The Show Must Go On: A clever game
First up, point of disclosure: I am SFU alumni with a soft spot for the School for Contemporary Art and was delighted to be part of the première production at the school’s new theatre in the Woodward’s complex. Now, was Jérôme Bel’s The Show Must Go On a fitting piece for this notable event? Depends on who you ask.
In addition to opening SFU’s new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, the piece also opened this year’s PuSh Festival and was packed with the who’s who of Vancouver’s art and sponsorship community. A noteworthy point only because I suspect the good-natured crowd had a unique impact on the outcome of this particular presentation of The Show, which is, in fact, less dance performance than an exchange between audience and artist.
Seemingly blurring the line between loose community project and tightly choreographed work of art, the opening night of The Show Must Go On featured 21 of Vancouver’s dance and theatre artists (community activist, Jim Green, was scheduled to perform but did not due to illness). A thoughtfully diverse make-up of ages, ethnicities, abilities and experience, the group, when jumbled together in movement, created a sort of disparate uniformity that was both aesthetically pleasing and reflective of a wider, hopeful harmony.
The performers first gathered on stage around a D.J. – set front and centre – after two full songs during which an increasingly restless audience sat in the complete dark. One could almost hear the murmur of relief that the show was finally “underway” and so began the playful, sometimes ironic, sometimes mocking game between audience and performers.
The game was steered by pop songs spun out, one by one, by the D.J. who added to the wait-and-see aspect with painful pauses in between tracks and much fumbling with CD cases. With the start of each song, the performers seemed to take a moment to reflect on its meaning before moving accordingly. At times that meant walking off the stage, at others a gentle flow of tender embraces, or a reverie of amateur ballet moves, or a rhythmic, hilarious and repetitive frenzy of stereotypical sexy moves. At other times the audience was once again left alone in a darkened theatre as songs continued to play.
As mentioned above, the heavily stacked and good-natured audience at this particular performance was up for the game – which included sing-alongs, impromptu dancing in the seating area, heckling, much laughter and audible demonstrations of sympathy, restlessness and delight – but I would be interested to see how other audiences react. As it were, some of the comments overheard after the show were of the “it was strange,” and “couldn’t wait for it to end” variety.
I, for one love, a game and enjoyed the unexpectedness and the fun but sometimes awkward frolic between performance, performer and audience. I loved that I caught the stage manager in me wondering, as I sat through a second song in the dark at the beginning of the show, if something might have gone wrong (it was the première performance in a new theatre after all!).
Though indeed some song sketches did have an intentional tedium to them, I found The Show Must Go On to be an overall hilarious, clever and witty experience that played upon the common yet significant snippets of modern life. I felt a range of emotions, I was entertained, I wondered, I waited for more. I marvelled at the talent of some performers and thanked the heavens for artists. All of which makes for a great show in my books.
Plus, there were some pleasingly genuine moments of unity among the audience; that raw vibration that ripples through a crowd when they know they are experiencing something special together. A few of those moments had me thinking: this must be the end, this heart-warming high point of intimacy and emotion is surely what Bel means to leave us with. But no, that would be just too agreeable, too predictable. Instead the irony and the game continued because, of course, the show must go on.
The Show Must Go On continues until January 23rd at SFU’s Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre in the Woodward’s building. For more information go on to the PuSh website.