Gerard Reyes’ The Principle of Pleasure has all the makings of a spectacle at this year’s Toronto SummerWorks festival, with Reyes’ own body being the primary attraction against a backdrop of smoke, sound effects, and strobe lights. And, of course, the songs of Janet Jackson. It falls short on a few counts though and opens up questions of whether intimacy can indeed be forged in this context. It may be overstated to say that any rules and conventions are broken in this piece, for, while entertaining, I didn’t find The Principle of Pleasure to live up to all it said it would be.
The logistics of audience placement provides one of the main problems with this performance. At the very beginning of the show, the audience was invited to join Reyes on stage, and we eagerly shuffled around, keeping Reyes in focus as he provocatively and expertly danced before us, in an exquisite costume and with unbridled energy. However, we remained standing for the rest of the hour, and this performance turned into somewhat of an endurance piece as we had to constantly rearrange ourselves so our view of Reyes might not be obstructed by other audience members or the two large moving mirrors that made up the set.
Loud music doesn’t make up for lack of audience energy, and although there was some good-natured participation on the part of the audience, it just simply didn’t seem to work as a whole. The Principle of Pleasure claims to be a performance that “forges intimate connections”—but I was left wondering, what exactly is intimacy? Performing intimacy in a public space is the aspect of this performance that purports to be unconventional. However, the intimacy felt contrived because of the way we were made to hover around Reyes.
This performance is considered to be interactive, as Reyes would periodically choose audience members to dance with him. However, as much as it was interactive for some individuals at brief moments, it was hard to stay engaged overall, again, largely due to the use of the space. It felt like we were being herded around, with Reyes gesturing to another part of the stage for us to stand while he moved a mirror. The task of keeping up the energy seemed to fall on the audience, and frankly, by the end of it, I didn’t feel like dancing.
This performance is compelling in the way it purports to perform intimacy—but in all honesty, I had a hard time connecting with it, probably because of the awkward transitions and drawn out dance sequences. So, with that said, it is a piece that some others in the audience still seemed to enjoy, but I found to be lacking. Check it out for yourself, though; it may be the very thing to get you in a dancing mood before a night out!
The Principle of Pleasure is playing at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West.
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 1-13 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 7 shows.
Latecomers will be permitted to enter up until 10 minutes after the start of the event.
Audience Advisory: Nudity, optional audience participation, haze, lasers
Photo provided by the company.