Review | ‘All Flesh Is Grass’: Resistance and Reflections on Time, Space, and Music

The Other Theatre presents new post-dramatic piece at Espace Knox from Nov. 13-30

© Maxime Côté

Directed by The Other Theatre’s artistic director Stacey Christodoulou, All Flesh Is Grass is the company’s latest collective-creation performance. This post-dramatic piece combines multimedia theatre, contemporary dance, performance art, and polyphonic concert. An equally visceral and philosophical oeuvre, All Flesh Is Grass is a uniquely contemporary meditation on music, time, and humanity. 

The production revisits the works and philosophies of two historical figures: Dadaist composer John Cage and 14th century composer Guillaume de Machaut. The ensemble’s reflections serve as a jumping-off point, to question the stories we are told about the “unknowable” past and the  “unimaginable” future.  Despite the uncertainty of our present world, this piece urges us to act out of faith—faith that our actions will reverberate beyond our own individual experience. Like John Cage’s 639-year-long musical performance Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible), we must have faith that our influence will outlive us, however uncertain the future of humanity.

© Maxime Côté

This site-specific theatre piece comes to life in a beautiful cathedral. The venue’s exterior looks like a cozy Christmas card, while the interior is dark, spacious, and grandiose. The audience is seated in a circle, surrounded by great stone columns and grand arches.

An excerpt by John Cage describes music as “not a time art, but a space art.” Sound designer Debbie Doe takes this to heart, giving dramaturgical meaning to the spatial relationship of each sound. Thanks to the cathedral’s haunting acoustics, the performers’ voices are at once physically embodied and ethereally omnipresent as they echo through the space. This piece acknowledges its church setting as a site of musical lineage, rather than strictly a site of religious history. The cathedral’s auditory and tactile materiality lends itself to a visceral experience of music and movement. The performers’ polyphonic singing vibrates in your body, moving you to join your voice to the choral magic. 

© Maxime Côté

In addition to the cathedral’s materially and dramaturgically charged space, Amy Keith, Zoe Roux, and Öykü Önder craft a beautifully rich yet simple scenography. The painted floor resembles the moon, enlivening the stark lighting with stone-like texture. In an elegantly poetic act, the set is transformed by an unassuming material—Post-It notes. Occasionally, the piece steps into the genre of Object Theatre, as the performers playfully and poetically employ simple props to transpose multiple realities in our imaginations. Pushing the metaphorical potential of objects such as string and paper, the performance occupies the psychological space between dimensions: a one-dimensional (time)line, a two-dimensional circle, three-dimensional space, four-dimensional movement, and beyond.

© Maxime Côté

David Perreault Ninacs’s masterful lighting design creates ever-shifting spatial boundaries, in perfect sync with the set and sound. Probing the metaphor of the circle, a colourful range of spotlights transform the space and suggest various images: a clock, a sun, a campfire, a target. Subtle movement in the light creates an almost-imperceptible vibration in the empty space. Colourful shadows multiply the performers’ bodies and radiate from the centre of the stage, while the stone arches illuminate like portals to another dimension. 

The ensemble’s costumes (by Cathia Pagotto) are understated at first, before transforming the collective into a cast of otherworldly, Surrealist archetypes. Viewers are transported by Dadaist-inspired bal masqué, and featuring an especially breathtaking headdress, which combines religious imagery and abstract sculpture. 

All Flesh Is Grass ultimately looks to the future. A duet between man and machine, it asks us to question our histories, to revel in multiple realities, to fight for the future of others, and to sing out in spite of uncertainty.

The Other Theatre presents All Flesh is Grass
November 13th to November 30th, 2019
Espace Knox (6215, Godfrey Avenue, Montreal)
Tickets ($15-20) available online

Celine Cardineau

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