I saw my first dance show at the Montreal Fringe Festival, approximately a million years ago. I had heard that an all girl breakdance troupe was tearing it up, and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. When I saw the show by the collective Solid State, it turns out my diner co-waitress-in-crime, Helen Simard, was part of the team masterminding the affair. The high-energy accessible performances really opened up a new art form for me, and while I cannot claim that I am a dance expert, I can appreciate dance now, and be open to how varied dance is. In 2014, Helen was back at the Fringe Festival with the piece “No Fun”, inspired by Iggy Pop and his distinct brand of movement, which is being remounting next week as part of POP Montreal in collaboration with Tangente. I sat down with her to talk about it.
Angela Potvin (AP): So why are you remounting this piece?
Helen Simard (HS): It’s kind of like a remix almost. I’ve been working on it since about 2013, and I presented a first version of it at Piscine Théâtre, a dance student space and then we showed a further version of the show in 2014 at the Montreal Fringe and which won the Mainline Award for creativity and now we are finally coming into the final version. It’s a like a pokemon, it keeps evolving. Hopefully this is the last stage of evolution and this is the show.
AP: Why did you feel like you needed to push it further?
HS: It’s really difficult, because I liked the show the way it was, but as we started working on it again, things just changed. We got into the studio and started rehearsing, and I don’t know if its undiagnosed ADD for me, or I don’t know if its being an artist and being bored with what you do, but things had to shift. I always felt that we had so little time in the creative process in the shows before that there were choices that I had to make really quickly because that was the choice. Dance is really hard sometimes, movements take time to integrate and you end up with that’s what it is for now, so that’s what it is. This time, we had more time to unpack and really see what’s there. We could see what was going to come out. We were able to let go of the structure and be ok with the fact that it didn’t quite fit all the time. Some things have shifted drastically and are still shifting…the show’s in two weeks! They need to stop shifting soon….(nervous laughter!)
AP: How would describe the show for someone that doesn’t see a lot of dance?
HS: I think that first thing I would say is that it is probably not what you think dance is. The word dance scares me sometimes because I think that it scares people. Then people expect you to do a bunch of high kicks and turns and they are not that in the show. It is movement based, but its more of an interdisciplinary rockstravaganza than a traditional dance show. It’s loud, its crazy, its in your face, its chaotic, its confusing at times, overwhelming at others, its all tongue in cheek and its not trying to be serious about anything. If you don’t understand that’s ok, because we don’t either half the time and we are the ones performing it.
AP: Are you working with Roger White?
HS: Yes, I am working with my husband Roger. He’s in a band called Dead Messenger for a number of years. Sometimes being a couple and working together is interesting and we’ve figured it out by now, we’re not divorced yet, so that’s good. I’m working with him, two guys in his band and another musician, so there’s a live band on stage playing really loud rock and roll. We try as much as possible to not divide the musicians and the dancers. I see them all as performers with the same level of input.
It’s interesting because dance is so different from theatre. I was thinking about that a lot. In theatre, there’s often a script, so there’s something that’s set before you go work with your performers. The person who wrote the script is often not the same person who directs the show. In dance, we often walk in with absolutely nothing and the person who is directing is also writing spontaneously. I end up implicating my performers a lot in the creation and lead from them. I was in the collective Solid State for 12 years so I am used to working collaboratively and I also accept that with the musicians. I am not a musician, so I can try to be really dictator-ey about what it is they do and when, but I don’t know what works for them sometimes.
I’ll come in and say something like, I need you to play “NUH NUH NUH NUH NUH NUUUUH NUH, plonk plonk plonk” and they will look at me like I’m crazy. I’ll say that I want you to play Walk the Line by Johnny Cash and Roger will say he doesn’t know it, and I’ll respond with that’s perfect, because I don’t want you to play play it… and he just looks it up on his phone. And I’m like, no… sounds too much like a song, I want you to play the idea of Walk the Line. We go back and forth and it works out in the end. A dance soundtrack isn’t necessarily a series of songs and that’s interesting too.
Come and see the result of this intense collaboration and rock-ethic inspired dance piece next week. It is not to be missed. Maybe bring earplugs, these artists are not known for pulling punches.
The Trouble with Reality + No Fun is being shown at Monument National (1182 St-Laurent) from September 17-19 at 19:30, September 20 at 16:00. Tickets are $23 or $19 for students, and there is a 3$ discount on a second ticket! Bring a friend! POP Montreal runs from September 16-20, and more info can be found HERE.