At the opening of Thus Spoke…, inside the historic confines of Theatre Junction Grand, a bearded young man (David Strasbourg) dressed in jeans and a shirt, stands at a mic, as the audience files in, warning — with a bit of a mischievous grin — that “if you are here to see contemporary dance, you will be disappointed.”
A week later, at the brand new DJD Dance Centre, during the opening sequence of
Eventually, the sound dwindles down to sincere silence, before transitioning to something that features Spanish guitar. Gravel reluctantly emerges from his darkened corner of the stage, shyly, awkwardly, before launching into a solo of his own that’s a cross between a parody of what we have come to think of as contemporary dance, blended with a demented bullfighter working on a few cape waves.
Those are a pair of images pulled from a pair of shows with the Gravel imprint on them that bracket the 2017 Fluid Festival, which kicked off its final week Wednesday with Gravel and Lombardo’s performance at the DJD Dance Centre.
Billed as a kind of extended-play version of a duet he performed with Lombardo in
If a duet represents a kind of staged sexual coupling, then
It’s funny — a little bit. It’s odd, because Lombardo is a physical tiger to Gravel’s timid IT guy.
And sometimes, such as when Lombardo and Gravel peel off their shirts and zoom in on each other, it’s tinted with a hint of violent intent — but it’s always performed with one eye on the past and one foot in Gravel’s rowdy, bemused, choreographic intellect.
In Thus Spoke…, which Gravel directs but doesn’t perform in, a trio of actors — Strasbourg, Frédéric Lavallée and Catherine Beauchemin — compete with dancer Anne Thériault for control of the narrative, really. It’s almost as if there’s a dance piece waiting to burst through their collective self-consciousness — a real Snoopy dance of joy — if only they could allow their actor brains to get out of the way, so Theriault can do her thing.
Which, in a few delightful, stolen moments she does, piercing through the ironic detachment with genuine physical urgency.
However, we don’t live in an age of the unfettered Snoopy dance, particularly if we are of a generation that grew up with digital commentary providing air quoted critiques for every spontaneous move we make — or words we speak.
Instead, there’s a funny monologue about privilege — the privilege of the audience members, who have the luxury of attending a dance piece that isn’t even really a dance piece, in order to think deeper thoughts than most of their friends and family members. (OK, they have a point there!).
There’s another funny riff on the notion that all contemporary dance is shit — especially contemporary dance that keeps interrupting itself to question its very existence.
The text, by playwright Étienne Lepage, is quite funny and smart and feels more or less true. At least it read my thoughts. I don’t know if it read anyone else’s.
And when Thus Spoke…
A lot of it unfolds against a soundscape of lesser-known Jimi Hendrix tunes — rich, smoky, bluesy and ballsy rock and roll from 50 years ago that sounds fantastic.
Nothing self-conscious about Hendrix tunes, or, at different moments in
If you’re looking for a connecting thread to two very different — but related — pieces of Frédérick Gravel’s dance imagination, it might be the idea that rock and roll will never die.
Just the people who play it do.
Fluid Festival runs until Saturday, Oct. 28. For more information please click here.
Stephen Hunt is the 2017 Fluid Festival writer in residence. He wrote about theatre for the Calgary Herald for 10 years, and teaches playwriting at UBC. He is also the author of The White Guy: A Field Guide. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter here, and read his blog The Halfstep here.