On September 13th, as part of the Quartiers Danses Festival, I attended a contemporary dance show called Je Marche À Côté at Place-des-Arts. The poignant choreographic trilogy, conceived by Jane Mappin in collaboration with dancer Daniel Firth, revolves around the theme of mental health. Proceeds from the show benefited the Douglas Mental Health University Institute Foundation.
Douglas representative, Suzanne Bélanger, gave a short speech before the show commenced. She began her speech by stating, “Mental illness does not discriminate.” Bélanger spoke about mental illness affecting people of all ages, all ethnicities and all social classes. She also emphasized the fact that a few people within your family and/or friend circles have most likely had a mental illness, are dealing with it or may deal with one in the future.
The first choreography, entitled “Lewis et Lucie”, features a minimalist design with two spotlights and a single bench. Firth portrays a solitary man on the fringes of society who sits alone on the bench every day. A passerby, portrayed by Mappin, takes in the man’s story and tries to serve as a comforting force. Despite this, one feels a sense of the man’s crushing loneliness as he is shown holding back tears and trying to silence himself. The message I discerned from this scene is that the mentally ill people often struggle in silence and suffer alone because of the stigma still attached to their illness. The evocative line “Je marche à côté de moi”, from the poem Accompagnement by Saint- Denys Garneau, repeats itself over and over again towards the end of the piece.
The second work, “A Different Code”, features vibrant strobe lights and begins with Mappin and Firth standing in two separate spotlights. The dancers create motions with their bodies reminiscent of wound-up toy soldiers. They repeat the same motions over and over again, until their movements become sluggish and audience members feel that the two figures have lost their conception of normality. The background music, which features mechanical sounds and radio frequencies, contributes to the feeling of humanity lost and the artificiality that both figures are enclosed under. They seem to be putting on a mask for other people to see, as they hauntingly repeat movements, with no break in between.
The final part, called “Ils m’ont dit”, is beautiful in its simplicity. It brings audience members into the innermost workings of a mentally ill person’s mind and is more introspective than the first two acts. Mappin and Firth move away from one another throughout the piece but always join up once again to comfort each other. This act truly highlights the human dignity inherent within those suffering from poor mental health, despite the immense hardship they face.
The performance was one that I will not soon forget – the choreography and staging were superb and the message was enlightening. The most amazing aspect of the show is that it will inevitably bring about different interpretations for each person who attends it. If the production sounds like one you would be interested in seeing, there are two performances coming up at the end of the month of October, on the 25th and 26th at the Théâtre Rouge du Conservatoire. Grab your tickets while there’s still some left!