SCREAMING POPES choreographed by Marie-Josée Chartier, presented by Chartier Danse and FabrikCompany at Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander), tonight (Thursday, December 16) to December 19 at 8 pm. $20, stu/srs $17. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNNNN
Marie-Josée Chartier admits she can't shake her French Canadian Catholic guilt. "It's drilled into you," laughs the choreographer. "You're 10 and you go to bed at night praying about your sins, hoping that what you did that day was only a venal sin and not a mortal sin. That doesn't go away easily."
All the same, she's pretty sure there's nothing blasphemous about her latest show, Screaming Popes, opening tonight (Thursday, December 16) at Buddies in Bad Times.
"Insults don't interest me," she says. "The religious symbols and images are there, but they're not a priority. They set a context. I explore ritual and spirituality, but it's not an exposé on religion. It's more about faith."
The piece focuses on images of the Pope, head honcho of the RC Church.
"He's the ultimate power figure, don't you think? And his wardrobe is the ultimate uniform - think of the layers, the richness of the fabric, the colours."
Not that the work is a papal puff piece. Chartier's original inspiration came from Francis Bacon's disturbing series of paintings of popes.
"A lot of people think Bacon's work is grotesque, but I find it beautiful. Sure, some are quite violent-looking, but there's no compromise. I like how some of the subjects' faces are smudged, as if someone has passed their hands through them, and there are half body parts, animalistic faces. I like how they express tension in the body. If I were a painter, it feels like this is what would come out."
Chartier isn't a painter, but in recent works like Fifty Pieces Of Silver and Constantinople, she's gained a reputation for creating startling stage pictures.
"I'm not going to replicate Bacon's paintings, but there are moments in the piece when I'm using lighting and saturated colours to try to capture the feel of them. And with three male dancers/collaborators, I'm also playing with the idea of the triptych."
If the work is about anything, says Chartier, it's unveiling the men beneath the papal robes. Much of it is a deconstruction. What's beneath the layers?
"It's a continuation of my fascination with men that started with Red: The Men's Club," she says, referencing her acclaimed first full-length work from 1988.
Screaming Popes' three male dancers - Danny Wild, Michael Sean Marye and Sven Till - added personal details to the piece, as did live musician/composer Alex Nowitz. Was it hard for the men to open up to a woman?
"It took a while for them to talk about some things," says Chartier carefully, not wanting to ruin any of the surprises in store for the audience.
"There's a moment where we were trying to find the right way to show three men in a room sitting comfortably together without necessarily having any specific dynamic between them. Women can talk and be quite close to each other physically, but men can't. That was revealing."