À bout de bras: A Greek myth told at the Agora

The dance-movement performance piece by Emily Gualtieri and David Albert-Toth was presented at Montreal’s Agora de la danse from Nov. 2 to 5

À bout de bras
involved acrobatics and contortion, magic, humorous poems and storytelling, performed uniquely by Albert-Toth, all based on the theme of Tantalus.

The Greek mythical figure was famously punished after death in the deep abyss of Tartarus, where he was forced to stand in a pool of water under a fruit tree with low hanging branches. The water would sink every time he went to drink it, and the tree branches hanging over him would elude his grasp every time he was hungry.

Albert-Toth’s original inspiration for this piece came from the concept of solitude. “We looked to use an example of a fallen hero. The Joker, Muhammad Ali, who’d experienced their own solitude amounting to their self destruction. When we discovered the story of Tantalus, we knew we found the one,” said the performer. 

The mythological figure was known to have been a ruler of the Anatolian city of Tantalís. He was sentenced to his infamous punishment after having offered his son as food to the gods when invited to Mount Olympus to prepare a feast for them. 

The idea had been in the works since 2019. After the arrival of COVID-19, during which the world had to confine and experience solitude, Gualtieri and Albert-Toth knew it was essential to present it as soon as possible, after the ebbs and flows of the global crisis. 

Courtesy of Agora de la Danse

The dancer started the piece almost nude, wrapped in a sparkly cloth. He argued to the crowd that instead of attending his act, we as citizens should be taking action to prevent the ongoing domination of capitalism. If we believed it was important, we wouldn’t choose to merely sit in our venue seats looking for entertainment. Only after Albert-Toth clothed himself and provided a powerful dance representing Tantalus’ struggle and torment, did he reveal the reason for his monologue on the economic system.

The following segment was an allegory involving a Coca-Cola vending machine and how desperate he was for a soda, but didn’t have any change. The soda represented relief and reward for hard work. The dancer humorously hyperbolised his desperation for it by contorting and writhing on the floor, rhythmically rapping about how he would do anything for that “kssss” in his life. 

Albert-Toth alternated between expressive dances on Tantalus’ desperation and the real matters of companies capitalizing on our selfish needs. The performance ended in a heartwarming magic act, with many colours which contrasted the darkness submerging the dancer for nearly the entirety of the piece.

All in all, the show was brilliant and thought-provoking. As someone who found it difficult to understand interpretive dance and movement performance, the story, humour, and sheer athleticism opened a new world for me. 


Veteran journalist Francine Pelletier on making documentaries

Documentary journalism workshop series invites students to become creative storytellers

The Department of Journalism held a workshop on Oct. 21, led by Francine Pelletier, the department’s journalist-in-residence, about different forms of documentary making, what makes a good documentary and what makes it a unique form of storytelling.

The workshop was the first of a visual series, through which Pelletier plans to increase the profile of documentary journalism within Concordia. Documentary filmmaking lies at the intersection of journalism and arts, where the artist uses creative storytelling to raise awareness and make an impact in the world.

“Documentary filmmaking combines the best of journalism, telling great stories, and the best of you, finding the creative side in you,” said Pelletier.

After leaving her job at CBC in 2001, Pelletier became an independent documentary filmmaker and has made 11 films so far. She made the switch because documentary making “had exploded” in the 1990s and was a hot medium. She also found it to be a more creative type of journalism and more satisfying to work independently.

Pelletier said the oldest feature-length documentary is perhaps Nanook of the North (1922), which captures the struggles of an Inuk man and his family in the Canadian Arctic. It established the cinéma vérité form, where the filmmaker is but a passive watcher. Pelletier said the film Harlan County, USA (1976), which narrates a coal mine strike in the US, is a notable example of this form. She emphasized that this does not mean the filmmaker is neutral.

“In fact, documentary filmmaking is often called point-of-view filmmaking,” she said. “In this case, [the filmmaker] is definitely on the side of workers and not employers.”

Michael Moore, with his first documentary Roger & Me (1989), invented a new documentary form, in which the filmmaker is the main character. Another documentary form, which is simply an extended television news item, shows an orthodox correspondent who represents the audience and interviews affected people of the story. An example is the Canadian film Just Another Missing Kid (1981), which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1982 (Pelletier said it is “too corny” for today’s taste and would never win an Academy Award today).

Pelletier said that the 1990s was a wonderful decade for documentaries, as the equipment required to make one became more accessible, causing the number of independent documentary makers to explode. Digital cameras were invented, which are much smaller and lighter than analog ones. 

“[So] little women like me can go out and actually use a camera and not die from the 50-pound weight of the television cameras,” she said. Also, many documentary film festivals, like Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, the largest documentary festival in North America, started in the 1990s.

Today, documentaries have various ways of reaching people; they appear on newspaper websites and services such as Netflix. Pelletier said the first documentary she watched on Netflix was Blackfish (2013). It is about the consequences of keeping whales in captivity, and narrates the story of Tilikum, a captive whale at the marine park Seaworld, who was involved in the deaths of three people. The film was quite impactful, and in 2016, SeaWorld announced it will end its live performances involving whales.

“What’s amazing about documentary filmmaking is that anyone can do it; if you’re really passionate about something, it’s possible to do a great story and really make a difference,” Pelletier said. “I always joke that it is the easiest way for a nobody to become a somebody.”

Another reason to make documentaries is to keep the light shining in the right direction, Pelletier said. 

“There is a truth in the documentary because you aren’t telling people what to think; they’re seeing it for themselves.”

To make a good documentary, “The story is key,” Pelletier said. “The essential ingredient to any good story is conflict or tension.”

One does not need a huge scandal — even telling a personal story compellingly can make an effective documentary. For example, Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) describes the decline of the filmmaker’s old father in a creative, playful manner.

Pelletier said that another ingredient of a good story is a strong character.

“Any story is carried by a character,” she said.

Finally, she stressed that there are many ways of making a documentary about a given story; the filmmaker needs to be creative and find a suitable form for their message.

The workshop was the first of a series of three. The second will be on Nov. 18 with Julian Sher, about making documentaries amid conflicts and wars, and the third will be on Dec. 9 with David Gutnick about radio documentary and podcasting.


Underrated albums of 2020, Vol. 1: Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline

The Saskatchewan-born artist narrates a tale of a lonely man spending a night out with his friends, and his regrets.

Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf has a seemingly innate ability to capture and express human emotion through the stories he tells. On his latest release, The Neon Skyline, Shauf plays the narrator in a first-person story with a full cast of characters that charmingly and intimately explores the full spectrum of human emotion.

Shauf tells the story of a young man who calls up his friend Charlie one night and they head to their favourite local bar, the titular Neon Skyline. While they’re enjoying their drinks together, Charlie breaks the news to our narrator that his ex-girlfriend Judy is back in town.

This news begins to consume our narrator’s thoughts, as he becomes ruefully nostalgic about their relationship, recalling everything from the pleasant times to the miserably bitter. From “Where Are You Judy” to “Things I Do” we hear the narrator’s poetic reflections on their time together, from more pleasant memories to those that led to their relationship’s eventual ending.

While reminiscing on the love that they once shared, he begins to hope that he’ll run into her while he is out so he can attempt to rekindle the flame they once had. As the night progresses, we see the narrator and his friends having deep conversations and drunkenly deciding to hit the town, when they run into Judy on “The Moon.”

This track and “Try Again” feel almost like a single song with two parts, as they both focus on the time the pair spend together after running into one another. During this time, our narrator becomes enamoured with her once again, though this doesn’t last long, as Judy reminds him, both directly and indirectly, that they can’t restore what they once had. These two tracks are clear highlights on the album, with beautiful writing that is simple and concise yet completely captivating as we see our hopeful narrator fumble his way through their time together.

The last two tracks see their night reach its inevitable end, and with that end comes clarity for our narrator. As he looks at the mostly pleasant night that he and Judy have shared, he realizes he’s gained the closure necessary to move on. Realizing that he doesn’t have to continue repeating his habits and actions, he may not be able to undo what’s been done, but he can grow from it.

This album is absolutely fantastic — it plays like a short film, with nuanced characters and real, tangible explorations into human emotion. Having written, performed, arranged and produced every song on the album, Shauf not only shaped a great story but gave it a living world. The warm, folk-tinged indie sound of this project, gives each scene character and context, creating a perfect marriage between the lyrics and the music. The Neon Skyline is as cinematic as it is poetic, and it excels greatly at being both, making it one of the best releases of this year.


Image+Nation brings new voices of queer cinema to Montreal

The LGBTQ+ festival stands out with its quality Canadian and Latinx programming

Turning 32 this month, Image+Nation is the oldest still-running LGBTQ+ film festival in Canada. Every year, they aim to explore new themes and ways of filming queer stories.

This year’s edition marks a special turn. They brought back their animation film selection after 10 years of absence, added a selection of Canadian short films, and put forward nine Latinx feature films – the most they have ever had.

“These are all films that center on self-acceptance,” said Kat Setzer, the programming director.

In today’s context of diversity and inclusion in cinema, one could think that a queer film festival in Montreal would have lost its necessity, political power and relevance. Charlie Boudreau, the director of Image+Nation, defended her festival at the opening night on Thursday Nov. 21. She said that this year’s films bring to Montreal exclusive screenings that embody the constant evolution of queer cinema, putting forward new directors, new parts of the world and new issues.

In that regard, Image+Nation helps redefine queerness and its relationship to national cinemas and their political ramifications.

For its opening weekend, it brought to the forefront surprisingly high-quality filmmaking.

And then we danced marked the opening ceremony last Thursday.

“This film is my love letter to Georgia,” said director Levan Akin, in a video directed to the Montreal public prior to the screening. It was shown in a Montreal theatre for the second time after its Quebec premiere at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma (FNC).

The Swedish-Georgian film depicts the love affair of Merab, a dancer training in the National Georgian Ensemble, with a new rival in the team, Irakli. In a conservative Georgia and dancing ensemble, where masculinity is “the essence” of the dance, their relationship is fraught and forbidden. Their love is subtly and gently told, mostly unsaid but very much felt.

Filled with enticing Georgian music, warm golden lighting throughout the film, and dynamic choreography, it was a wise choice for the opening of Image+Nation.

And then we danced also very much connects with the political relevance of such a festival. When it premiered in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on Nov. 8, it was welcomed by hundreds of anti-LGBT protesters, blocking the entrance to the film. Despite the scandal forcing Georgian theatres to stop showing the film after three days, it still sold an estimated 6,000 tickets.

Proving the necessity of queer storytelling worldwide, And then we danced was well received by both the public and critics, and deserved the spotlight.

Adding to the films that kicked off the festival, This is not Berlin and José, presented one after the other at l’Impérial on Friday Nov. 22, were particularly good. They were both part of the Latinx programming of the festival.

“This is one is superb, one of my top five of this year,” said Setzer, when talking about the Mexican feature film This is not Berlin.


Directed by Hari Sama, it tells the story of two high-school students as they dive deep into the Mexican underground punk arts scene. Because, as the title says, this is not Berlin, things get complicated when they try to make art and fall in love the way they want.

José, by Li Cheng, was probably the best film of the entire weekend and the most underrated. It was the first Guatemaltecan movie in the history of Image+Nation and turned out to be a naturalistic and poetic gem. Unlike many movies that tackle the hookup culture among some modern gay men, this film avoids clichés and touches people with its beautiful yet believable and relatable love story. It has to have more screenings in Montreal, or at least be available to stream in Canada.

With even more events coming in the course of this week, including short film programs of Quebec and Canadian films, as well as documentaries about LGBTQ+ issues and award-winning feature films, Montreal has not seen the last of Image+Nation this year.

The Concordian will follow their activities and review some of their featured films next week.

For more information about the festival’s history and programming, visit


Reimagining identity through participatory storytelling

Birds Crossing Borders creates a collective memory

Home and identity are important themes concerning one’s individuality. So how do people displaced by conflict deal with the deep-rooted trauma that arises from events such as war? How do victims reclaim their identity and find a safe space?

Khadija Baker’s Birds Crossing Borders, a multimedia installation that includes sound, video and a performance involving falling water, aims to develop consciousness and remembrance through storytelling, with the ultimate intention of creating a collective memory.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

A multi-disciplinary artist of Kurdish-Syrian descent, Baker’s cultural identity is present in her works. She shares the stories of refugees who have been displaced by the current conflicts in Syria. Her performative, video and sculptural installations explore socio-political themes, specifically in relation to identity, displacement and traumatic events such as war. Recurring themes in her works delve into unsettling feelings associated with the idea of home and aim to promote an understanding of cultural complexities.

Consisting of multiple screens highlighting the collective stories of refugees, Birds Crossing Borders reflects on the shared memories of home, particularly in relation to the identity shared by Syrian refugees.

“We are used to estrangement in many places. Even in my own country, I felt the estrangement,” shared one of the men featured in Baker’s compilation of recordings.

Addressing these sentiments of estrangement from one’s native land or hometown allows the viewer to further recognize the importance of home and the significant impact displacement has on those affected by war.

The exhibition creates a space of understanding and empathy by leaving room for discussion. The sharing of these collective stories serves as the representation of refugees and victims of war.

While the stories in the exhibit describe various individual struggles, Baker’s performance highlighted a unifying theme present among their experiences, by shedding light on the struggles of integrating into a new community.

Her performance focused on the identities of newly arrived refugees. With no distinct description, its primary purpose was left to the audience’s interpretation. Moreover, the nature of the piece demonstrated the prejudice associated with immigrants and refugees.

The centrepiece of the performance itself consisted of 14 transparent boxes. Each box contained varying amounts of water. A balloon filled with black water hung above the first box as a symbol of the common judgement of refugees as “contaminated.”

Photo by Mackenzie Lad

Barker began by squeezing the black water from the balloon into the first box. The water began to travel through a tube that connected each box to one another, and the remaining 13 boxes slowly began to fill with the black liquid. This illustrated what could be perceived as “contamination.” By the end of the performance, each box contained the same amount of water. The black liquid mixing with the water in the boxes is meant to demonstrate the integration of refugees, Baker explained. Although at first, they can be seen as “disrupting” the flow of society, in the end all will balance out. Society will equalize over time, Baker said; refugees want to contribute to society, and they do.

“Each human has to be an effective person. If we all long for and become attached to our identity in its limited meaning, we won’t reach any place,” said one of the refugees highlighted in Baker’s videos. “You chose a place to live in, and you have to be loyal and integrated and positive and interact within [it].”

Birds Crossing Borders is on display at Montréal Arts Interculturels (MAI) until Oct. 13. The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Student Life

A creative storytelling series by Concordia students

Book author Léandre Larouche shares his short story, “Infrastructure”

The main street is walking down my body. I’ve been wandering around for too long now. Thanks to the downtown lights, I see the city’s true colours. I see the uncovered faces of churches, condos, skyscrapers and bridges; and the main street keeps walking down my body. I feel its heavy weight crash onto my soul. There’s something uncanny about being alone. It’s as if everything was more evident, more noteworthy. I notice how run-down our infrastructure is.

Simultaneous construction around the city is at an all-time high; it monopolizes the public space from the street level to the sky. Giant ladders stand still leaned up against building walls, while operating cranes and piles of materials occupy entire parking lots. Every corner, ostracized, finds itself hijacked by construction equipment. But at this time—it’s 11:30 p.m.—nothing’s going on, everything’s frozen. I see my city as a sad, grayish picture, one upon which I’m forced to lay my eyes, sad and bitter and resentful. I didn’t ask to see the city as it is. I didn’t ask to be alone tonight.

There are so many bars here, more than I thought. Never would I have expected to see so many of them, on just one street, although I know this city as no one else does. Nor would I have imagined so many people congregating inside them. My friends and I are of the most loyal, trustworthy regulars to the bars we cherish and call home; we never miss, at least not without a good reason, the rendezvous that has become tradition. We are earnest drinkers, fervent chatters and lovers of people; yet I was blissfully unaware that my city had so many choices.

Just to my left is a brewery I must have gone to a dozen times. As I walk by it, a group of men stand next to the door, smoking cigarettes, chatting and laughing loudly. These rather muscular guys, with beards and all, are clearly having a good time. I pass just in front of them, slow down and turn back. I shoot a glance inside the bar. I can see the people; I can feel the vibe. They walk and talk and drink in the laid-back atmosphere; the bar is half modern, half antique. I want to go in. I want to go in and sit down and have a drink. But I refrain and keep walking.

Further down the main street is another bar which I more or less know. I mean to enter that one too. The dim light at the entrance suggests a tiny ray of hope for me. I approach the door, stare at the doorman, and then decide to back off. This place isn’t for me, after all. I keep walking, paying more and more attention to bars and, as I remain in motion, I see plenty of them. I see plenty but they’re all full. As soon as I look in, if I dare do so, I don’t see any place for me to sneak in. The counters are unwelcoming and so are the tables. There’s no place where I might belong.

I accelerate my pace, throwing glances at bars I pass, and I don’t go in. I note each one’s crowdedness, biting my lips. Panic grows apace, my heart pounding, my head hurting and my mouth becoming dry. I grow dizzy and uncomfortable; I can’t see the surrounding light. After a while, I hit the end of the main street only to find myself faced with deep shame. There must be something wrong with me, I think. All the moments spent with friends in bars rush to my mind. Why am I so lonely? Why am I so abnormal? I thought I was someone.

The only place I can get into is a pizza place, empty and just about to close. Once inside, I sit down, slice in hand, and gaze at a condo building being demolished outside. They’re not done with it yet, but it already looks like a perfect wreck. I bite into my pizza and tomato sauce falls onto my shirt. The cashier is cleaning up behind me. It’s 11:59 p.m. now, and the dawn of a new day threatens me. In a minute, it will be Friday night no more, and I feel like a disappointed disappointment. I wonder what everyone might be doing right now. I sigh. My infrastructure isn’t any better than the city’s.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Music Quickspins

Frank Ocean – Blond

Frank Ocean – Blond (Boys Don’t Cry, 2016)

His picturesque storytelling and mellow voice with smooth R&B beats were greatly present in this album. The whole album is a story to follow, from the first track up all the way to the end. Compared to previous album Orange Channel, Blond is much more experimental. There are many collaborations, such as “Pink+White” which features Beyoncé’s beautiful vocals in the background, making the song magical. There’s a skit called “Be Yourself” in which a woman sends strong messages about being true to yourself and the impacts of drug abuse. His track “Solo” is sung from the soul, giving the song great depth. Ocean’s lyrics make you want to understand and put together their meanings. “Nights” is a roll your windows enjoy the sunset low key type of track. Frank Ocean mastered a great work of art. Overall, very creative.

Trial Track: “Nights”


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