Bodies in Perspective: Piss in the Pool at the St-Ambroise Festival Fringe Montreal 2011

Piss in the Pool

The St-Ambroise Festival Fringe Montreal 2011

Bain St-Michel, Montreal

June 16-18, 2011

Conception and production of Piss in the Pool: Andrew Tay and Sasha Kleinplatz
(in association with Festival Fringe Montreal)

Lighting: Rasmus Sylvest


Imagine a great, cavernous, high-ceilinged building, at the centre of which is an old, now empty swimming pool, with walls and floors tiled in white (with black-tile stripes, decorations and depth indicators). The pool is large, perhaps 25 by 90 feet, and the floor’s slant from shallow to deep end creates a naturally sloped theatre space that lends a fresh, dramatic framing to shows presented here. Montrealers have decided to keep and maintain this building (the pool itself now long decommissioned) in a new, cultural use as a theatre and for rehearsal. In French, piscine means pool—and this lightness of bilingual play on words goes to the heart of this anthology show of short dance and dance-theatre works curated by Andrew Tay and Sasha Kleinplatz.

There is no fixed seating, lending the creators and choreographers a number of choices about audience placement and sightlines: we sit all around, on the pool edges, legs hanging down into the performance space, or in the pool itself, or gathered at one end…

The audience changes from disparate, chatting groups into focused concentration around the pool’s four sides as we are pulled into the evening’s program with a solo performance—Wolfman Redux—by Shannon Gillen. Crumpled on the pool floor is a pile of silvery cloth that acts as a kind of strange beacon, against whose attraction Gillen, in white t-shirt and white shorts, tours the pool in muscular, idiosyncratic, hypnotic strides, rolls and leaps; when she finally acknowledges the silvery cloth, her engagement is total, as it becomes an opaque, silver, plasticky mask with eyeholes and mouth-hole that Gillen ties tight around her head. A sense of entrapment, even within a strong, potentially liberated body, sets in—there is struggling, the audience empathizes and wishes for her face and her breathing to be free again. But it gets harsher: the silver mask untied and taken off, Gillen then pulls a clear plastic bag over her head; her breathing ragged and rushed after several minutes of challenging and energetic dance, the bag, limiting, suffocating, pulses in and out, though now Gillen can see, though now we can see her face, as she stands like a runner after a marathon, hands on knees, gasping against plastic. The lighting is spare and effective; the uncredited musical score scrapey and metallic, echoing in the great hard-tiled walls of Bain St-Michel. Gillen is based in New York but has been known to perform in Montreal; our hope here is that her company may make it farther west and perform in Toronto. Her striking, hard-driving and emotionally affecting work is not to be missed (also please see, elsewhere on this site, a review of Shannon Gillen + Guests’ full-length work, Clap for the Wolfman, which was shown at Tangente as part of the Montreal Fringe).

Sasha Kleinplatz’ Chorus Two… (which won the Studio 303 Prix Flexi-Innovative choreography prize for best dance piece in 2011’s Montreal Fringe), features six male performers in black suits, one seated on a kind of rectangular drum and providing percussion (Radwan Ghazi Moumneh), and the five dancers arrayed and interplaying, in somewhat dangerous muscular geometries, using strong, angular kicks, leaps, and rolls to the left of the drummer. The dancing (by Andrew Turner, Benjamin Kamino, Frederic Wiper, Milan Panet-Gigon and Nate Yaffe) in this piece is superb, as the dancers execute split-second jumps, turns, and sudden leaps and rests with a fluid energy. This work’s subtle commentary on group-strength, conformity and individuality was moving and effective.

last night I dreamt that somebody loved me (choreographed by Nicholas Cantin, performed by Peter James) is a dance theatre piece that begins with a man standing alone as far away from us as he can get on the performing space floor, in a dilapidated leather jacket and falling-down jeans. At the back of the pool, he looks tiny, lost, a sense reinforced when children’s voices in play echo over his head. As the man approaches the audience (some of us are on the floor of the pool, some on the stairs, some on the sides) he appears larger and more threatening (the choreographer’s use of perspective in this piece is both theatrical and painterly), and his emotional and verbal expressions match, becoming louder, and more disjointed. Peter James’ performance as a man who may well be both crazy and homeless, reaching out to a mask lying on the pool floor with the words “My friend,” is visceral, believable, and quite frightening when he pulls a gun out and waves it at us. That he is recognizable, both as a person of courage and great need, and as a vulnerable representative of our uncared-for and abandoned souls, is testament to the power of the piece.

Flotsam (choreographed by Leanne Dyer, performed by Leanne Dyer, Marc Boucher, Jody Hegel, Maerin Hunting, Annie Hunting, Alex Hunting, Lea McLean, Gloria Leger-Goodes and Don Goodes) is a charming and alarming tour de force. Five performers (three of them perched in unstable postures on wheeled, white melamine cubes at the top of the pool’s sloped floor) are dressed in fluffy head and body covering costumes made entirely of plastic bags—one white, one black, and three of the pale greenish grocery-store variety—including plastic-bag underwear. The performers are like futuristic, eyeless, mouthless plastic fur-covered creatures with sticking-out legs. The piece is funny, rompy, and active, danced to a variegated and lively score, and appears to ask us to confront our blinded, polluting selves in support of greater awareness of environmental issues—with openness and  humour.

Etude sur la coeur (choreographed by Annie Gagnon, performed by Annie Gagnon and David Rancourt) is the most mysterious piece in this show. A man lies on the floor in shadow, blood pooled and running from his head, while a woman dances provocatively at the other end of the performance space to Ella Fitzgerald’s The Man I Love. Eventually the man rises and they dance a strange angular and disconnected duet that ends with the woman on the floor in the same place the man was before, while the man crawls away, as if love is profoundly dangerous, and passion has killed and then abandoned them both. The performances in this piece are quite powerful, and many startling images (Gagnon spreadeagled, legs dangling, in her lovely dress at the deep-end pool-top in bright light) remain with the viewer.

The Choreographers Present… (created and performed by Audree Juteau, Peter Trosztmer, Thea Patterson and Katie Ward) features fashion runway satire and audience involvement. Two performers roll down the length of the pool, then a third woman in a red jumpsuit (that evokes prison-wear) proceeds to interfere with the audience while pretzeling into model poses, hugging the odd male audience member and staring doe-eyed at them. This jumpsuited dancer is accompanied by a somewhat panicked but professional-seeming photographer, who documents her every move, until a fight ensues, which includes lugging the now comatose-seeming male dancer from place to place.

Trou (pour deux) (a capella) is choreographed by Manuel Roque, and performed by the choreographer and Lucie Vigneault. This piece, spare and effective, is danced without music, to the sound of bare feet slapping tile and the dancers’ breathing, and in plain full light. Vulnerability, affection, effort and ambition shine out from the dancers as they run in straight lines (parallel, separate), and the male dancer easily climbs out of the pool (“trou” means “hole” in French), while the woman perseveres but cannot climb by herself out of the pool without assistance. Effort, jealousy and love rise up from this quietly striking, energetic performance.

On the subject of compassion… (choreographed and performed by Helen Simard, soundtrack by Roger White ((Les Mains Libres)) takes as its departure point the much-criticized Sun News interview with Canadian dance icon Margie Gillis. Dressed as Gillis might in a dark, flowing dress, and borrowing from Gillis’ movement vocabulary, Simard dances a kind of dignified freedom in one spot against the tiled wall, accompanied by the harsh, repetitive voice of the belligerent Sun interviewer, looped, fractured and occasionally mixed with music by Roger White. The contrast between Simard’s vulnerable, deeply expressive, human integrity, and the berating, hectoring tones of the interviewer’s voice speak volumes about the need for art in daily life, and is, in its way, both a sharp rebuke and a sweet corrective to the Sun News’ anti-art position.

let me tell you a story (choreographed and performed by Peter Trosztmer) features Trosztmer wearing a bathing suit, miming out a story he tells while bathed in golden light up on the poolside at one end of the building. The positioning is effective; he’s one of us, on our level, and barely clothed: an immediate feeling of empathy for his vulnerability and reaching out to us is evoked, pulling us in to his tale of a junkie to whom he is at first kind, but then ends up chasing when it becomes clear the junkie has stolen his neighbour’s laptop.

My fluxing would be f***ing entertaining if we were partying… (choreographed and performed by Andrew Tay) features Tay’s dense, compact focused movement to a resounding trance beat. This short piece creates a kind of neon tribal feeling, as well as weird suspense. The audience is crowded into the deep end of the pool, looking up at Tay, who has nearby a large bucket whose contents we can’t see. The strength of emotion in his movement creates energy that is taken up and scattered powerfully when the pail is tipped to reveal scores of multi-coloured bouncing balls that shine in the light and that the audience begins to playfully bounce back at Tay.