Kiss & Cry
By Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael
A Charleroi Danses production presented by Canadian Stage
Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto
February 4 to 7, 2016
Toward the end of the magical 90 minutes of Kiss & Cry we learn the source of the title. It’s the name given by figure skaters to the bench behind the ice where anxious couples await their scores in international competition. The reference from Thomas Gunzig’s text for this highly innovative performance evokes the pictorial, musical and choreographic themes of Michèle Anne De Mey’s multi-media show – not to mention its happy-sad, profound-cheesy, tragic-melodramatic tone.
Kiss & Cry is like a visit to a movie set, a night at the cabaret and a live dance performance all rolled into one mezmerizing experience. Gisele, an elderly woman (represented as a tiny plastic figure) sitting on a bench at a train station, reflects on her lost loves. Her swirl of memories, from lover number one to lover number five, is danced by the agile fingers of De Mey and Grégory Grosjean as a crew of seven moves about to set up scenes, light them and shoot live video projected on the wide screen above. From the audience we take it all in, both the production-in-progress and the screen projection animated by a soundtrack ranging from classical lieder to schmaltzy pop songs, such as “Autumn Leaves,” to techno buzz.
The mystery is that there is so much mystery surrounding a production that reverses the usual behind-the-scenes action to put it in the foreground. Gradually it becomes clear that those seven people manoeuvering underneath the lighting armature between the dolly track, the tables and toy train sets are as much the performers as De Mey and Grosjean.
Kiss & Cry trades in metaphor, the toy trains providing the requisite imagery of romance, the use of sand going down a shoot or shifting with the tides accompanying the narrative of memories lost or regained, tormented or blissful.
Director Jaco Van Dormael, De Mey’s spouse and artistic collaborator, brings a film director’s eye and a clown performer’s whimsy to the show. And it’s not just in her expressive finger movements that De Mey reveals her dance pedigree. (A graduate of Maurice Béjart’s Brussels dance school Mudra, she began choreographing in the early 80s and worked with Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker for six years, notably on De Keersmaeker’s renowned Rosas danst Rosas.) She is a beautiful mover and paired, literally hand-in-glove, perfectly with Grosjean.
There’s a hilarious scene done with fingers moving in mirrored sync that recalls Momix and manages to mimic a figure clutching his genitals. Four-fingered pas de deux shift from the sublime to the obscene with the flip of a digit – or the removal of a glove finger. Some gorgeous scenes of tiny figures in snow – so obviously shot by on-set camerawoman Aurèlie Leporcq – are nevertheless transporting. And as for the reveal of a man making the shape of a sand dune, one is still baffled as to how it could have been pulled off before our watchful gaze.
Gunzig’s voice-over narrative careens easily from the poetic to the banal, providing as much fake poignancy as truly moving moments. “Love evaporates like water,” it goes, or “memory was a lover who never deceived,” or “love affairs are like cheese graters – great for cheese, but not much else.”
And that’s not all: Kiss & Cry is the set-up for next week’s North American premiere of the collective’s Cold Blood, a co-production with Canadian Stage. It would be useless to speculate on their next move.