Carte Blanche: The Lady and the Spider

Had a swell, if chilly No one told me it was gonna get that cold again so fast, dagnabbit!) day off from the drudgery yesterday.  Made my way down to the NAC for a visit, did a little hush-hush, top secret business, then hit the box office to buy a few tickets for upcoming events of the French Theatre and Dance variety.  What the heck, everyone’s gotta expand their horizons eventually, right?  Not that I’ve shied completely away from those two genres in the past…and in fact, my plans for later that same evening would involve one (and sort of both) of them.

It was a few hours later, after dark, when I hitched a bus or two to take me into the wilds of Hull for some new theatre, at what for me was a new venue, l’Espace Rene-Prevost.  I just missed my connecting #8 at Lebreton station, so huddled up against the cold and made the quick march across the Chaudiere bridge, and I’m glad I did.  Brisk at it was, the rapids were fucking beautiful at night…it was a wonderful sight that boded well for the evening.  Didn’t take me long to get over to the strip, and much less time than I thought to find the venue at 38 Leduc, just a short hop off the main drag.  As I entered, I discovered that the night, known collectively as CARTE BLANCHE and something that happens a few times a year at Rene-Prevost as I understand it, basically consists of a group of artists who have been given free reign to produce half-hour works of whatever the Hell they feel like.  Waiting in the main lobby area, which doubled as an art gallery, I had some fun digging into the paintings of the artist called YUGZ, a series of crazy cool images under the title DU $ COMME DE L’EAU.  I really wanted a few of them (save your pennies, they’re worth it), and that Yugz has some artistic chops, no fooling.  It was a nice way to get in the mood for some potentially insane theatre.

There were two performances in this particular CB, and the first one was LA DAME DE COEUR from Diane Bouchard.  Featuring Mam’selle Bouchard herself, along with some musical accompaniment from Bertrand Crepeault, the story was about…well, hang on a second.  Have I reminded everyone in this post how occasionally weak my French language skills are?  Rusty, to say the least?  Have I not?  Well, such is indeed the case, and while sometimes I can follow along or muddle through well enough, this show was giving me quelques problemes, c’est sur. I think my main trouble was that the bulk of the show was delivered in song form by Bouchard, and it’s a little trickier for me to keep up with the narrative when it’s being sung than spoken.  So, nothing against the show, absolutely not!  But due to my own limitations, I didn’t always know what the Heck was going on.  It definitely involved shoes, as the red-clad Bouchard would consistently go back to a tattered old suitcase filled with them, making references to a girl named Cendrillon with very small feet (that much I got..!)  And, as said, many a song ensued…a bit of talking to the audience, then back to the mike for a tune.  Some were heartfelt, some downright silly, but all delivered with style and a beautiful, rich voice.  Ms Bouchard wrote all the songs in the tale too, by the by, so it’s no surprise that she does them justice.  The whole piece had a bit of a 70’s variety show feel to me, which isn’t a dig, just a nostalgic vibe I got.  I also got the vibe that something went terribly wrong in the life of the heroine of the piece, as it took on a darker tone near the end, especially when the chair came into play.  Really, it’s times like this that remind me to get more serious with my French skills, because I’m missing out!  In any case, kudos to Diane Bouchard for belting out some lovely songs and telling her tale, which obviously hit home with a lot of the audience who could actually make sense of it all.  I kinda envy them.  But a solid show from a talented performer, even I could tell ya that.

A brief intermission, then back into the completely reworked studio space (God, I love studios) for the second piece of the night, L’ARAIGNEE from Elise Gauthier and Catherine Boutin. Visitorium readers, and well-heeled Ottawa folk in general, should recognize Elise’s name from last year’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC, or her many adventures with the Ottawa Stilt Union.  Catherine I last saw in the terrific EAST OF BERLIN at the GCTC.  As we entered for the show, I saw the both of them inhabiting a play structure-like set with excited looks on their faces…and also noticed there were several stools and chairs set up right on the stage with them. As the audience approached, the girls squealed and pointed, urging people to sit as near as possible.  And since that’s an offer I don’t get from ladies too often, I took my stool (keep it clean, folks…) as directed, and waited anxiously.  Before long the show unfolded, to a cool, evocative original soundtrack from Marie-Claire Sindon.  Gauthier and Boutin tell an almost childlike, mythic story about the creation of the world by, I do believe, a spider (why not?), going so far as to weave a pretty impressive web right there in the theatre, with the audiences help.


They use sound and light, words and song, and most of all their own bodies to tell their tale of worlds being born and reborn, and I got a little lost as to the how and the why somewhere in there, but never got the feeling it mattered too much.  The gals are incredibly talented performers, using dance (the show is directed and choreographed by the dynamite combo of Fanny Gilbert-Collet and Alix Sideris, and I could definitely see the influence of the Lady Sideris) and physicality to set the stage.  They create a pretty wondrous world on that stage (a world where, I like to imagine, countries are somewhat star-shaped), filled with imagination and excitement for theatre that’s hard to say no to.  To any fellow Anglo theatre fans out there who are NOT seeing French Theatre, I can only say…WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??  Language is only one part of it, ladies and lads, and that’s an important part of what this particular show is all about.  Plus which, it’s always nice to see Elise Gauthier out of her stilts now and again.

It was an evening well spent, I gotta say, and it’s more than worth a look…I would definitely love to see L’Araignee evolve into a longer piece in the future.  Shared a ride back into Ottawa with Pat Gauthier (Undercurrents now only a few days away!) and Lisa L’Heureux, who will be taking part in the NEXT Carte Blanche in April.  And after this one (which continues at Rene-Prevost until the 2nd), I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be there.  Peace, love and soul,

Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)

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