The 2e Porte à Gauche group’s got a knack for getting dance out of traditional theatres and reinventing strategies in unusual places. Their latest haunt, The Kingdom Gentleman’s Club, a straight strip club on the Main, is home to Danse à 10, featuring works by eight Montréal choreographers (the title plays on that old standard, “Ten Cents a Dance”, though here the fee’s been upped given inflation).
As the creators have stated, their fantasy was to see to what degree “art” can riff off the “guilty pleasure” of striptease and vice versa. There’s a whiff of cultural slumming to what’s going on, but to quote Bette Midler, “if you like sparkles, feather boas, and boobs, this is the place to be.”
A glowing red staircase leads into the club’s main room, which smells like it hasn’t had a waft of fresh air in a decade. Security deals with the crush of people itching to get in. Golden lion sculptures guard four sides of the vast central stage, while baroque red velour walls pop, and mirrors galore give the routines added amplification. A metal structure anchors the stage and is used for various pole dances in the show. A first taste of the evening’s entertainment comes with the entrance of an unidentified woman accompanied by two men (Benoît Lachambre, looking like a dandy, alongside Simon-Xavier Lefebvre) in chain lead and leather collar sets. I settle into a red vinyl seat, and a completely nude Angie Cheng appears, pulling former stripper/performer Miss Betty Wilde, who appears drugged-out and massively depressed. Cheng cradles Miss Betty’s head on her shoulder, and speaks for Ms. Wilde, soliciting a private audience with them in a backroom cubicle (a $10 fee). Cheng strokes my arm (kind of creepy), and I politely decline, before saying that Miss Betty seems awfully quiet, to which I get no response from either of them. Moments later, someone has their hands on my shoulders and, unsolicited, is giving me a massage. It’s Lefebvre, suggesting I relax, put down my paper and pen, and hey, do I want a private session? The shoulder massage is welcome (though, again, off-putting) and the private session is again declined.
Soft-porn videos beam constantly on suspended monitors throughout the room. The women in these clips, seen in various in flagrante flailings, are the club dancers, not part of the “Danse à 10” romp. Teetering on the edge of parody, the videos are stark contrast to the gaggle of wide-eyed thrill-seeking men and women here tonight.
The show begins in earnest when the house DJ, with a resonant FM voice, introduces the “sweet and sexy Mariah” to major applause. Mariah Brennan performs a short dance by Manon Oligny. Brennan, in her thong and bra, takes to the stage, trance-like. Change soon falls out of every body crevice; she lifts her leg up and coins cascade down. She heats up the scene by grabbing onto a pole, thrusting up her leg, grimacing, while a few more coins tinkle out, and then she’s off stamping her foot repeatedly. Eventually she propels herself onto her knees. She flops, rolls, kicks, does a shoulder stand, and then bangs down hard on her knees, again and again. Next up, Francis Ducharme in Frédérick Gravel’s pole dance. Decked out in jockstrap, long baggy t-shirt, socks and boots, he swings his long hair, and settles into a few squats. He then flings himself at the pole, collapsing, rising, grabbing the pole and slamming into it again. At least he didn’t lick it. Faring much better was Blanche Misswhite, a strip artist with a regular gig at the club, who is known for her acrobatic pole dances. This time she’s worked with Gravel on a sublime pole routine, satisfying for its utter control and minimalist sensitivity.
In this arena, men’s behaviour can immediately be coded as stereotypically sexual; that here men have freedom to do things like flirt, stare, in some cases touch, while women wield their attractiveness. An intense Peter James gets himself into a lather in Nicolas Cantin’s violent slapstick, as a repressed and sexually explicit older obsessive, with a big smirk on his face, gyrating his hips, stroking himself, and expounding on how “c’est vraiment bon, fucking bon”, and then exploding with a series of ruder words about everyone he would like to fornicate with.
In a separate contained room, just off the mainstage area, Stéphane Gladyszewski is busy exploring some intriguingly rich interrelationships between media. Only six people enter the space at a time; equipped with headphones we witness the conceptual and sensual interplay and manipulation of sound and image. Gladyszewski uses the nude bodies of his two dancers (Ellen Furey and Emmanuel Proulx) and a simple bed-sheet as luminous canvases on which to project media images, as well employing devices that detect fluctuations in the heat-sensitivity of the skin, intimately transforming its colour and dimension. It’s quite ingenious, totally captivating, and sensuous.
“Danse à 10” triggers questions about the images that we watch/witness, whether it’s pornography or nudity revealed as political images within our society. The show is not explicitly about sex or taking anything off, nor is it doggedly making a point about violence and power, i.e., women’s bodies and sexuality as an expression of violence or exploitation within our society. It contrasts what people want, what they’re buying, and what they’ve been reduced to (in terms of isolation, in terms of the lack of affection, feeling and communication between people). There’s not much to get offended or bedazzled by. The club’s real dancers might be miffed by the massive amount of attention the contemporary dancers are getting, who knows? But probably they’re having a good laugh and are back to work keeping the regular clientele of The Kingdom Gentleman’s Club happy.