In 2015, a Radio-Canada morning radio show ran an interview related to the Swiss Leaks, a then-recent series of revelations about how HSBC bank had used its Swiss subsidiary to conceal deposits by suspected drug dealers and gun-runners. Alain Deneault, a sociologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, quickly turned the focus of the interview to the extensive tax-haven system created for the rich by Canadian banks, which salt away untaxed billions in places such as Barbados. Governments tell us we’re spending too much on education and health care, Mr. Deneault said, but the real problem is that they lose too much revenue through tax havens.
That interview reached the ears of Marc Béland and Alix Dufresne, who decided to create a dance theatre piece to “intensify” Mr. Deneault’s impassioned account of how rich Canadians and corporations benefit from government spending and subsidies, while paying little or no tax. The pair’s one-hour creation is called Hidden Paradise, and its opening performance on Saturday at Montreal’s Festival TransAmeriques was a fierce and tragicomic tour de force.
Mr. Béland made his name in the 1980s as a key member of the renowned Montreal dance troupe, La La La Human Steps. Ms. Dufresne is a recent graduate of the directing program at the National Theatre School. The pair toiled for three years on Hidden Paradise, searching for ways “to inhabit the text, to embody it and get it moving,” as Ms. Dufresne says in a program note.
Hidden Paradise, which played Montreal’s La Chapelle theatre and the Belgian NEXT Festival in 2018, is part of an increasing repertoire of Montreal stage works that tackle big social issues in quasi-documentary fashion. Porte Parole, a company led by Annabel Soutar, has produced “verbatim” theatre pieces about GMOs, threats to fresh water and a fatal police shooting in North Montreal. Christine Beaulieu’s J’aime Hydro, a personal account of the actor’s attempts to understand Hydro-Québec’s place in the province’s political and economic life, became a hit play that toured all over Quebec.
Radio-Canada’s recorded interview with Mr. Denault was played in full, with English subtitles, at the beginning of Hidden Paradise. Then, the two players recited both sides of the interview verbatim, while executing a slow series of reciprocal movements that were sometimes hilariously incongruous with what they were saying.
They faced front and again recited the interview, this time at maximum speed, articulating every syllable while looking as if they were about to run at the audience. Mr. Béland became almost convulsive as he spewed out his text, speed becoming indistinguishable from fury.
Then he sprawled on his back, and lay without speaking while Ms. Dufresne stood over him with a microphone, asking each of the interviewer’s questions and waiting in vain for replies. “Has the time finally come?” she asked, while Mr. Béland went on embodying the mute helplessness many of us feel when confronted with big social problems.
There was no text for the next part, in which the performers skipped in a circle, spinning and leaping clownishly. Their romping dance of the tax havens satirized the happy connivance of banks and corporations, or of the wealthy and government.
Ms. Dufresne then lip-synched the words of interviewer Marie-France Bazzo, while Mr. Béland, now shirtless, moved his belly and torso as if producing Mr. Deneault’s replies, without actually saying them. His movements became more exaggerated, like those of a marionette. He turned glassy-eyed and twisted over awkwardly, till he lay twitching on the floor. The tape slowed and the voice broke down into granular electronic sounds. It was as if we were watching the breakdown of a body, of communication itself or of a system whose flaws are seemingly beyond fixing.
In a scrap of recorded text, not included in the interview, Mr. Deneault’s voice was heard saying that individuals will only be moved to react to the coming climatic and economic crises when we feel the pain “in our flesh.”
Ms. Dufresne, lip-synching Ms. Bazzo’s closing words in extreme slow motion, walked to the front, coming to a wide-mouthed halt as the soundtrack stalled into a terrifying banshee wail. Then she danced a furious solo to a loud, abrasive soundtrack apparently created by further distorting Mr. Deneault’s voice.
The piece ended with the two performers partially rolling up the floor mat on which they had been dancing, then climbing inside and rolling some more, as the soundtrack thinned to something like the whine of an airplane engine. Were they two people escaping from unpleasant truths, or the personification of social democracy, curling up in its own shroud?
Hidden Paradise continues at Montreal’s Monument-National through Tuesday.
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