Each week, Drama Club looks at Toronto’s theatre scene and tells you which shows are worth checking out.
The bane of dance-athoners everywhere: a referee with rollerskates. Photo by Nancy Paiva.
Dance Marathons make us think about elementary school fundraisers that probably didn’t last longer than lunchtime and ended with everyone getting a “participant” T-shirt. But in Dance Marathon, a new, highly interactive theatre piece created by the always fascinating Bluemouth Inc. opening tonight at the Enwave Theatre, the dancing (which the audience has to do too!) goes on for about four hours, and the inspiration is the gruelling dance competitions that came to popularity in North America during the Great Depression. Timely, huh? Bluemouth Inc. has amazed theatre goers here and abroad with their non-traditional, highly physical shows that often require audience members to enter non-theatre spaces and keep on their feet. Recently, Torontoist spoke with Bluemouth Inc. and we tried to sort out the differences between their new show and So You Think You Can Dance?
Keep reading after the fold for our interview with Bluemouth Inc.’s Stephen O’Connell, a review of fu-GEN’s new show Lady in the Red Dress, and more theatre stuff!
Interview with Bluemouth Inc.
What a feeling! Are you ready to dance for your life? Photo by Nancy Paiva.
Torontoist: Bluemouth Inc. has a history of involving the audience in unusual ways, but Dance Marathon sounds as if it takes participation to a whole new level. How do you think making an audience do something other than sit still in a seat changes the dynamic of the experience? And what happens if they aren’t willing to go along with it?
Stephen O’Connell: At the risk of sounding too conceptual, I would say that our work draws much inspiration from the tradition of the Brazilian Augusto Boal and his Theatre Of The Oppressed. Not to say that we are in anyway oppressed as Canadians, but the notion that art has the ability—no actually, correction—art has the responsibility to engage us politically. I think we just get people out of their heads and into their bodies; thinking critically about the ways in which we engage with one another, whether it’s through art or even in our personal lives. This type of performance is obviously not for everyone. And that’s okay. If you don’t feel like participating, then go and get yourself a beer from the bar and sit and watch from the balcony. That is fine too. It reminds me of the company De La Guarda from Argentina. They dump water and confetti on the audience and pull people up into the air. I find their shows spectacular, but I wouldn’t take my parents to see it. But I would guarantee you that it is much more fun to get involved than sit on the sides and watch.
As a group, you tend to do your performances in non-theatre spaces, often bringing the audience into a space that they might never otherwise enter. Does it feel weird to be doing a show in a conventional theatre?
Absolutely. We argued like hell not to do the show in a theatre, but we looked around at dozens of different locations (the inside of an oil tanker or an old music hall) and in the end, the Enwave Theatre turned out to be the most appropriate site for this particular piece. And rest assured, Bluemouth has not lost its edge. Yet. We have redesigned the Enwave to fit the needs of the piece, while also exploiting the natural beauty of the building. But between you and me… I kinda miss that wonderful fragrance of rotten rats that usually accompanies a Bluemouth show.
The fact that people can get eliminated from the dance floor is reminiscent of the slew of popular dance-themed reality shows currently dominating television. Did this in anyway inspire the creation of Dance Marathon?
Absolutely. When we started doing research on the depression-era dance marathons, we naturally starting discovering tons of parallels to the current reality television craze. We have tried to incorporate these themes through our video design. Cam Davis designed this super-complicated Isadora Patch (Isadora is a Mac-based software used to process live video) to simulate early television. There are eight video cameras stationed throughout the Enwave picking up all the action happening on the dance floor. His task is to direct the focus back onto the competition and try to identify existing narratives within the audience.
What can an audience member get from coming to Dance Marathon that they can’t get from, say, a night out at the clubs?
In all honesty, it is not unlike a night out dancing it up at a club. In its simplest form, this show is a big dance party. People are meant to have fun, hang out with their friends, or even go and have an intimate conversation with a friend in the “LOSERS LOUNGE”. At its most complex, reading the piece is hopefully also a poetic meditation on life. We are thrust into a situation which is completely foreign, where we compete to survive. You make relationships. You are temporarily separated from those you came with. You learn how to dance. You win. You lose. Hopefully, you laugh or think, and all the while you try to enjoy it while it lasts. It’s kinda like a night out. It’s also kinda like life.
Lady in the Red Dress
Forget it, Sylvia. It’s Chinatown. Photo of Laura Miyata by Alex Felipe.
fu-GEN, Toronto’s premiere Asian-Canadian theatre company, calls Lady in the Red Dress their biggest and most ambitious production to date. Playwright David Yee claims to have written the piece in response to an email that was sent to him from a British Columbia MP that spoke in a derogatory way about the Chinese Canadian National Council and their attempts to seek redress for the infamous Chinese Head Tax. He also says that along the way he became influenced by Murakami and Frank Miller (as evidenced by the play’s Sin City-esque trailers), resulting in a play that’s part didactic narrative about the plight of Chinese Canadian immigrants, part magical realist fantasy, and part violent, hard-boiled noir. More than Miller or Murakami, we thought it owed a lot to some of David Lynch’s stranger films—there’s even a cameo by the ear from Blue Velvet!
Max is an attorney working on the Head Tax redress negotiations between the CCNC and the Canadian government, when a mysterious woman in a red dress enters his office and asks him to look for a man named Tommy Jade. His search takes him to Chinatown, but the places he goes seem more like they belong on Mullholland Drive than Spadina Avenue, and Max ends up unravelling his own life as quickly as any mystery. Camellia Koo’s set design is typically flawless, and Nina Lee Aquino’s extremely capable direction helps to create a gorgeous and unique-looking show. The cast is very capable, Ins Choi particularly stands out in his playing of about every single denizen of Chinatown, including two hilarious brothers (named Biff and Happy, haha). And the script, while occasionally stumbling into wanky, Yeats-quoting territory, is pretty compelling. What winds up being the biggest problem in Lady in the Red Dress is, ironically, the lady herself.
When she first appears onstage, attacking a man without even touching him, our lady in red (her name is Sylvia) seems like an onryō figure straight out of a Japanese horror film. The sequence is exquisitely staged, and Sylvia is absolutely terrifying. But then, we get to know her. The character comes back in scene after scene, full of exposition, rants, background information, etc., and somewhere along the way, she starts getting really boring. Another problem is Laura Miyata’s portrayal of the role. She seems to be going for psychological realism when she should be sticking to the Dragon Lady/femme fatale archetype. Though maybe that speaks to a larger problem with the play: it doesn’t quite know how far down the rabbit hole it’s gone; how much of what happens is dark fantasy and how much we’re supposed to relate to on a realistic level. Still, the show is very entertaining and worth attending for the visual panache alone.
On Stage This Week
Tarragon’s remount of Hannah Moscovitch’s East of Berlin has been selling like crazy. This fabulous play about a young man coming to grips with his Nazi heritage in the years after the Second World War has twice added new shows to its run, but it must close on February 8. If you haven’t already got tickets, you’re SOL, because the rest of the run is completely sold out.
Buddies in Bad Times’ annual Rhubarb Festival kicks off tonight with six different performances going on in their Cabaret and Chamber spaces, featuring work by such artists as Chad Dembski, Erin Shields, Maev Beatty, and Lex Vaughn. The festival runs until February 22 with a new lineup each week.
The Stranger, Praxis Theatre’s version of the Camus classic, plays at the Theatre Centre until February 8.
Toronto the Good opens tonight at Factory Theatre. The new play about racial profiling is written by notable Toronto playwright Andrew Moodie. It runs until March 1.
Ubuntu (The Capetown Project) plays at Tarragon. This collective creation is a collaboration between South African and Canadian artists and features Holly Lewis and Michelle Monteith. Runs until March 1.
You Fancy Yourself is a new solo show written and performed by the multi-talented Maja Ardal and directed by Mary Francis Moore. It plays at Passe Muraille until February 14.