(FTA = Festival TransAmériques) A brief and selective history… Those that know Montreal, know it is truly a city that knows how to put on a great festival. Jazz, francofolie, comedy, lobster… you name it, Montreal has a festival for it! Two of my favourites have always been the FTA and the now defunct FIND (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse). Happily, several years ago, several of Canada’s arts funders announced a request for proposals from org’s interested in replacing the FIND (well, replacing what the FIND represented to the arts (and art-going) community in Montreal). The FTA won the competition and their excellent bi-annual, theatre festival became an even more excellent annual dance & theatre festival. 2011 marked the 5th edition and it was a whopper, continuing the festival’s tradition for presenting a wide cross-section of work that represents both emerging artists and international superstars. From the delightfully palatable to the outrageously provocative, the FTA draws huge crowds while in no way shying away from work that is confrontational.
What I find absolutely amazing is that every show I attended was full: from the informal 100 seat studio performances to the grandiose 1000+ seat extravaganzas, Montrealers manifest their appreciation for live performing arts in abundance. While Vancouver has certainly shown they know how to throw a party (check the street action during the Olympics and the Canucks run to tonight’s game 7), and Toronto certainly has its moments, I know of no other place in Canada that is so perpetually festive in so many ways… J’adore les Montrèalais because of this Québecois joie de vivre. Vive la belle province!
While my hands-down favourite show was Kidd Pivot’s The You Show (Crystal, I love you!!) and Estelle Clareton’s S’envoler was a real treat, I am compelled to write about three other shows that I found to be wonderfully compelling and thought provoking. So, in order of viewing…
Gardenia by Alain Platel/Franck Van Laecke/C de la B
Not being familiar with Platel’s work I came into this show with no preconceptions (Is this not the best way to come into a show? Unfortunately it’s not always possible…) Inspired by the film Yo soy asi, the “story” centres on the closing night of the famous (fictional) Gardenia club. Eight drag queens/transvestites/cross dressers put humanity on display with remarkable tenderness in a work that addresses ideas of identity and conformity with great finesse. Yes, we got to play voyeur peeking behind the curtain as sexual identities are confronted & transformed, but it was not at all superficial titillation. The end result served to stir up stereotypes while holding the mirror up to the audience. While not wishing to be overly simplistic, quite simply we were treated to a group of people with dreams – both dashed and realised – whose lives were spent seeking love, acceptance, and validation. Like everyone really. I’m sure I was not the only one who left the theatre buoyed by the power of pride and acceptance so evident in the cast’s ensemble performance.
What’s Next by Dave St. Pierre and Brigitte Poupart
Walking into a packed warehouse-transformed-into-a-theatre in Montreal’s Point St. Charles industrial zone we were treated to a gang of circus artists warming up. A door opens and in comes the head-to-toe spandex-clad duo of St. Pierre and Poupart. What follows, before they get into the meat of the piece, is a brief/humorous/poignant suggestion that content has been displaced by form and Entertainment reins supreme. Our complicity in this is not really questioned, but our fascination with pop culture/”reality” television is teased. Then comes the offal, and blood, and meat, and sacrifice, and capitulation. Lots of powerful images and I certainly appreciated a lot of their poking at pop culture, but somehow the shock and gore factor came off as equally superficial. The work was not unlike a boot to the head: not very subtle but very effective. I can’t help but wishing there was a little more craft involved in this bloody mess.
Yume no shiro (Castle of Dreams) by Daisuke Miura
I am still somewhat speechless about how the performers in Daisuke Miura’s Castle of Dreams manage to perform the show each night they’re called upon to perform it. The work is a raw, violent, extremely graphic, and ultimately bleak depiction of Japan’s disenfranchised youth at the beginning of the third millennium. Theatrically speaking, I found the work brilliant: the show unfolds as a “day in the life” of a group of eight performers (4 of each sex) inhabiting a one room Tokyo flat; the audience is introduced to them first as outsiders looking in (with the noise of traffic roaring in our ears, it was as if we were suspended in mid air looking through a window into their private world), and then, with the window gone and the sound of traffic removed to the background, we are brought into their room to witness their co-existence up close and personal. Up close yes, personal no. Words are never spoken; tension grows before erupting into spontaneous brawls involving all; sex is initiated with the most animalistic respect to primal urges; a video game is played non-stop. Is this small universe of theirs far-fetched or is it hyper real? Its depiction of a generation in crisis is bleak and sheds as much light on the observers as the observed. There we are, all 100 or so of us packed into the Prospero, coolly fascinated and occasionally laughing at this outrageously comical zoo of live sex, emptiness, and alpha role modeling. Towards the end, having come a full 24 hours in their “life”, it is the sound of a single woman quietly crying to herself that sucked the breath out of me. It was then that the hopelessness of their situation becomes so profound. Wow. Bravo to the performers for their incredible work; Bravo to the FTA for an incredible programming job; and Bravo to Montreal for being so amazingly awesome.