Notions of dance are changing all the time. For artistic director Benoît Lachambre’s “100 Rencontres”, the season opener for the 11th edition of the Festival de théâtre des Amériques (FTA), audiences lined up outside the building of the Société des arts technologiques (SAT), a trans-disciplinary centre for the arts and digital culture.
With the absence of FIND (Festival international de nouvelle danse) on the cultural landscape, this year’s FTA placed an emphasis on its dance-related programming more than ever before, with companies like Lachambre’s Par B.L.eux, alongside its more purely theatrical fare. The FTA struck the right tone in choosing Lachambre’s project. Not only is he interested in the cross-disciplinary creation of new vocabulary, but also in the last few years, collaboration is at the heart of his performance activity.
In SAT’s large street-front window, passersby see Emmanuel Jouthe moving about on a stage set in the window, surrounded inside by three walls of Plexiglas, preparing for his installation performance. He’s surrounded by small shot glasses and, in a corner, there’s a vat of what, formaldehyde? Headsets line the bike pole outside the window, allowing folks to listen in on the proceedings.
Surrounding the queuing crowd, the lower Saint-Laurent Boulevard street scene — the heart of Montréal’s tenderloin — throbs: the hookers, the pushers and associated clientele add indelibly to the ambience. The neon of the Montréal Pool Room, famous for its steamed hot dogs, glows. “Est. 1912”, says the sign. A disheveled guy collecting cigarette butts wanders close to the FTA crowd, peddling for spare change, business as usual. No one flinches.
Once inside, away from the street life, the festival audience is ushered down into the basement of the SAT. The place has been turned into a kind of living museum. In various quadrants, modules of activity take place, and the crowd moves at will, going from one activity/installation to another, staying for whatever length of time they feel it requires.
The first installation module that I spy is a big box-like assemblage constructed of slabs of wood and cardboard. I peak in through the slats and see a woman seated on an ice-block structure within. The guy next to me looks like he wants to go in through a small opening. I do too. I go first. The guy follows closely behind me. Others take our lead. The floor is wet from the melting slab. The woman is covering her partially clad body with band-aids.
Another module is created within a concrete structure covered with graffiti. (Perhaps it’s an expansive dumb-waiter of the past. In another time, the SAT was an old-time market.) A young man is seated, arm outstretched, eyes closed. We see him only by peering in past a curtain.
I have no idea who is the creative mind behind these pieces. Nothing is identified. In the program the installation modules are titled, but only some are immediately recognizable. For instance, I can guess that “La Chambre Froide”, by Julie Andrée T. is the cold room I just stepped out of.
I imagine “Un Drap”, conceived and performed by Joe Hiscott, is the installation with a body covered by a white cotton sheet, laid out on a piece of hard plastic or Plexiglas. The crowd mills about the form. A pair of lips are projected on the sheet. It reminds me of a shroud. At first I’m not sure it’s a real body, and that must be on the minds of others. Someone touches it, and then others do too. The crowd seems to be hovering; our bodies at a slight incline, leaning in and over the sheet. I can’t help it and I touch one of the legs too. It’s alive. A guy comes by (perhaps the credited performer Stephen Legari, but who knows?) telling people not to touch.
In another locale there’s an alley-like wall of images of people’s faces, their mouths are replaced by small speakers, and you can hear the voices of George Bush, and other sounds snatched from TV or radio. In another spot, there is text — different sheets of paper — under glass, mounted on a wall. The writings include an application for Klansmen and women; another section is a manifesto of hatred toward Jews and Muslims; and another talks about Buddha and the glory and celebration of love The pieces of paper are attributed to a compilation made by Advanced Cell Technology (?).
I return to Jouthe in the window, in his own work, titled “Aechylos”. Dressed in dark clothes, he now has a hood on his head. People climb a staircase and watch from above, or they sit below to view the proceedings, and of course they watch the watchers outside. People have their faces pushed up against the glass, headphones covering their ears. What are they listening to? I put on the earphones next to me, and hear a snatch of classical music that then fades in a rudder-like reverberation. Then nothing.
What’s most interesting in this instance, and in fact throughout most of the event, is not the “performance”, but the act of watching others watch, and hearing their comments. There is an immediate act of negotiating performance values — do I participate in what I’m experiencing or reject it? The notion of community is developed, and abandoned all at the same instant.
Lachambre and his creative partners are giving the viewer freedom to construct their own reality, by choosing what and how to view. At first the “pieces” seem rather mundane. But, on a primary level, it’s as much fun as you make it. In some ways, the experience reminds me of when I was a kid at Expo ’67, waiting in lines to enter the next pavilion, never knowing what to expect. There always seemed to be a “wow” factor right around the corner. In reality, there was exhilaration and disappointment. It’s the same phenomenon with “100 Rencontres”.
At a module called “l’Oeuf”, conceived by Martin Bélanger, and performed according to the program by “a friend of Martin’s”, a woman lies inside an egg-like structure. Her legs are exposed, sticking out of an opening in the installation. There’s a tube-like apparatus that allows for a conversation (?) to ensue. I know this only because I waited for about fifteen minutes, watching others through the entirety of their experience. I saw them sit down, talk into the piping, listen through another tube, laugh, and say a few words.
As much as originality is expressed in these choreographic/performance/audio/visual contributions, “100 Rencontres” functions also with a few disadvantages. Personality — as in, “See me, the performer” — isn’t part of the overall piece, and the movements, performed at close range, aren’t particularly striking. The unexplained and the unexplainable seem to be of prime importance in Lachambre’s design. Intimacy is part of the menu, but intimacy of what sort? The event turns out to be a fun zoo where watching reactions in others (and yourself) is more interesting than some of what’s actually happening in the “performances”. That’s the only coherent (or incoherent) payoff.
On a much smaller scale, there’s lots of craft to be seen in Montréal-based multidisciplinary artist Stéphane Gladyszewski’s work. Neither purely choreographic nor sculptural, this emerging artist is working at interpenetrating both realms. He’s inventive and builds his ideas in a photographic-cinematographic manner with visual, optical techniques that treat the moving image.
The recent graduate from Concordia University is trained in photography, dance, sculpture and video, and applies his technical know-how to studies using panels, props, bodies, sound and light. Impressive optics and intriguing dimensional illusions abound, breaking the boundaries of the body. Gladyszewski — who shoots his own work, does the editing and the manipulation of the projections — casts layers of light, and constructs video and photographic images on dancers’ bodies.
In “Aura” (featuring Elizabeth Emberly, Emmanuel Proulx and Katie Ward), Gladyszewski works with technology to create a sense of transparence in which layers of material envelop his dancers and they become screens onto which he projects his images. It gives the images a three-dimensional quality. The dancers are also surrounded by a series of suspended screens. Images melt away and re-appear; there’s lots of calculation and light play in these studies on retinal retention, creating a fragmentation of the space through the use of doubling-images and three-dimensionality.
“In Side” was originally presented at Studio 303’s Projet Projo and then at Danse à Lille. Performed by a single dancer, Jason Diggins, Gladyszewski employs similar techniques, bringing together his alchemy of interests, using the layering effects to thematically touch on the idea of meeting. On one level, images literally meet other images, but the poetics of the project can take you to a place that’s more imperceptible. The poses are simple: a crouch, a feline-like recline, an upright stance.
Gladyszewski is not just working with techno baggage. As he himself states, he wants to integrate lumière vivant and cinema vivant — i.e., bring projections to life These installation performances are aided equally by the strong and poetic lighting of Jean Jauvin and Nicolas Basque’s music score.
Comments I’ve heard suggest that people sometimes misunderstand the illusory aspect of his work, claiming it’s all show and no substance — and that disturbs them. I would argue that Gladyszewski has a persuasive, engaging vision that is both artistic and theatrical. The photographic-cinematographic manner in which the visual, optical techniques treat the moving image has an experimental feel, but it’s also gorgeous to look at.
A couple of seasons ago, in Montréal, Gladyszewski performed in Daniel Léveillé’s La pudeur des icebergs, unclothed and powerfully expressive in that minimalist study of the physics of movement. He picks up that quality of exposed vulnerability in own pieces. The dancers, all of them nude or in various states of near-nudity, seem very human. The body is presented in its utter simplicity, without reference to costume or other identifying traits. Instead, the body is dressed with light.
The fragmentation of space and time are the foundations of his projections. He presents his meticulously integrated explorations in rich hues and hushed tones, and creates a real aura. At this point, I’d like to invoke Marshall McLuhan’s provocative examination of hot versus cool media, as he describes it in his milestone text, “Understanding Media”. Hot media are high definition (“well-filled with data”) and do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience; cool media are low definition and “high in audience participation” to fill in the blanks. Hot media intensely engage a single sense; cool media loosely engage multiple senses. According to McLuhan, movies and radio are hot media while television and conversation (on the phone or in person) are cool ones. Speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener.
In Gladyszewski’s projections, there’s a lot of technological practice going on; but to use McLuhan’s lingo, he works us over, “heating” up the screen and stage. On the other hand, there’s a personal touch to the work that envelops the audience, and there’s something inexplicably enlightening about that.