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Scandal or art? Dance show under fire

A scene from Suie by David St-Pierre Image copyright Facebook / Romain Guilbault
Image caption A scene from Suie, a Montreal contemporary dance production leaving critics and audiences divided

The audience was warned: "One must vomit art."

These were the words choreographer David St-Pierre used to describe his new work Suie (soot), in a pamphlet passed out before its premiere at Montreal's Place des Arts.

But as descriptive as those words may be, perhaps nothing could fully prepare the audience for what was ahead.

Now, the show's promoter is offering ticket-holders a rare opportunity - to go see something else.

After numerous complaints, Danse Danse is breaking with tradition and letting customers who already bought tickets exchange them for another production.

The problem, according to Danse Danse's executive and artistic director Pierre Des Marais, is one big miscommunication.

Subscribers pick which productions they'd like to see almost a year in advance, he says, when Suie was billed as a retelling of the story of Joan of Arc.

Instead, the audience was treated to 95 minutes of screeching music, dogs barking and a climactic scene where a man gets his hand stuck in a vending machine, according to critic Luc Boulanger from the newspaper La Presse.

"I'm stuck in a vending machine," he says repeatedly.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption In one scene, a dancer gets his hand stuck in a vending machine

It wasn't to everyone's taste, and the promoter received an "unusually large" number of complaints.

"They felt disappointed, or that they had been cheated," Mr Des Marais said.

In an open letter published in La Presse, critic Luc Boulanger asked if the show's choreographer Mr St-Pierre, who rose to fame in 2004 with his show The Pornography of the Soul, still made art, or if he was just "picking a wound in public?"

"Now, what does the 'major artist' propose for his great return? This insignificant, puerile provocation," Mr Boulanger wrote.

Yet some found the experience edifying.

Writing for Le Devoir, critic Melanie Carpentier said the performance has merit for "stirring the brains, opening up a dialogue about what art should be, placing the viewer before his own discomfort, while inviting him to develop a new perspective on his expectations of the show".

Mr Des Marais said the premier was the first time he or anyone else from Danse Danse saw the production, and that he gives artists "total freedom" to create.

"We were never invited to see a run-through, and I do not think there was a run-through," he explained.

Mr St-Pierre is firing back at Danse Danse for making the art "beige" by pampering the audience.

"You must really despise artists and the audience. They are not fools. They are human, they can love, hate, yell that it was the worst scum, or even have screech their guts out... this is the greatest gift we can offer to the public," Mr St-Pierre wrote on Facebook.

Mr Des Marais says he's not censoring Mr St Pierre by allowing audiences to change tickets, he just thinks they should know what to expect.

"It's not about whether I like or don't like a show, we just took the step of letting our subscribers know what it was," said Mr Des Marais.

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