It is pitch black, and from back stage a right a match is struck and a candle is lit, revealing a young man dressed in jeans, an orange tank, and heavy black boots. He wanders through metal bars and eventually makes his way to the front of the stage, peeking through the chain link that separates him from the audience. He is joined by a similarly dressed man who is much taller than him and covered in tattoos. All at once, the lights come up and they begin to slam themselves against the chain link, sometimes clinging, seemingly suspended like a caged animal, a monkey perhaps.
This is the opening sequence of PPS Danse reworking of their seminal piece Bagne, meaning “slammer” in French, and I could have watched just that for the next sixty minutes of the show, but then I would have missed out on the rest of the amazing feats that were planned for me.
Set in a prison, our two dancers begin in the exercise yard, confronting each other, circling, challenging, like two caged lions, slamming themselves both into the cage and each other, sometimes with sexual overtones. Then, suddenly it is night, and they are separated, and while caged from each other, they are now exposed to us, the audience, and I actually had a moment of “oh shit, they can get to us”, which is a huge testament to the acting chops of these two very talented actors, performers, and movers.
Bagne is an exploration of what it means to be human and how we react when caged and also how we cage ourselves. The violence of the movement is to be expected in a prison piece, but what I didn’t expect were the moments of intimacy. However, every intimate moment was either forced onto or stolen from the other, with each of the dancers changing who was stealing from or forcing onto who. The animalistic predatory qualities displayed by one dancer in particular was particularly unsettling, and rightly so. This is what happens when you put a human in a cage; he becomes an animal.
The theatre and circus training was evident in the powerful performances given by these two men, performing incredible feats of strength on the metal bars and the intricate partner work. There were times that I literally gasped and I could not rip my eyes away. Bagne will slam you in the face, exploring humanity and the cages we build around ourselves, blocking us from true intimacy with others.
Bagne recréation continues as part of the Danse Danse series at the Cinquieme Salle at Place des Arts from October 28 until October 31. Buy your tickets at http://www.dansedanse.ca/en/pps-danse-bagne-recreation-jeff-hall-pierre-paul-savoie