Montreal’s Phénomena Festival, October 18-25, defies definition with its array of avant-garde performances by 150 local and international artists, known for their unique, often humorous, approaches to theatre, dance, music, puppetry, fashion, poetry, film, cabaret and visual art…
Phénomena Festival‘s 40 shows – some free and the rest affordably priced, some for the whole family, some decidedly not – are also a good reason to explore Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood. Performances happen every night at Bain Saint-Michel, a historic indoor swimming pool (long empty of water) that operates as a theatre space, and at music venues La Sala Rossa and Casa del Popolo. True to its experimental, edgy nature, the festival pops up at outdoor locations too, including along Parc Avenue and Saint-Laurent Boulevard.
Festival director D. Kimm works within Les Filles Électriques collective on theatrical performance La Mythologie Expliquée (Tableaux Vivants), inspired by some of the more shocking stories of Greek gods and goddesses, performed at Bain Saint-Michel. Strange, ragtag puppets and clowns populate cabaret show Le Cirque Orphelin, while the festival pairs up with the Festival du Nouveau Cinema to co-host experimental film work by Allison Moore and Jasa Baka. Yet watching the surrealist, campy Smile Stealers Film Experience and Sea Foam Blue 2 won’t be a typical movie experience: the audience gets to interact with the films and with live musicians and performers. See interdisciplinary duo 2boys.tv head off in a somewhat new direction with time-and-space-bending concert ((TESSERACT)). And nothing is as it seems at Cabaret Dada – Les 1001 (Guizo-La) Nuits, hosted by artist Alexis O’Hara as her suave alter-ego Guizo LaNuit, and featuring subversive-yet-stylish performers Gigi L’Amour, Dayna McLeod and Jackie Gallant.
More puppetry comes to Bain St-Michel in musical fairytale show Les bois dormants created by award-winning artist and puppeteer Julie Desrosiers and musicians Cédric Dind-Lavoie and Stéphane Lafleur. Later, the Fantasmagories showcase explores body language and fearlessness in 10 bilingual performances, including one that features a foam machine set to music. A different kind of dance show entertains in 25 different ways as Montreal company Wants & Needs presents a special edition of their Short & Sweet series: this time, the three-minute choreographed dances are inspired by the spirit of cinematic experimenter Georges Méliès. Solo performances that run later in the night also make up an integral part of the festival: Dutch artist Jaap Blonk brings his electronic music and poetic vocals to the Casa del Popolo stage; Kathy Kennedy creates a talk show using only radio transmissions; and Jacob Wren accesses memories and musical ability in Every Song I’ve Ever Written.
Among the free shows, catch Marcelle Hudon and Maxime Rioux’s puppet and shadow-theatre show La Chambre Des Lutteurs, at Bain Saint-Michel, where the artists make use of the space’s natural resonance by playing low-frequency music to match the theatrics. Also at Bain Saint-Michel, a dance installation called Tropical Bunker, a six-hour ongoing performance that allows anyone to watch for a moment or an hour and leave whenever desired. Every day during the festival, look for the lighting installations of Lucie Bazzo in shop windows and watch for Les Ville-Laines, a group of artists who, armed with yarn and fabric, set out to transform balconies on St-Laurent Boulevard, and maybe a few lamp posts, bike racks and other everyday objects on the street as well. On select days, Compagnie Houdart-Heuclin roams Parc Avenue all in the same clothing and mask, while artist Coral Short walks along the same street, at different times, wearing a costume made entirely of stuffed animals, part of a participatory performance called Plush – hugs are encouraged.
Phénomena Festival, October 18-25, 2013
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