Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Onde de Choc by Ginette Laurin at the Festival TransAmériques


OK I'm a little bit late. I saw Onde de Choc back at the end of May and it is now August, I'm two months late - or if you prefer to put a positive spin on things - I contemplated her work for more than 60 days. It didn't help. If you want to cut to the chase and avoid the rest of what I write about the performance, no matter how hard I tried, I didn't like it. If you don’t want to avoid my writing (thanks!) then continue making your eyes move left to right and top to bottom as they are doing now.

Let's start with the easiest and simplest; The show is called Onde de Choc, or if you prefer in English, Shock Wave, and there is a big-ass box in the middle of the stage that I presume had some contact microphones in it. Or there is some other kind of technological stuff that turns the big-ass box into a really big-ass resonator. Trust me, you. When you just so much as stroke it it could be heard all the way in the nosebleed seats (although to be honest, Usine C, where I saw it, doesn't really have any nosebleed seats) but more to the point when one of the dancers banged on it, it banged, and it banged really well. When one of the dancers stroked it, it stroked really well, too. It went pretty much from one side of the stage to the other, left a little crawl space in between it and the back wall of the stage, and filled about half the stage (I told you it was big-ass). It appeared to be made of simple plywood that I would have thought was unfinished, but given how everyone ran and slid on it, either they liked getting splinters, or it had a finish that enabled everyone to do their business without getting hurt.

Now given the title of the performance, it seems pretty much self evident that there would be something loud involved. Personally I was hoping for something a little better able to present the scope and concept. Banging on a box is fine and dandy, running on and around a box that is miked for sound is kind of cool. But if you're going to be calling your show Shock Wave, I'd prefer something that at least has the potential for knocking me on my ass, or out of my seat. Remember Todd Rundgren's song Bang on the Drum? or Volker Schlöndorff's version of The Tin Drum? This big-ass box was not quite as good as they were in presenting and performing the idea of banging on something. Maybe instead of being called Shock Wave, it could have been called Trojan Horse Masquerading as a Big-Ass Resonating Box.

But the banging on the box wasn't the only noise being made. Besides the obvious sounds made by the dancers (panting, feet hitting the floor and the box, etc.) there was stuff coming out of the speakers which I wrote in my notes sounded like "fake Phillip Glass." Except for the fact that in was Real Michael Nyman. Now I'm not certain if I am supposed to be embarrassed for me or for Mr. Nyman. Obviously the music was serial in nature, but also, obviously did not do a darn thing for me other than occupy the space between bangs.

In the press folderoll that got handed out, phrases like "Long fascinated by the fantastic and multifaceted machine that is the human body, choreographer Ginette Laurin penetrates here into its innermost depths. With Onde de choc, she aims to render visible or audible the forces that move within it, casting an inquisitive eye on the infinite possibilities of the body and its poetic power." Umm... not to burst anyone's bubble, but that reads real nice and pretty-like, but Ms. Laurin did not penetrate anything. Nor did she make anything really visible or audible in the human body not in the human body or anywhere else that I could see (although towards the end all the dancers get kind of semi-naked in a cool for 14 year-old boys sort of way). All I ended up with after the fact was a bunch of dancers running around and banging, which like playing in mud puddles and sleeping in late, is a lot of fun. But as far as making some sort of statement on the body, and its inner workings. Nope, nada, nothing. Obviously I'm not a 14 year-old boy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, I'm still on the noises made, we haven't even begun to talk about the movements made by the performers - and this would be as good a place as any to mention all of their names: Marianne Gignac-Girard, Rémi Laurin-Ouellette, Chi Long, Robert Meilleur, James Phillips, Gillian Seaward-Boone, Audrey Thibodeau, Wen-Shuan Yang. As far as I could tell they all executed the moves that they were supposed to, and executed them well. There was nothing that they did that looked like an obvious mistake. But as this was a world premiere, I would venture a guess that there were some, I just wasn't able to see them.

Some of the words in my notes used to try and describe the movements made by the performers are: Writhing, yoga poses, slow movement with emoting, spinning, fighting, gymnastics, running, swaying, walking, herky jerky movements, throwing, sliding, martial arts, tap dancing, Indian dancing, and vogueing. Or in other words a bunch of different types movements but nothing that connects one to another. Overall there was a lot of running, and some walking. Which might have accounted for my inability to notice any mistakes.

As an aside; I'm never quite certain how I feel about watching dancers walk during a performance. One side of me says that walking is as valid of a movement as anything else. On the other side, I hear some voice telling me that the choreographer is slack and can't quite come up with any other more evocative movement to get the performers from here to there. And don't get me started about the red M&M's or the one 'shy' dancer.

Going over my notes after the fact makes me think that perhaps Ms. Laurin was trying out a bunch of stuff. Unfortunately beyond the big ass box, after more than 60 days there isn't much that stuck with me. This lack of cohesiveness in the movement could have been due to any number of reasons, front and center could have been my moving my head up and down to write notes in the dark while trying to watch the performance. Although I am more inclined to think that it has to with the structure of the movements than my ability to write in the dark. I also presume that all the dancers did their moves correctly. But as I got no real sense of cohesiveness in the dance, it was similar to the idea of "Hey! let's throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks." Which sort of made it impossible or perhaps just really difficult for me to ascertain if they were doing it good, bad or indifferently. Kind of like trying to follow a conversation that starts in English, but then quickly moves to French, Italian, Turkish, Arabic and then seven other different languages. Yeah, there is some polyglot out there who can do it, but it sure as shooting ain't me.

I don't really want to, but I guess I have got to at least mention in passing the lighting. In a nutshell, they were alright for most of the show, but at one particular point Ms. Laurin tried to blind me by aiming her lights towards the audience. I don't understand why she would want to do something like that, I thought she wanted us to be able to see the performance. Needless to say, I did not like being blinded. Not in the least bit. Nope. Un-uh.

And while I recognize that Ms. Laurin has had an extremely long career here in Quebec which in certain cases might give her a free pass, Onde de Choc was the first piece by her that I had ever seen, and as a consequence makes me think that either everyone else who has been raving about her work up the wazoo is completely and utterly out to lunch or that in fact Onde de Choc is not up to par with the rest of the body of her work, or I am completely and thoroughly wrong, or as a fourth possibility as I have said before, Montreal is the place where you can fail and get away with it. Or more succinctly, the modus operandi for dance performances here is to have 'world premiere' then take it on the road for something like three years before returning home, by which point the performance has changed so completely and thoroughly that the only thing that remains is the name (and the lack of ability to say it is another 'world premiere' - imagine how wild things would be if it was possible to have more than one 'world premiere.') which then initially suckers you into thinking that you're going to see a repeat, when in fact what you end up seeing is something completely different (and so road tested as to be better than great) that you wonder why you bothered going to the 'world premiere' in the first place.

So in a nutshell; I think Onde de Choc is like a 2002 premier cru burgundy and is fine on the ears, has overtones of Kodo drumming and a visit to your doctor. It has some extremely strong hints of future promise but should not be consumed until 2013 at the earliest.