Jacques Poulin-Denis

Last night, I attended the opening of two solo dance pieces at the Firehall Theatre: James, and Cible de Dieu. Both performers are critically acclaimed interdisciplinary artists: James Gnam of Vancouver-based plastic orchid factory and Jacques Poulin-Denis of Montreal’s Grand Poney. To prepare for a wintery December evening attending my first dance piece for review, I armed myself with an extra-large peppermint mocha.

James Gnam; photo by Chris Randle
[James Gnam; photo by Chris Randle]

A multi-layered extravaganza is exactly what I experienced at these two shows, fusions of expertly crafted story-telling, energetic dance, and sly humour – outright glorious theatre!

The first show, James, is perfect for this festive season. It was originally conceived as a duet with Gnam’s wife, Natalie. However, during a routine rehearsal, Natalie was injured. Gnam turned to dancer/choreographer Lee Su-Feh of battery opera as well as multi-talented Poulin-Denis to bring his character-driven solo into fruition.

In this 25-minute piece, Gnam recounts memories of his numerous performances of the Nutcracker Ballet. For over 27 years, Poulin-Denis has pirouetted in 300 Nutcracker shows, performing nearly every role, including Fitz, the Nutcracker boy, and the Cavalier.

Gnam embraces ballet as a way of life, just as worldwide audiences embrace the Nutcracker every Christmas. The piece is magnificently choreographed and exquisitely executed. Gnam’s tender storytelling manner and dry wit engages the audience, offering a glimpse at some unexpected facets of the traditional Nutcracker story. The memories he chooses to share are both charming and insightful into his character.

Gnam takes us through his rite-of-passage journey and concludes with a dramatic echo of an intense recollection of one of his final performances.

Cible de Dieu
[Cible de Dieu]

It was not until the conclusion of the second show, Cible de Dieu, that made me realize how James served as the perfect introductory companion for the evening, much like the blissful whipped cream atop my peppermint mocha. The light-hearted James is a playful juxtaposition to the slightly darker, more dramatic, but no less humorous Cible de Dieu. The plot is straightforward: Poulin-Denis is to present his latest dance creation to the audience.

The show begins as our hero enters the stage to explain his work. Everything appears normal, but almost immediately circumstances begin to unravel. It begins with a chair and soon everything goes wrong. Catastrophically wrong. At the heart of this polished piece is the literal translation of “break a leg”.

The pulsating electroacoustic score accompanying the dance sequences are also composed by Poulin-Denis. Watching him effortlessly transition from casual dialogue to vigorous dance, one cannot doubt the genius of this seasoned craftsman and his precise art.

One moment, the audience is bellowing in raucous laughter at the buffoonery of the performer who is trying to salvage his failing show; in the next, we are transported into an emotional storm inside the mind of a man exerting futile efforts to battle a dominant enemy. What will our hero do? This hot/cold contrast endures for a mesmerizing 50 minutes and consummates in a touchingly poignant moment.

Catch this sweet, potent, and lingering performance at the Firehall through December 7.

There will be an artist talkback following tonight’s performance.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

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