Review: Babel-o-drome (Collectif BUS 1.2.3.)

On stage in Toronto, an interactive outdoor experience, free this Canada Day weekend

Babel-o-drome, a multi-media performance created by Collectif BUS 1.2.3. in collaboration with The Element Choir, is being performed outdoors at Wychwood Barns Park from until July 1 2018.

Babel-o-drome is a series of loosely connected scenes and skits that make use of various technology and media. Each part takes place in a different area of the park, and the performers usher the audience from place to place. Be prepared for a lot of standing.

The scenes of Babel-o-drome don’t involve any conventional characters or stories, and the audience never get an explicit explanation for what they are seeing. They are led through a string of unexpected events, games, and performances.

Babel-o-drome is loosely about our relationship with technology and language. Each scene works to incorporate technology and language games. The piece touches on the mass mentality of social media, as well as the challenge of communicating across languages.

Whenever these themes appeared, I always felt like I was observing them from a distance. The choral scene of people in an airport trying to communicate in different languages appeared as natural and external as the changing of the seasons.

The performances of the Element Choir — conducted by Christine Duncan — is a centrepiece of Babel-o-drome. Rather than performing songs, this choir creates synchronized sounds and rhythms under the direction of the conductor.

Some segments of Babel-o-drome are just performances by the choir. During others, they accompany the main performers from the background. They also function as mediators between the audience and the performance, talking directly to us and ushering us between each section.

The choir’s performances are masterful. It is extremely engaging to watch how Duncan directs the choir and occasionally the audience — cuing rhythms, notes, attacks, and pauses with her whole body. The vocalists pay incredible attention to both each other and the surrounding environment, which is vital for an outdoor performance.

The scenes of Babel-o-drone vary a lot. One includes projections and live music, and another has audiences interact with morse code machines. The main similarity between these various moments is the musicality of the performance.

The piece as a whole feels like a music performance. Many of the performers dance, sing, and play instruments with the choir. Many of the interactive installations have their own rhythms, again synchronized with the choir. The sounds of the park also blend with the soundscape of the choir and the performance.

Audience interaction is a key component in many parts of Babel-o-drome. At some moments, we were given simple instructions to help add to the sound of the space. However, I felt that we were usually left to follow those instructions with little support. I noticed a few audience members weren’t comfortable with this environment.

At the same time, I also felt that there weren’t enough opportunities for the audience to participate in the performance. The cues we did get for taking part were exciting and I wanted this element to be more significant. Instead, we mostly took the role of spectators.

I found Babel-o-drome to be exciting in a way that traditional amphitheatre performances usually aren’t. The energy was looser and livelier. I saw the faces and reactions of other audience members. We were together in a way we wouldn’t be if everyone was facing a stage.

Babel-o-drome is an intriguing piece for its sheer novelty and strangeness. I can imagine why someone disinterested in abstract performance would feel lost and bored in this environment. Still, the event is so unusual that you are likely to get something out of it.

If you do go to see Babel-o-drome, definitely go with friends.

Details:

  • Babel-o-drome is playing at at Wychwood Barns Park until July 1st, 2018 at (601 Christie Street)
  • Show runs Friday to Sunday at 9pm
  • Performances are free to attend.
  • Remaining performances are June 30 and July 1 at 9:00 pm.
  • Audience Advisory: Performance continues in all weather, extensive standing and walking involved.

Photo of rehearsal by Marc Lemyre

5 thoughts on “Review: Babel-o-drome (Collectif BUS 1.2.3.)”

  1. Hi, I’m a member and coordinator of the collectifbus123 presenting the piece. I find the review flat-footed – no imagination or skill in describing some of the magical moments of the piece.

    The reviewer is more interested in his own impressions and discomfort (“a lot of standing”). Should try a little harder to actually share the monents than just saying there’s a bunch of video, dancing and performing! What a disappointment!

    The choir is well represented and I’m happy for that! and the last paragraphs intimate that there’s a lot more to the show than was described in the article. But, in future, please try harder!

  2. Hi Dominique,

    Mooney on Theatre is centred around an appreciation for diverse perspectives and strives to provide experiential reviews. We ask our writers to talk about their experience and feelings going to a performance. That’s because we believe an audience member’s whole experience while at the show (and in life) impacts how they see a performance.

    The editors feel Uri’s review is a forthright and fair description of his reactions to the piece. We also think it is reasonable that the review comments on his comfort level as an audience member: in fact, for the sake of making theatre friendlier to individuals with disabilities, we encourage our writers to include proportionate and fair commentary in cases where audience members are asked to do more than sit and watch.

    Thank you for taking the time to provide feedback.

    The Mooney on Theatre Editorial Team

    1. Hello, thank you for your response. While I understand that you want to make theatre more accessible literally and figuratively to your readers, I feel that concentrating on one person’s experience of the show (ie the reviewer’s) is limiting. It seems to be more about the reviewer’s feelings than the show itself.

      I’m not asking for an objective review. That’s not the point. Factual, yes… and representative of the show. That’s where I think the review falls short. There were some better, more descriptive comments on Twitter. They didn’t just say there were video and dance performers. They invited the reader in and gave glimpses of what made the show “intriguing” (as your own reviewer put it but was unable to express).

      I think that a piece full of humour, fantasy and visual and aural poetry should be reflected in the article. I still maintain the writing was flat-footed and lacked imagination. Sorry!

      1. If there’s anything that discouraged me from seeing your show, it’s not this review, it’s your disappointing attitude in these comments. A reviewer’s job is to give their honest impressions in their own fashion, and it is not, nor should it be, an artist’s prerogative to micro-manage and edit their own reviews. This defeats the purpose. I will be avoiding shows from this collective in the future if this is how they respond to (positive?!) reviews. I humbly suggest you try harder to be gracious and accept that an artist cannot control how others interpret, discuss or remember their work in the future.

        1. Hello David, a review is a public work as well and can be discussed and interpreted as such. I’m not trying to control what the reviewer is saying but I can suggest it be better said with more skill, imagination and eloquence. I don’t think a review should be a series of impressions. It should also try to accurately reflect the work, the tone of the piece and its main features.

Leave a Reply