Offbeat Quebec troupe Orchestre d'Hommes-Orchestres cooks up New Cackle Sisters

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      The name L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres (LODHO) doesn’t slip readily off the tongue, even in translation as the Orchestra of One-Man Bands. But the offbeat description is nonetheless apt for the Quebec City troupe that’s brought the fabulously entertaining shows Joue à Tom Waits and Cabaret Brise-Jour to Vancouver, and returns with its latest production, New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken.

      “We’re a collective of creative artists and we’ve been working together for a number of years,” says Gabrielle Bouthillier, one of LODHO’s members, reached at her Quebec City home and speaking in French. “From one project to another the performing team will transform itself, the conceptualizers of the shows too, and we go looking for collaborators—for particular skills or other reasons that make us want a bigger team. But it’s always built around a nucleus of seven people.”

      On LODHO’s website, the ensemble is humorously tagged as “undisciplined”, a punning reference to its open-minded attitude and practices. “We don’t claim to be masters of any discipline,” Bouthillier says. “Our approach is to look for the linkage between disciplines. So from one show to another the material can be very different in nature, and we allow ourselves to search for methods that aren't necessarily those we're most familiar with. Each of us comes from one discipline or another, in music or in theatre. We don’t know how to do everything, but the principle of the one-man band is to allow yourself to do everything at the same time—even things for which you’ve no expertise. We find that very interesting. As a result we move from one discipline to another with an ever-shifting focus, and we love working that way.”

      As with New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken, the work of L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres has often been described as "music that you can see".
      Charles-Frédérick Ouellet

      New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken revolves around the music of real-life siblings Mary Jane and Carolyn DeZurik from Minnesota, who became stars on both the National Barn Dance and Grand Ole Opry radio shows in the U.S. in the ’30s and ’40s, largely due to their yodelling skills. LODHO encountered them in the early days of the collective.

      “Several members did a research project around American folklore, and through that a friend gave us a tape of the original Cackle Sisters [the DeZuriks’ stage name],” Bouthillier explains. “We all found it amazing. At that time, around 2006, we were working on the music for the Tom Waits show, and also Cabaret Brise-Jour. We took that modus operandi—using a repertoire of pre-existing songs, just as someone might work from a script—to be the anchor for what we did as creators.

      “We were so impressed by the sisters that we started to look at how to reproduce that with two women’s voices and a guitar,” she continues. “We liked the result so much we went on to cover a dozen songs or more. It was only a musical project at first, but some things were introduced into other shows, like little cameos. In time we thought, ‘Why not devote a whole show to that music, which is so interesting and little-known, and will draw people who’ve never had the chance to hear it?’ ”

      The material posed its challenges, however. “What we do has often been described as music that you can see,” says Bouthillier. “We've often started with highly evocative material that has all sorts of layers, and suggests many ways of making creative use of it. For the music of the Cackle Sisters, we were dealing with something unvaried, and very stable. We had to create interest on-stage while staying faithful to the original music. So there’s another world happening on-stage in addition to the music—which is the kitchen, and the cooking that takes place throughout the show. The music itself transforms quietly too, moving toward something pretty unexpected when you think of the Sisters’ sound.”

      Audiences are treated to the aromas of roast chicken and mashed potatoes being prepared on-stage—and appetizers may “or may not” be served afterward. It’s cuisine-art you can see, hear, smell, and hopefully taste.

      L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres performs New Cackle Sisters: Kitchen Chicken Tuesday to next Saturday (April 2 to 6) at the York Theatre.