By Adam Collier
Perhaps unsurprisingly on a chilly spring evening, Harbourfront Centre seemed abandoned.
The sense of desertion was a bit unsettling to me. And might have rubbed off on my mood, before Mrtvolka let in.
Before the performance began – as I found a seat – the soundscape of gently falling water inside the theatre enhanced my unease.
It was odd to be in a room with, I’d guess fifty people, and feel like I had entered seclusion. At least, that’s the association that came to mind: a creek in the middle of nowhere.
Mrtvolka started off with video projections on three walls of, what looked like, giant prunes hanging in a tree. They were actually bats.
A bat-like figure burst-out from the projection onstage, and ensnared a nearby actor.
As time moved on, the projections switched-up. Despite the changes, I didn’t pick-up on a narrative or any momentum behind the choreographic work onstage. The projections included repeated clips of eyeballs swiveling their pupils, and a body, flat on its back, floating in space.
In addition, there were two women on stage, reading a poem titled Crossing The Light.
“Reading” is sort of an understatement. But I’m honestly not sure if there’s a verb appropriate to the unusual manipulation of the sounds of the words in the poem.
As Crossing The Light oozed and bubbled into the soundscape, its text incomprehensible to me, I was reminded of a character called “Viola Swamp.”
Viola Swamp was a witch that my elementary school librarian invented to scare us at Halloween.
The memory is a great one, don’t get me wrong, Viola Swamp was a playful, novel character, a spectacle designed for children that was very successful. But hearing that spooky way of forming words now, and watching projections that seemed inspired by New Age philosophy and psychedelic-type experiences, made me wonder what was going on.
Was I not taking the work seriously enough, and that’s why I didn’t “get” it? Or was this something of a joke, and the performers weren’t taking the audience seriously?
Especially as the performance crested over the half-hour mark without resolving into anything that impacted me emotionally or intellectually, I felt frustrated.
There’s a meaningful distinction I think, between a show that makes an audience think because it offers an original perspective on an experience or idea, and one that makes an audience think because the perspective isn’t clear, the experience is hard to identify or its ideas are not fully formed.
For me, Mrtvolka was thought provoking for the second reasons.
After the show, which recieved a rousing applause, there was, what felt like, a fifteen or twenty-second silence as the performers stood, anticipating questions. In that time, the two people behind me left. One said, “this should be reported as a crime against art.”
Finally, one of the creators, Penn Kemp, broke the silence. “I know there are friends in the audience” she said, “so …”
The feedback offered proof that some members of the audience had been stirred into thoughts far more productive than my own. So I guess, I was amongst the minority of those in the audience that was left feeling agitated by their own lack of comprehension.
The annual HATCH Festival consists of performances by artists who participate in a mentorship program run by Harbourfront Centre. Most pieces only have one performance, and the 2011 Festival is over. But look for what HATCH has to offer in 2012.