Flesh and Sound plays at Montréal, arts interculturels (MAI) from November 8 through 11.
Flesh and Sound is a magical, transcendent two-part collaborative performance featuring a merging of choreography, sound and music, in addition to an interactive installation. The work is produced by the Montreal-based Vías ensemble, directed by Paco Ziel and Diana León, a company devoted to transdisciplinary and intercultural creation. All the featured artists associated with this project are Mexican-born and Montreal-based.
The evening starts with an interactive installation conceived by Siam Obregón, an independent filmmaker, visual artist and curator, in the MAI’s adjacent gallery space. The audience filters into a darkened space in single file, a spoonful of sand placed into our hands, with the simple instruction to place the granules on an amplified metal drum.
The space, with its intersection of suspended fabrics, instruments and enveloping sounds, is warm. The lighting is low and the atmosphere contemplative. A magnificent shimmering piece of silver paper, which appears to be more like a metal sculpture, is a focal point, with large comfortable pillows encircling it, strewn across the gallery’s wooden floor.
What’s stunning is the suspended stage lantern above the object that casts an enchanting prismatic glow on the surrounding wall. Rumbling electronic sounds, reminiscent of breath, envelop the space, awakening a different awareness of the surroundings.
Obregón actively reformulates how we interact with the room: she creates an uncluttered expanse that is hushed, yet open, where viewers can be attentive and move in a peaceful environment. After about 15 minutes, the opening night performers and co-creators, Ziel and Bernardo Alvarado Rojas (a rotating cast of performers is featured throughout the run), enter the gallery, bare-chested, both wearing loose-fitting pants and percussive ankle bracelets made with what appear to be large and small canary shells. Each slowly gravitates to a different suspended fabric and easily slips on a white cotton top. Then, they move to a door that leads the audience into the performance space.
The stage area is circular, with seating surrounding the two artists on three sides. This new work offers a journey into a world of pre-Hispanic Aztec culture’s instruments, as the performers play and move to the sound of a variety of wind instruments including clay flutes, ocarinas, conch shells, rattles, small whistles, rasps, shakers and a vertical drum covered with stretched animal hide. The percussion is amplified digitally.
Watching the dancers’ movements and listening to the sounds of the ancient instruments, I find myself carried into what seems to be a ritualistic liminal space, shifting between or accessing altered states of consciousness as the performance progresses.
At times the environment feels cinematic, with the play of the lights and the sounds and movement transporting me to a different dimension, and then the here and the now of the performance returns. The movement conjures eagle imagery and other Mexican cosmological references.
Ziel, a lean and fleet-footed performer with long braided hair, whose movements sing, is fully immersed in responding to the sound, while Alvarado Rojas, a fine mover in his own right and a composer and sound designer on the project, is engaged in generating the movement. Ziel, in particular, is riveting with his awareness of, connection to and control over every inch of his body. In one section, the two dancers seem to face off, their bodies coming very close, instruments in hand, their energies colliding. The section verges on the chaotic, unbridled, and then, after a few moments, the spark settles.
Breath features strongly in the progression of the performance and is a uniting thread in the work. Alongside the acoustic instruments, the performers’ breath is used like the wind, invisible but audible, recognized by the swirling traces that it leaves behind. The currents weave around the performers and the space, entering and departing, moving the spectators into a collective breath.
A unique show, Flesh and Sound touches on the sacred and provides a rich experience overflowing with meaning.
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