Clara Furey. Photo by Mathieu Verreault

Rather a Ditch takes us down into darkness, with purpose

We spoke to choreographer Clara Furey about her show at la Chapelle.

Clara Furey’s Rather a Ditch premiered at the Festival TransAmériques (FTA) this past spring and will be presented again at la Chappelle this week. Emerging from a project by Olivier Bertrand in which he asked artists to interpret an album of their choice, Rather a Ditch takes Stephen Reich’s Different Trains as its starting point. The 1988 album in which Reich, a Jewish man living in the United States during WWII and travelling at the time regularly by train, asks himself what if he had instead spent those years in Europe, what trains might he then have ridden on instead. It’s a meditation on death, fate and the guilt and gratitude of the survivor. In a way Rather a Ditch is as well, though in no way is the piece about the Holocaust, but rather a dance that “sit[s] next to [Reich’s] work, and in discussion with it.”

Rather a Ditch is danced and created with Céline Bonnier, an actress with no dance background, and yet Furey also made the decision that Bonnier not speak in the performance. This presented obvious challenges, but Furey is “interested in the inclusivity of different bodies performing…in seeing all kinds of people dance.” In the weeks after Rather a Ditch is at La Chapelle, Furey’s group show Cosmic Love will appear at Usine C, and even then a non-dancer will share the stage, in this case her brother Tomas Furey, who composed the piece’s music and both plays and dances in the show.

Cosmic Love is in many ways the antithesis of Rather a Ditch, an exploration of empathy and community bonds. Half jokingly, Furey describes Cosmic Love as “the rainbow” and Rather a Ditch as a “slow walk into the dark silence in the forest at night”. Furey goes on to call the ditch “a void,” but one in which she feels comfortable. The title, Rather a Ditch, comes from a monologue Shakespeare wrote for Cleopatra in which she asserts that rather than be taken to Rome as a slave, she would “Rather a ditch in Egypt/Be gentle grave unto me!” For Furey, Cleopatra’s speech is emblematic of “choosing your destiny,” of the mental fortitude found in the darkest of circumstances. 

Furey collaborated with Caroline Monnet for the set design of Rather a Ditch, and notes that her sets “end up being very imposing and fragile at the same time.” Furey describes Monnet, an Algonquin-French visual artist, as always bringing an “awareness [of’] indigenous knowledge and indigenous history, the reality of the genocide” to bear on her work. And indeed, this is a vital perspective in a show that may not be explicitly about genocide, but whose source material is. Reich uses Different Trains to ask Why was I spared? but this deceptively simple question seems to offer a potent jumping off point to scrutinize the waves of sweeping injustice, both contemporary and historical, that shape our individual and collective fates. Furey knows Rather a Ditch is not a particularly easy show. She wants it to make demands from the audience as well as from performers, knowing that “the effort can be shared.” ■

Rather a Ditch is at la Chapelle (3700 St-Dominique) from Nov. 2729, 8 p.m. $18.50$33.50

Cosmic Love is at Usine C (1345 Avenue Lalonde) Dec. 3 & 4, 7 p.m. $30$35