Virtually, in the Flesh:
theory and practice
Do some performances go too far into abstract conceptuality?
By Luc Archambault
Tangente is an organization that runs on creativity, pure and simple. Week after week, they strive to astonish and startle their audiences with unabashed audacity, always pushing the envelope to the limit. But with this latest high-flying gamble, they swung the ball high, just to see it come crashing down. And this week, they crashed. Hard.
… compelling futuristic visions for humanity, giving body to virtual technologies.
Virtually, in the flesh, was described as “compelling futuristic visions for humanity, giving body to virtual technologies”. Three choreographies were presented, Binary Animal, by Alejandro De Leon, Transenses, by Akiko Kitamura and Navid Navab, and ///, by Teoma Naccarato and John MacCallum. Three very different choreographies, with varying successes.
The first act, Binary Animals, was composed of short pieces, as short introductions and interludes between the two other acts. The first instalment was a projection on a table at the centre of the cafe, the antechamber of the main showroom. Now, I don’t mind occasional abstract conceptuality, especially when it breaks conventions, but there is a limit: When in a crowded room full of people, one has to converge on a low-lying table to watch a flat video projection, it just won’t do. And it is insensible to those unlucky enough to be situated in the back of the room who just can’t see anything.
‘Tangente is an organization that runs on creativity, pure and simple. Week after week, they strive to astonish and startle their audiences with unabashed audacity…’
The second installation was not much better. Two performers who had surreptitiously mingled with the spectators during the intermission began a striptease, slowly striping of their clothing and, once almost completely bare, moved into a narrow side-hallway and rushed into a narrow corridor of the Wilder building. Again, spectators had to follow in compact droves, with a feeling of herd-like cows moving towards the slaughterhouse. I just lost interest at that point.
And then there was the second choreography, Transenses. Here, a single performer dances, butoh-like, with the energy of an atomic bomb that explodes into a fascinating floor-projection, an interactive light show that reacts to the dancer’s movements, where the floor projection and the music closely follow the dancer’s movements, creating abstract worlds, even universes.
‘It is one of the most inventive and creative choreographies that I have ever been given the privilege of seeing.’
For at this point in aesthetics, the scene verges on the esoteric, rather than a mere classical scenography. It is one of the most inventive and creative choreographies that I have ever been given the privilege of seeing. It has definitely entered my annals.
And finally ///, to close off this evening of exploration. Here’s the ‘concept’: Spectators are sitting around the stage, facing the outside wall. To watch the show happening behind them, they are each given a hand mirror with only a small horizontal band of glass to look through, the rest being covered with tape. On the far wall, three musicians, and three ‘performers’, sitting on the sides, who will breathe loudly throughout the performance.
‘… a great theoretical idea, but in practice a flop.’
When it begins, three dancers crawl on the floor, as if victims of St. Vitus’ Dance. Now, here again, I don’t mind conceptual art, but this choreography felt very empty, futile and full of annoyance. Watching – or at least trying to through this absurd mirror – three dancers squirming and wriggling on the ground as if possessed and then, to be subjugated to a séance of heavy breathing lasting fifteen or maybe twenty minutes. It felt that long and I lost count. I do meditate on my free time, but in an environment conductive to meditation, not on a hard floor surrounded by strangers. This was a long mess, again a great theoretical idea, but in practice a flop.
So, to conclude, of the three parts of last week’s show, only the second one, Transenses is worth the admission ticket. I’d suggest leaving after this one, and foregoing the idiotic second interlude, Binary animal, as well as the final mess, ///, or stay, if you feel like it or are either depressed or masochistic.
The standard of excellence set forth by Tangente sets the bar very high, which amplifies all the more any disappointment when it occurs. Next week is the last show of the season. Hoping that it will at least signal a return to normal.
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Writer and journalist, globe-trotter at heart, passionate about movies, music, literature and contemporary dance, came back to Montreal to pursue his unrelenting quest for artistic meaning.