Auteur cinema does not put us in a resting, gaping state; beer commercials do. French-Austrian performance group Superamas explores the straight-to-the-bloodstream effects of mass media by producing a freshly-squeezed concentrate from the familiar pulp of romantic comedies, soap operas, commercials and music videos.
The company makes its Canadian debut at Usine C with their hour-long multimedia dance theatre work BIG 3rd episode (happy/end), presented as part of the Festival Temps d’Images.
The piece unfolds in alternating scenes occurring both onstage, with seven principal actor-musician-dancers moving between three sets, and on-screen in pre-recorded videos, with additional cast, projected above.
The onstage plotlines are deliberately trite but so rigorously tone-steady that they never rest long in satire. Two theatrical devices are at work here: First, dialogue is not delivered live but lip-synched by the actors over a pre-recorded track. Then, each scene is played, frozen and replayed multiple times, dissolving the immediacy of comic and dramatic effect and affording a longer, harder look.
The first on-stage vignette features four shirtless dudes in jeans during band practice, their cover of Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” interrupted by one member’s confession of an extramarital one-night-stand. Nice, bro! But wait. Now the girl is pregnant, what to do? The guys crack open some beers and pause to glug meaningfully.
In the brief second, a club dance floor lights up and suddenly crowds with sloppy college gyrating. Two girls emerge, manifest an unspoken rivalry by whipping out their best (bad) dance moves and end, of course, in a dance-off: High kick, pirouette, chest pump, hair flip, drop into the splits! Beat that! In the next scene, the same girls meet again in the changing room of a posh gym. Now with a third girlfriend, they gossip about their sex lives, trade veiled remarks and endlessly derobe. No surprise that this last sequence was inspired by an episode of Sex and the City.
Superamas is an amoebic, ‘Do-It-Yourself’ dance theatre collective founded in 1999 and now based in Vienna. The seven performers here (only Alix Eynaudi, Katharina Dreyer and Agata Maszkiewicz are named) are ordinary in demeanour and carriage but demonstrate great rigour and precision in these looping lip-synched scenes, which contain challenging sequences of cues and gestural detail.
While the on-stage plots depict Hollywood “ready-mades” of modern men and women at their dullest, the intervening video clips revel in brilliant, homespun camp that echoes the earnest mockumentary tone of Spike Jonze. One video enters an orgiastic house party of cheerleaders and hockey jocks, culminating in a cathartic group therapy session involving a very curious “Dance of Liberation” – a comic highlight.
But the show’s most ingenious turn comes with Superamas’ own “behind the tour” video, set to the Jackson 5 anthem “I Want You Back”. Chronicling the company’s big break when they get booked in New York, the sequence features elated street scenes in Times Square, rehearsal footage with leotards straight out of Fame, a slow-motion curtain call, the post-show celebration in a bar. The feel-good, VH1 success montage hits every mark, and is irresistible. Moreover, with this meta-narrative, here is a show willing to implicate itself in its own critique of vanity, fame and happiness. It’s not over yet: The final after-party shot fades into a Trumer Pils beer logo – an actual show sponsor. One big beer commercial – all of it, all along. Whip-smart stuff.
BIG 3rd episode (happy/end) perfectly executes popular media’s most efficient genres, layering them critically without sacrificing any of the pleasure. The treatment is an original one – an amicable exploitation of our appetite for mass media, and for the ideals it sells.
BIG 3rd episode (happy/end) opened the 5th Edition of the Festival Temps d’Images on January 27. Catch the last show tonight at 8 pm. The touring European multimedia festival continues until February 6 at Usine C with a manageable roster of performances, installations and films from the international cutting edge. A hot item will be Belgian composer Thierry De Mey’s live music performance, February 4-6. For tickets and more information visit Usine C’s site.