Stages of Being

Vices et Vertus takes designers' work off the stage and into the art gallery.

Vices et Vertus
at the Centre Industriel St. Ferdinand, 3rd floor, until November 24, 1991

by Jack Ruttan

The boundaries dividing the performing and visual arts are so blurred these days, it's getting difficult to decide what kind of critic to send to which event. Case in point: Vices et Vertus, presented by a theatre group, Productions Bourrées de Complexes ["Burn down the Complexes Productions," I think -J.]. It started the evening as a theatre piece and ended up as an art exhibit. Unfortunately, the performance part of it ran only on the opening night. It's gone, the only record being a jumpy videotape playing in the foyer and these few words from your humble critic. The art exhibition is hanging on a bit longer.

Briefly, Vices et Vertus takes the work of 10 mainly young or emerging scenic designers and presents it as art. Each designer was invited to create a theatrical costume purely as a work of personal imagination and art. Meaning it would not be tied to a particular play script or director's vision. The so-called costume/sculpture would be what the designer imagined following only the general theme "vices and virtues."

It's an interesting hybrid concept, difficult to realise. Ideally, every viewer would be able to see what the first night crowd saw: The costumes, performed in character on a stage in little vignettes, then before our eyes literally walking out of the theatre and being set up in the formerly empty art gallery.

The static exhibition, while charming, doesn't completely substitute for the experience of performance. Theatrical performance has the benefits of light and sound, and of course the flesh and blood actors themselves.

Of course, substitution is not the goal of this show. The costumes have their own virtues, of the builder's work and designer's ingenuity. Still, seeing Nathalie Marcil's Le Fruit du Peche [Fruit of Sin] on a wire frame mannequin is nothing like seeing it on dancer Danielle Ethier.

Elizabeth Savard's costume for Puck sits bundled on a stand, giving no hint that the plant-like stalk on the character's helmet carries a flashlight which illuminates actor Nathalie Daignault's crafty, searching face.

Peter Dillman makes a clever transformation with La Collectionneur [The Collector]. The figure, which on stage chased after a crown he could  never put on his head, now wears the crown in the gallery, but has been crucified for his pains.

Francine Marcotte, who not coincidentally is a sculptor, comes closest to producing a true costume/sculpture. Ironically, her costume is the least elaborate: a stone-coloured shirt and a mask of a child's face. The mask-like faces and the stagey lighting in the copy of the Caravaggio painting behind it show that the connection between theatre and visual art is anything but new. It will continue as long as designers put their pencils to paper.

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