Whether with squealing tires on neon-lit asphalt or breathless stumbling through cornfields while a chainsaw roars in the distance, film directors have used the visceral chase scene to get audiences cringing, gasping and gripping theatre armrests.
On June 19, Winnipeg-based choreographer and performance artist Ming Hon took this adrenaline-boosting phenomenon to the gallery in an exhilarating new work. Presented by aceartinc., a contemporary art gallery in Winnipeg’s exchange district, the aptly titled Chase Scenes #1-58 features performers Hilary Bergen, Carol-Ann Bohrn, Trevor Pick and Hon herself sprinting, panting and stumbling through its whip-fast fifty minutes. Creating alongside filmmakers Kayla Jeanson and jaymez, Hon weaves pre-shot footage with live-action video, controlled by the performers using hand-held cameras, to form a hyperactive blaze through various fight/flight scenarios.
The calculated chaos is structured by list with scene titles flashing on the bare gallery walls surrounding the audience. Placed in two rows facing each other in the centre of the space, Hon invites viewers to experience the bedlam in an interactive approach. In a work that bursts out of the gate with such force, having the chance to observe audience reactions not only makes for an interesting view but it also keeps the piece present and electric.
#1. The Park
A silent, eerie clip plays of Hon walking down a tree-lined path. The performers enter the space as Hon mimics the actions of her avatar, heels clicking, anxiously circling the audience with darting eyes and the sense that she is being followed. Passing a makeshift kitchen, two corner “bedrooms” and a myriad of props (tree branches and chains, to name a couple), Hon rapidly flings off her shoes, strips to nearly nothing and breaks into a sprint-on-the-spot, setting the heart-pumping pace for the next fifty-seven scenes.
Beginning with a cinematic scenario that is all-too-familiar for anyone who has walked alone at twilight, this real-life nightmare recalls the vulnerability and fear felt when treading through dangerous spaces. This seed of a thought is quickly trampled, however, as the show moves at breakneck speed into tickle fights, bank robberies and retro gang-getaway scenes.
Bouncing from fearful escapes to rambunctious getaways (with the emphasis always on the performers as prey in the dynamic of the hunt), Chase Scenes #1-58 acts as a sketchy Rolodex of cinema’s finest moments of pursuit. Using classics like Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979), moments upon moments of kinetic film gold scroll past like a YouTube playlist. Although exciting and visually interesting, the work’s repetition becomes monotonous at times despite intense energy from the performers.
Apart from strictly cinematic references, Chase Scenes #1-58 also delves into the smoke and mirrors of moviemaking. Cheekily grandiose shots are created through the clever use of wind fans, camera angles and green-screen effects created by projections.
The performers confidently play both director and movie star in Hon’s action-movie epic. Both night terror scenarios and casual jogs through suburbia are enacted with unwavering intention and athletic prowess. While the relationships between performers are sometimes murky or disconnected, the attention to self and to each personal monologue is pristine.
In addition to the gendered dynamic of the opening chase scene, other glimmers of meaty social issues appear throughout the work. Directly following a charming and hilarious parkour demonstration by Bohrn, Hon plays a clip of recent CNN news footage from a viral video of cops breaking up a pool party in Texas. It’s edited to show one officer’s video-game inspired somersault, but anyone who’s witnessed the full footage will recall the overall disturbing example of racism and abuse of authority. Testosterone-fuelled ads for Adidas and Nike play following the news clip, a reminder of the stereotypical aggressor who is doing the chasing.
One of the most poignant visuals in the work comes in a scene shot by Jeanson. Beck’s cover of “I Only Have Eyes For You” plays while Hon jogs through an empty downtown parkade. The dreamy track is one of the few pieces of music in the work and it creates a serene moment amidst the chaos that is truly unforgettable.
A breathless and battered Hon collapses on the hardwood floor. What used to be a sterile gallery space is now littered with old photos, fake money, clothing and other discarded props. The race is done but the satisfaction of safety, freedom, capture or conclusion never hits. In the mayhem of flight, fear and physical exertion, what they are running from became too far in the distance. So while blur caught on film is an alluring effect, a sharp focus is needed to enhance its splendour and direct the eye.