In Marie Béland’s Bleu-Vert-Rouge, the choreographer uses the blue, green and red primary colors of light employed in colour TVs and computer monitors as the conceit of her audacious new creation in three acts. From the very first image she sets up engaging theatrical moments that are funny and intelligent, playing with shadows and silhouette as well as dimension and perspective. She’s also foreshadowing a larger take on the idea of technology and the screen and its framing possibilities.
Béland builds conceptual possibilities in an embrace of language and rhythm, using the cascading juxtaposition of words, phrases overlapping and fragmenting, to enhance and erase what’s being said. This also gives definition to the physicality of her piece. Much of what’s spoken is in English, alongside sequences of invented tongues and some French thrown in for good measure. A series of short sentences pop repeatedly throughout the work: “It’s you, it’s me, we’re together, we’re family, it’s a party, it’s fun.” She ably uses the English language’s flexible blend of monosyllabic possibilities, nonetheless taking a jab at the prevalence of American English on our home screens (globally too). In Québec that position has its own register of meaning and intent. She’s also tackling the idea that we are submerged by language and the bombardment of images in our daily life.
In addition to heading her own company, Béland is also one of the co-founders of La 2e porte à gauche, its mission the goal of making dance accessible to the largest possible audience. In her work she likes to play with bold colours, heaping costumes and props across her stage. Bleu-Vert-Rouge, a postmodern, self-referential delight, uses many of those same devices. Screens pop up through the hour-long work, supporting the live video work (by L E M M) and projecting images that are duplicated, angled and stylistically morphed. The performers’ voices (manipulated by sound designer Steve Lalonde) are equally amplified and distorted. Vignettes of familiar old television and film footage — clips of Elvis and Arnold the Terminator andThe Bold and the Beautiful and hockey and more – wedge their way into the action, playing on different-sized monitors and screens at different times throughout the show.
In the second act, Béland adopts the device of the puppet show using synthetic pompoms as the puppets. As with the early brightly coloured Punch and Judy marionette shows, their roots in Italian 16th century commedia dell’arte, she reinforces the notion of characters interacting, often using a broad interplay of violence and humour. Here, the mobile puppet booth is represented by a basic utilitarian table. This section is too long, as are all the sequences in the show, but Béland’s performers – Simon-Xavier Lefebvre, Marilyne St-Sauveur and Ashlea Watkin – are so uniformly terrific, drawing on comedy, dance, even song, with a physical dexterity and a madcap daring that demonstrates focus and charm, that I’m apt to forgive her the excess.
The last sequence revs up the dialogue, spinning out into a chaotic, almost schizophrenic, arsenal of fast-paced movement sequences, a barrage of exaggerated postures, facial gags and staccato operatic absurdities. The repetitive choreography echoes in the structure of the piece. It’s a kaleidoscopic overload, for sure, but the ricocheting daring of the piece won me over in the end. Béland is still a relatively new voice coming from Montréal, and she’s been touted as an up-and-comer, but what’s she’s dreaming up feels fresh, energetic and, yes, innovative. And I was knocked out by the simplicity and directness of Bleu-Vert-Rouge right below, and even above, the organized chaos.