Starting off the New Year in dance is Lina Cruz’s Imaginarium, ne pas nourrir les animaux. Performed at the Agora de la danse January 21st through 23rd, it was the well-anticipated return of a Cruz-signed production at this contemporary venue, a personal favourite of mine in Montreal. Tucked away on the second floor of an ornate stone building in the Plateau area, it is an intimate environment for spectators with nearly all the bells and whistles of much larger stages. But enough about the venue, let’s get on to the dance.
Colombia-native Lina Cruz has made Montreal her home since 1989. Very little though about her choreographies carry the familiar touch of the local scene. The themes, movements and overall constructions she uses stand out from the rest in the best of ways. A notably eccentric character, Cruz has an ongoing fascination with an imaginary land called Grom that she has fantasized about since she was a child. Imaginarium, ne pas nourrir les animaux is her third exploration of whom the inhabitants of Grom might be and what their life may be like.
The first thing we notice is an instrument set-up, mostly percussion and a piano, high on stage left and clearly part of the set. Cruz has been known to collaborate onstage with musicians in more recent years so we know these aren’t just for show. Rightly so, the musicians enter first. Philippe Noireaut takes his seat at the piano and Ghislaine Deschambault makes a dramatic entrance blending her full, round vocals with a statuesque strut, a pair of pan lids hanging behind her like a strange cape, crashing together as makeshift cymbals with every second step. She takes her perch on an elevated platform opposite Noireaut. Throughout the piece the musicians interject as performers, orchestrators, and even dictators to the people of Grom.
Imaginarium, ne pas nourrir les animaux could be described as a kind of mad tea party-picnic. Of the five dancers, Catherine Larocque appears first holding her teacup and saucer in shaky hands. It is always so impressive to see an incredibly muscular body like hers move with such grace. She extends from fingertips to toes and sways on a single leg, setting the foundation of traits that characterize the inhabitants of Grom. She forces confidence though she is clearly uncertain, even anxious. She shows strength, but also fear. She wants to impress, but in an animalistic kind of way. Her teacup clatters against the saucer as she tries to find her balance, subsequently whipping her legs around or traversing the stage in a series of poses. Finally her posse, or maybe her flock, show up for support.
Props are clearly very important here and support the themes of dominance, ignorance, defiance and reward. In plain black suits and matching sunglasses, the five dancers perform between each other and respond to the musicians’ cues, whether it be a military-like command in Italian from a now standing, performing Noireaut, or a seductive coo from the regal Deschambault. Coins rain down and money is flashed at the dancers when all they seem to really want is the juicy steak Noireaut actually cooks on stage, using the sizzle as sound effect and adding a dimension of smell, then eats at a table with Deschambault as the dancers twitch and shudder at their feet. Talk about imagery!
If there is one thing that is now clear about Cruz’s imagined people it is that they speak Italian. In a chorus they’ll cry out “lento!”, reminding themselves to slow it down (and possibly enjoy?). They’ll repeat the same words until they stop making sense and the choreography will follow this same pattern of seemingly having a direction then consistently and repeatedly losing it. It never loses our interest though – every second of this show is full of big and little surprises. There is always something to spark your curiosity.
Lina Cruz basically guarantees an entertainment factor in all of her shows. The hyper detailed choreography can equally go loosey-goosey as it blends with over-the-top theatrics. It’s zany, and it’s affecting. You’ll smile, you’ll laugh, you’ll frown and you’ll even feel your heart start racing as the urgency the dancers project from the stage draws you in. Imaginarium, ne pas nourrir les animaux was a great first show for 2015 and I look forward to the fourth installation of the life and times in Cruz’s imaginary land.