Piss in the Pool (a co-production of Wants&Needs Dance and Studio 303) has become a staple of Montréal’s summertime dance scene. Now in its 9th year, the series brings together a handful of emerging choreographers who each have just one month to create a new work in an unconventional space – a dilapidated and emptied public bath house on St Dominique.
The audience is physically moved between each piece to an ideal vantage point for the choreography, with the curator/producers Andrew Tay and Sasha Kleinplatz announcing directives with the help of the glamorous swimsuit-clad Helen Simard to provide French translation. One of the few opportunities for audiences in Montréal to see short-format, site-specific works, Piss in the Pool acts as a springboard for dance artists to develop their choreographic practice with solid infrastructure and an established audience. What the choreographers make of this opportunity can vary in quality, but the concept itself is a winner.
The evening kicked off with There is no substitute by Andrew Tay. Taking the microphone, he explained briefly that his work was about the phenomenon of synchronicity or connectedness; “Like when you’re doing your laundry and someone you haven’t thought about for a long time pops into your head and then you get a text from them.” He then proceeded to pull up several pre-arranged volunteers from the audience, and asked them to don ‘talismans’ (tacky Dollar Store necklaces) and to talk about a person they would like the audience to picture. Thus, we hear about blond, blue-eyed Wesley Webb, the first kiss of Volunteer #1. It transpires that the two shared a special moment by the swings at age five. Wesley Webb, if you are out there, know that a whole crowd of people sat in an empty swimming pool in the heart of the Plateau, closed their eyes and focused their thoughts on you last Thursday. If you’re an investment banker or insurance salesman, you are probably suitably creeped out by now. I apologise.
As There is no substitute unfolded, we ran through the entire gamut of volunteers and their remembered or imagined people, and finally the microphone was discarded and the dancing began. I say “dancing” but what I actually mean is Tay in solo mode, doing a palsy-riddled version of The Robot. It was quite good actually and, in hindsight, I wish he had dispensed with the linguistic foreplay and spent his time developing this movement vocabulary further instead. The interchange with the volunteers prior to this felt too much like we were invited to a workshopping session of his piece rather than the performance itself. Frankly, by the time we get to this stage of the game, I don’t want to watch the means, only the end.
Next up was Benjamin Kamino, performing nude in the deep end of the pool. He struck a series of wavering poses, the cold light turning his skin to Grecian marble and transporting us to an underwater world. The music of place. perfect was a strange mélange of Phantom of the Opera-style organ, choir music, and recordings of various people speaking in French and English about what their ideal dance involves. I very much liked the aesthetic of this piece, but wasn’t sure if the running back and forth from one side of the pool to the other achieved anything; it broke the spell of mystery and distracted the eye. Also, a naked man running is ill advised at the best of times for a multitude of reasons.
The third piece, Youme, by Audrée Juteau, was a highlight of this year’s Piss in the Pool. Tiny, wiry and incredibly focused, Juteau ran full tilt around the entire perimeter of the pool with a red velvet sofa cushion almost bigger than she was. Reaching the edge of the deep end, she threw the thing as hard as she could to the pool-floor and thus began her choreographic game – it was rather like the game I remember playing as a child in which the couch cushion is the boat and the floor is the water. There was something clean and gamine about her style; her physicality – a pleasure to watch – and the concept were nicely introduced, unpacked and resolved during the course of the piece. Like a piece of short fiction, a short dance piece has to be exceptionally well-paced and structured to work well, with no superfluous tangents, no meandering passages, no fat. I think Youme fit this description perfectly, and she had the technique and commitment to carry it out convincingly. Bravo.
The next offering to Piss in the Pool was the aptly-named La fièvre, choreographed by Jessica Serli, which kicked off with Annie Gagnon walking slinkily with a stack of clean white towels in her arms. She stood on the edge of the pool and poured an entire glass pitcher of water onto her fellow dancer’s head. There is something solemn and ceremonious about the interplay of the three women, which is amplified by the symphonic score by Antoine Berthiaume bouncing around the pool walls. The third dancer was Audrey Bergeron, who I saw perform recently in Ginette Laurin’s Khaos as part of Festival TransAmeriques. With satisfyingly solid technique and a compact musculature, she drew the eye like a moth to the flame as she made her way painstakingly up the entire length of the pool. However one of the most memorable moments in this piece occurred when Serli wrung out a sopping wet sheet and let it cling transparently to the tiles of the poolside.
After a short intermission, we were ushered back into Bain St-Michel, to the eerie sight of 14 women in frocks and heels standing absolutely still on the pool floor with their hair braided over their faces. The breathing mannequins of Stella (bis) began a slow sequence of movement as a watery soundscape crept in, kneeling down, adjusting their hair (or wigs, for the two men I spotted standing in as women in this piece, sneaky sneaky), then going into a slow spin on the spot, accumulating more and more dancers until the full cast were revolving in unison. The piece was choreographed by Genevieve C. Ferron, and I can imagine it as a segment in an evening length work of dance-theatre, although the beauty of the choreography was that it was able to stand alone as a fully realised piece in the short format as well. Wonderful imagery, nicely paced.
The next piece, Bath House by Andréane Nadere Leclerc, had us watching from the edges of the pool as Coralie Roberge made serpentine movements on the floor in a goddess-dress. She was soon joined by Erika Nguyen, a Bettie Page look-alike with bare breasts, and Maude Parent, who, with her pixie hair, contortionist spine and ratty tennis shoes, was perhaps one of the stand-out dancers of the entire evening. The dancers interact sparingly, much more concerned with their own movement trajectory, lines of sight and relationship with the floor. Are they meant to be embodiments of the Three Graces?
rnsiNPatternsinpAtternsinpaTternsinpatTernsinpattErnsinpatteRnsi, etc. by Simon Portigal had an engaging soundtrack but the piece fell victim to the limitations of sightlines in the Bain St Michel; the audience members who managed to get a spot at the end of the pool could see the action but I was positioned on the side in an awkward spot and am sorry to say I wasn’t able to see much of the choreography at all. Although given that all I caught were snippets of the dancers walking backwards from the deep end to the shallows over and over again, perhaps I didn’t miss much? Please feel free to advise me otherwise, dear readers.
The last piece of the evening, by Helen Simard, was simply the accumulation of band instruments at the deep end of the pool, followed by the band (Dead Messenger) playing, followed by audience members beginning a pre-arranged slow dance. Whilst it left the evening on a nice emotional high note and brought the community in on the performance (“Ticking several points off the mandate”, the cynic in me whispered), it embodied my one real complaint about Piss in the Pool: Despite all the great things about this series and its cult following, there was simply not enough dancing. Wasn’t that why we all put on deodorant and left the house that night? There were plenty of interesting concepts and some good lighting and some dynamic imagery, but I kept waiting for the dancing to get going, and came away with an anticlimactic feeling of a missed opportunity; for the audience, the dancers, and the choreographers.
Piss in the Pool played at the Bain St Michel, 5300 St Dominique, 26-29 June 2013