Fresh from the premiere of his 3D film at ReFrame Film Festival in January, Peterborough choreographer and dancer Bill Coleman is now touring his most recent live production. Dollhouse, produced by Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie, is a multidisciplinary performance piece of about 60 minutes. It features a performance by Coleman, sound and effects by Gordan Monahan, costumes by Edward Poitras, sets by David Gaugher, and lighting by Pierre Lavoie.
Dollhouse premiered on April 2nd at Market Hall. Public Energy promoted the event. Bill Kimball, the artistic producer of Public Energy, described the piece as a “gentl[e] remind[er] that living can be painfully funny.”
A dollhouse is a thing to be played with. Dollhouse, the performance piece, must indicate a site of play. The musical accompaniment by Monahan and lighting by Lavoie emphasizes a sense of play as well. Monahan toys with water and sound throughout the performance; Lavoie drops then dangles a spotlight during the climax of Coleman’s tantrum. Dollhouse is a multi-sensory engagement.
Dollhouse is more than laughs. Of course we may think of Charlie Chaplin or Mr. Bean as Coleman peels off his costume filled with broken plastic, knocks over a table with objects atop it, pulls down a ladder filled with crockery, sticks himself to black tiles, or tap dances through mousetraps. After the funny opening number and the second number, however, Dollhouse becomes more serious in tone.
The press package for Dollhouse invokes the artist Antonin Artaud as an influence on the performance. Indeed, it is Artaud’s emphasis on spectacle, musical instruments as part of the set, and above all cruelty that we see in Coleman’s piece.
“In the practice of cruelty there is a kind of higher determinism, to which the execution-tormenter himself is subjected and which he must be determined to endure when the time comes. Cruelty is above all lucid, a kind of rigid control and submission to necessity. There is no cruelty without consciousness and without the application of consciousness,” writes Artaud.
Coleman is the choreographer-performer-executioner-tormentor. He exhibits rigid control throughout the performance: as he painstakingly moves from one side of the floor to the other while wearing a coat of long arrows, as he throws a tantrum in the midst of dangling crockery and dripping water, and as he breaks free of the plastic ensconced in his overcoat, shirt, and pants.
The choreography allows for the objects themselves to spontaneously erupt and interfere with man. There is also Coleman’s consciousness – a consciousness that has placed itself in a set with inert, yet quite dangerous things. Dollhouse is an experiment in causal relations.
Coleman explores kineticism. In his slow, tortured movements, we may feel kinetic empathy. The piece, above all, sets out to make us feel the performer, not feel for him in his absurd plight with dangerous objects, but feel his body as a force that can act and be acted upon. This is perhaps why Coleman strips in the first number – he rides himself of the plastic shards to be sure, but we also see his thin and pale form.
The subtitle of the performance is A Cataclysmic Glimpse of a Man Out of Sync with his Surroundings. Artaud too believed that the theatre should capture the chaos and disharmony of modern times. Surely Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie have captured the spirit of Artaud.
Dollhouse can be seen in Kitchener and Toronto later in the year.