Review: Primordial Vaudeville
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I’ll admit up front that circus work has never been a favorite of mine. But as circus elements from trapeze, hoop, and contortion find their way into other forms of the performing arts, I can respect elements of their physicality that don’t make me feel like I’m clapping for human tricks. The three piece trio directed by Krin Maren Haglund started off with a strong image of androgynous beige pods coming to life. But it was immediately clear that they were creating work for a much larger space than the Tangente, as rope and fabric work was completely lost in the lights and their  projections of movement could have hit audiences across the street. Arranged as a series of personal and artistic discoveries from the first applications of cosmetic colour to the act of self expression in a series of specialized solos, the piece as a whole appeared to want to break out of traditional circus conventions, but remained very much still trapped in that framework from music choices to their relationships with the audience.

Shifting then into “Dream On, Track 1” from La Zampa, the piece explodes open with an image of a shattered bottle filled with sand filling in the space between performer and audience. Capturing the entire piece in this one image, the summation can be simply noted as going from sexy and potentially raw to predictable and safe. Magali Millian, who co-choregraphed the piece with partner Romuald Luydlin, brings together a lot of pretty elements and rides on the jarring visceral tones of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me”, but the movements themselves never seem to cater to the abandonment that it tries to achieve by all other means. The work remains very soft, and controlled, and unfortunately, contrived.

Perhaps as the best performance I saw at the festival this year, Shannon Cochrane’s “Well Known Performance” crafted some of the most profound images through contemporary performance art that was both highly thoughtful and engaging. From her methodical steps to set up the scene of a long dressed table and her own preparation of self care and hygiene, to meeting or trying to meet every single member of the audience, the tone of deadpan seriousness was intensely precise, yet earnest in execution every step of the way. As she prepares for her own party, Cochrane takes out a tetra pack of Viagra pills and shows them to the audience, before popping one herself. She goes on to do some light levitation, eats a banana, and gives the audience a brief backgrounder on the drug and its representation as inequality in the business of pharmaceuticals and research and development.

Through reductive questioning that basically leaves a cross section of single women over the age of 18 with no dietary restrictions or family histories of heart conditions, Cochrane invites up those members of the audience for a store bought chocolate cake that she laces before them with crushed up Viagra and sprinkles. The unpredictable and unscriptable reactions from the participating audience now sitting along this table adorned with glassware and a bouquet of flowers range from expressions of genuine concern, unimpressed, curious, and just slightly gleeful as they wondered if they were actually going to be taking Viagra on stage. Their expressions, which capture the essence of the piece, was the absolute highlight of the show. Cochrane also prolongs this moment by addressing her having to either pull the piece, change it significantly, or sign a “release from responsibility” letter clearing Tangente and another other third party producers all legal responsibilities for the health and safety of any audience member ingesting Viagra. Exploiting the paradox that her piece is about free will, and that the form now stipulates that she the artist is responsible for her audience regardless of whether they eat the cake or not, all of the women represented their rights as individuals in eating the cake, not eating the cake, eating around the laced icing, or digging right into it, and gradually relaxed into chatter and enjoyment of the moment amongst themselves. Accompanying their digestion with a somber cake eating song about having no castration fear, the piece in that moment worked extremely well within the black box of theatre, holding your utmost and deserved attention in a way that a gallery space could not, playing off the presence of the participating audience that was simply exceptional.

Amy Fung

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