Martin Messier's Innervision. Photo by Denis Martin

Innervision is 62 dancers nonsensically writhing on 30 tables

Martin Messier’s “doomsday ballet” is a curiosity for onlookers at the Place des Festivals.

If you’re strolling around Place des Festivals in the coming days, you might notice some temporary bleachers arranged out in the open in front of 30 large white tables. This is the set for Innervision, Martin Messier’s 62-person “huge doomsday ballet.”

First of all, you don’t get to call something a ballet willy-nilly, just because you’ve reached some critical human mass on stage. This isn’t out of some reverential snobbery for ballet, but because the word evokes, for example, a narrative flow of movement, not just any self-important spectacle where the participants sometimes point their toes.

Messier is a musician first, though he’s worked in the dance world for 15 years. The big draw for Innervision, part of the line-up in this year’s Festival TransAmériques (FTA), is that he directs the dancers’ movements live through in-ear monitors. I’m sure this process is novel and exhilarating for the performers themselves, but the tangible result is that of 62 people prowling and seething and lurching, drained of all charisma. It has the paradoxical effect of being both dehumanizing and uncomfortably funny.

Is this performed by a youth troop? No, but they do have that same sneaky look of pheromonal embarrassment, like deep down they know they’re taking part in something shameful.

Their movements, entirely lacking in conviction, are performed to an electric buzz, now like a heartbeat, now like a fly dying on a lamp, alongside dramatic lighting changes all also controlled live by Messier from his perch. Some kind of vague techno-future seems to loom over the performance, as when the dancers writhe as if electrocuted and stuck to their tables. At one point the dancers couple off and seem to comfort each other, zombie-like. One person from each couple then pulls their partner’s hoodie over that partner’s head. Perhaps this gesture could be intimate between two performers, but between 62 it is inadvertently hilarious.

Innervision is vying to please the arts funders and the philistines alike, which is why it is such an insipid mess. It’s all about process and experimentation (the unconventional direction, the musician theorizing about sound and matter and bodies) and yet also trying very hard to be moody and cool.

This total rift between how Messier clearly sees his work and how the work appears came with Innervision’s climax, or at least its most frenetic moment, when all 62 dancers frantically scrubbed their respective tables with rocks. The exaggerated breathing that then rippled through their chests en masse may have been intended as a pulsating response from this “human machine,” but from up on those bleachers it looked like Messier had somehow commanded the entire ensemble to do their very best impersonation of a housecat preparing to puke.

As the show wound down, the group milled confusedly in the centre of the tables to a series of plaintive MIDI trumpet sounds, spelling, much like the rattling end of a Ryanair flight, the much-awaited end. ■

Innervision continues May 30 to June 1 at the Place des Festivals, (1499 Jeanne Mance), 9 p.m., additional 10 p.m. performances May 31 and June 1. Free