With video content produced with support from Canadian Heritage through the Business Innovation component of the Canadian Periodical Fund.
FRGMNT, a newly formed street dance collective, is performing their first work, Superheroes Cry Too, from Dec. 8 to 11 at Ausgang Plaza in Montreal, presented by Danse-Cité. The performance consists of artists in a heterarchy: Ja James “Jigsaw” Britton Johnson, Victoria “VicVersa” Mackenzie, Nubian Néné, Mukoma-K. “J.Style” Nshinga and Richard “Shash’ U” St-Aubin.
With artistic co-direction by Céline “ezzeC” Richard-Robichon and Shash’ U, Superheroes Cry Too aims to combine sound, performance and visual media to create an immersive experience for audiences, one that honours open communication and vulnerability.
Lucy Fandel, regional reporter for Quebec, visited the collective during rehearsal to learn about their new work. While she was there, they were working on a solo that will be performed by J.Style in an intimate corner of the venue. Fandel spoke with ezzeC about the process of collaborating and creating the show.
Lucy Fandel: FRGMNT is a newly formed collective, and I’m interested in the impetus for you all to come together. What sparked it?
Céline “ezzeC” Richard-Robichon: Full transparency: it was Victoria Mackenzie who was the one to bring us together with this idea of forming a collective. The word heterarchy was presented to us in terms of shared leadership. Obviously, everybody who’s in the collective are artists that inspire. We inspire each other, but I have to give it to her that she’s the reason that we became a group. Then I think the involvement and the furthering of the projects really started happening with the heart of why the group exists, and that’s wanting to make things together and collaborating.
You know, it would be nice to have a romantic story, like we’ve been best friends forever and now we’re making art and big projects, but it was Vick who brought us together.
Her goal was to have a heterarchy, so a shared leadership, but everybody came in with a specialty. Shash is sound and media art. Vick was dancing, choreographing. For me it was dancing, and I guess choreographing, but I’ve been working a lot with objects and projection, integrating media into my work that I started making probably three years ago. So I came in the collective as someone that would propose things like objects, landscape, image. Then Ja came in as filming. He’s also a performer but specializes in filming. And Néné is an artist of all, so she does all the things.
LF: What has that multidisciplinary process been like in terms of discoveries or challenges that came up along the way?
CRR: I think what’s interesting about being a multidisciplinary artist is that you have to share your time in all the disciplines. Sometimes, I feel like I only have surface knowledge of certain things that are not dance because I’ve devoted my entire life to mostly movement. When I’m playing with media, I do still feel like it’s surface knowledge because I haven’t gone far in the experience of furthering the practice. You have to share your time. I have to mount projections; I have these very extravagant costumes and installations that demand time in terms of building and working with the designer, and then I have to be in the studio addressing movement options and direction with the dancers.
I think that’s the challenge of multidisciplinary work. It’s a lot of things. And it’s a beautiful thing because they all fuel each other in terms of shared knowledge, but when I’m feeling more pressured to actualize tasks, it’s that there are many. But at the same time, that’s the weapon in it. What you understand from each discipline, you’re coming back to the other with a new perspective.
That’s also what the collective is for. Like, Shash has been really great at showing me and teaching me a lot about media art. And he is also a dancer. He comes in and spends time in the process of the movement that I’ve been taking care of. Then he goes, and he fuels the projections and the sound according to what I’m sharing.
[Multidisciplinarity] becomes a lot, but then everything slowly becomes richer because of it.
LF: Can you tell me about what you are working on today?
CRR: Today we’re building the lighting landscapes for each solo, which is all very new for me. We have our designer, Tim Rodrigues, who’s really great. I think what’s interesting about how we’re choosing to present this is that even though lighting exists for a performance, there needs to be an understanding of the space as a whole because each lighting setup is specific to an area of the room rather than a stage where lighting just is going through the story. With these lightings, the stories happen in different areas of the venue. So as much as you want to isolate the spaces, you have to find a way for them to keep in the same environment. What’s interesting with doing this is being able to create intimacy in a corner but then have it mesh with all the other corners that will also be intimate.
LF: I noticed that you are also doing many other things at the same time, and I’m curious what that’s like for you. I was seeing you work on the costumes and giving feedback and doing lighting.
CRR: Yeah, it’s a lot. I’m a very anxious person and I can get really riled up, but somehow, I think because I’m so happy about it, it is like fluttering. Like, ‘OK, gotta do this! Gotta do this!’ I think I’m just really excited. It is just happening. [Mackenzie squeezes through the venue entrance, arms full of bags.] I’m just gonna help her with this, sorry.
LF: What do you hope people walk away with after seeing this work?
CRR: Well, I think there’s not one thing to hope for. I really believe in everybody’s own interpretation, so there’s not one thing that I feel is the right thing. The root of it before becoming abstract and going forward with the exploration is inviting the idea of being open with discussing sentiment and difficult emotions (difficult sentiment that then gravitates towards mental health), to avoid hiding yourself when you are feeling something that is hard and hopefully to invite the idea that things can be more fluid. I mean, that’s what the title is, right? Superheroes Cry Too. We’re always trying to power up, but it’s OK to cry or break down as well. The show will be all these amazing artists doing crazy things, but the idea is to demonstrate that the difficulties that we all live [with] are also a superpower.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.