PORTRAIT OF A CITY: PART THREE
INTERSECTION PROJECT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, AND THE END OF A JOURNEY…
So, here I am. Leaving Toronto today. Writing this last short text from our favorite coffee shop, right next to our house. I will be back in June for our last Intersection Project Performance, the 10th of a series of…10! Amazing.
Ten performances, then locations, then months. And many great encounters. Do I feel like I know the city better now? Of course I do. And not only in terms of its architecture and neighborhoods. I feel that, through Intersection Project, I got to understand better the interaction people have with art and performance in general in Toronto, to understand the nature of the city through the lens of our project, and to juxtapose myself to how people live here.
When Kate and I decided to organize these monthly performances, the two of us had different hopes and expectations for the project, but one thing was sure: we both wanted to put art in public spaces and share it with unexpected audiences. “Sharing” might be the strongest and the best word to express what we were after. Along with our friend Jolyane who became our third collaborator, helping us with the logistic of this complex project, we discussed for several hours what direction the project should take.
Public spaces barely exist nowadays. We faced the reality and challenge of being a group of dancers in spaces that we thought were public, but that in the end were spaces “reserved” for someone else, for something else, or well, not for us, dancing. The idea that everything and every space belong to someone now, in the cities, often comes up and scares me.
When performing downtown Toronto with our Intersection artists, I always felt we were doing something important and relevant. However, when you look at it, we simply perform pedestrian movement scores in large group, nothing happens before, nothing happens after, we don’t advertise it, we don’t make it a spectacle, we don’t make it fancy and flashing: it happens and disappears. Of course we do gather after every performance and invite people to join us to discuss and share thoughts, and we do document the performances and post videos and photos of it. But nothing drastic happens because of it. So why do I feel this is so important? Is there any direct outcome from what we are doing?
I think it is important because it makes a difference for “me”. And that is the beginning of everything.
I am now in the train station, waiting for the 5 O’clock train. Yes, I am bringing you through my last travelling back to Montreal. Cheesy, I agree. But how exciting hmm??
When I perform with Intersection Project, I feel extremely powerful. It is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever got out of a performance I am involved in. I feel powerful because I feel free. Free of what? Of regulations, perhaps. It gives me the feeling that I am not too small for my city, that I do have power over what happens in it and how. I feel I am someone in the city, and that I can decide for myself how I want to live in this city. It is a feeling I rarely have the rest of the time. It seems to me the city is so big and overwhelming, I always am depending on everything in it. I am not the one making decisions.
But when I am there, lying on concrete blocs in the middle of the street next to St-Lawrence market with my fellow Intersection Project performers, I feel free. Nobody forces me to be there and do this. I don’t even get paid for all that work (including admin stuff before and after the performance). Being there is a statement, it says the city belongs to me, too. Not only to business people, not only to Rob Ford, not only to the organizers of the G20. The city belongs to me too, because I live in it. It is where I am everyday.
When I am there, running up the stairs at the CN Tower before crashing onto the cold ground with 15 other people, I feel free. Because I am part of the larger landscape and it seems to me I am providing the people watching with a glimpse of what we can do with our city, if we want to. It happened often that people came to us to say they liked watching the performance because it reminds them of this or that… that in itself sounds enough for me to justify doing it.
When I am there, improvising pirouettes at Queen’s Park’s intersection, creating traffic because cars are slowing down and drivers try to see what is happening with us, 20 performers swaying from side to side and turning all around, I feel that is might be enough, just to be there and state our presence in the city.
And last month, performing with 8 courageous dancers under pouring rain at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue Road, thinking it is pretty amazing that we are performing despite the rain. It is a statement too: people question what we are doing most of the time, because our performance does not belong to their everyday life. But when we do it under the rain, it brings up the level of questioning to a higher degree! And perhaps make them question our mental health too… well....!
In the last few months, I spent a lot of time with a group of people who call themselves “The French Connection”. They are friends of mine, and I have to admit I am totally part of this French Connection thing, as a French person myself. But what does it mean to be French in Toronto? It is a real cultural chock, even though Montreal and Toronto are in the same country. Different ways of behaving, different views on things, in general.
The reason for mentioning these friends here is because they have been one major element of Intersection Project. First, let’s mention Claudia, who is actually our third wife, our third roommate. She moved in with Kate and I last September and she got to experience Intersection Project from the inside. As a wonderful filmmaker, she would step in for videotaping Intersection’s performances every time we needed a videographer, and that meant half of the time! She did a beautiful job with images every time she came to document to work, but she also became an important component of the project through her numerous participation. We owe her a lot for her hard work, videotaping in the cold, at night for Rhubarb, and in all sorts of challenging situations!
In September, for the first performance of the year, two French friends from Montreal were in Toronto to videotape the performance and help up with the logistic of the project. For the St-Lawrence market’s performance in December, the French Connection came to see the performance. Our friend Thomas wrote a short response to the work that we posted on the Blog, explaining how he felt about such public performances, and what it meant for him as someone who is not used to participate in that kind of event. Then in February, as we performed for The Rhubarb Festival, The French Connection not only came to see the performance, but even joined the group of dancers and travelled with us in the streets of Toronto, picking up on the movement score as they could! At the closing night performance of Rhubarb, our friend Yoan who is French too but from France, made himself available to videotape the performance. Later in April, another group of French friends from Montreal came to the city and participated in the rainy day performance at Bloor and Avenue, taking on the roles of videographer and photographer for the occasion.
So by mentioning that, I don’t mean that French people are nicer than anyone else. I rather want to highlight how Intersection Project became a way to encounter the city for many of our friends coming from outside Ontario, as well as a way to gather together people from different places. Local artists taking part in the project, encountering artists from outside the city. I think it is an important aspect of Intersection Project, how it became a window to the city, an original way to envision Toronto’s neighborhoods for many foreigners among us and to meet people.
We must mention here the amazing participation of a group of Hamilton dancers, coming invariably every month to perform with us, in our city, through the urban architecture of the city. I always thought it was nice and interesting to notice that the core of our performers, the one that were there every single month came from outside the actual city of Toronto!
I think Intersection Project, among many things, became not only an encounter with art for people walking by, as we first envisioned it, but also and mostly an encounter with the city. As we performed the project from month to month, the importance of the locations we chose and the significance of the way we would invest these locations was increasing. In my souvenir, Kate and I were mostly interested in the community aspect of the project (many artists gathering every month for a common goal they have) as well as the importance of reinforcing the artists’ presence in the city (putting art in visible spaces, outside theatres). It ended up, at least for me, that our main statement was a different one, something like “The city belongs to us”, by physically putting ourselves in these urban architectures. Maybe the real nature of Intersection is a mixture of all of theses ideas.
Now, it is 5pm and I am on the train, heading to Montreal for real. But I’ll be back in June, for one more Intersection Project performance. And I am not worried anymore about the weather or anything like that, I am not concerned about getting funding for the project or not, or about getting enough performers or not. It seems clear to me now what this whole journey is about. Intersection Project is about being there, being present in the moment in a specific location, and deciding for myself what it means to be there and to do what I do.
To feel free, in my city, for a few minutes at least.
We better take all opportunities we have to feel free and powerful, don’t you think?