Nicolas Cantin seems to like things to percolate. In Klumzy, everything is set on a low simmer. The choreographer embraces a gentleness of spirit — something that he’s adopted in his work since last year’s CHEESE, a piece that grappled with ideas about memory. Earlier works like Grand singe and Mygale had an emotional brutality about them, but here, things are set to evoke a kind of nostalgia. There is an old-fashioned projection screen onstage, the kind once used to show home movies or slide shows. The projection captures a still of Ashlea Watkin, his performer and collaborator of some years.
There are various vocal interventions, either on tape, or uttered using the onstage microphone. Throughout, Cantin plays with the idea of the double and repetition — voices are transformed, words recur, layers of clothing are put on, removed and put on again. Occasionally Watkin’s voice is altered to suggest a young girl. With her back to the audience, Watkin says, “It’s an image of me.” Followed by, “I don’t know if it’s me.” And then, “It’s an image of me or you.” We hear later that she’s lying about naked in a bed, but the tale ends mid-sentence. There’s a story concerning a missing peacock that is repeated later in the performance. Watkin talks about the drowning death of her mum’s first love — the body was never found. Without affect or drama, anecdotes are shared, little fragments of recollection about beautiful days and other remembrances. But what is true, and what is not, may be at the heart of the piece.
For a time, Watkin puts on an elastic, rubbery mask of an old man and slowly paces about the stage and the piece begins to gain some traction. Physical changes are introduced in her body, incrementally. There’s a slowness in her limbs and a weightiness that weren’t apparent when she appeared without the guise.
But then the piece shifts gears — rupture seems ever-present.
The show is billed as a solo, performed by Watkin, but it’s not really. The focus shifts between Watkin and Cantin, who by-and-large manipulates music and other technical elements on stage. Cantin, who has training in clown and mask work, wanders on the stage and off, at one point dancing to some thrash music. But his bounding about distracts and somehow makes the piece sluggish. When he dons a hand-held respirator, we hear the effort of his breathing. Ultimately Watkin puts on a fake beard and hat. She/he bends over the microphone on the stand, and the amplified voice we hear is gravelly, words almost unrecognizable. The French word “spectacle” becomes audible, and it’s repeated over and over. A classical piece of music is played from Cantin’s computer.
The action is intermittent and anecdotes abound. There’s a sequence of a few simple gestures: a walk forward, a quick turn, arms in the air, arms outstretched above. Eventually the elderly man mask is worn again, and we watch her/him standing, simply standing. The moment has a pure quality, the kind of suspension in time when the brain activates to another moment from the past. Keeping the mask on, Watkin removes a dark sweater to reveal a feminine, pink shark-printed jersey, and she/he begins a series of twisty hip rotations.
With Watkin and Klumzy, it’s never clear what is building in terms of these transformations, and the synthesis of the performance does not seem complete. It’s as if, particularly in the second masked sequence, that she inhabits the man from the neck up. Her young, feminine body is ever-present. Perhaps that’s the point: Cantin demands a level of acceptance that many would find dissatisfying. We’re given few clues about his intentions, but he is pondering mutability and artifice, and, throughout, the actions are conveyed with honesty, intimacy and a calm effortlessness. In part, the work feels like a study, with research yet to be done. But that nascent feeling might just be its most captivating aspect. At the end, for the bow, the two simply look out at the audience. He claps gently. There’s a generous sense of humanity in their gaze that elevates what’s being shared.