Marie Davidson et l'Oeil nu Festival Phénomena

Photo by Samantha Blake

Festival Phénomena is back to fascinate Montreal audiences IRL

The 10th annual edition, Oct. 7–22, features concerts, cabaret, puppets, a performance by deaf artists and more.

Festival Phénomena is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with an eclectic lineup of performances embodying the experimentalism its audience has come to expect. 

After the unfortunate but necessary switch to an online-only format last year, artistic director D. Kimm says she’s excited to be bringing the festival back in its true form in time for this milestone year.

“For me, to do it all online last year was very sad,” says D. Kimm. “It was not the DNA of the festival.” 

But doing things in person this year, as the pandemic continues to drag on and impose various, changing public health guidelines, is no walk in the park. D. Kimm says that they are closely monitoring the recommendations and adapting to the changes, and offering shows both indoors and outdoors.

“I want to be sure that we can meet the people,” she says. “We are just very happy to do it for real, with real people on a real stage.”

D. Kimm’s highlights of the festival’s schedule include a free outdoor dancing event choreographed by Hélène Langevin on Oct. 9, for which participants are encouraged to get decked out in extravagant attire and learn a fun, simple choreography. The indispensable DADA Cabaret, an interdisciplinary collection of avant-garde performances that is a signature of the festival, will have two showings, on Oct. 14 and 15. And for the English-speaking crowd, D. Kimm proposes a comedic puppet show by Jon Lachlan Stewart, The King Stinks

Another show D. Kimm is looking forward to is that of her daughter, the musician Marie Davidson, with her band l’Oeil Nu. Davidson is returning to Montreal’s live music scene for the first time in just over two years, with new material to perform for her fans. 

Though she’s been making music with the band since last year, she is very excited about their performing debut in her hometown, happening as part of Phenomena at la Tulipe on Oct. 8.

“This is not a new project anymore, but it was supposed to be a new thing when we put out a record last year,” Davidson says with a laugh. “And after the pandemic, it makes it extra special.”

Davidson and her band will be playing their 2020 album Renegade Breakdown, which is a bit of a different sound from Davidson’s solo days making dance music. 

“We’re trying to have fun with the medium, and most of all, it’s just a celebration of music, playing live, musicianship,” she explains. “We still make electronic music but we also do rock, we use guitars. I don’t want to spoil the thing but there will also be danceable moments.”

Festival Phénomena
D. Kimm, artistic director of Montreal’s Festival Phénomena

Another event D. Kimm is looking forward to is L’Oeil éveillé, a performance put on by six artists who are deaf or hard of hearing. Presented in Quebec Sign Language with French translation, the show blends poetry, theatre, video and signed music. D. Kimm describes it as an event meant to bring together the hearing and non-hearing communities, and showcase the talent of these artists to a public that might not have come across them otherwise. 

“I’m very proud that the deaf public can come to la Sala Rossa to see a show with artists from their community,” she explains. “This is what I like: put people together, give them the chance to know more.” 

Including this show is also a reflection of a larger effort to increase the diversity of the artists participating in the festival. This is the first year a diversity commissioner was hired with the mandate of seeking out talent with varied backgrounds and identities. 

“The position I hold today proves that Festival Phénomena wants to be an agent of change,” writes diversity commissioner Claudia Chan Tak in her message to festival-goers. “I am proud of my role. Immensely proud. But quite honestly, I hope its days are numbered. 

“I hope that soon, we will no longer speak of diversity as an imbalance, an absence to correct, but rather as a richness and pride we will no longer need to demand but instead celebrate — without having to identify or label it.”

“I think what is important about the festival is the fact that it reaches a very large scale of people, different generations, different types of people, and everybody feels welcome,” says D. Kimm about why she hired a diversity commissioner this year.

“It’s very inclusive, I agree with that. It’s not niche, it’s not elitist, it’s not snob at all, which is something I really respect,” says Davidson, agreeing with D. Kimm. 

Davidson would know — she got her start performing in the Festival Voix d’Amériques, the precursor to Festival Phénomena, at just 14. 

As the festival celebrates its 10 years, the company headed by D. Kimm that produces it, Les Filles électriques, is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. To mark these occasions, a photography exhibit showcasing the work of official festival photographer Caroline Hayeur will be on display free of charge at Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal.

After a two-year break from an in-person festival, D. Kimm finished with an invitation to get dressed up and enjoy live performance again, all together. 

“Come on people, get out of your sweatpants, come out to a real show!” ■

This article originally appeared in the October issue of Cult MTL. For more on the program and to buy tickets, please visit the Festival Phénomena website.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit our Arts section.