As Mayfest showcases Canada’s finest theatre and dance, Mark Fisher charts the blossoming of Scotland’s relationship with the land of the Mountie and, below, Rosina Bonsu previews the latest genre-busting piece by Montreal’s Carbone 14.
Scottish audiences have become used to sampling the artistic output of a wide range of foreign countries. in recent years. we’ve enjoyed seasons of Soviet. Irish. Dutch and Spanish performance thanks primarily to enterprising programmes at the Tron. Tramway and CCA. and also to translations at the Traverse and collaborations at Theatre Workshop. Making contact on the international circuit can have long-term repercussions — it‘s unlikely that there would be as many as three Irish companies appearing in this year‘s Mayfest. for example. were it not for the groundwork done in previous years — and who’s to say what exotic theatrical treats will emerge in years to come. But the country that has made the most immediate impact on Scotland in this way is Canada.
Carbone 14 is just one highlight of Mayfest’s Canadian season (see panel below) and it is notable that in the short time since the company was last here with Le Dormir in August 1989. fellow Quebecois Michel Tremblay has become one of the most produced playwrights in Scottish theatre. Robert Lepage has been recognised as a young master of theatre directing and companies such as La La La Human Steps and One Yellow Rabbit have scored major hits with Scottish
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audiences. Thankfully the relationship has been a productive one. something richer than the lazy ‘cultural shopping‘ into which foreign seasons can degenerate. Lepage cast ‘Celtic‘ performers in his specially reworked Tramway production of 'let‘umu' Plates. for example. allowing his novel working methods to be experienced directly by Scottish actors. not just admired from afar. And the Tron theatre has twice taken Tremblay’s The Guid Sisters back to (‘anada — in the robust West Coast translation of Martin Bowman and Bill Findlay — to be welcomed by l’rancophones and English speakers alike.
Edinburgh‘s Traverse Theatre too. which first got onto the Tremblay kick back in 198-1 with a production of Sandra/Manon followed by xl/TM’I'HIN’ In Five Times in 1986. has managed to give Canadian work a particular Scottish twist. Last autumn. it produced another sophisticated Bowman/iiindlay Scots translation. a beautiful version of the writer’s most lyrical play. The House Among The Stars. which is to enjoy a speedy second production in Andrew McKinnon‘s first season at Perth Theatre. Artistic Director lan
Brown followed that success with Brad l’raser's streetwise fable of directionless lidmonton youth. Unidentiﬁed Human Remains And The True Nature nflxn‘e. which — after a run at the Traverse that had ’em snogging in the aisles — transferred to
When I visited Toronto in 1990, there were said to be more than 120 theatre companies operating in that city alone.
London where it became Time ()ul‘s number one recommended play.
Sure it‘s good to see the work of other cultures. but it‘s also nice to know that our culture has something to add of its own. And perhaps the salutory lesson to be learned is that. much as there are many good artistic reasons for Director Robert Robson to have put his Mayfest season together. he couldn't have done it without the relatively substantial funding with which the Canadian arts are blessed. When i visited Toronto in 1990. there were said to be more than 120 theatre companies operating in that city alone. New plays seemed to be published as a matter of course and.
importantly. an infrastructure existed to allow second and third productions. Arts workers did have much the same fear of potential cutbacks as elsewhere in the world. but the resources existed to allow comparatively free rein to the artist’s imagination.
Healthy funding produces the atmosphere to create exciting work. and when that work happens. the Canadian authorities are proud to show it off to the outside world. PR exercise or not. the Canadian season demonstrates how a society keen to define and express its identity in a positive way is able to do so through theatre and dance. We can enjoy and learn from the striking variety of forms and styles in the season — the ‘stand-up-sit-down comedy“ of Da l)a Kamcra. the ‘cacophony of stark shapes and angles‘ of William Douglas l)ansc. the ‘literary challenge‘ of Tapestry Music Theatre. the ‘high-tec quilt' of(‘as Public. the ‘sublerranean labyrinlhs' of Les [)cux Mondes. the 'never-ending frenzy" of() Vertigo Danse -< but we should also aspire to the conditions that enable those forms and styles to emerge.
The Canadian Season runs Iliuughoul Mayfest.
mm- Cafe culture
The speedy gobbling up of the tempting and tasty morsels of Canadian theatre served up in Scotland justifies the programming of an exquisite concoction of Canadian work In this year’s Mayfest dance programme. Audiences lucky enough to get into La La La lluman Steps’ eye- popplng, gob-smacking, acrobatic, ‘gravlty-detying, technically brilliant dance performance with its erotic hard rock accompaniment, or who experienced the subtle, mysterious, mesmerlsing, visually ravishing work of Robert Lepage’s Tectonic Plates have some idea of the excitement in store.
Canadian theatre has acquired a reputation for inventive, multi-layered work; text, dance, music and design (often incorporating film or slides). The contemporary dance scene is part of this and is perceived as an artistically vibrant and creative arena with Montreal, in particular, alive with young, gifted choreographers.
Carbone 14’s Le Cafe, its 1992 production, promises a sumptuous, multi-media mix starting as a film and ending as a fully-fledged rock concert. Le Cafe represents the director, actor, author, choreographer and designer Giles Maheu’s most autobiographical piece to date, with old love letters and family snapshots a stimulus to the piece.
Carbone14, an established company founded in 1980, brought its delicious Le Dortolr to Glasgow’s Tramway in the
run-up to the Cultural Capital’s bonanza year. Set in a dormitory, its
theme of memory and childhood with its burgeoning sexuality, its rituals and mindless petty cruelties were realised by flawless performances and enriched by strong, spare and striking visual elements (two rows of hospital beds, a Romeo and Juliet upstairs window, blackboards running down one side of the stage) and an aura of Catholicism. The movement was physical theatre, energetic, exhausting, virtuosic.
In 1990 Le Doroir won the ﬂora Mavor Moore Award for best new choreography and received the Special Prize unanimously awarded by the National Capital Critics’ Association. The film of the production won both Emmy and Golden Gate awards. (Rosina Bonsu)
Le Cafe, BSAMD, Glasgow, Tue 18-Wed 19 May.
14 The List 23 April—6 May l993