FREE FALL A national festival of experimental performance (Theatre Centre). Opens today (January 26) and runs through February 5 at the Theatre Centre (1086 Queen West), Lennox Gallery (12 Ossington), Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West) and YYZ Artists' Outlet (401 Richmond West). Pwyc- $20, festival pass $40. 416-538-0988, www.theatrecentre.org. Rating: NNNNN
Franco Boni likes to push creators to break out of the comfortable artistic box.
As artistic director at the Theatre Centre, he co-organizes the Free Fall festival of experimental performance, held every two years. It features seven companies from across Canada.
"Local viewers need exposure to groups from outside Toronto," he says. "That's why we've included emergency exit and Red, an evening of live multidisciplinary performance organized by Lisa Pijuan-Nomura, along with visiting troupes such as Quebec City's Les Productions Recto-Verso and Vancouver's Boca del Lupo."
About 18 months ago Boni, David Duclos, bluemouth inc.'s Stephen O'Connell and Pijuan-Nomura sat down to plan the current festival. They came up with a wish list of more companies than they were able to invite.
"Recto-Verso was always on the list," he recalls. "They're the grandparent company of interdisciplinary performance in Canada, and ironically they've only been in Toronto once before, touring a piece called Machine-E. Their current work, Fragments 2, is one they've created themselves."
Fragments 2 goes beyond traditional performance. It's based on Samuel Beckett's That Time, a series of memory monologues for an old man, delivered in voice-over while we watch the seemingly silent speaker. The Quebec company combines it with sound score and imagery and has the 82-year-old Gabriel Gascon playing the role.
Audiences might have seen That Time at the Theatre Centre last year. Boni hopes director Jennifer Tarver and performer David Jansen, from that production, will give a pre-show talk about their experiences staging it.
Halifax's 2b Theatre brings Revisited, which Boni describes as the deconstruction of a classic American play. The audience sits at a large dining table with the actors, who play people living in a small town, and there's no clear division between performers and viewers.
"Like many of the productions in Free Fall, Revisited is about community, about communal experience, about communion," notes Boni. "There's something religious about that sort of sharing, with the audience brought into the world of the creation.
Torontonian Katie Kehoe's Haircut involves the audience in a piece about a barber and his customer. And Attack #12, by Montreal's Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable (ATSA), is part installation and part active creation, with artists and audience ticketing SUVs on a walk from the Theatre Centre to YYZ Gallery.
You might have caught ATSA's Toronto visit last June, when they installed a burnt-out SUV in Dundas Square and began some fascinating discussions about car culture and the connection between over-dependency on oil products and war.
Also worth checking out are Boca del Lupo's The Perfectionist, a physical theatre piece in which a couple try "to hurdle their own impossibly high standards," and, just for fun, a presentation of the silent classic The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, with live music by Melodeon.
A highlight of the Toronto component will be emergency exit's trilogie, combining three works they've previously presented singly. Using strict rules inspired by the Dogme 95 principles of filmmaking, writer/performers Sean MacMahon and Kevin Rees-Cummings create fluid, provocative, audience-involving dialogues. For trilogie, in fact, interviews with viewers are part of the production.
Add a conference of Performance Creation Canada (February 2-5), tackling the question Where Are The Artists?, and theatregoers looking for new-style performance will have very full plates. As well, Buddies in Bad Times' Rhubarb! Festival opens Wednesday (February 1) and runs concurrently with Free Fall.
"I feel that audiences want to participate, to communicate," says Boni. "Artists, of course, need to communicate as part of what they do. What's missing is the link for conversation, and a festival like Free Fall provides it."