A Spoon Full of Sugar: Tammy Forsythe's "Golpe" at Festival Transameriques in Montreal


Tusketdance at Festival Transameriques

Choreography by Tammy Forsythe

Performed by Jon Ascenio, Tammy Forsythe, Terence McGee, Gelymar Sanchez, and Sioned Watkins

L’Agora de la Danse, Montreal, June 7-9, 2010


Reviewed by Beverley Daurio, <evidanceradio.com>


Tammy Forsythe’s “Golpe” (golpe is Spanish for a clash, blow, or coup d’etat) is the most puzzling and strangely ambiguous show I saw in Montreal’s Festival Transameriques this year.

Odd and puzzling because, politically, at least in terms of the issues that Forsythe appears to raise in “Golpe,” I agree with her. Her verbal targets include warring actions by the Bush administration, the International Monetary Fund (the chorus of a rousing punk song shouts “IMF!, IMF!”), British Petroleum, and the colonial oppression of and theft from countries in Africa. A stinging quote, repeated like a mantra throughout the piece, “They said the fog would lift soon, and things would change,” is philosophical, and heartwrenching.

The audience enters to a video projected at the back, of people in the street, dancing and playing music near vast walls covered in political graffiti. This, and the other videos, provide a strong and eerie sense of the piece’s presence continuing both before and after its formal performance incarnation.

The stage before us is strewn with what look like possibilities for adventure, or areas for action, like rooms in a metaphysical political house. There is a drum kit, recording and other sound equipment to the sides, and a desk with intriguing notebooks and whatnot at the front. Double-decker screens for showing videos command the back of the stage, while the floor holds a harvest of three long red and white striped carpets (that resonate with celebrity entrance and fashion runways, or perhaps are more like truncated American flags, with stripes but no stars); hanging on strings are several Anarchy signs (capital “A”s surrounded by circles) made of colourful fabric and stuffed like thin cushions.

This array feels very promising; playfully delicious, even; and when the performers (three women dancer/singer/speakers, and two men who attend to the drums and sound equipment) begin to populate and animate the space, with a strong combination of easy walking and synchronized casual dance movement, they expose deep intention in the sharp music and polarized black and white of the video looming from high up on the back wall. These videos of dancers and musicians in vague, murky behaviour, have the effect of dwarfing the audience. It is as if we are being dominated.

This interplay of fascistic elements, criticism of capitalist government, punk music and movement, and a strong ludic sense is at times disarming, at others unsettling. Are the dancers confronting the audience around issues that we all, citizens in a democratic society, need to pay attention to? Or are we being accused of something, as the dancers stare at us while dragging or carrying “Anarchy” sign cushions around the stage, or open fake machine black guns inside which there are blank pages on which places and dates from oppressive histories can be written? The highly effective (these mysterious gun and other objects that are “really” books and not weapons) mixes with the questionable—45 minutes into the show, though the curtains at the back of the stage have opened to show those truncated American flag runway carpets attached to the back and up the wall, and most of the array of props have been pressed into use, a kind of ennui sets in. What occurs on stage seems to simply continue, rather than elucidate a narrative shape. And this flatness seems to remove hope, rather than offering optimism or solutions. Which raises the question: is this intended as anarchic dance and performance? If so, does anarchy work as an aesthetic in this piece?

The performances are impressive, the performers highly expressive of face and body, and engaging; the feeling throughout the piece is of professionalism and deep consideration behind every element, whether of movement, music, text (where repetitions become more and more evocative and haunting) or video. The women’s costumes, long workaday aprons over plain t-shirts and pants, contribute to the visual sense of purposefulness, and the lighting was unobtrusive and proficient at directing our attention appropriately.

It may be that “Golpe” asks us to examine received ideas, to break down societal messages and consider them afresh. A difficulty with the piece is that it seems to reinforce the distance between audience and performers. Though alienation has been an  acknowledged technique in political theatre since at least Brecht, its purpose here felt unclear. Especially if aiming toward deep analysis of capitalist structures, the performers telling us at the end of the piece that they had CDs for sale in the lobby, to “Support our art,” felt further straining. Introspection? Or indulgence? Perhaps that is the question Forsythe wants us all to ask ourselves.

Forsythe’s program notes include a quote from Harry Belafonte about the immense power of art to induce change, and her statement that she seeks “vibration and rhythm, a pulsation beyond appearances and propaganda.” With its commanding elements, it may be that “Golpe” is an important experiment in Tusketdance’s progressive evolution toward these ideals.


Reviewed by Beverley Daurio, <evidanceradio.com>