FRINGE: 3 shows of physical theatre
Edmonton has quite a robust contemporary dance scene. A few local groups are presenting their work at the Fringe, as well as some out-of-towners – which gives a nice juxtaposition of styles and themes for the audience to compare.
Some people still complain that physical theatre and dance is inaccessible (or just plain weird), but this seems to be changing as people realize that these shows can be some of the most compelling, funny, and emotionally wrenching experiences out there.
Incidentally, two of the following shows below feature someone smearing lipstick on their face – deeper connection, or just odd coincidence?
Narcissist or Pretty Boys Who Play Alone at Recess (Venue 1)
3 out of 5
Jake Hastey has made quite a name for himself around Edmonton in the last couple years since his company, Toy Guns Dance Theatre, came onto the scene in a big way with two shows at the 2014 Fringe festival: Red Wine, French Toast; The Best Sex You’ve Ever Had, and Propylene Glycol, Maltodextrin, Retinol Palmitate and other Words I don’t Understand Like Love. He’s back this year reprising Red Wine, as well as directing a new show that holds true to his penchant for verbose titles: Narcissist or Pretty Boys Who Play Alone at Recess.
This is a collaborative work featuring emerging artists from Scona and Victoria high schools, the University of Alberta, and the School of Alberta Ballet. It’s great to see that kind of mentorship happening, especially when the payoff is a charming show highlighting some of the young talent in the city.
The show unfolds as a series of vignettes, variety style, with no real throughline connecting each piece. Which is perfectly fine, as each little is snippet enjoyable on its own. A few of them have the potential to be transformed into bigger works – which, with any luck, will actually happen.
The playful show includes dance numbers set to the tunes of the classic Spiderman and Pinky and the Brain theme songs, and lip syncing to romantic power ballads. Hastey brings his signature unique use of props in a few segments: performers admire their reflection in something shiny (a pot, a spoon, the back of a button, a piece of tinfoil), scatter playing cards all around, and assemble a huge wall of cardboard boxes that runs across the entire back of the stage.
CLIMB! (Venue 1)
4 out of 5
Circus arts are often relegated to their own genre, aside from a few valiant attempts to fuse circus performance with drama. The results are often mixed: too much spoken dialogue tends to detract or distract from the physical performances, while the non-verbal communication must be strong enough that the meaning is clear and not too coded or opaque.
Climb! overcomes these challanges through a narrated voice-over, which provides a grounding storyline through each of the segments and frees up performer Esther de Monteflores to provide physical accompaniment to the words. Her movements are deft and her aerial work is sure and strong, with forms that are deceptively simple yet complex and elegant. She communicates volumes without ever uttering a word, relying instead on telling the story through expressive body language and effusive facial expressions.
The story unfolding is an animation of life’s three main stages – child, adult, senior – with memorable anecdotes and vivid imagery accompanying each. The aerial work follows the life trajectory, becoming more complex as the character gets older, and then progressively more simpler again as old age prevents the body from accomplishing what it once could do: a quiet, inevitable tragedy.
One of Us Must Know (Stage 4)
4 out of 5
Two characters circle one another, both literally and figuratively, as they paint a portrait of a depressingly co-dependent pair who have spiraled down to rock bottom. This unnamed couple has a drinking problem, him more than her: a fact shown through the dented cans, plastic cups and mickeys strewn about the stage and heaped off to the sides in blue recycling bags, and later dumped all over him partway through the show. Their dialogue – circular and frustratingly half-finished thoughts and sentences – is interspersed with movement. It’s heavy and slow – save for one violent outburst – with a lot of full body contact: the weight of their dysfunction is palpable in the weight of their bodies.
There’s humour amidst all that cheerlessness as well, albeit of a very dark variety; you often can’t help but laugh at the level of absurdity on display. Director Ben Gorodetsky sits at a desk on the side of the stage throughout the show, lending an air of meta-ness to the proceedings: he manipulates items on stage a couple times and the performers stop to watch him do it, adding another off-kilter dimension to the show.
What’s most remarkable about this play is that its sheer weirdness avoids triggering the minefield of clichés so commonly found in other depictions of this mundane, bleakly commonplace situation.