PuSh Blog

The Show Must Go On Cast Blog: Max Wyman, Jan 9

January 12, 2010

By Max Wyman, performer in The Show Must Go On
Day four of rehearsals

On Saturday we performed three of the songs for the show’s choreographer, Jérôme Bel. He chuckled. He laughed. “Cool,” he said. We seem to be making progress.

It was good to be able to hear Bel’s vision of his work first-hand during the long Skype exchange on Saturday. He was in a hotel room in snowy Brussels; we were talking to him – and performing for him – in the Scotiabank Dance Centre, on the same stage where he performed his two-hander with the Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun last year. A lot of what he said (and most of our questions) had to do with audience response. The Paris opening of this show in 2001 was a disaster, apparently. People invaded the stage, shouted at the dancers to go away, generally caused chaos. It sounded a lot like the Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by the Ballets Russes in 1913 – boos, catcalls, whistles. Nijinsky, who had choreographed the Rite, had to stand on a chair and shout the counts to the dancers, who couldn’t hear the orchestra. The police had to be called.

In both cases the cause of the riot seems to have been more the dancing than the music, and it’s easy enough to see why people would get upset with Bel’s choreography (not many people are going to take violent exception to the muddle of pop and rock favourites he uses for his score: wincing and shuddering are the more likely responses). Both Bel and his colleagues who are setting the piece here have expressed concern over what the Vancouver audience might do. My own view is that city audiences can handle pretty much anything these days, so it’s hard to make them take offence. In any case, we’re a passive-aggressive nation, and the opening night audience is probably going to be filled with dignitaries and people more interested in seeing how the new theatre works (this is the first production in the new Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodwards). Vancouver’s finest are unlikely to be summoned.

Still, Bel spent some time giving us hints about how to deal with stage invasions. For all the talk we hear about how this piece is intended to erase the boundaries between audience and performer, he stressed that there is very definitely a line to be drawn at the edge of the performing space, audience on one side, us on the other. “This is not,” he said, “a happening.” That’s an interestingly antiquated word, but one that has real relevance for what seems to be going on in this production, and you could forgive an audience for assuming that participation is invited: the opportunities for them to get involved are considerable.

But we come back to the point that Adrienne has made: the audience-performer relationship is not equal. We know what’s coming; they don’t. Still, I do like Adrienne’s image of audience and performers as acrobats, “each taking a turn supporting the other or diving forward.” Because at the heart of that image is trust, and we need that in large dollops on both sides of the footlights (not that there are any footlights…)

One week into the process, we have a working familiarity with most of the piece: 16 songs down and two to go. This initial learning process seems to have gone very fast, though the really important work will come with the refinements and tweakings and general readjustments. Not much of it is inside our skins yet, and it is going to have to be if the show is to have any chance of getting under the skins of the people watching it.

The Show Must Go On is part of the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is presented with SFU Woodward’s and The Dance Centre. Jan 20-23, 2010 at 8:00pm, The Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, SFU. Click here for full details.