Communication – its overabundance, limitations, annoyances and impossibilities – is the unifying theme of HomoBLABLAtus, the new production of La Otra Orilla (The Other Shore) currently being staged at Cinquième Salle at Montréal’s Place des Arts. A collaborative effort between choreographer/dancer Myriam Allard, and singer/director Hedi Graja, HomoBLABLAtus combines contemporary flamenco dance with live and recorded music, and video. The end result is intense and thought-provoking.

Hedi Graja, Myriam Allard, Miguel Médina © Lumanessence Photography
Hedi Graja, Myriam Allard, Miguel Médina
© Lumanessence Photography

Words: sometimes they say so little, and what they do manage to convey is often expressed more through rhythm, tone, inflection, dynamics, and nuance than through the meaning of the words themselves. Sometimes, more is said through silence.

Allard’s contemporary flamenco captures perfectly the minute shifts in tone, the angry staccatos, the sinewy seduction, and the outright noise that we, modern-day humans, dependent on and immersed in non-stop verbalization, and terrified of silence, constantly create. She takes the essential elements of flamenco – the tapping feet, the turning hands, the swaying hips – and recombines them to express our post-modern passions – anxiety, anger, disconnection, loneliness – rather than the fiery sensuality we associate with traditional Spanish flamenco.

The lights go up on a scene that resembles a painting by the Italian surrealist Giorgio De Chirico: a bare stage, on which sits a cube with a window; a woman lies on her back with her legs up against the cube’s wall. Slowly the legs start to move, first to the left, then to the right; puppet-like characters appear in the window of the cube.

The puppet imagery continues, with Allard gradually getting to her feet and flopping over like a rag doll. The following segment sets up one of the defining dichotomies of the show: the authentic and human, versus the mechanical and mediated. Allard appears as a mechanical doll, manipulated by supporting dancer Aurèlie Brunelle and singer Hedi Graja, until it is able to dance on its own, brought to life by music. While Brunelle and Graja clap, tap their feet, and goad her on with shouts of “Olé!,” Allard performs a mechanistic flamenco dance, using all the right moves but in a stilted and jittery manner. The striking and sometimes humorous contrast between the authenticity of the human voices and clapping, and the mechanical dancing, foreshadows some of the other themes of the work.

Throughout the 75-minute performance, there is a constant shifting between extremes of emotional expression. Gradual crescendos of almost unbearable noise and percussive rhythm (conveyed by live percussion, clapping, and of course the characteristic flamenco footwork) suddenly collapse into acoustic guitar music and natural sounds such as rain (accompanying more lyrical movements).

One recurring motive features a duet between a video projection of a male dancer (Antonio Arrebola), and Allard (live on stage), as they use movement to interpret a troubling phone conversation that takes place after the man has hung up on the woman (she calls him back thinking they have merely been disconnected). In the recorded conversation, broadcast over speakers, the man explains that he hung up on the woman because he was sick of talking; she complains that nothing has been resolved. A futile argument ensues, growing more intense over several minutes, at which point he warns her that he is going to hang up again, and, strangely, asks if she is OK. This scenario is played out four times, each time with a different effect. The words stay exactly the same, but the intonation of the words, and the way they are interpreted by the dancers, changes.

For example, in the second presentation of the phone call, the lovers’ growing anger is palpable, emphasized through the incessantly tapping flamenco rhythms and angular movements. In the third presentation, the words are spoken slowly, almost seductively – the lovers are detached, blasé – and the movements are more lyrical, sinuous, and twisty. The final, fourth scenario features explosions of staccato expression, with the digital images cutting in and out; very little meaning remains, and even less hope of meaningful communication. After this climax, the return to recorded acoustic guitar comes as an enormous relief.

Highly moving and deeply expressive, Allard’s dancing is virtuosic and captivating. The integration of live musicians into the stage performance is innovative and extremely effective. Although occasionally the overall effect of dance, live music, recorded music, voice, lighting, and video projection is a little overwhelming, and one or two ideas seem extraneous (a two-bodied ballerina arguing with herself through movement, for example), HomoBLABLAtus is definitely worth seeing. It will leave you wondering if the effort to communicate through words is futile, or if without them we are essentially alone.