The comedic irony of going to see a work called CUBE BLANC in a theatre cannot be overlooked. While the OFFTA may have a tendency to blur the lines between artistic disciplines, often merging the white cube of the art gallery with the black box of the theatre, the double program comprising this piece, along with the dance work Nudity. Desire, was especially effective in parsing what it means to inhabit such spaces.
Space is one of the many very precisely delimited variables with which CUBE BLANC, written and directed by Gabriel Plante, begins. On the darkened stage, a frame grows up from the floor, settling in the shape of a cube discernible by its faintly glowing edges. A dim light switches on, and two men appear contained within it, about an arms length from each other. They begin to speak, and the condensed nature of the space is mirrored by the clipped pace of their exchange. The light switches off, then back on, and the dialogue begins again. In a repeating pattern, space, time, light, and speech have all been pared down.
What we are left with in this controlled environment is interaction at its most sparsely decorated. And yet, even under these conditions, exchange is marked by uncertainty. The abstract dialogue between the two characters circles around questions of when they arrived, what they can see, and whether or not they understand each other, and the banality of these queries is rendered with gripping intensity by actors Jocelyn Pelletier and Hubert Lemire. The play begins, then, like something akin to an urgent whisper that we lean toward to catch.
At a later point during the dialogue, the cube structure begins to lift toward the ceiling of the theatre, only to have one side unexpectedly come crashing back down to the floor. And just as the careful structuring of the space is shattered in this moment, so too does the relationship between the two characters onstage begin to further break down. The empty circuitous dialogue of the beginning is replaced by a series of slow drawn out monologues, equally devoid of meaning or specificity. “Oui, je peux faire des choses,” one character repeats over and over, though what these things might be we never learn.
Thus, the peculiarly transfixing reflection on the failures of interaction with which the piece begins slowly modulates to simultaneously consider the same shortcomings within the self. These are vague and esoteric questions, but Plante’s sharp and well realized work handles them incisively.
In great contrast to CUBE BLANC, Benjamin Kamino’s Nudity. Desire begins with a space defined not by restraint, but by exuberance. As the audience re-enters the theatre, we come upon Kamino, dancing naked to “You’re So Vain” on a brightly lit stage covered entirely with white paper that rolls all the way up the back wall to the ceiling.
Eventually the music stops, and so too does Kamino. Shortly, he begins to move again, but very slowly this time. He walks first toward the back of the stage and then across it, looking at the audience as he does so in a manner simultaneously searching and vacant. And where in the work’s first moments Kamino’s body fills the space, here it becomes almost lost within it. This dynamic shift initiates a dialectic between the performer’s naked body and the theatre space it inhabits, wherein the desire for expression and communication necessitates constant renegotiation.
Framed in the massive whiteness of the stage space, and confronted with the spectatorial gaze of the audience, the performer’s body seeks a way to return to engagement and interaction: Kamino contorts and heaves before spitting up a stream of black ink. It is an image redolent of the abject performance art that emerged in the 1980s and 90s, rooted in ideas of the body, its failures and degradations, and the simultaneous repulsion and attraction these can illicit. And while all these are clearly relevant questions, this abjected materiality also offers Kamino a medium of communication: when he opens his mouth wide toward the audience and no words emerge, he can still manage to mark his surroundings in the traces of ink he leaves.
Kamino’s influence on his theatrical surroundings grows and modulates: he toys with perimeters, with hiding and being seen, with entrances and exits. While his movement physically impacts his environment, regular interjections of static remind us that this is a reciprocal exchange, where the theatre-space is also active, necessarily exerting pressure on how the performer’s body is seen and desired.
Once Kamino has found his point of entry into spatial engagement, the work escalates and we benefit from the full force of Kamino’s strength as a performer. He has an assured presence, even in the work’s purposefully tenuous early moments, but the exuberant irreverence of his movement, not to mention his charismatic humour, is employed to its full effect as he, quite literally, tears through the piece.
A program that began with restraint, then, concludes with something akin to chaos. It’s an engaging trajectory, proposed through two forcefully realized works, which, though entirely aesthetically opposed, employed a full dynamic range of spatial interaction in performance.
CUBE BLANC and Nudity. Desire were presented on May 28 and 29 at Théâtre La Licorne. Click here to view teasers and get more information on the performances, or watch Nudity. Desire on Vimeo. The OFFTA finished on June 1.
Fabien Maltais-Bayda is a writer, editor and cultural worker.