Trash to treasure: Jason Sharp and Kimberly de Jong on The Day the Wild Cried

We spoke with the Montreal experimental musician and dancer/choreographer about their new interdisciplinary work, presented this week at la Chapelle.

“The ambiguity of art prompts people to ask questions — of themselves, or in dialogue with other people,” the Montreal experimental musician Jason Sharp tells me during a sunny Sunday afternoon FaceTime chat in late October, 2022. Sharp, the dancer and choreographer Kimberly de Jong, and I are discussing their new interdisciplinary work, The Day the Wild Cried, presented this week at la Chapelle in Montreal.

“Art allows for conversation,” explains Sharp. “It’s a different entry point to the subject matter. It’s different than watching the news. It’s different than being directly messaged with something by specific stats and backed with scientific research. It asks questions and provides an opportunity for dialogue.” 

A chance encounter in 2016 of slow movement and music led to a productive and organic dialogue between dancer and musician.

“I was taking this yoga class for which Jason made the sounds,” recalls de Jong. “And I had visions of a dancer dancing, and I asked Elizabeth, the instructor, who made the music. And she said, ‘It’s my husband, Jason.’ So when I met Jason, he had all these ideas related to working with a dancer. It was a nice meeting because we felt like we both had ideas.”

In 2018, the two artists collaborated on their first work together, entitled Boxher — a 35-minute performance piece presented through Tangente Danse at l’Edifice Wilder, Orange Theater. In the work, Sharp employed an electric heart monitor attached to de Jong’s chest to modulate the sounds his synthesizer produced, constructing a feedback loop amongst the performers’ respective mediums — between body and technology, software and hardware. 

Those Boxher performances led to residencies at CCOV and the MAI, and an ultimately ill-fated post at the Meinblau Art Space in Berlin, ending, as all things did, in March 2020. 

“In the (Berlin) gallery setting, we were able to basically improvise and play with the material that we had developed for this piece,” Sharp explains of their creative evolution. “It was much more informal with a 360-degree setup with the audience, and an opportunity to improvise with the material. It was really fun, it was fantastic, and then the pandemic hit and we barely made it back to Canada.”

Jason Sharp The Day the Wild Cried
Jason Sharp. Photos by Jean-Christophe Yacono

Everyone went their separate ways for a few years. The global coronavirus crisis and the contemporaneous birth of children for both artists temporarily put their collaboration on hold. But the two felt there was further ground to explore together. When de Jong invited Sharp to create the musical accompaniment to The Day the Wild Cried, their roles became all the more intertwined; Sharp was welcomed as a performer into the dance space, and de Jong in turn became an integral part of the musical apparatus.

“We expanded on set design, which allows me to incorporate the set itself into a musical instrument, and I’m able to turn Kim more into a musical instrument,” says Sharp of their developing relationship. “All these different points of contact, points of interaction — it lent itself to the discovery of more fertile ground and an opportunity to expand this into a full 60-minute performance.”

The Day the Wild Cried is thoroughly thematic, but not didactic. It is about environmental degradation, about living through the sixth mass extinction, the conflicting dichotomies we face every day, and the ever-expanding number of binaries in an increasingly non-binary world.

Sharp clarifies: “There is definitely a narrative that is evident: transformation of an environmental landscape to an urban and technological one. There is an obvious narrative of something that is more animalistic to something that is more human. And there are overarching themes of encroaching spaces between those two worlds. There is also the movement that evokes a feeling, and the sounds that can have a very visceral impact on an audience.”

Communicating these themes to an audience in a live setting is vital, but the challenges of mounting such an unabashedly corporeal piece while relying heavily upon human and technical interplay are ever-present. 

“There is definitely an element of improvisation,” says Sharp. “The choreography establishes a ‘structured improvisation’ of sorts. It gives these certain guidelines and timestamps of where Kim and I come together collectively. To get from one post to another post, the direction and the intention is laid out, but there is an improvisational interactivity that allows us to get from here to there. I know the sounds that I’m going to be using. I know that Kim is going from here to there. But I have to react to that. It’s a constant dialogue.”

“And I am not used to dancing with technology,” admits de Jong. “I’m literally wearing a heart microphone, a ring that triggers sounds depending on my movement, and a throat microphone. If they go wrong, I guess my job is accepting the technical possibility that those things could not work. This is a big challenge — including technology as such a big part of our piece.”

“But it’s not going to go wrong!” Sharp reassures.

With the presentation of The Day the Wild Cried, it seems that both artists feel there is something crucial at stake, something urgent to say, and art is the language to say it.

“I think that art is such an important tool — because it makes people feel,” de Jong argues. 

“Art has a way of making people breathe differently. It slows people down in a way. It’s unavoidable now to make art about the world that we’re living through. It’s always becoming something and making more sense as you do it. This piece sparks the imagination. If people can let themselves go to that place where they don’t have the answers, necessarily, but it’s evoking an emotion or a feeling which sparks their imagination, then I will feel like we’re doing our job.” ■

The Day the Wild Cried by Jason Sharp and Kimberly de Jong is at la Chapelle in Montreal this week.

The Day the Wild Cried will be performed at la Chapelle on Oct. 24, 25 and 28

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.