Review: Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin, at The Dance Centre until March 28

I didn’t know what to expect going into this work. Serge Bennathan’s Monsieur Auburtin is unlike any other dance work you are likely to have seen. It evocatively combines storytelling, original composition and musical performance, and dance into a seamless whole. I went with a couple of friends who are not necessarily warm to contemporary dance, and they also loved it. While profound, the piece is also very accessible and comprehensible.

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(photo credit Michael Slobodian)

The piece is, among other things, an extended homage to both his teachers and classical dance virtuosos like Nijinsky, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, as well as many others whose names I do not know so well. The love and appreciation and admiration that Bennathan expresses is indeed heart-warming.

Bennathan’s first dance teacher, Monsieur Auburtin in Metz, France, introduced him to Nijinsky via pictures of the impresario dancing in Giselle. The effect is life-changing and incredibly profound.

Wiki Commons picture of Nijinsky in Giselle.

Perhaps French elegance, if presented coldly, can be offputting. That is a classic stereotype, but Bennathan presents elegance with a warm face. The sound of his voice is a true pleasure to hear. The track his life is taken is one of coincidences and chances grabbed. But make no mistake, Bennathan is passionate and earnest about art and about artistic expression.

Throughout the evening, the composer Bertrand Chénier played on electric guitar and piano, and at one point one of the dancers played the violin. The music was a natural component of this work.

What made the night even more special was after the show, when Howard Jang, of the Canada Council for the Arts, awarded Serge Bennathan the prestigious Jacqueline Lemieux Prize, for his work in dance in Canada. Having seen the work, I am not at all surprised of Bennathan’s reputation as a teacher and mentor and choreographer. Bennathan expressed a clear love and appreciation for Canada as a country, a place, like Marseilles, where he feels he truly belongs. So much artistic development and innovation is driven by immigrants who have made a conscious decision to bring their talents to Canada. Bennathan founded the dance company Les Productions Figlio.

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Review: Virtual Solitaire, at Studio 1398 on Granville Island (until March 29)

Buy tickets: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/virtual%20solitaire/info/2

Virtual Solitaire, staged by Vancouver Fringe, looks at a technological dystopia where virtual reality scrambles a hapless worker’s brain.

When watching this play, I thought often of the sci-fi writer William Gibson. With the disclaimer that I have not finished that book, his latest novel “The Peripheral” is also about the boundaries between “real life” and virtual reality in a dystopian future. The concerns that Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have about artificial intelligence are well-known.

When those in charge of the game make permanent and destructive brain-altering decisions, without the informed consent of their employee, you might be tempted to think of the Nazis and Mengele. But a closer analogy in time and place is Dr. Ewen Cameron, who used LSD, paralytic drugs, electroshock, and long-playing audio devices to “reprogram” his psychiatric patients in Weyburn, Saskatchewan in the 1960s.

In this one-man show, Dawson Nichols moves seamlessly and effectively from character to character, playing a wide range of roles. He’s the confused patient and the overseer, the detective and the asylum dweller, among others. This aspect of the performance was excellent.

Both my friend and I felt that this play would benefit from some editing to tighten up the narrative and pacing. That said, the dramatic tension was generally good throughout. I was frequently confused as to what was happening, although that is probably part of the plot.

I saw David Mamet referenced in a review, and just as watching a Mamet play can frequently be uncomfortable, the same is true here. What is happening to the main character Nathan is not pleasant to consider. But like Mamet’s work, this is theatre that stimulates deeper considerations.

Review: ribcage: this wide passage, at Firehall Arts Centre

Tickets: http://firehallartscentre.ca/onstage/ribcage-wide-passage/

The most powerful image of this multimedia work, combining theatre, live viola, dance, and video, is when Heather Hermant, playing Esther Brandeau, sits down to bind her breasts so she can dress and live as a young man, Jacques, in 18th-century Quebec. With this severe constriction comes the freedom of being able to live and work and support herself and travel freely. Hermant is a spoken-word artist, so often this work does seem more like a recitation than traditional theatre.

I have participated only lightly in researching family history, but it is indeed thrilling to find an undiscovered connection (and I have the privilege of having relatives who have done a lot of work on this subject). Hermant started researching her own family line, and found that Esther was a collateral ancestor, a young woman who disguised herself as a young man and got work on a ship to New France (Quebec). On a historical note, in pre-Revolution France, Jews were banned from immigrating to French North America (some got around this, particularly in New Orleans, but Esther is thought to be the first Jew in Canadian New France). Thus, Esther faced two significant hurdles in getting to North America: religion and gender. Esther found a way to explore and escape her life, for whatever reasons she had for doing this. Hermant also touches on the dispersion of Portuguese Jews in Europe (who were also subject to the Inquisition and deported from their homeland).

It’s tempting to put modern constructions on centuries-old behavior. Was Esther transgender? Was she just taking the only means she could figure out to escape the life she had (for whatever reasons she wanted to escape it)? Hermant sees her work as a “queer story about displacement and identity”, although we know nothing about Esther’s self-construction and self-identity other than what we can guess from the scant historical records. The work belongs to the artist, and it becomes about more than Esther, so I understand Hermant’s casting of this work as “queer”.

When Esther is deported back to France, after being discovered for her religion and gender, nothing more is ever heard of her. What might have happened? I tend towards pessimism, but perhaps Esther lived a full and interesting life, maybe even crossing the boundary again to live as a man.

The music and video enhanced the often spooky, mysterious feeling I felt as I watched and listened to this work. On a technical note, the Hermant’s words were often difficult to hear above the music. For me, this was particularly noticeable with the French passages, as my lack of fluency makes me desperate to hear everything very clearly. However, I was thrilled to see another example of multilingual theatre–which I can’t help but feel is the future of theatre as we manage multiple hybrid identities in a multilingual world as part of everyday experience.

The constricted ribcage, the wideness of the open ocean. This work is full of imagery and I enjoyed seeing its debut.

The Firehall has brought two premieres of one-woman shows to the stage in the past month: The Village and ribcage: this wide passage. Both have fascinating themes and innovative use of music and film.

Images of My Territory: Rama and Kriol, at Lost N’ Found Cafe, March 11, 7:30 (free)

Get a full description here: http://www.straight.com/listings/events/394451

Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/617200565090823/

Images of My Territory: Ramas and Kriols

I am looking forward to seeing this film, particularly as I am going to Nicaragua in April. Nicaragua represents a blend of cultures, and this film will explore that. I’m looking forward to the post-film discussion for more insight.

Fado Camané at VanCity Theatre: A great film and evening

Fado Camané official trailer: 

First, remember that VanCity Theatre has Music Mondays. Keep an eye on their schedule. Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Joan Baez, and numerous other luminaries have featured in documentaries. Last night’s film was $7, including the complimentary food and wine described below, although you will have to get an annual $2 membership if you don’t have one.

When I saw that VanCity Theatre was showing Fado Camané, I had to see it. As you might guess, Camané is a Portuguese singer who performs fado. The film focuses on the process of making an album. It’s about collaboration, and the creativity of technicians, the singer, supporting musicians, the poet/songwriter, the producer all juxtaposed in a state of pleasant tension as they work through artistic dilemmas. Much has been written how the work of the individual “genius” is highlighted above all others, when in fact almost any innovation or invention  you can think of has been a collaboration, even if hidden. This film demonstrates that creative fact very well.

Before the film, the Portuguese consulate generously provided us with cod fritters, shrimp dumplings, and egg tarts, all delicious and enjoyable. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the port, the red wine, the white wine all from Portugal either. This reception provided a lovely start to the evening.

Listen to Camané for yourself!