At 8pm, voices and noises are still drifting into the upstairs lobby at l’Agora de la danse from the floors above and below us. We wait, higgledy-piggledy, for 6,3 Évanouissements to begin. Catherine Tardif and Michel F. Côté — the artistic directors and musical conspirators from Et Marianne et Simon company — appear in the crowd with four additional performer-choreographers, mingling and greeting friends. Near a curvaceous sculpture at the centre of the room, dancer Sophie Corriveau draws an egg-shaped empty space in chalk on the floor for herself. Her collaborator Marc Boivin bellows; she faints into the clearing. From that moment onwards, we tumble into a dreamscape of tantric meditations, giddy charades, and woozy songs and dances through the imagined wormhole of Corriveau’s chalk circle.
With all the improbabilities of a Haruki Murakami novel, 6,3 Évanouissements leads us on a playful chase through the back door of the theatre before we arrive in our seats. Once sedentary, our perspective on the stage is reconfigured from moment to moment. The main curtain makes shifty moves: opens and closes, slides forward and back. The envelope of the music is ever-changing from flat to reverberating, from cheeseball to dramatic. Our clear view of the stage is supplanted by live Skype videos.
The all-star team of Montréal makers who collaborated on 6,3 also includes dancer-choreographer Benoît Lachambre, lighting designer Marc Parent and spoken-word poet Fortner Anderson. This oddball group has crafted a seamless “exquisite corpse” (the writing game attributed to André Breton, though the project doesn’t credit Breton explicitly), and sports the whimsical qualities of surrealism. By harnessing the wide range of their expertise, the team has stitched together a topsy-turvy suite of dances, songs, poems and images that surge from their responses to the question, “where do they go, they who faint?”
Incongruous scenes overlap. Anderson squiggles through the rungs of a chair. Corriveau twitches alone in the space. They all pose together with the extreme grins of Wodaabe tribesmen.
In keeping with the theme of lost bearings on reality, the piece nods toward drug culture. They shake themselves to punk rock band The Strangler’s song Golden Brown. Anderson refers to spoken word performer Gil Scott-Heron “on the nod” in a poetic recital of his lifetime of memories. “Once,” Anderson continues in his monologue, “I turned 58, unsure of the consequences.”
In 6,3 Évanouissements, as the scenographic designs change, our expectations are derailed. Light and obscurity repeatedly shift our vantage point on the action, which reminds me of the ring of lamps in Trio Métal and the wall of venetian blinds in Le Show Triste, two of Tardif’s previous creations. In 6,3, in one instance, stage manager Lee Anholt paces the catwalks above the stage, at first brightly lit. Suddenly, he is blotted out by the enormous shadow cast by Tardif’s face, which enters the beam. In an instant, our gaze is directed away from the rafters and down to the floor by a trick of the light. Marc Parent’s virtuosity in lighting design is fascinating: he made the likeness of cloud-shadows passing over a hillside on a windy day appear over the vacant blue seats before we sat in them.
The performers are also ever-changing: playful, sensuous or serious. They embody the propositions briefly then let them go, unaffected, uncommenting. They switch from place to place, persona to persona, talent to talent. In front of the fish-eye lens of a camera, they sing diabolically like the doctors of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film 12 Monkeys. Boivin grabs at clouds with the naive awe of a child in one moment, but later reappears, professorial in a kilt and glasses, to take a snooze. Tardif often croons at the microphone, but also clucks like a woebegone laying hen. Lachambre, in his marvellous way, winds up in a sybaritic ass-to-ass embrace with Côté, an image that summons Miranda July’s 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know, in which a six-year-old character invents an emoticon — ))<>(( –to describe his secret idea of sensuality: pooping “back and forth, with the same poop … forever.” Neophyte performer Anderson brings a goofy Shatnerian self-assurance to the stage in slapstick moments with chair or ladder. Côté, too, is an adept physical performer. While I watched him dance an articulate duet with Lachambre, I had no idea that Côté — well known for his compositions — isn’t usually seen on the stage without an instrument.
The performers gnaw at apples. They spit the pulp all over the stage like carnival barf in the final scene, fulfilling my déjà vu of Peter James’ performance in a previous Tardif piece. In the multi-drugged dreamland of 6,3 Évanouissements, these grownups play in the theatre as in a backyard playhouse. They reconstruct the emotional flipping and flopping of tripped-out teenaged hoods and pre-verbal infancies. Like any vivid dream, one can interpret its contents if one so fancies. Or we might just relax, delighting in its warped humour and irrationality. Stumbling off the ride, I am more disoriented than illuminated, but also bloated with belly laughs and intrigued.~