Wants&Needs Danse takes pride in its recipe for Piss in the Pool (PitP), tried-and-true after nine years. The event’s curators and co-creators Sasha Kleinplatz and Andrew Tay have been massively successful at conceiving platforms that draw a crowd for contemporary dance makers. PitP is a constant star in the reeling galaxy of festival offerings that light up Montreal’s summers: it’s a show that faithfully combines light-hearted accessibility with contemporary performance values. Ushers wearing bathing suits blow whistles to hustle the audience between pieces in the Bain Saint-Michel, a defunct swimming pool in Montreal’s Mile End and the dramatic lighting has predominantly been provided by veteran designer Rasmus Sylvest over the past decade.
The roster of eight choreographers for 2013 began their four-week residencies in the pool just as Festival TransAmériques (FTA) dropped the final curtain on its late-spring blowout of international performance. Typically, PitP choreographers take the punkish pretext of dancing in the grimy space as an invitation to mess around with movement and staging, and also to test the research and dance theories they might be pursuing in other contexts. Past instalments of PitP have repeatedly proven that dance is an inexhaustibly inventive form of entertainment. This year however, ripples of the FTA’s disquieted atmospheres and audience-testing methodologies seemed to unsettle the pieces shown in the pool.
Shared Space, Shared Thoughts
Questions on the mutable relationship between public and performer, on who is to be held responsible for maintaining the lines of communication between the two, seemed to resonate this year. Andrew Tay engaged the audience to think of particular individuals who were briefly described, then embodied the thoughts with his personalized pop-and-lock quivering. Benjamin Kamino gathered the public close to him and interpreted recordings of his friends’ dance fantasies in the buff, concluding with an a cappella rendition of The Talking Heads’ Naïve Melody. Simon Portigal’s dancers proposed looped movements that grew and shrank as they retreated from but remained facing the audience: an exercise in interpretations. The accompanying music abruptly switched from bomber plane drones to Joan Baez’s It Ain’t Me Babe.
Audrée Juteau’s masterfully rendered movement vocabulary in youme — running full tilt around the periphery of the pool, kneeling and posturing on a burgundy-coloured cushion in the deep end — captured a sense of attention to another. I thought of her family dog, a co-performer in her recent debut creation Poisson. The dog missed PitP, but Juteau continued to mime stroking her.
Helen Simard’s dénouement to the evening was collectively slow-danced away to a live performance by her husband’s rock band, Dead Messenger, reordering the traditional hierarchies between the multiple active agents of dance performance.
Tactility and Voyeurism
Choreographers seemed prepared to test the audience’s willingness to catch or let smash to the tiled floor different incarnations of vulnerability. Jessica Serli, drenched in water to the music of Verdi by dancer Annie Gagnon, took on a horrific Carrie-like presence (pre-massacre), while Gagnon and Audrey Bergeron violently thrust sloshing washtubs between splayed knees. I imagined the sensation of Serli’s dripping black dress slithering against the people seated in her path as she walked into the darkness, and wondered if they would repulse or invite her touch. More soft horrors and seductions were presented following the intermission: Geneviève C. Ferron’s striking Vanessa Beecroft-esque tableau showed twenty women (and three disguised men) slowly arching their backs and swerving on the ground in canon. They wore pretty dresses and heels; their hair—braided in front—made them disturbingly faceless. Andréane Leclerc’s three female performers writhed across the pool floor to the growling voice of Soviet singer Vladimir Vysotsky with the audience encircling them above. Watching their serpent-siren bodies contort, breasts exposed, made for a disquieting uncertainty as to who was prey and who was predator.
As Piss in the Pool nears its ten-year coming of age, its makers seem to be gaining confidence in the platform’s return audience: they seem to trust that its growing public is ready for new challenges. The works presented in the basin are exploring introspective and unsafe modes of relating and emoting. May future choreographers pick up where this year left off, with more daring plunges into the deep end and uncharted waters at Bain Saint-Michel.