All the cool clubs around town love to up the hype by keeping people in the line up outside, no matter how empty it may or may not be inside. Festival TransAmériques doesn't need to fake any of the hype for its two weeks of dance and theatre though. Half an hour before the performance, the eager audience had formed a snaking mass leading up to the doors of the Cinquieme Salle Thursday night for De marfim e carne, just another sold out show for this 9th edition of the festival.

© Pierre Planchenault
© Pierre Planchenault

From the mind of choreographer Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and brought to us all the way from Lisbon, Portugal, De marfim e carne (Of Ivory and Flesh) made a smashing North American premiere, cymbals and all. Monteiro Freitas is one half of P.OR.K, not a dance company, but an art management collective co-founded with Andreia Carneiro earlier this year. Their focus is production and tour management, offering services to further the reach of dance works. It's a brand new endeavour, and though they currently produce mainly Monteiro Freita's work, I don't expect it will be long before they grow and evolve. Backed by P.OR.K, De marfim e carne has travelled to Belgium, France and the Netherlands, and now to Canada. A mix of dance, live music, theatre, karaoke, and dare I say circus, it's a piece you can take as lightly or seriously as you want, but be ready to be affected.

A last minute cast change had dancer Flora Detraz stepping in for Marlene. Though Detraz brought a lot of character to the performance, I can't help but regret missing out on seeing the choreographer perform her own piece. That being said, the four dancers and three percussionists that make up this show were a very interesting bunch. No personalities were being held back here. Each engaged with the work with such curiosity and openness... or that's the impression they gave with their exaggeratedly wide eyes and gaping mouths. The nature of the performance meant they couldn't break character for even a second if the show was going to work, and they succeeded at this one hundred percent. No amount of tired facial muscles or drool running down their chins and swinging from their chests could snap them out of their hyper-expressive personas.

From silence, to Arcade Fire, to live percussion and more, the soundtrack of De marfim e carne is as mixed as it gets. It somehow isn't awkward though as the piece is broken down into distinct moments, some longer than others, and the audience is prepped from the start to expect disruption and a non-continuous flow. Dancer Andreas Merk leads the largest chunk of the disruption in his role as the entertainer. He grabs the microphone and our attention with a painstakingly detailed sex story, while calling out to Cookie to smash the cymbals, then waltzes out into the crowd to steal watches and step on laps while his fellow dancers set up the next unforeseeable antics. The chemistry of the team as a whole feeds their endless energy supply and draws us in, allowing us to ignore the overall weirdness of the show and simply enjoy trying to figure it out.

© Pierre Planchenault
© Pierre Planchenault
The inspiration is meant to have come from the myths of Orpheus and Pygmalion, the film 'Les statues meurent aussi' (Statues also die), reality TV shows, and so many other sources with so few links that it hardly seems to matter any more. The content of all these inspirations has been so warped through repetition and transposition that I found it a mental stretch to go looking for them. De marfim e carne has grown to be abstract enough to live on its own. Even when full songs are performed word for word in karaoke style, there are so many added layers through the setting, the characters, and the context. This show is like a strobe light, impossible to ignore, giving you flashes of stories and asking you to fill in the blanks. Not to mention it's one heck of a party. 

Though rich in content, that's not what I take away from this show. Instead, I take away that a dancers face can be the key body part in a choreography. Also, that musicians perform with their body, and the extension of their body in the form of their instrument, just as much as any leaping dancer. This is hardly emphasized enough in dance in general but I love seeing the collaboration here in De marfim e carne. Finally, Marlene Monteiro Freitas has some wacky creative ideas, and I can't wait to get another taste of it.