The Show Must Go On is the ultimate in artistic democracy
By Jérí´me Bel. Presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival with the Dance Centre and SFU Woodward’s. At the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre on Wednesday, January 20. Continues until January 23
Who would have thought that a piece of art that includes Céline Dion’s nails-on-a-chalkboard anthem “My Heart Will Go On” could be this profound and entertaining?
Vapid pop music, iconic ballads, and dance hits: they make up the soundtrack of our lives—and also of ultracool French choreographer Jérí´me Bel’s exuberant opener to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
At the front of the stage, with his back to us, a DJ methodically works his way through a stack of CDs. An ethnically diverse mix of professional and nonprofessional performers—including Adrienne Wong, Billy Marchenski, Raakhi Sinha, Susan Elliott, and Max Wyman—appear dressed in street clothes. They stare us down for the Police’s “Every Breath You Take” and stand frozen for long minutes before finally busting a move midway through David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”. Bel defies our expectations, forces us to think about all the baggage we attach to songs (what else can you do when you’re listening to John Lennon’s “Imagine” in complete darkness?), and shows us how music and dance can bring us together. It’s about art, it’s about community, and it’s about pure, unadulterated silliness.
The setup might sound pretentious and frustrating; in practice, it is the opposite—the ultimate in artistic democracy. The audience ends up being as much a part of the show as the performers. And its songs, even the bad ones we know so well, become the great equalizer.
There’s an element of surprise in almost every vignette. The deadpan hilarity of the DJ stealing a dance for himself, cranking the volume and turning on the spotlight for “Private Dancer”. The unbridled lewdness of repeated fly zipping, tongue flicking, boob shaking, and floor humping to “I Like to Move It”. The genuinely moving sight of dancers aimlessly wandering the stage, then stopping to embrace in pairs to Nick Cave’s aching “Into My Arms” (even if one odd man out has to sheepishly leave, to the sounds of audience “Awwwww”s). And then there’s the send-up of that iconic Titanic gesture set to Dion’s warbling megahit. Bel isn’t afraid of the corny jokes either, bathing the audience in pinky house lights for “La Vie en Rose” and gradually illuminating the stage to “Let the Sunshine In”.
In his cleverest surprise—and biggest accomplishment—Bel manages by the end to turn the tables entirely on the viewers. The performers become the audience, the audience the performers—with barely any prodding at all. The wryly philosophical artist doesn’t just tear down the fourth wall; he gently renders it meaningless. It has to be seen to be believed.
Don’t miss out on the party; this show won’t go on forever.