Could there be a smarter stage work than Deux squelettes (two skeletons)? This burlesque procession of whimsically engaging sketches, choreographed and performed by Priscilla Guy and Sébastien Provencher and produced by Guy’s Mandoline Hybride company, flaunts moral diatribes. It’s a brisk primer — an ode of sorts — to the complex overlap of art and life lived in a fearsome world. The duo, reminiscent of the skeletons that rattle Día de Muertos celebrations in Mexico, bring substance and depth to the whimsy of the satire, buoyed by their innate charm and onstage chemistry.
Deux squelettes operates with the premise that we are saturated in our daily existence by an overload of social media — our senses glued to bite-sized rat-a-tat information; our endorphins gone wild, charged by electronic devices and unrelenting messaging. The show is an observation of our current state as a dissociated population with only a vestigial memory of being functional, engaged and truly communicative.
The absurdly sly production begins with a band of musicians (Hugo Bégin, Renaud Gratton, Philip Hornsey and Benoit Paradis) entering the space, one banging on a drum and three others with slide trombones, playing wistful fanfare. Guy and Provencher’s characters are, we’re told through voice-over narration, two artists who’ve shed, well, everything to probe the meaning of their existence. At first, they are seen shrouded in white, stretchy fabric that envelops their upper bodies. Midriffs are exposed. Then there’s a segue to a coffee-sipping and body-tipping sequence. Just like “The Skeleton Dance,” the first episode of Disney’s classic animation Silly Symphonies (1929), with its spooky-fun skeleton dance, these two characters are expressive and lively.
We’re told strands of information about skeletons in general; for instance, there are 206 bones in the body (“Count ’em”). Other such details are delivered in rapid-fire succession. Next, they are gym-bound, doing a series of cardio workouts — jumping jacks, wall sits, abdominal crunches. A video screen mounted at the back of the space displays the exercises while the skeletons proceed with their business. The dancers, in black stretch tops, hoods and skeleton-sketched tights, put themselves through the paces. When they get to a push-up and rotation set, it morphs into a series of voguing moves and is greeted by big smiles and chuckles from the audience.
The show’s structure builds in momentum. There’s a smart, talkative monologue, written by Dany Boudreault, with laugh-out-loud funny lines created for a smiling, narcissistic, motor-mouthed talk-show host, played by actor Renaud Paradis, who interviews the two skeletons. He fills in the blanks of their continued silence with pumped-up false bravado that mirrors trademark formulaic talk-show formats. The self-sufficient duo’s history is revealed in video footage that adopts a staccato editing style that’s ironic and repetitive but effective in subverting the authority that we ascribe this kind of reportage. Provencher, one of the go-to male dancers in the Montréal community, excels in this section portraying droopy-eyed languor and slack-jawed neutrality to the comic hilt. The skeletons also have an energetic dance sequence set to Backstreet Boys’ Everybody, in which the phosphorescent figures bound about to the music. A sequence highlighting bare backs in a golden light and another with an isolated ghostly hand dance calms the bristle of much else on view.
Deux squelettes concludes with a video clip of Soir d’hiver by Québec’s mythic poet Émile Nelligan featuring esteemed actor Albert Millaire’s touching recital of the poem. This celebrated paean to death and tragic destiny breeds a melancholic yet hopeful pathway forward. But the stuttering edit of the video disrupts any such profound reflection. What it does reinforce is the spasmodic vulnerability that trumps boredom and paralyzes our day-to-day existence.