Entering Théâtre La Chapelle as decked out for Sovann Rochon-Prom Tep’s Un Temps Pour Tout, the vibe is emphatically good. A bunch of healthy house plants sit stage left, alongside a big carafe of herbal tea and two bowls of tiny round cookies for all to enjoy. What could be less pretentious than a full house emphatically chewing en masse?
The first dancer to appear on stage is Jean-Édouard Pierre Toussaint, aka Sangwn, who seems by turns smitten and possessed. Is this grief? An inside joke? We are instantly compelled. He welcomes us, and the lights dim.
He’s joined by Fréderique Dumas, aka Pax, and Ja James Britton Johnson, aka Jigsaw. The artists have written they want this to feel like a church basement talent show. Maybe, if the church basements of your youth were populated with the coolest kids at school. The movements of this first act feel as though they emanate from a well-loved game console; glitchy-yet-futuristic. The synth and drums drive their movement, and they seem to drive the band in turn.
There is a definite bravado in their dance, a sense of egging each other on, but also a humility, as when they seem to stare to the sky and crumble, or when Jigsaw, after a prolonged and fearsome battle-style struggle with some inner demon, is congratulated by Pax and Sanwgn on his subsequent exhausted release.
Here, unfortunately, Jigsaw interrupts this quiet with what feels like a stoned soliloquy – the foray into theatre that this show didn’t need. It got some loud laughs, but it interrupted what felt like a real collective joy.
From here the first half of the show winds down like a party, with an unforced hazy casualness. Rochon-Prom Tep comes on stage to dole out a series of heart-warming homemade gifts to random audience members, and we are once again directed to eat cookies, drink tea, and chat.
After the intermission, the impetus of the movement had changed completely; no longer generated from within, but from without; Pax entering the stage as though a salsa dancer and a kung fu practitioner had been sucked together through a black whole. Together with Sangwn and Jigsaw, the three vibrated across the stage with the kind of frightening energy I had previously only associated with that neoclassical bedroom at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Something sinister and powerful, to be sure.
Again, the denouement was too jokey – the three sleepily slid into a singsong with the band – especially jarring after the power the dancers had built up between themselves. However, an unsatisfactory ending in no way undermined the greater undercurrent of Un Temps Pour Tout, that is was thrilling, inclusive, and possessed of that rare sparkle: fun. ■
Un Temps Pour Tout continues at Théâtre La Chapelle, 3700 St-Dominique, Feb. 1, 8 p.m. (with an artist talkback) and Feb. 4, 7 p.m. $18.50-$33.50