Review: Raw honesty and rich meaning in Grand Singe, a "dancing play"

In Grand Singe, so little was done, yet so much was gained. Performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from January 22 to 23, virtuosity was not displayed through complicated physical technique but through the performative confidence the performers ex
In Grand Singe, so little was done, yet so much was gained. Performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from January 22 to 23, virtuosity was not displayed through complicated physical technique but through the performative confidence the performers exuded. -- ST PHOTO: SANDRA LYNN BELANGER 

During the post-show dialogue last Friday, choreographer Nicolas Cantin talked about his voyeuristic penchant for observing people going about their daily lives from a distance. He enjoys the honesty derived from such observations, a passion that was presented ever so clearly in Grand Singe, a work that was rich in meaning despite its simple, comic banality.

In Grand Singe, so little was done, yet so much was gained. Performed at the Esplanade Theatre Studio from 22 to 23 January, virtuosity was not displayed through complicated physical technique but through the performative confidence the performers exuded.

Throughout the work, performers Ellen Furey and Mathieu Campeau were entirely present, inhabiting the entire space and living in the moment.

The work, a "dancing play", had an honest rawness that was captivating, triggering so many parallels to real life. Describing Grand Singe's creative process, Cantin was interested in seeing how two people would negotiate the space they occupied.

He succeeded. Simple actions served as the tip of a huge iceberg of ideas that highlighted the politics of society. Small cards with letters were arranged to spell different words at different points of the performance. The word "fail" was spelt after a repetitious scene of physical movement that went nowhere.

In another scene, the French word "falaise" (meaning "cliff") was spelt out, after which both performers started to expose themselves tentatively in various states of undress. While nudity in experimental Western theatre is not much of a big deal anymore, the connotations of risk associated with the word "cliff" were much more apparent when performed in a more conservative Singaporean society.

The carefully choreographed act also politicised gender. Sometimes the male had less clothes on than the female, sometimes the other way around. In the end, Campeau put his pants back on while Furey would continue the rest of the performance topless.

I was questioning why it had to be this way. Did it make the female more vulnerable and exposed? Or was it indeed a show of power over the male, the fact that she was confident enough to proceed topless while the male chose to cover up his bits?

Thoughtful humour was also apparent. Alluding to how we commit the same mistakes again and again, a curious Furey stood close to Campeau as he made, not one, but three pink balloons burst by blowing them up too big, each time illiciting a shocked squeal from Furey.

It was a classic case of knowing the end result yet, for some perverse, Sisyphean reason wanting to partake in the situation.

The soundtrack of mostly classic olden-day French ballads provided stark contrast to the two people sharing very real moments on stage.

At one point, the grand failure of Adam and Eve was even conjured as a track of someone casually singing "Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so"? was played while the performers stood motionless staring into space, two frazzled bodies that bore the scars of life's myriad experiences.

Cantin's accurate depictions of life as seen through the very mature performances of Furey and Campeau made Grand Singe such a pleasure.

Though there was a lot of empty space in the work, this space was not one of stagnant boredom. It was one that contained an electrifying tension between two people who had to share, communicate, live and reason out each other's existences together.