Merlene Monteiro Freitas has outdone herself with “Bacchantes – Prélude pour one purge,” a Dadaist, orgiastic, orchestral masterpiece that pushes the limits of corporeality and musicality. Drawing loosely on the worship of the god of pleasure in Euripides’ The Bacchae, thirteen performers immerse you in a symphony of delightfully discomforting absurdity.
You are welcomed into a spectacle with no clear beginning as you enter into a room of insane noise-making. Some order emerges as trumpets begin to synchronize, immediately establishing a rhythm that gives the piece’s insanity never-ending momentum.
The dancers’ movements are clown-like and goofy, but masterfully choreographed. Throughout the entire piece, they wear grimaces that resemble Greek masks in their grotesque melodrama. Everyone’s eyes are bulging wide open, as if on speed. Exuding the uninhibited, playful energy of a jazz band, their artful movements transcend the human, the feminine, and the masculine, to an animalistic or cartoon-like expressivity.
The piece is orchestral, in that it takes place in a grand proscenium theatre, and the performers play with various musical props to create a symphony of sounds and images. Music plays a central role in the piece and spans a range of genres, including head-banging metal, scatting, Afro drum beats, church-like chorals, classical opera, and blue-eyed soul. Meanwhile, the performers create a harmony of bodily noises, including coughing, screeching, yelping, burping, whistling, gargling, animal sounds, sex moans, Louis Armstrong impersonations, yodelling, and more.
Although you are soberly aware of your own physicality, you cannot help but feel like a witness to a strange hallucination. Things are in constant metamorphosis, as the choreography taunts your imagination. Darkness comes and goes as if you are passing in and out of a wild trip. A mirror stands at the back of the stage, recalling the old saying: “Don’t look in the mirror while you’re tripping.”
A particularly compelling choice on Monteiro Freitas’ part, is to use musical equipment, especially folding music stands, to stand in for the fragmentation and metamorphosis of the body (as she notes in the program). Drumsticks stand in for boners; a speaker gets decapitated. It is an interesting solution to the violence depicted in Euripides’ original play, of bodies being torn apart.
There are no characters parallel to those in Euripides’ tragedy, except for a blind Tiresias, whose dignified expression and geisha-like movement sets him apart, although he is equally involved in the irrational chaos of the bacchantes. Some characters seem to try and stop the madness, but are unable to articulate themselves. Intermittently, a siren interrupts the action, perhaps representing the omniscient Dionysus calling for a change of direction.
In their worship of “King Pleasure,” Monteiro Freitas’ bacchantes not only embody impulsivity and delusion, but also the primal ability to feel pleasure and feel alive in pushing the body’s limits. If stretching their mouths, rolling their eyes, and getting blue in the face weren’t evidence enough, this concept is epitomized by a birthing video projected onstage.
The performers deserve many standing ovations for their dedication. Each performer gives 150% for the full two hours, and the show doesn’t end until their faces were deep purple. Each of their solo acts demonstrates applaudable skills, including bellydancing, twerking, castanet-playing, and mouth-stretching.
This show is recommended for mature audiences with an appetite for the irrational, who aren’t afraid to get a little wet.
The 13th Annual Festival TransAmériques presents
June 2 + 3 at 7pm
Duration: 2 h 15 min
1182, Boulevard Saint-Laurent
514 844 3822 / 1 866 984 3822
Driven by her passion for contemporary art and writing, Cardineau pens reviews, interviews, and analyses informed by her own multidisciplinary practice. She formerly held the positions of Head Writer and Online Editor for Yiara Magazine, a feminist art and art history publication. She is excited about what this year’s Fringe Festival has to offer, especially in the context of theatre and politics today.
Find out more about Cardineau’s recent projects and upcoming exhibitions/productions at cardineauceline.myportfolio.com