As It Happens

'You have to vomit art': Montrealers walk out on contemporary dance premiere

People are walking out of a contemporary dance show that just opened in Montreal that features a barking dog and a Pepsi machine. Critic Victor Swoboda says the piece doesn't work, but applauds the choreographer for challenging the audience.
A screen shot from a promotional video for "Suie." (Danse Danse/YouTube)

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"You have to vomit art."

That is the phrase that greets attendees to the contemporary dance performance Suie — in English, "Soot." It's printed right in the program.

Not surprisingly, audiences have reacted strongly to the piece, which features a barking dog and a performer with his hand caught in Pepsi machine. The performance has already received such negative reactions that the show's promoter has now told ticket-holders they might want to check out a different show instead.

A naked woman peeing what looks like flames aimed at [the choreographer] . . . It's contemporary dance — there's not much dancing at all.- Victor Swoboda, dance critic
"When you enter the theatre and they start handing out earplugs, it's a bad sign," Victor Swoboda tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

​Swoboda is the dance writer at The Montreal Gazette. Swoboda attended the show. Unlike many people in the audience, he actually stayed to the bitter end. That said, he is familiar with the choreographer Dave St-Pierre's work and knew to expect the unexpected.

"Art is provocative. It has to make people feel think. It has to make people feel," Swoboda reasons. "If they're just kind of applauding and going out humming a humable tune, that's entertainment."

Swoboda says highlights included scenes where a performer is buried in dirt. He rhymes off a dizzying list of other memorable moments: the body armour, an ear-splitting soundscape, video projections and plenty of nudity.

"A naked woman peeing what looks like flames aimed at Dave, who is lying prone at the foot of the stage," Swoboda recalls. "It's contemporary dance — there's not much dancing at all."

Swoboda admits the piece "didn't fit together into a whole." But he respects that St-Pierre is trying to push the envelope and thinks that the choreographer's battle with cystic fibrosis may be reflected in the work's intensity.

"A conventional audience would consider it shock tactics, but he really wants people to feel," Swoboda explains. "He feels his mortality and he figures, 'Listen, I've got to get people out there feeling — let them live life intensely every day.'"

Swoboda may not recommended Suie, but says he still plans to attend the next show.

"I think that he has a vision. I think he is looking for the means to enact that vision. Whether he finds it or not — that's always the eternal question when you're dealing with artists."

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Victor Swoboda.

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