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Keeping the living arts alive

16 April 2020 by Nicolas Gendron, artist and journalist

My job is one of proximity, human warmth and sharing with the public. If I am a film journalist and, thanks to Strøm Magazine, a literary columnist, I am first and foremost a theatre artist. The artistic community was among the first to suffer the wave of cancellations and closures linked to the ban on all gatherings, first of 250 or more people, and then, a few days later, on any gathering whatsoever.

A series of griefs began, and so many artists were silenced. While we understood the urgency of the health crisis, we were nonetheless shaken in our very identity. The shows to come –and to dream about—were dropping like flies for my comrades and me, and in the last month I must admit that I have felt useless. But even if the cultural “industry” is not on the list of essential services, the first thing many confined people still do is turn to art to soothe and entertain themselves, to introspect but also, paradoxically, to connect with the outside world. They do so through feel-good music notes, through words that heal, through new colours, through fictions mixed with reality, in these times when reality too often takes on the air of science fiction…

As a culture bulimic, I already miss viscerally the performing arts, both as a practitioner and as a spectator. That’s why this time, I felt like writing something else. Since the television, film, literary and musical options have been relayed by the media since mid-March, I thought it would be relevant to bring to your attention those that we call the performing arts – deliberately crossing over visual arts—because I miss those the most, deprived as they are of their essence, and therefore of your presence.

PS: On the photo that illustrates my text are three people dear to my heart, Christophe, Leticia and Maxime, also from the artistic sphere, a few days ago… and a few meters away. In front of the benevolent message from a resident of our neighbourhood, in Montreal: “SÉPARÉ.ES ENSEMBLES”. Under the circumstances, why not use the plural form of the word “ensemble(s)”?

VISUAL ARTS

On social media, between two rainbows, you have surely been able to admire the traces of the Danish Instagram account initiative @tussenkunstenquarantaine, which simply means “between art and quarantine”, relayed by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The idea is to recreate a work of art at home, with what is at hand (furniture, clothes, food and other impromptu accessories), and to immortalize it all in order to compare, not without a smile, our humble creation with its inspiration. The crazy idea was quickly borrowed by renowned museum institutions, including the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, who invited us to rediscover their online collection to spark our creativity. Full of discoveries to come, whether alone, as a couple or as a family, because it is well known: art is often born out of constraint. The Vermeer Girl with a Pearl Earring has never been so popular!

The Danish Instagram account @tussenkunstenquarantaine

The Amsterdam Rijksmuseum

The Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Los Angeles Getty Museum

THEATRE

A living art par excellence, the theatre was virtually dematerialized, with the end of spring and the beginning of the crisis, to be reborn on the airwaves. Radio-Canada quickly revived the tradition of radio theatre, including a reading of Mademoiselle Julie, broadcast the same evening as its aborted premiere at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert, with actress Magalie Lépine-Blondeau in the title role of August Strindberg’s drama. The state radio also hosted sound designer Laurier Rajotte’s podcast, Théâtre à la carte, which started in 2019 and features the texts of a new generation of authors, Gabrielle Lessard (Ici), Rébecca Déraspe (Une maison de poupée, Ceux qui se sont évaporés) and Rachel Graton (21). Finally, like beacons in the night, Julien Morissette and the team of La Fabrique culturelle have created Signal nocturne, a weekly program that gives the microphone to bereaved artists, in excerpts from their creations that have seen their wings being clipped; actors Sophie Cadieux, Emmanuel Schwartz and Mani Soleymanlou were part of the redemptive exercise in the first episode. A peaceful rendezvous for all theatre lovers.

The reading of Mademoiselle Julie

The Théâtre à la carte podcast

La Fabrique culturelle

YOUNG ARTISTS AND MULTIDISCIPLINARITY

The next generation of artists has both an obvious thirst for expression and a growing precariousness, and the National Theatre School of Canada has understood this. At the beginning of the confinement, it announced emergency support for emerging artists who are in training or who have followed a theatre training over the past five years –and not just within its own walls, kudos!—in the form of a grant to create works online. Eighty of them, playwrights and performers from across the country, in both English and French, and including Aboriginal creators, will showcase the fruits of their imagination in times of confinement. As for the spontaneous creation event Nice Try, which is normally held at Usine C, it’s moving around the web these days, and artists from all walks of life – choreographers, filmmakers, performers, etc.—always have 48 hours to deliver a work in free form, if freedom is to be channelled through a screen. The time has come for (re)discovery.

The National Theatre School of Canada

The creation event Nice Try

The Nice Try Facebook page

DANCE

Do your children have excess energy lately? Twice a week, the youth dance company Bouge de là offers the activity Danse chez toi!, an invitation to budding choreographers to explore movement via a thematic video, for example, with the help of a simple scarf. The dancers of Les Grands ballets canadiens demystify their training routine and give a few classes on Instagram, and everyone is encouraged to imitate them, out of sight. In terms of dissemination, the Mickaël Spinnhirny Agency, which specializes in the circulation of dance in Quebec and Europe, has listed several platforms that honour this increasingly popular art form, as well as the productions of prestigious overseas ballet and contemporary dance companies. This spring, this same agency will be presenting a new dance work from Quebec, including Vertical, created by Le Patin Libre, a Montreal company that reinvents the art of choreography… on ice, following in the footsteps of the hashtag #DANSEÀLAMAISON. Stretching out to clear your mind, one step at a time.

The Bouge de là company

The Grands ballets canadiens Instagram account

Danse à la maison from the Spinnhirny Agency

Danse à la maison Vertical

CIRCUS

As they mostly perform shows while being on tour, and this, all around the globe, from Moscow to Las Vegas, circus artists experienced the aftershock of the crisis as early as in December. Even when a flagship like Cirque du Soleil is faltering, an entire ecosystem is taking a beating. That’s why, every week, this leader shares an hour-long digest of its craftsmen’s feats and fantasy universes; you can catch excerpts of Alegría,, O and Amaluna from its “circography” on the fly. The prolific collective 7 doigts de la main also recently shared a new recording of its creation Séquence 8, directed by Shana Carroll and Sébastien Soldevila, which focused on our interdependence in society. The introduction rightly reminds us that artists “are nothing” without an audience. The heart pinches us a little, and then from one acrobatic stunt to the next, our emotions take more luminous paths. With the recent cancellation of Montréal complètement cirque, no doubt other offerings of this kind will keep coming our way, to better focus on the essential, upside down!

The Cirque du Soleil

Les 7 doigts de la main Facebook page

(See their post from April 6, 2020)

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