Chutzpah Festival: Surreal spectacle of sailors and sirens rocks out at the Red Room

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      A Maria Kong production as part of the Chutzpah Festival. At the Red Room Lounge on Thursday, February 19. Continues February 21 and 22

      Part surreal David Lynch hallucination, part guitar-charged rock concert, part full-on dance party, Maria Kong’s Backstage fills every corner of the Red Room Lounge. For four performances only, the Israeli company’s cast of masculine, bare-chested pirate/sailors and the scantily clad sirens who seduce them turn the downtown club into a sort of rollicking, seafaring dreamworld that continuously pops out new surprises over more than two hours. All this, aided by a luxuriously maned band as well-versed in the guitar wizardry of Jimi Hendrix as in the Beastie Boys at their funkiest.

      With costumed hosts silently moving the audience, even getting some of its members to sit like obedient schoolchildren on the Red Room floor, the admittedly garish spectacle is quite unlike any “dance” performance the city has ever seen. We’re not sure what they’re drinking these days in Tel Aviv (where this international troupe is based), but if this show is any indication, it’s cold beer served with hot moves.

      The show starts serenely enough, with simple sea ballads. The smoke-machine fog and the sound of wind and creaking boats rise, and it quickly explodes into something else entirely, with Talia Landa as our black-sequin-encrusted host. Three sirens might gyrate on one raised area, or crawl through the crowd like broken-limbed arachnids; the men might tussle at the centre of the dance stage, or engage in a sultry duet with the objects of their obsession. Toward the back of the space, there are animated sequences projected on a big screen, sometimes a faux-instructional film with cartoon sound effects, others a delirious meld of real dancers’ shadows and amorphous blue clouds that flow out of them.

      It can be chaotic, but what makes this more than a throw-it-all-at-the-wall show, and raises it above the lurid and loud, is the sheer chops of the dancers: many are trained at one of the top places on the planet, Batsheva Dance Company, and hailing from as far away as Brazil, Japan, and Russia, they each bring their own cultural style and wit to the production. (Watch Anderson Braz samba at the speed of sound.) But they’re also givin’er like Iggy Pop in his prime—all the more obvious when you can get up close to watch them. Just hold on tight to your drink.

      What does it all mean? Well, Backstage seems to simply be getting at the constant lure of men and women. So while this ocean of sight and sound doesn’t run too deep, if you like your music cranked, your drinks cold, and your dance raw and surreal, consider heading to the Red Room for a full-on, immersive experience. And hey, where else are you ever going to see an entire room join the cast members on the dance floor to rock out to the band?