HIGH PERFORMANCE RODEO
Continues until January 29
Epcor Centre and Tower Centre
January may no longer be the coldest month in Calgary, but its still the coolest one, thanks to the High Performance Rodeo and its uppity little sibling, Mutton Busting. In the festivals first week, I caught three Rodeo shows and two Mutton Busting acts. Below, my impressions:
· Hoffos/Clarke Conspiracy Every so often, someone tries for a hybrid of theatre and filmic illusion, but in my experience the experiment seldom delivers as much as it promises. Case in point: Grand hôtel des étrangers, Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilons headline show at the 1996 Rodeo, which failed to achieve with holograms what Carbone 14 would do purely with performers in its similarly themed The Dead Souls the following year. The Hoffos/Clarke Conspiracy looked great on paper a merger of performer-playwright Denise Clarkes dance drama with visual artist David Hoffoss fondness for optical trickery but the collaboration didnt competely jell in performance.
A kind of spinoff to One Yellow Rabbits 90s play Alien Bait, the piece gave us Clarke as Ann, a troubled artist who wakes up the morning after a party with pine needles on her underpants and no memory of the previous night, and tries to reconstruct what happened to her. Was it a simple case of alcoholic amnesia, or a paranormal experience? Some of Hoffoss video-projection effects manipulating the scale and movement of Clarkes "body" during her nighttime foray into the woods, introducing a large, spooky apparition (Onalea Gilbertson) that peers through Anns bedroom door are genuinely eerie, as is Richard McDowells score. And theres an amusing exchange between Ann and a friend on the phone about seeing Alien Bait the night before a funny bit of OYR self-parody, especially since the pal is voiced by that plays co-author, Blake Brooker. But Clarkes distressed "dance" in the confined space of the bedroom a restless repetition of a few actions over and over again is tedious rather than disturbing, and there are stretches in the 45-minute show that move at a glacial pace worthy of a Robert Wilson production.
· The Corridor The Hoffos/Clarke disappointment was followed the next night by a happy discovery: Maya Lewandowskys La Caravan Dance Theatre. Trained in Israel, now based in Calgary, Lewandowsky is an exciting choreographer cut from the same colourful cloth as Marie Chouinard. She may not have Chouniards complexity or depth of mood, but she certainly shares that Quebec dance-makers bizarre, sci-fi-influenced sense of humour and love of wild costumes.
In The Corridor, her first full-length work, Lewandowskys four dancers (herself, Linnae Bellay, Christie-Joy Cunningham and April Miranda) go from sleek black leather and vinyl outfits, like a quartet of sexy fembots, to giant white collars and matching stringy, tentacle-like gloves that, in black light, transform them into weird, amphibious-looking creatures, to dunce caps and pointy appendages that make them appear, in their jerky movements, like the berserk hands of a clock. The crazy wardrobe is designed by Lisa Oehler and bound to amuse even those with an antipathy to contemporary dance.
But the threads arent the whole show. Ultimately, the four performers strip down to nothing but their underwear and some pompom-style pendants, attached to their midriffs like ballast, to engage in a vigorous, exhilarating climax in the breakneck style of Édouard Locks choreography for La La La Human Steps. And Lewandowskys company is not called "dance theatre" for nothing. From its opening dagger-stabs of light to its closing smoke and mirrors, and with a variegated score that moves from industrial and techno to European folk melody and Indian raga, theres never a dull moment in this 60-minute production. It was originally performed at Dancers Studio West last spring and obviously, those of us who havent been following the local dance scene vigilantly have been missing something good.
· The Bell Orchestre Theres been some grousing this year about the large number of music acts for what is billed as a "festival of new and experimental theatre." Well, The Bell Orchestre does come under the "new and experimental" part of that description and, while they arent theatre, violinist Sarah Neufelds emoting in performance is some of the best drama Ive seen in awhile. Like Ray Charles and Glenn Gould, she doesnt just play the music, she lives it. Clad in pristine white, the quintet of Neufeld and double bassist Richard Reed Parry, both of The Arcade Fire, drummer-percussionist Stefan Schneider, French horn player Pietro Amato and trumpeter Kaveh Nabatian served up a one-hour set of instrumentals from their debut CD, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light. This is avant-garde chamber music with a rock sensibility, delivered by a fresh, playful bunch of musicians who like to throw xylophone, melodica and radio signals into the mix, whistle in unison or use a manual typewriter as a keyboard instrument. While they havent yet found the distinctive sound to match their distinctive lineup, theyre an ensemble to watch. And they hold out hope for high school French horn players everywhere.
· A slice of Mutton There was a good buzz about Montreals 2boys.tv and its cabaret show, zo.na pel.lu.ci.da, so I caught it on its closing night. Drag show meets video in this wonderfully nutty confection, which also uses shadow play and plenty of lip-synching to audio clips both operatic arias and scraps of delicious dialogue from Hollywood classics like Suddenly, Last Summer and All About Eve. The "2boys," Stephen Lawson (an alumnus of Winnipegs far more pretentious Primus troupe) and Aaron Pollard, are a witty, imaginative duo. But when it comes to playing with film classics, you couldnt beat The Summerlads live score for Carl Dreyers powerful 1928 silent, The Passion of Joan of Arc. The Calgary band screened a DVD of the film which co-stars Antonin "Theatre of Cruelty" Artaud and features the immortal title performance of the great French actor Renée Maria Falconetti and accompanied it from start to finish with original music. As it turned out, the quartets majestic, stormy sound was a perfect complement to the stark tragedy of Dreyers masterpiece. All that was missing in Mutton Bustings tiny Motel venue was the big screen to do it justice.