal

Choinière wrote, composed and directed this entertaining but dark-edged musical extravaganza in which everyone sings the same song, Chante avec moi, over and over.

The show begins with a keyboard onstage. A young man comes from the audience and begins to play a tune. In time, he is joined by more than 50 others of all shapes, sizes and ages who emerge from both the audience and the wings. Instruments magically appear. Some members of the onstage group even perform choreography like a music video.

The song has such power that a girl in a wheelchair jumps up and begins to walk. A children's choir shows up, and then the big thrill – popular Quebec singer-songwriter Yann Perreau joins in for a chorus or two.

But Choinière has a twist in store. Suddenly everyone leaves the stage, and the whole sequence begins again. The people arrive in the same order, but in costumes. This time, the song is performed as a lavish production number, but in this context, the group looks embarrassingly amateurish. They start to collapse and are dragged offstage. Perreau is nowhere in sight.

Is simple joy stifled by commercialism? Are dreams of glory doomed to fail? Choinière leaves a lot of questions unanswered.


Irakese Geesten

Mokhallad Rasem, Baghdad/Antwerp

Translated from the Flemish, the title means Iraqi Ghosts. The cast includes three Iraqi actors, including director Mokhallad Rasem, and two Belgian actresses. The aim is to present the Iraqi view of war, with the hope of the West better understanding the Middle East.

The production is made up of short scenes with an emphasis on satire. One focuses on various ways to get killed in Baghdad. Another examines what Iraqis are doing the day before a war and during a war. Academy Awards are given out for Best Victim, Best Fear and Best Gunshot.

Rasem's message is tremendously important, but the show is a bit messy in presentation when it should be crisp and pointed.

Festival TransAmériques continues in Montreal until June 9.