Tu te souviendras de moi – Theatre la seizieme
March 8–12; Studio 16
Last fall, I saw a play presented by Ruby Slippers Theatre at The Cultch called You Will Remember Me. The play was presented in translation from the original by Francois Archambault, and this past week I had the pleasure of seeing that original at Theatre la Seizieme. I had immensely enjoyed the Ruby Slippers production, but seeing it in French was even better — it made the references to Renee Levesque make more sense and seemed to fit better with the characters personalities and idiosyncrasies.
The protagonist is Édouard (Guy Nadon), a retired professor who has a razor sharp memory for dates and events, but he is losing his short term memory. He doesn’t remember what he had for breakfast, or the name of his daughter’s boyfriend, but he can tell you anything you want to know about important historical events, and he has an opinion about everything. Nadon gave a nuanced, honest performance as he slips further into Alzheimer’s.
Édouard’s wife, Madeleine (Johanne-Marie Tremblay), decides she’s had enough and drops her husband off at her daughter’s house for the weekend. Isabelle’s boyfriend, Patrick (Claude Despins), ends up taking care of him because Isabelle (Marie-Hélène Thibault) has to work, and the two of them develop a special relationship with Édouard constantly asking Patrick what his name is, who he is, and what he does for a living.
When Patrick decides to go play poker, he hires his 19-year-old daughter, Bérénice (Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez), to look after Édouard. The chemistry between the two of them was brilliant as Édouard keeps thinking Bérénice must be one of his students, and she keeps up her indifferent attitude. That is until Édouard begins thinking she might be his daughter who committed suicide at 19, whose middle name was Bérénice. She decides to go along with this story and the scene where she tells him it wasn’t his fault that she took her life almost brought me to tears. They share another beautiful moment in the final scene where Bérénice reads one of Édouard’s diary entries to him, and the lesson we take away is that sometimes the present moment is enough to keep you going.
Wonderland – Gallim Dance
March 10–13; Norman and Annettte Rothstein Theatre
This multi-faceted work by Gallim Dance’s artistic director, Andrea Miller, was a unique exploration of pack mentality. Through various interpretations of what it means to be part of a pack, the eight dancers, dressed in minimal fitted costumes, followed each other’s lead and formed pyramids, dogpiles, and herds to depict the effects of this mentality.
The work moved through various scenes, and there was never a dull moment: the dancers breaking into song a few times, including singing the Mickey Mouse song. About halfway through the show, they stood at the front of the stage and each took a bow as if it was the finale, but then the show shifted gears from whimsical and fantastical to dark and aggressive.
Cartoon-like depictions and impressive leaps, lifts, and formations made the work exciting to watch, and I enjoyed some of their symbolic moments such as each dancer running and jumping head first into another who was standing strong as a wall at the side of the stage. In another scene they each ran and slid onto the stage, the dancer before them moving out of the way just in time for them not to collide.
While this work didn’t have one narrative thread to follow, the theme was very clear and each scene contributed to it by depicting a different aspect that the choreographer was exploring. It’s another solid performance to add to the list of inspiring dance at Chutzpah!.
Ga Ting (Family) – The Frank Theatre Company
March 8–19; Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch
A Chinese couple have lost their son, and after his funeral they finally invite his partner over for dinner. Matt has never met Kevin’s parents, though he talked about them often, but they chose to ignore the fact that he was gay, and he never brought it up. After Kevin moved to Vancouver from Toronto, they spoke less often and his parents didn’t have to witness his lifestyle that they didn’t approve of.
Matt (Brian J. Sutton) is in Toronto for business and visits the Lees to deliver a painting that Kevin made for them. They never thought being an artist was a good idea for their son either. The conversation is awkward at the best of times, and once Matt tries to explain to them that Kevin was unhappy and could have used their support, Mr. Lee (BC Lee) loses his temper, they accuse each other of being racist, and Mr. Lee tells Matt to leave. Mrs. Lee (Alannah Ong) isn’t done with him though — she wants answers about what happened the night her son died.
This wonderfully balanced exchange between Matt and the Lees is riveting as we learn more about that night and their relationship. The Lees speak in Chinese to say things they don’t want Matt to hear (there were surtitles above the stage), and these moments add some humour to the heavy subject matter. All three actors worked beautifully together, and the themes of family communication and acceptance will resonate with anyone.
Possible Impossible and Crisalida — Memory Wax/Danza Teatro Retazos
Vancouver International Dance Festival
March 11 and 12; Vancouver Playhouse
The only thing that disappointed me about this show was that the house wasn’t full. Such a stunning work of art deserved a full audience, but the ones who were there thoroughly enjoyed this collaboration between Memory Wax of Sweeden and Danza Teatro Retazos of Cuba.
The first half, Possible Impossible, featured fantastical animal head masks and took place somewhere that the laws of time and space are no longer valid. The dancers began the piece in simple black and white outfits, dancing around a table, banging out an infectious rhythm on it and walking through doorways to alternate realities. They returned to the stage each wearing a different animal head mask, one of them with a caricature style woman’s head that seems disconnected from the rest of her body as she moved beneath it.
With the show progressively becoming more uncanny, the dancers wore plain white masks on the back of their heads and different coloured wigs covering their faces, dancing with their backs to the audience and making it difficult to determine which side was their front or back. In another scene they danced over, around, and with a square black table, using the prop for clever moves and impressive group formations. Finally, they donned red outfits, white masks, and large blond curly wigs to become to create a carnival mood.
The second half, Crisalida, was much different. It began with one woman sitting low on a chair, her back to us and her legs straight up in the air. Her legs danced in the spotlight, and then a male dancer joined her on stage and danced with her legs until a group of dancers joined her, all in nude outfits and paired up to perform a beautiful, lyrical sequence.
One of the most innovative segments had the dancers lying flat on the stage, a bird’s eye view projected onto the back wall of the stage. The dancers moved as if they were vertical, standing on each other and making it look like they were resisting gravity. It was very clever, and I’m sure not easy. Another scene had the dancers using chairs as props, playing musical chairs as they each moved to an empty chair as one dancer tried to sit in it.
This show was such a treat to watch and had a bit of everything: comedy, innovation, drama, emotion, and beauty. I was thoroughly impressed at the skill of these dancers and the creative minds of the choreographers.
Reclaiming Hope – Theatre for Living
March 10–April 2; various venues in Vancouver
I wasn’t sure what I signed up for when I went to see this show billed as “theatre without a play,” but it sounded like an interesting concept. The audience would show up and a theatrical experience would be co-created before our eyes. The theme of turning fears into hope also sounded very appealing, so I thought what the hell, let’s see what this will be like.
David Diamond, Artistic and Managing Director of Theatre for Living, was the host of the event, and he confirmed for us that there wasn’t a troupe of actors waiting to take the stage. Instead, three members from the audience would share a story about a time they had to make a difficult decision and had to contend with voices of fear in their heads, and we would vote on the one we wanted to see expanded theatrically.
That, of course, is a risky proposition, and you never know what people are going to offer up or if it will turn out well. The night I attended we had to choose among a story about deciding whether or not to move back to South Africa, deciding whether to invest retirement money in unethical funds, and whether or not to sell your car. We overwhelmingly voted for the story about how to invest wisely while making sure to uphold your beliefs and be assured the funds aren’t being used by corporations that harm the planet.
At this point, the evening seemed quite promising and there was a good energy in the room. But as things progressed, it was hard to maintain interest. The woman who told the story we chose remained onstage and was joined by three others who took the shape of three different voices of fear that she had been experiencing. Then, in what felt like group therapy or a strange high school drama class, we worked on pulling apart each voice of fear, analyzing it, and trying to connect it to other situations and broader themes.
I commend Diamond for his work to further social progress through theatre, but I’m not sure that this production was successful. Although he did mention at the outset that the goal was not to psychoanalyze the storyteller, it seemed like we spent our time analyzing her individual story of personal financial struggle while letting the major issues like environmental degradation fall to the wayside.
This was a unique experience that will provide different insights each time and maybe another night would have been a completely different experience. As a theatrical experience, this wasn’t my cup of tea: I didn’t find it very entertaining or compelling. As an exploration of societal fears and how we can turn those into hopes, though, it may prove very valuable. In the end, each participant will take something different away with them.