Hamlet gets a punk makeover with Tiger Lillies

Cult British musical trio took the Shakespearean classic to an eccentric place last week

Hamlet is definitely not for the weak-hearted. That much was clear on opening night when the United Kingdom-based group, dubbed the Tiger Lillies, performed their version of Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy at the Place des Arts.

The play masterfully juxtaposes sanity with madness, reality with reverie, and love with hatred. Quick synopsis: Hamlet is a baffled young prince who is furious that his mother has married his deceased father’s brother. Marred by madness, Hamlet’s world slowly spins out of control as everyone he loves, including his beloved Ophelia, dies. It’s a bloodbath, a reflection on mortality, as well as a contemplation of love, faithfulness and grief.

The Tiger Lillies are known for their original style and their overall peculiarity. – Presented at the Place des Arts’ Cinquième Salle from Nov. 12 to 18, Tiger Lillies’ Hamlet brings the Shakespearean classic in a whole new direction. Photo By Miklos Szabo.

Balancing circus acts with video projections, the evening was a visual extravaganza. Director Martin Tulinius did it yet again, wowing the audience with breathtaking scenes. Nanna Finding Koppel playing Ophelia outdid herself physically. Take, for instance, Ophelia’s love dance, in which she threw herself against Hamlet before swinging effortlessly on a suspended wire, her legs akimbo, and then tiptoeing gracefully on a bed frame. As for the giant puppet performances, they were definitively memorable, if a little creepy.

But that’s what the Tiger Lillies do so well: interpret a story in a delightfully macabre, sombre, tongue-in-cheek way. The makeup and music were well used to create a decidedly punk cabaret atmosphere. The characters were grotesquely arrayed: Polonius resembled a giant rat, while Gertrude’s dress looked decidedly like a snakeskin. With the Tiger Lillies, you feel like you are swinging along in ‘30s Berlin.

Caspar Phillipson played a convincing Hamlet, giving great gusto to the character’s famous lines, such as “get thee to a nunnery” when chastising Ophelia. He connected with the audience, often reaching out and playing theatrically with certain words. The ever classic soliloquy “to be or not to be” sounded neither clichéd nor boring: high scores on all counts.

What this production excelled at the most was investigating the psychological waters that Hamlet navigates. Is the prince merely playing mad or is he so disturbed by his father’s death and mother’s remarriage that he confuses reason with emotion? The play depicts Hamlet as an endearing character who is struggling to find meaning in his life and in those around him. You really feel for Hamlet when, kneeling, he grasps for his mother’s dress like a child and begs for understanding. Hamlet is shown in all his tempers: as a philosopher, a son, a lover, and ultimately as a man.

But certain elements of the event needed some definite tweaking. For those untrained Shakespeare aficionados out there, the first part of the play was incomprehensible. You basically needed a step-by-step comprehensive guide to Hamlet to follow the storyline if you had never seen the play before. The cabaret aspect of the performance was overused and kept audience members yawning throughout yet another tedious, Eastern German-style song. And the ever-present band, dressed in rabbit face masks, lent itself rather awkwardly to the scenes. It got monotonous when Jacques, the internal narrator, told the story musically in his tinny voice accompanied by his accordion. The final lines “There’s nothing wrong/there’s nothing right/it’s just a desolation song,” sung by a desolate Jacques, were a poor finale to such a breathtaking and daring production.

In the end, with both its strong and weak points, the Tiger Lillies gave a somewhat curious interpretation of a classic that definitely could uses a bit of novelty.

For more information on the Tiger Lillies, visit


Clocks have got all the time in the world

The Clock is a 24-hour video installation that traces through the history of world cinema and television

Time. It is unavoidable, reflective, and theoretical. It is also much, much more.

As such, Christian Marclay’s exhibition, The Clock, highlights the myriad characteristics of time and the way it affects

humans on a grand scale. Winner of the Golden Lion, the top prize awarded at the Venice Biennale, this exhibition is sure to make you look at your watch in a completely new way.

Christian Marclay’s The Clock runs for 24 continuous hours, leaving each viewer with a different experience depending on when it is scene.

The Clock is a series of vignettes taken from films and television shows showcasing cinematic scenes where characters are shaped or altered by the concept of time. It took Marclay and his assistants over three years to produce this 24-hour-long cinematic chef d’œuvre which pulls the audience into the narrative fold with gratifying results. You are forced to ponder, theorize, deliberate and conclude. And start again.

The Clock works in a number of ways. First of all, it demonstrates the narrative quality of time. As the clips reveal, the time pinpointed in various clips marks the actual passing of time. So, for example, if it is currently 11:20 a.m. and you are watching the clips, the scenes will showcase films where the time is 11:20 a.m, and so on.

Audience members are invited to be actually part of the filmic narratives, whereby the passing of time is revealed. It’s genius, at best. As Zadie Smith from the New York Review of Books said, The Clock is “neither bad nor good, but sublime.”

The audience is subjected to a wide variety of scenes, and to a variety of emotions at that. Marclay shows how time can be theorized. We see a small boy earnestly drawing a watch on his wrist with a felt pen, then bringing his wrist to his ear and hearing ticking sounds.

On the other hand, time can also be objectified. A naked man lying in bed, surprised as his lover hands him a big watch as a thank you present. “You don’t have to bring me gifts,” the man objects. The woman responds, smiling: “But do you like it?”

Time is a memory-shaper. We see a woman standing over her dog. She has just realized that the dog had passed away. She glances at the clock on the kitchen wall, and the audience understands — she will never forget the exact hour at which her dog died.

Time also acts as an event-maker. We see a couple glancing outside and worriedly eyeing at their watches. “It should have happened by now,” mutters the man, referring to a bomb detonating.

Time can seal someone’s fate. A blonde woman sits nervously smoking in a hall, checking the big clock on the wall. A uniformed guard approaches her and declares: “You can come in now. The jury has decided.”

Alternatively, we see an even darker side to the power of time. A man is holding a gun to a woman’s head, singing: “Ain’t got no alternative, ya got 40 seconds to live.”

Time is also, sadly for some of us, unavoidable — hello, Monday mornings. The audience giggles when a man is brutally woken up by his alarm clock, emanating “Jingle Bells” music. The man promptly throws the alarm clock against the wall and repeatedly sends empty beer bottles its way, screaming: “Fuck you!”

Finally, time can accentuate our boredom. In one clip, we see actor Matt Damon walk into a room and suppress a sigh, as if once again being confronted by a state of utter monotony.

The clips are as diverse as can be, showcasing beautiful black and white shots of women with pearl necklaces, followed by clips of American men zooming off into the desert. All of the filmic genres are covered: romance, action, thriller, comedy, gangster, musicals, adventure, historical. You name it, and it’s there.

The Clock speaks to us on many issues, but it fundamentally succeeds in bringing people to a more complex and thorough appreciation of those little ticking machines we wear on our wrists. Time exists, and merits our attention. Although it is conceptual, time delivers a powerful message: it is here, and it is here to stay.

The Clock exhibit runs until April 20 at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art.



Fairy tales revisited at the opera house

The Brothers Grimm turn lyrical in this musical version of Hänsel und Gretel

It can be hard to stretch the limits of a cute fairy tale like Engelbert Humperdinck’s operatic Hänsel und Gretel, but the challenge was clearly overcome by the Opéra de Montréal.

The fairy tale, probably known by most of us, goes something like this: picture a gingerbread house, a wicked witch, a burning oven, and there you have it. Your parents might even have read this Brothers Grimm fairy tale to you during your childhood.

Humperdinck’s version of the story respects the skeleton of the tale rather well. Here we have two hungry siblings, Hänsel and Gretel, who are sent by an angry mother to collect strawberries in the forest. As in most fairy tales, the pair gets lost. But things start to look up when they are soon revitalized by the sight of a gingerbread house.

Acrobatics, tight ropes and song and dance pepper this rethought version of the classic Hänsel und Gretel fairy tale.

Overcome by hunger, the children begin nibbling at the house until they are whisked away and caged by the house’s owner: the witch. She chooses Hänsel as her next meal and decides to “fatten him up” while using his sister Gretel as a slave.

The conclusion? While the witch prepares the kitchen, Gretel ingeniously asks the witch to show her how to heat the oven, then promptly pushes the witch into the fire. Goodbye bad witch, and let’s open the champagne. Or nibble on chocolate vanilla macaroons. Whatever you prefer.

With the help and collaboration of the National Circus School, this production is out of the ordinary when it comes to originality. Dancers and acrobats brought the story to life as they balanced on tight ropes or cleverly used their bodies to express the emotion needed in any particular scene.

What is particularly mesmerizing is the use of stage direction. Instead of placing poster-like trees to illustrate a forest, the use of book pages is set up to impress upon the public that this is indeed a fairy tale.

Cast members often sang from a box, formatted to look like they were characters in a book. It was comparable to, say, people moving about in photographs in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.

Another bonus was the pace of the opera. Whereas some operas can go on and on about a particular issue, this opera gets right to the point and challenges the audience to a myriad of issues: the cleverness of children versus their naughtiness, the oppressive character of parents and the sheer physical need to eat. The audience often sighs with the pair’s mother, played expertly by France Bellemare, but we often rejoice when Gretel takes a mighty bite from that candycane, or when Hänsel dances around the forest, singing. The message from this opera is clear — even in the worst and darkest of times, you can find some light and happiness.

Emma Char, playing Hänsel, and Frédérique Drolet, playing Gretel, shine in their respective roles. Char plays the boyish character to a T, while Drolet livened up the production using comedy to engage the public. All in all, this 10th edition of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal has given its all to provide Montrealers with a little bit of magic to combat those winter blues. Don’t miss it, folks.

Hänsel und Gretel plays at Place des Arts until April 2. You can see the opera for only $24 using the promo code CONCORDIA:


Creativity on campus and concrete

The third edition of RIPA is set to provoke with diverse works from Canadian student-artists

Rencontre interuniversitaire de performance actuelle (RIPA) is offering Montrealers the chance of a lifetime to see the arts being performed. In a big way.

Communications relations manager Julie Richard sat down with The Concordian to explain a little bit more about RIPA, an arts festival which will be held on the weekend of April 5 and 6. “RIPA is a student-led initiative geared to celebrating and exhibiting arts made by university students who haven’t yet hit the market,” said Richard. “We privilege artists who have yet to make it big and who need an audience. This year, we chose three artists from Halifax and seven from Quebec.”

When asked to explain what Montrealers can expect at the festival, Richard pointed to the diversity factor of the event.

The RIPA festival is a student-run initiative to promote the practices of emerging artists from Quebec, and neighbouring universities.

“There are going to be very creative ways of expressing oneself at the festival. Some artists will only use text in their projects, while others will use their bodies to send a message,” said Richard. “Some projects will be queer performances, for example. We are very pleased with the results. Last year, we had 13 applications to review. This year, we had 50 applications to look at.”

Artists had to send at least one video demonstrating what they hope to exhibit at the festival. “Some artists give you a detailed explanation of what they are interested in. Others send in the minimum because they themselves don’t know what will come of their projects,” said Richard. “It can be all about improvisation.”

This edition of the festival will be slightly different from the last two.

“This year, we decided to do a round table discussion,” said Richard. “We invited Shannon Cochrane, who works at a performative arts center in Toronto. We are going to have discussions between art practitioners and art theorists. We are going to have professors weighing in on this as well.”

François Morelli, a Concordia professor, is a regular at the festival.

“I was asked to participate as a performance artist with 40 years of experience,” said Morelli. “I am looking forward to the exchange and debates. The growing interest in performance art by educators, its integration into curriculum, its presence in museums and finally its codification, its historicization and growing status as a commodity are all very important to me.”

Richard highlighted the uniqueness of the event.

“The performance arts have generally been marginalized,” said Richard. “This is not a spectacle kind of art form. Jack Wong, for example, will provide a critique of the institution by posing and performing for very long bouts of time. Jean-Michel René will expose how he thinks people modify common spaces. There are going to be all kinds of performances.”

If getting moved or shocked isn’t your cup of tea, it might be best to stay at home.

“This event is going to arouse people, it is going to reach out and play with their emotions,” said Richard. “You can’t come here and expect to be passively watching a performance. That’s not the idea. The spectator has to invest him or herself in the event, at 100 per cent.”

The third edition of RIPA will take place at UQAM — 200, Sherbrooke Street West on April 5 and 6. Tickets are $7 at the door. For more information, visit




When pints turn to love and fear

In Fear takes a new couple on a night of terror in a grounded Irish scene

“If a man hurts an innocent person, the evil will fall back upon him and the fool will be destroyed.”

These are the lines scrawled on a bathroom wall in an Irish pub, where evil will definitively unleash in Jeremy Lovering’s new psychological thriller, In Fear.

Lucy sits on the toilet, reading the lines, she smirks and pens the words on the wall: “Or not.” This turns out to be a bad decision, as the audience soon finds out.

In Fear is a complex thriller bursting at the seams with mind games. The plot is simple: Lucy (Alice Englert) and Tom (Iain de Caestecker) are going to a festival in Ireland, when they stop off at a pub on the way. When Lucy returns from the washroom, Tom tells her about a slight mishap with the mates at the pub. A man accidentally spilled Tom’s drink, so Tom bought him another one. “I am a lover, not a fighter,” Tom says in his rich Irish brogue as he shrugs.

In Fear creates an ever-growing atmosphere of fear, turning new love into bitter hatred in the face of adversity.

Things look innocent enough until Tom wryly suggests they find a hotel for the night instead of going on to the festival. He wants a romantic night with Lucy and he’s found just the place, a “slice of heaven,” a hotel tucked deep into the woods. The tone is set.

As the couple drive on and on, trying to find the hotel, tension rises. When they kiss, the lovers don’t even notice that the GPS loses its signal. The cell phones keep glitching and the hotel is impossible to find. The pair drive on and on, through a narrowing lane in a forest, until they find conflicting signs concerning the hotel’s location. Does it even exist? As Lucy says when she focuses on the map, “We’re not lost, we’re in a fucking maze.”

The scenery and camera-work do wonders in this film. With vast, flat landscapes and gray pastures, the Irish background makes you want to flee for your life. You feel surrounded by emptiness and desolation. Trees come alive at night time as Lucy begins to repeatedly see a masked man in the form of dancing branches. Tom assures her that she is hallucinating, but as the night progresses, things just get weirder and weirder. The camera zooms in at precise moments to linger on Lucy’s terrified face, on a gate closing, or on tires speeding up. The anticipation just keeps on building, and the viewer is pretty much ready to scream with Lucy when she feels someone (or something) is pulling at her hair.

The best part of the film lies in the psychological mind games. We learn that confidence and new love can quickly turn sour when in a bad situation. Tom and Lucy turn against each other at times, only to unite when faced with a string of dead rats, for example. Who can be trusted, and why? The innocent spilled drink at the pub becomes a burning hot issue. Are the pub mates out there? The viewer is tormented and teased until the very last minute of the film, forced to ponder the nature of humanity and the horror of the survival instinct.

The cast does a fine job of displaying genuine terror. Lovering needed a cast ready to take whatever would come since he insisted on having no script. Every actor had to sign up without knowing what would happen.

Viewers who like immediate action should probably shy away from this thriller, though. It takes a good 40 or so minutes before anything actually happens. The beauty in this production lies in the building up of tension and fear, not in any gory scenes. That said, since most of the action happens in a car in one single night, Lovering excels at moving the action along and keeping the facts at bay. You want to find out who is out there, at any cost.

You can catch In Fear starting on March 13 at Montreal’s Cineplex Odeon.


Looking a gift seagull in the mouth

Heart-wrenching assertions and existential ponderings are at the core of Anton Chekhov’s play, The Seagull.

Adapted by acclaimed director Peter Hinton, The Seagull is the heartbreaking yet comedic story of a group of artists who deal with lost love and lost lives. Photo by Andrée Lanthier

Adapted and directed by Peter Hinton, The Seagull is a story of disappointment pitted against disappointment. Issues of commercialism and idealism, talent and failure are constantly at war with each other.

As with most of Chekhov’s plays, geography sets the tone; the play is set in the countryside, where characters come alive after a more stagnating existence in the city.

In this case, The Seagull takes place in a small Canadian country estate in 2014 and presents us with a myriad of characters. There is Constantine, a failed playwright who is besotted by Nina, who is enthralled by a successful writer, Trigorin. The love triangle only gets more and more complicated. Enter Constantine’s cold and haughty mother, Sorina, who has Trigorin wrapped around her little finger — and things get explosive.

Shannon Currie, playing Nina, outdoes herself acting as both the innocent girl who dreams of an acting career and a woman who is no longer that girl. In a white lace dress showing off her legs, Nina makes small talk with Trigorin and literally throws herself at him, using a line from one of Trigorin’s own books: “If you ever need my life, come and take it.” Here we see the patheticness of it all — a country girl who dreams of the big city life and thinks that Trigorin can help her. Spineless Trigorin accepts Nina’s love but maintains the dog-on-the-leash relationship with Sorina, Constantine’s mother.

Trigorin is your quintessential dandy. The audience gets some much needed comic relief when Trigorin’s questions poke fun at himself. As he says when he thrusts himself at Sorina’s lap: “I can’t help it! I am called by Nina. I can’t help it. How can you find this attractive?”

The mother-son dynamic between Constantine and Sorina is particularly disturbing and revealing. Sorina does love her son, but she cannot help but feel revulsion when she sees her emancipated, angry son who seems to have no ambition in life.

In truth, Constantine just wants to be loved and to write. When he tries (and fails) to shoot himself in the head, he spends much of the rest of the play with his head bandaged. Constantine asks his mother to change the bandages, adding meekly: “You used to take care of me so gently.”

Sorina breaks down now and again in front of her son, but generally speaking, she is a career woman, an actress, and the companion of a successful writer. Diane D’Aquila, playing Sorina, is the perfect soldier and actress combined. As her character exclaims angrily: “When have I acted in a bad play?” Confronting each other time and time again over his failure in life, the mother-son relationship is complex at best.

So, where does the seagull come in? In many respects, the seagull serves as a moving metaphor of lost life and lost ambitions. Constantine, driven mad by his unrequited love of Nina, kills a seagull and presents it to her, but she is disgusted by the gift. Later in the play, Nina exclaims those powerful lines: “I am the seagull!” Nina has become haunted by the gift.

This adaptation of the play worked out remarkably well. Nina wears jeans, Constantine is always seen in T-shirts, and the characters correspond via Facebook. Sure, the play might have been long (running for over three hours) and the emotions drawn out, but the Segal Centre’s rendition of The Seagull does a fine job of talking about failure. The audience gets time to breathe, to wonder, to despair with the characters, and by the end, you leave feeling both drained and hopeful.

The Seagull runs at the Segal Centre until Feb. 19. Visit for more information.

Student Life

Bringing the aroma back into your life

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Step into Peter Bahlawanian’s spice and tea shop, Spice Station, in NDG and you will be instantly greeted by sunset-orange coloured walls and rows upon rows of jars. The atmosphere is both calming and welcoming, with Bahlawanian sitting perched on a stool at the back of the shop, ready to give tips or swap recipes with a customer.

“I opened this shop two years ago,” said Bahlawanian, indicating the spice jars. “I have four shops in total: two in Montreal and two in Los Angeles. We do everything here: custom-blends, tisanes, salts, peppers, powders, sugars, culinary herbs, you name it.”

For Bahlawanian, the art of his craft lies in the allure of the aromas. “I have a great nose, and in this business you need a great nose. I travel a lot, picking up spices that I like here and there. Today, I have about 65 vendors from all around the world.”

It all began with passion.

“Learning about spices was a hobby of mine, but one day I decided my career was too stressful and I wanted a more laid-back, zen profession,” said the owner.

Once he gave up his job as a film producer in Los Angeles, Bahlawanian returned to his hometown of Montreal and began exploring the world of spices and tea.

“I am Armenian and I grew up with my two grandmothers living in my house. One day one grandmother would cook, the other day the other would put on the kitchen apron,” said Bahlawanian. “As for tea, I have always drunk it. My father used to work for the tea company Red Rose, and I guess I just love tea. It is a natural passion of mine.”

Bahlawanian takes the food industry seriously.

“I have only three employees at this shop and I take the time to train them really well. My employees are foodies, people who like to investigate and try new recipes out.”

Among the most interesting spices, Bahlawanian sells Biryani powders, beet powders, Himalayan pink salt, sweet onion chili sugar, paella spices, lime fresco salt, spicy rum junk and an assortment of tisanes such as witches’ brew.

“We cater to all kinds of cooks here. We have specialty spices for the cooks who know what to do, but we also have custom-made blends for cooks who are unsure about marrying certain powders. For those kinds of cooks, for example, we have a blend called Pasta Basta. You simply add a few tablespoons of this to your sauce, made of say onions, garlic and tomatoes, and there you have it,” said Bahlawanian. “We also have harissa, a Moroccan-based blend which is perfect for rice and couscous dishes.”

When asked which shop fares best out of all four, Bahlawanian paused before replying: “I would say that Montreal is actually more competitive than Los Angeles. In Montreal, the foodie industry is way more advanced. With the exception of New York, the United States has only high-end restaurants and no real specialty spice shops. But things are slowly changing even in the United States. With the Internet and TV food shows on the rise, more and more people are trying out recipes at home.”

Although Bahlawanian experienced bad luck in his opening year, the business is now thriving.

“The next-door restaurant, called Lucille’s, had a fire only one month after I opened up the shop. The entire corner was shut off, and this drove customers away from the business. But then things picked up when the corner re-opened,” explained Bahlawanian.

When asked about his secret to success, Bahlawanian smiled. “I have a motto: no advertisement. That’s right. I believe in a grass-roots business, where I bring something unique to the community and word gets around. Back in Los Angeles, I got so much free press that I didn’t even need to worry about advertising: we were covered by the Food and Wine magazine, Oprah Magazine, the LA Magazine, The LA Times, The New Yorker, The Huffington Post, etc.,” listed Bahlawanian.

Bahlawanian enjoys the NDG environment as a working milieu. “I always knew I wanted to open up a shop on Monkland Avenue because it is a market street and because it is a strong community. I strongly value that: a community,” said Bahlawanian.

To discover more about the Spice Station visit 5610, Monkland Avenue in NDG.


The livin’ ain’t all that easy

The George Gershwin opera starts off with the melodious opening lines we know so well: “Summertime/and the livin is easy/fish are jumping/and the cotton is high.” We see a woman singing on her porch to her cradled baby as she sways her hips. At first, we would think this is a story about the easy life, about success, about happiness. It is anything but.

Photo by Yves Renaud

The opera Porgy and Bess tells a sad tale indeed. The people are immersed in poverty, living in a world dominated by political and social injustice. The decor does its work and the lighting of weak maroons and tired greys adds to a sense of desperation and weariness. The cast is dressed in quintessential ‘poor’ clothing: rags, straw hats and the old, tattered, good Sunday suit.

Set in the United States, the narrative takes us back to cotton-picking times where black folk are discriminated against and where societal justice is more theory than reality. We are set in Catfish Row, a derelict neighbourhood where “happy dust” (dope) and hard-liquor qualify as the only highlights of a Saturday evening. The morals of the church (think barn-raising cries of “Hallelujah”) are constantly pitted against people who have been cast aside as outsiders — such as Bess.

Bess is sassy, beautiful, and ready to drink any man under the table. The Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman outdoes herself playing Bess, strutting her stuff in Act I dressed in an eye-popping red dress with matching shoes. Close on her heels is her “man”: the manipulative, muscular, and powerful Crown. He is also a heavy drinker and gets thoroughly plastered by the end of Act I, where he kills a man without even really realising it. All hell breaks loose — Crown must flee for his safety and Bess is left to her own devices. Since she is a “no-good woman,” every door is shut in her face — except Porgy’s,

Porgy is a beggar and a cripple and is portrayed by Kenneth Overton, who expresses the physical handicaps with exuberant activity onstage. Here we see two uncommon outcasts who are brought together: a beautiful, seductive black woman and a crippled, kind man. They begin to fall in love. Bess swears off her past life of liquor and dope. Hope springs eternal.

But by Scene II of Act II, troubles lurk. While Porgy and Bess are swearing eternal love to each other, the townspeople of Catfish Row are getting ready for a picnic on Kittiwah Island. Although reluctant, Bess agrees to leave Porgy’s side for a time and attend the picnic. On the island, we learn more about Sportin’ Life, a dandy and cocaine and alcohol distributor. He raises his questions about the Bible with some jokes thrown in, and all’s well until the picnickers grab their food and head back home. Bess is the last to dust her dress off, which is when she stumbles across a very angry Crown. In this gut-wrenching scene, we see Bess hemmed against Crown whose huge physical presence dominates the stage. The understanding is clear: Bess is Crown’s woman, and she will do whatever he demands. In this case, the demands are sexual.

Cut to the next scene where Bess, delusional, is lying in bed. A worried Porgy asks Serena, a neighbour, to pray over Bess, who soon recovers. The next aria sung between the lovers is particularly moving as Bess vows “I love you Porgy, I love you so” while Porgy promises to protect his woman from Crown.

It could have ended there, a neat ending to a potentially menacing story. But Gershwin goes  further, highlighting the darkness of humanity.

All in all, this production of Porgy and Bess has it all: the appropriate slang and attitude, the drinking and gambling, the husband-and-wife dynamics. We believe in Porgy’s anguish when the love of his life leaves him. We feel for Bess when she stumbles across the stage as an outcast. We mourn the lives of people taken too early. With Wayne Marshall as the orchestra conductor and Lemuel Wade as stage director, this all-black cast opera cannot go wrong.

Porgy and Bess runs until Feb. 3 at Place des Arts. For more information, visit


Photos by Yves Renaud




Tech culture explored in “Art and the Digital”

Who says there is nowhere to go in January on a cold, Montreal evening?

The third annual Concordia University Undergraduate Art History Conference will be held this week, and this year’s title is “Art and the Digital.” The conference promises to identify, discuss and refer to the marriage of anything technological to everything artistic. The theme addresses modern-day issues and tackles head-scratching questions such as authorship, the impact of social networking on the dissemination of images and the ever-changing role of the contemporary artist.

Keynote speaker Kent Monkman is the artist behind this video installation, composed of five large projections, which offers a contemporary re-interpretation of a traditional Aboriginal ritual featuring the Berdashe, that special male figure whose gender-bending behaviour and very existence astonished and appalled many explorers of the American West. Photo: Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Christine Guest. Photo: Montreal Museum of Fine Art, Christine Guest

The Concordian spoke to Clinton Glenn, the external coordinator of the conference. Glenn pinpointed the importance of technology.

“Technology is increasingly playing a role in our everyday lives,” said Glenn. “We are connected from the time we wake up until we go to sleep. The theme of “Art and the Digital” looks at the ways that artists are informed by technology and its impact on subjective experience.”

Glenn argued that technology has left a deep footprint on art and the way art is created.

“For example, photography has in a sense been democratized — we all have a camera and we can all be photographers. Previously one would have had to have money and training to work in a dark room,” added Glenn.

Attendees will be treated to a variety of shows with projects such as “Ecology: Recycled Landscapes,” “The Robotic Action Painter as Artist” and “Problems with Digitizing Propaganda: Memory, Experience, and Power.”

Having started three years ago, the goal of the event is to present students with the opportunity to showcase their art as well as for academics to voice their insights on the subject.

“As an art historian, I am used to writing in a sort of solitary bubble, and very few people get to read what I produce,” explained Glenn. “This conference is a great way to break out of that solitariness that comes with being an academic. It is also a great experience for art history students applying to graduate schools.”

Another reason to get out the mitts and boots and head over to the conference is the keynote speech. This year, the keynote speech will be given by Kent Monkman. The prominent artist, of Cree ancestry, dabbles in painting, film,video, performance and installation art. Well represented in the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Monkman can only be described as fresh wind stirring the art world. His paintings, bright in colours such as royal purples, harlequin greens and Crayola yellows, are emotionally stirring.

In much of Monkman’s work, art mirrors emotions, such as in “Struggle for Balance” which depicts an inflamed, damaged car, people in a fight, and an archangel coming to the rescue.

Additionally, Monkman’s films are political, with social commentaries that never shy away from criticism and introspection.

The conference will feature lectures and presentations from leading art historians and students from universities across Canada and the U.S.. It promises to be a valuable educational event for all students.

“Art and the Digital” will be held on Jan. 24 – 25 in the York Amphitheatre of the EV building (EV 1.605). For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit


Unconventional theatre — with a serving of wild

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You might want to add another New Year’s resolution to your list: going to the theatre. With the Centaur Theatre’s 17th annual Wildside Festival taking off for the first two weeks of January, entertainment is guaranteed for any student hoping to escape the cold and have a few chuckles instead.

This year, the Wildside Festival’s collection of plays is ablaze with energy and spirit. There is something for everyone, with issues ranging from losing one’s virginity to childhood innocence to gay conversion summer camps. One thing is for sure: you won’t go home bored.

V-Cards asks the thorny question some of us squirm away from: how did you lose your virginity? Starring actors such as Mike Payette and Anana Rydvald, the play zooms in on four masked actors playing over 20 characters who bandy sexual theories around with some side-splittingly funny results. One scene in particular deserves a nod. Two characters’ inner thoughts are voiced on one night of rather forgettable sex. In between loud snorts, the woman sighs “I wish I could remember the night better … I only had two beers, on top of it.” Her oblivious lover, on the other hand, simpers, proclaiming, “She looked at me! She wore that bodyspray she always wears to parties and she looked like the perfect white cloud and smelled of vanilla.” Clearly, the sexual frisson of the escapade was not shared.

Next up is Blue Box. This one-woman show is an intriguing story set in Chile, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, where two tales are told in parallel: that of playwright Carmen Aguirre’s underground work in the 1980s Chilean movement to oust president Pinochet, and that of a complex relationship with a Mexican-American actor. Aguirre’s passionate relationships with both men and politics has already been staged in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Banff and Regina.

Big Shot presents the six different witness perspectives to a shooting that occurs on the Vancouver SkyTrain. With dance, text and physical theatre, the play explores the myriad of emotions life offers. One particularly striking scene, starring Jon Lachlan Stewart, points the finger at government-funded programs. After performing body-challenging poses, Stewart stops in mid-stance and proclaims: “Life is crap. But I am not supposed to say that, right? … Breathing in the goodness and breathing out the bad. It’s more like breathing in the lies and breathing out the truth,” he says.

The festival comprises 12 plays that spotlight gay conversion therapy, lethal lipstick, and sexual confessions. Photos courtesy of Centaur Theatre. Press photo

You might be interested in A Quiet Sip of Coffee, expertly written and told by Anthony Johnston and Nathan Schwartz. Their story is a peculiar one. In the summer of 2004, the self-titled “gay/straight best friends duo” penned a prank letter to an “ex-gay” organization, requesting funds to produce a play. The reply was a surprise: the organization agreed to it, but at a cost — the duo had to spend two weeks in gay conversion therapy. Still in shock, the friends have reunited to perform their take on what actually happened. A Quiet Sip of Coffee is in the form of docu-theatre, honing in on dark issues such as atonement and melodrama and somehow poking through the dark issues with some light.

Iceland tackles the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis by examining encounters between three interestingly original characters. Halim, a Toronto real estate agent, is changed after meeting Ana, a pious condo tenant, who is also affected when meeting Kassandra, an Estonian prostitute. Part of Nicolas Billon’s Governor General Award-winning play triptych (Greenland, Iceland and Faroe Islands), the show is to go on to Halifax and Mumbai.

Little Orange Man, which garnered the Montreal Fringe Festival prize, is described as “very revolutionary” and “very epic.” The play deals with a 12-year-old’s resolve to get to grips with her recurring dreams and her relationship with her grandfather. Weaving between the contemporary (think craigslist ads) and timeless fables (think Danish fairy tales), the play points to the eternality of theatre and how time can be overcome by the power of the narrative. Affected by ADD, the 12-year-old addresses her recurring dreams and invites the audience to help her with her quest. Ingrid Hansen shines in her role, with her Pippi Longstocking-esque costume complete with two red braids and her determinedly cheerful demeanour. The play was initially inspired by Hansen’s grandfather.

“He came over from Denmark and moved to Kelowna in strawberry season,” said Hansen. “He was a very soft-spoken, gentle man and strong. My father said he had muscles on top of his muscles on top of his muscles.”

Music, shadow puppetry and audience interaction helps the young girl on her quest.

Talk, Mackerel has one message to impart — life is no piece of cake. Imagine this: you are invited to the birthday party of Leslie Moira Duncanaine. But something is wrong, really wrong. You are entering a world of midnight moonshine where ancestors’ portraits fight and things become alive.

Director and playwright Sarah Segal-Lazar explained the creative process to The Concordian: “I like to think of my play as a moment’s theatre. Every moment counts. I wrote down scenes on index cards and for weeks I shuffled them, giving an order to my narrative. There was no A to Z.”

The Wildside Festival runs until Jan. 12 at the Centaur Theatre at 453 St-François Xavier. Check out the website for more information:



For the love of music: an interview with Gisèle Quartet

Think of a blend of jazz and rock. Add some political speeches about influential figures like Martin Luther King…and there you have it, folks. Welcome to the Gisèle Quartet.

Montreal four-piece collective Gisele Quartet release their debut album Roger on Dec. 3. Press photo.

With beautiful melodies, political themes and crunchy chords, the band’s first album, Roger, is the perfect kind of music to listen to if you are in the mood for good, no-nonsense jazz.

“We are four musicians, and the fun part of this project is that we are all friends,” said, one of the musicians, Louis Beaudoin. “I play electric guitar, Dave Croteau is on drums, Alex Dodier performs on the saxophone and Miriam Pilette plays guitar.”

The four musicians, three of whom live together, thrive on their friendship and maintain it is crucial to let their music reflect just that.

“When you play an instrument, I believe the instrument is an extension of yourself,” posited Beaudoin. “As such, you need to really connect with others in a band. Luckily for us, we get along very well. We are very honest with one another too. If we think something needs to be improved, we say it candidly.”

Influenced by musicians such as Chris Potter, Kneebody, Medeski Martin & Wood and King Crimson, Beaudoin acknowledged that the quartet’s music is heavily nuanced by other musical giants.

“We like to listen to a wide variety of music. We listen to [Dmitri] Shostakovich just as much as we listen to rap. We don’t like to have explicit references to other musicians, but if you listen closely to our album, you will hear sounds that will remind you of other composers,” said the guitarist.

Another influence, though perhaps not musical, manifests itself in the band name. The name of the quartet has personal connotations for one of its members.

“We decided to name our quartet after my grandmother, Gisèle, who is still living and is very excited that we named ourselves after her. She has a special place in my life,” explained Beaudoin.

Making their first album was a challenge, but a rewarding one for the band who prefers being on stage rather than in the studio. According to Beaudoin, expressing themselves in front of an audience allows for a deeper connection with the music, one not necessarily achieved while in a controlled environment.

“When you perform, you can improvise, you can let go a bit, you can really sink into the music. When you record, you are more tight, more restrained. It’s hard recording yourself for the first time and trying not to make any mistakes,” he added.

The titles of their songs are particularly comedic. Mostly in French, the titles take on a lighter tone.

“Since our work is all instrumental, we decided to have some fun with the titles of the songs,” said Beaudoin, who usually is responsible for the made-from-scratch genesis of a song. “We have funny titles such as Littérature sous-marine (Underwater literature) and J’aurais pu être un dauphin mais j’aurais jamais lu Camus (I Could Have Been a Dolphin but I Would Never Have Read Camus).”

Despite the group’s achievements thus far, the idea of making money off of music is not their priority since they all have other jobs and alternate sources of income.

“Although we are all trained professionally at universities, we have other projects on the go. Being a musician is hardly easy, let me say that. But we are not really interested in making money. What we are interested in is transferring our energy to the audience. That is what counts. The 10-second high you get on stage when everything clicks…that is what counts. It’s almost like a drug. We need that 10-second feeling.”

Though he is sure of what his music represents, when asked about the future, Beaudoin shrugged, almost unconcerned.

“We are more of a creative artistic group, meaning that we live primarily for the music, not for what tomorrow brings. Miriam is the best at organizing ourselves. That said, we are planning on going on a tour, going to places like Quebec City and Saguenay.”

The Gisèle Quartet performs at Le Labo on 552 Jarry St. on Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.



The Islands of Love takes on The Enlightenment

Photo by Tristan Brand

There is a one-hundred per cent chance of you cringing in your seat witnessing the dicey issues addressed in the Concordia Department of Theatre’s The Islands of Love.

Three plays of French dramatist Pierre de Marivaux’s, exemplifying theatre at its best in the 18th century, have been adapted and directed by Cristina Iovita, a PhD student of Concordia’s Humanities program, as well as founder and artistic Director of Le Théâtre de l’Utopie.

Ambitiously staged for the first time as a one-act play, The Islands of Love tackles the Enlightenment era at its zenith. Think silver-lined coats, mauve bobby-laced shoes, voluminous gray wigs and ridiculously tight corsets.

The play is dissected into three parts: The Dispute, The Colony and The Slaves’ Island. Each segment addresses sensitive topics such as love and fidelity, gender equality, marriage and societal hierarchy.

In The Dispute, the notions of love and fidelity are doubted as the Prince and his lover Hermione fall in and out of love. A powerful storm forces the couple to re-evaluate the notion of any kind of natural relationship between the two sexes.

In The Colony, a battle of the sexes inevitably transpires. Women settlers who have been excluded from political activities take the sword and declare war on their husbands. This segment is particularly comical with actors brandishing posters, jousting with their male companions, and basically making fools of themselves while addressing the radical feminism they are faced with. Arthénice and Madame Sorbin, two leaders of the female revolution, attempt to convince their followers of giving coquetry the cold shoulder so as to attain real citizenship. The result: women cannot forgo looking good for the sake of politics.

In the final segment, The Slaves’ Island, further conflict ensues. The Prince and his beloved Hermione are swept to the Slaves’ Island where the aristocratic couple are forced to obey their former servants, Harlequin and Carisa. Emotions run high but fraternity and friendship rule over revenge when Harlequin takes pity on his former master and all the characters revert back to their normal lives.

Each segment of this one-act play is thought-provoking while being light-hearted. Huge issues are handled with a smirk, a grin or a jest. However, the issues are tackled for far too long, leaving the audience restless.

But then, there are the costumes. Every character is heavily powdered, as would be expected, and clad in beautiful, richly woven fabrics, with the women dressed in baby pink gowns, while the men strut their stuff in long stockings and large hats.

Some costumes really were mesmerizing like Lina’s (Madame Sorbin’s daughter) pearl grey dress with mild black accents.

The performances are mostly believable and outright hilarious—Madame Sorbin prances around on stage with a poster in her hand, demanding political equality with a scowl on her face as she throws caution to the wind.

On the other hand, some of the acting left something to be desired. The love-acting between the Prince and Hermione in the first segment, for example, felt too staged and bordered on caricature, making the entire scene seem more impractical than funny.

On the whole, nonetheless, the production demonstrates a subtle yet masterful approach to pivotal issues that cannot be ignored in today’s society — or in the 18th century, for that matter. We see quintessential characters from the play being continually confronted by new, radical thoughts.

And that’s the morale of the story: if you want society to progress, you need to battle the old with the new.

The Islands of Love plays at the D.B. Clarke Theatre at 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. until Dec. 1. Regular tickets cost $10 and student or senior priced tickets are $5. To reserve tickets, contact


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