999 Words

At Street Level: FRGMNT’s Superheroes Cry Too

An old critic’s axiom says that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. In other words, it’s an absurd and seemingly irreconcilable exercise. Nonetheless, we do write about music, we do dance about architecture, and we dance, too, about lots of other matters of modern concern. The subject of a work of dance is often elusive and diffuse. But dance is nonetheless the operative mode proper to addressing life’s irreconcilable absurdities.

The Montreal collective FRGMNT’s latest performance, entitled Superheroes Cry Too, is an immersive work of art that addresses a number of ostensibly disparate themes: psychotherapy; structural restraint; cyclical nature; ubiquitous media. And the nonrepresentational qualities of movement—particularly the various styles of street dance the collective incorporates—are at once more suitable and also more immediate points of entry into otherwise complicated human conditions, and the more subtle everyday feelings they cultivate.

FRGMNT aims to “make the discussion around the communication of all kinds of difficult emotions fluid, open and empathetic,” their artistic statement explains, “and to normalize the respect of each other’s vulnerability.” There are no obvious markers of super-heroism on display, no capes or X-ray goggles, suggesting that we can seek to identify heroism in the quotidian. And while FRGMNT is an extremely hip collective of multi-talented hip hop artists, it is their vulnerable stance, a bold openness to be exposed and emotional, that ultimately endears Superheroes Cry Too to its audience.

FRGMNT consists of dancers Victoria ‘VicVersa’ Mackenzie, Ja James ‘Jigsaw’ Britton Johnson, Nubian Néné, Mukoma-K. ‘J. Style’ Nshinga, and the project’s co-directors, DJ and dancer Richard ‘Shash’U’ St-Aubin and choreographer Céline ‘ezzeC’ Richard-Robichon. And although the crew have known each other in intersecting circles since the early 2000s, they have come together in this configuration specifically for this work.

“It’s my first time being in this type of collective,” Shash’U tells me via telephone on the day before their premiere, “so I’m very excited about that.”

“Initially it was Victoria’s idea. She had this idea of bringing people together to work on a project, but also having the opportunity that we can develop and exchange different types of leadership. It was a cool exercise. It’s been a mix of all of our heads together.”

Superheroes Cry Too is presented at Ausgang Plaza in a series of loosely structured tableaus. The performers invite the audience to move about freely, obliterating the boundaries between spectator and stage. The narrator draws us into a story about a doctor-patient relationship while another dancer spins amidst a ceremonial circle of chrome handles, virtually hovering in mid-air. The dreamlike and aquatic electronic music and the dancer’s actions draw the audience from a claustrophobic wooden box to a circle of pink kitchen chairs, from one tableau to another, like chapters in a short story.

“We feel like it’s a whole experience,” Shash’U says. “It’s not really a Yellow Brick Road thing, it’s more like you’re in it and it’s a good vibe. For me, the meaning of the show is the experience that I’ve had through the collective itself. It’s essentially my experience with the collective expressed into a piece.”

FRGMNT’s members come from contrasting disciplines. “I really grew up in street dance,” Shash’U says, “so my styles were locking, popping, krump, and hip-hop. A lot of the dancers in this collective are very much familiar with hip hop. Néné is a pro at house dance. She also represents waacking, hip-hop, and house dance around the world. Ja I’ve known as a krumper and today he works with ebnfloh, which is mostly street dance. And Victoria worked with different crews. Everybody does have their experience in street dance and the stage. But to come together for this idea is very unique and also very unexpected.”

The collective also aims to break down the borders between institutional and more informal cultural traditions. “It’s different than going to a dance school and learning classical practices.” Shash’U says. “With something like Ballet, there’s a clearer structure in the way things are done, and that’s how they stay constant. For street dance, a lot of it is learned through human interaction. It’s very much a socially embedded type of thing. It’s hard to learn about street dance by sitting down and reading a book, or by following one way of doing things.”

There is a procedural quality to Superheroes Cry Too, an element of controlled chaos that exists between improvisation and highly choreographed movement. “All this is still a big process for us,” Shash’U explains. “A show is not really like a haircut. It’s never done, done. While you’re still getting it, you’re realizing this could be cool for next time, or that could be adjusted. This thing that we’re making makes us feel a certain way, and you just want to grow into that.”

It is ultimately the feeling that emerges between performer and spectator that makes Superheroes Cry Too so moving. There is no question that we can successfully dance about architecture, since dance is a powerful form of non-verbal communication, one which seeks to rationalize the irrational and grasp the unfathomable. “Because of the way it was taught to us, it has very much to do with communication skills,” Shash’U reminds me.

“The idea for me of street dance is sharing what they’ve learned, or wanting to showcase what they’ve learned to other people who understand. That’s the core of it. It’s the main reason why one B-boy thinks that they’re better than another B-boy. They believe in their passion, their art, their discipline. They think, I feel like I want to talk about this, I feel like I want to share this, and I want to show this to my friend who is going through the same things, and I want to have these conversations—but through dance. When it comes to us exercising our idea of art and discipline, the DNA of street dancing has to do with communication. You have no choice but to communicate.”◼︎

Superheroes Cry Too continues through December 11th at Ausgang Plaza.


999 Words

Me and the Dream

On an unusually warm autumn night in Montreal, you can practically feel the breath of this city. The smoky and boozy breath of this city. The all-dressed steamie and bad tooth breath of this city. The steady vegan diet of diamonds breath of this city.

There seem to be endless places to go, people to see, and things to do, especially since the dreaded pandemic ended. People have repopulated restaurants and bars; they stand in lineups to enter various events. Later they post photos and video on social media of themselves doing these things. The scroll of experience is presented back to us in fragments and cut-ups. The juxtaposition of these fragments creates novel knowledge forms and produces an augmented reality, another soft membrane of memory.

Social media make it seem like choice is endless, but it isn’t. There aren’t endless places to go or things to do. There aren’t endless people to meet on digital apps. There are very finite options. Especially in Montreal, it’s best to choose your unusually warm autumn evenings wisely, because they aren’t endless, either. And only so many places know how to do diamonds right.

Rock and roll was a dying artform — or so I thought, until recently at a raucous show at The Blue Dog on Boulevard Saint-Laurent. The occasion — with about a dozen acts that I had never heard of — was dubbed Bloodbath. I was invited by a guy named Dylan, the lead singer of a band on the bill called Me and the Dream. Dylan, 22 and towheaded, flips burgers at Paul Patates in Pointe-Saint-Charles, where I’ve been going for lunch on Saturday afternoons all summer. I could be Dylan’s father, I’m literally twice his age, and yet I still feel not much older than 22, like I’m still sitting at the kid’s table at family dinners. Dylan’s cousin, Cassidy, who also works at Paul Patates, told me enthusiastically one Saturday that she would be at the show. So I decided to go to Dylan’s gig, too, because life isn’t endless.

The Blue Dog is south of Duluth at the lower end of the Plateau, just down from where Laika used to be. When you hit a certain age, it seems like everywhere used to be some other place. The aptly named blue-lit bar is a dark, long, narrow space with a square counter jutting out into the centre of the room and a squished stage tucked in back. It’s a bit cramped and scuzzy, as good Montreal bars tend to be. I arrived right as a shouty garage punk band that I couldn’t name who were dressed in 1950’s drive-in restaurant uniforms hammered out a cover of Les Lutins’s “Je Cherche.” I figured I’d found the right place.

Dylan had told me about Me and the Dream over several months of frequenting Paul Patates. They have a jam space at which they rehearse whenever the four members aren’t working their day jobs. The pandemic had spurred a particularly creative period, Dylan said, locked inside with nothing better to do to amuse themselves than make music. This gig would be their first time performing onstage in front of an audience.

As the band prepared to claim their platform, there was a sufficient number of people in attendance to feel cozy but not overcrowded. I leaned with my back to the bar and watched as the ceremonial stage hand-off between bands took place, one drummer carrying a kick drum out, the next drummer carrying a kick drum in. Cable wrapping and unwrapping. Unplugging and plugging in. The bassist, a careless Eugene with spiky green hair, nearly took my eye out with the neck of his axe as he passed by.

A couple who looked to be more in my demographic moved towards the dancefloor. They introduced themselves as Dylan’s mother and step-father. Brimming with anticipation and nervous parent energy, they sipped on pints and swayed to the DJ, then stood off to the side and filmed on their phones as the band began to play. I could not help but be charmed by this. My mother would not have set foot in a dank punk bar to come to my rock show, nor would I have wanted her to. That kind of thing would have elicited deep embarrassment from me at 22.

But the band played on. No sound check, no tuning forks, no introductions, no apologies. They just started kicking out the jams. Were they any good? Let’s see: they were too loud, they were out-of-time, they were out-of-tune, and they were fucking phenomenal. They hit their stride by their third song and were finished after the fifth. Short, to the point, no nonsense rock and roll.

I had shared with Dylan weeks before at the restaurant that I wrote about music, I knew musicians, and music was practically an impossible pursuit. I didn’t want to discourage him, but I’d seen many artists’ dreams dashed by the degree of effort it takes to be in a band, to write and practice decent songs, get gigs and record, only to discover that it’s more difficult than ever to make any money as a musician. Dylan looked at me as if I were speaking another language and said that they had no intention of making any money, that they were doing it “for the right reason.”

The only good art is art done with no intention. Definitely not the intention to make money. That is dead art. More to the point, making money is itself an art, and making art to make money sullies the craftsmanship of high finance. Let commerce be its own perverse artform.

With so much noise out there, it is difficult to hear any signal. It’s tough to spot a diamond in the rough. But the choice is clear: Art for art’s sake. Just breathing in time with the city is the ultimate extravagance. We need to be content to have nothing in order to appreciate having anything.◼︎