Shows not to miss at FTA

This week at FTA: our intrepid reviewers check out Boris Charmatz’s latest and Ganesh Versus The Third Reich.

Ganesh. Photo by Jeff Busby.

The Festival TransAmériques brings the best reviewed and critically acclaimed theatre productions from around the world to Montreal. It provides a tasting menu of theatre, dance and performance art that’s been on fire in New York, London, Paris and beyond, as well as a curated selection of local productions. Each show runs only a scant two to four days over the festival’s two and a half weeks, making it touch for even the most committed theatre goer to take it all in. Here’s how it’s going down.

Boris Charmatz’s Levée des conflits (May 30-31)

Boris Charmatz’s Levée des conflits. Photo by Caroline Ablain.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to go into a show cold. But for French choreographer Boris Charmatz, I like to know what is going on.

For his group work Levée des conflits, Charmatz creates a string of 25 movements for 24 dancers. One by one, the dancers, wearing colourful street clothes, seated amongst the audience, enter the performance space.

The first female performer sits down centre stage, and her movement alphabet begins at “A,” where she sways back and forth and polishes the ground with her hand in a circular movement. Next, “B,” where she is on all fours, head to the ground and wriggles her butt, while a male dancer enters, and he starts polishing the floor, and so on and so on.

Before the start of the show, I happened to glance at the program and noticed the performance length is an hour and 40 minutes. How many times are they going to go through this cycle? Will this be akin to watching paint dry? Surprisingly, I got into it.

The physically demanding piece uses a repertoire of movement that ranges from log rolling, a swaying one-handed, and one-footed downward dog of sorts, to, the “Z” of the alphabet, spinning on the spot while throwing around the head and arms. Cycling through about ten times, the work, ebbs, and flows, like a swarm of ants they expand, fill and empty the floorspace, creating patterns like a spiral going down a drain, or crowd into a corner.

Just when you figure out the movements and the order, and your mind starts to drift, Charmatz shifts the pace so the dancers are fast-forwarding through the cycle, or advancing in a delicate super slow-mo until they fall into a powerful unison, then disappear one by one.

Around me, some people were nodding off and sneaking peaks at their watches. Although this piece isn’t for everyone, I found it fascinating, and was actively engaged. (MC)

Ganesh Versus The Third Reich (May 30-June 2)

Ganesh Versus The Third Reich. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Don’t be surprised to be contemplating Back to Back’s Ganesh Versus The Third Reich long after the last bow. This meta-theatrical piece portrays a theatre company whose intellectually disabled members are rehearsing their show about Hindu god Ganesha’s quest to retrieve the swastika symbol from Nazi Germany. The intellectually-abled “director” has a bit of a god complex and the cast members must find a way to stand up to his bullying. Of course, to make things more meta, Back to Back’s cast members are mostly people with perceived intellectual disabilities.

Ganesh’s strength is in opening the window on an unfamiliar worldview. The play glimpses at reality through an unfamiliar lens. Pride, shame, frustration, compassion, fear — a whole gamut of human emotion is engaged, but its expression is somehow shifted. There are a lot more hugs. An actor can’t bring himself to say the line “I love you” without qualifying it “like a brother.” Yet everyone wears his unique quirks proudly. A company member who at best can mumble a single word seems unfazed that he can’t play the oratorically-demanding role of Hitler.

The play operates on many levels, although somewhat disjointedly. The scenes of Ganesh’s quest are epic in character with simple, almost mystical language and beautiful shadow sets. The scenes of the company rehearsing are surprisingly funny as we see the cast interact and raise questions about the relationship between the actor and his material. The thread about power gets a little too arts school in its execution. Think Joseph Campbell meets Nietzsche in the heavy-handed, abstract discussions and demonstrations of power.

On the whole, though, while some will surely check out Ganesh Versus The Third Reich to be awed by the capabilities of people with perceived intellectual disabilities, those who go to be immersed in a different world are sure to enjoy the bigger boon. Both should leave enriched. (RL)

By Marites Carino and Rachel Levine

The Festival TransAmériques runs to June 8, various venues.

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