Dana Michel in Cutlass Spring. Photo by Jocelyn Michel

Dancer Dana Michel delivers entrancing and determined weirdness

A review of the mesmerizing Cutlass Spring.

I will admit, I was intrigued and yet a little bored at the outset of Cutlass Spring, presented in the round (or rather, square) at Théâtro Prospero. Yet creator and performer Dana Michel’s entrancing and determined weirdness was very soon so engrossing that that feeling of boredom gave way to the scary sensation that anything might happen.

On one level, Cutlass Spring approaches a kind of gleefully uncomfortable prop comedy, and the stage opens with nine spotless plastic lawn chairs to which nothing so banal as being sat upon will happen. Seeing Michel interact with those chairs is like watching the motel parking lot CCTV footage of a sweet eccentric on whatever Northern Ontario calls ketamine. In other words it’s very entertaining, but you do experience the guilty privileged access to someone’s personal mayhem.

Michel seems to exude the interiority of an itinerant with great wit. I had the feverish impression that Michel might come up to me at any moment talking about aliens and nutritional supplements and snowboarding, and moreover, I knew I’d want to listen. The use of objects, the use even of her clothes as if they were props, the suggestion of eternal weariness, of homelessness, of mental illness but also determined perspicacity and sad, wicked humour, all this screamed Becket. Stripped of language, here is Becket in his full physicality, terrifyingly reincarnated as Dana Michel, sporting some truly badass laissez-faire nudity, to boot.

What is inside her boxing shorts? Why is that fork so large? Is she abusing an invisible dog? There is plenty that is incomprehensible. I say, embrace it.

A moment where Michel sprawled on the floor brought to mind Alyson Court telling the time with her legs on The Big Comfy Couch (notably also if she was dosed on the kinds of powdered substances sold at your typical Northern Ontario Husky Truck Stop). I was transfixed.

The sound design is spare and totally fitting: a noise both like a lion’s roar and like a toilet flushing, again and again; a deliciously cellphone-quality sample of “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by OutKast, playing in tiny bursts.

When Michel drags a cobbled-together structure aloft at great pains and dons a green beret, the worlds of dubious reality and equally dubious fantasy seem to collide. She appears more childlike but also more powerful than ever.

Cutlass Spring feels like a captivating and hallucinatory game of dress-up, but equally a porthole into someone’s difficult mental space. Michel can be very funny, with just the right peculiar bird noise, just the right look of wide-eyed paranoia, but the jokes can also feel like a cry for help. Cutlass Spring is mysterious and open to multiple readings in part because it is so wildly personal, but Michel’s aptitude in using her body as metaphor, and in integrating objects into her world, is astonishing. ■

Cutlass Spring continues at Théâtro Prospero (1371 Ontario St. Est) from June 1–3, 9 p.m. $31–$37