HOUR: Heroic acts (Fringe Fest 2010: The Duck Wife)
The Duck Wife journeys through the wilderness of song, dance and theatre to find its way to the Fringe
If anything says Fringe Festival, it's a production that fuses theatre, dance, music and, well, the indefinable into one entertaining package. Inertia Productions, a multidisciplinary collective (and no stranger to the Fringe Fest), brings in a few new collaborators to breathe life into a very old story: The Duck Wife.
Through dance, storytelling and live music, the production retells an Inuit folktale as it was recorded by Canadian anthropologist Diamond Jenness in 1913. "He lived in an Inuit community for a few years and documented their songs, music, stories and string games," says The Duck Wife artistic director and musician Ted Strauss. He discovered Jenness's book by chance and ended up using the odd, almost surrealist imagery of the Inuit song lyrics as inspiration for an album with his band Grub Animal. Yet he still couldn't put the book away.
He wanted to find a way to not only turn the stories that so compelled him into song, but bring, as a kind of homage, the spirit of the tales to a wider public - but he couldn't do it only in a rock band. Long-time friends with Montreal-based choreographer/dancer Jenn Doan, Strauss read her the story and shared the idea of making a musical about it. "That planted the seed for the production," says Doan, who asked Inertia's Allison Burns (Diverge and Dancing in my Unbirthday Suit) to be producer.
"We're calling it a dance rock opera, but we've called it many things - a neo-rock opera, a rock musical... Really, everyone's
playing off everyone else," explains Strauss, whose four-piece band will play on stage, telling the story through song while Doan and dancers Joseph Bembridge, Melina Stinson, Jeremie Chetrit and Audrée Southière play out the mythical drama.
"Dancing to a live band on stage is great," says Doan. "You feel the energy, it moves right through you. It's not really about the dancers or the rock band; everyone on stage is a performer, part of a collective."
The Duck Wife story follows a young man's adventures across harsh arctic terrain in pursuit of the girl he's chosen for a wife. He's fallen in love with her despite her tendency to eat grass instead of the meat foisted on her by his mother - a disagreement that caused the girl to run off in the first place.
"There's a seriousness to the story, but there are also moments where it's lively and energetic, so it needed a range of movement styles," says Doan, who incorporated elements from her own experiences in martial arts, contemporary dance and urban dance.
The collective also drew on the element of mythology itself. Strauss and Doan delved into author Joseph Campbell's concept of the hero's journey, a theory that myth-like stories that have survived for thousands of years share a similar structure across cultures around the world. Central to each story is a hero who leaves his home on a journey, facing a series of supernatural challenges and discovering much about himself and the world on the way to his destination.
The commonalities of this kind of myth continue to play out in our modern culture, whether in Hollywood film, novels, comic books or, in less far-out ways, in everyday interactions on the street. "For me the project is exciting because that's a story that gets retold countless times," says Strauss. "But our generation, our group, our collective, has its own range of art practices. So we're creating that heroic journey for our peers in a language that we know, that's ours."
Life in the outer fringes
Going to the Fringe Fest can also a bit like travelling to far off places: You never know who you're going to meet, what strange acts you'll witness or how it will change your life.
"We've got this show that we hardly know how to categorize and it's open to an audience of open-minded people," says Burns. The show offers a different kind of engagement with theatre, dance and rock 'n' roll - for both viewers and performers. "If you bring people into a rock concert and what you have on the stage is also contemporary dance, then you shake people's expectations up, they experience something different," says Strauss
The Duck Wife doesn't end typically either, says Strauss, not wanting to give away too much. But this is all we need to know - who's looking for anything typical at the Fringe anyway? Bring on the strange, unexpected stuff that shakes us up.
The Duck Wife
At Venue 1, Tangente (840 Cherrier), June 12-19