Thursday, 23 August 2012

Avant Clowning and "Little Lady" at The Fringe

Little Lady
Creator/Interpretor: Sandrine LaFond
Director:  John Turner
Composer: Yves Frulla
Videographer/Photographer: Paolo Santos
Make Up: Elisabeth LeHoux
Costume: Nelly Rogerson assisted by John Stone, Marie Laure Larrieu
Props: Jean Sebastien Gagnon
Stage Manager: Miriam Cusson
Technicians: Josiah Hiemstra (sound) Morgan Franche (Lighitng)

The promotional video for Little Lady is sexier and not as interesting as the show, which is more in character and creepier, in a good way. Sandrine LaFond is a dancer and a performer for Cirque du Soleil. For this independently-produced piece she received training and direction for Little Lady from John Turner at The Clown Farm on Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

For those of us who know less about clowning than other performance practices, we might call this "avant clowning," as it crosses over into contemporary dance and theatre, though LaFond does not specifically present this work as a clown piece. More as a one-woman show with a sci-fi twist. The program note tells us this:
Doctors, welcome to the lab. The test subject you will be observing today, specimen LV 89135, has been in confinement for 21 days and is responding positively to our stimuli. She has proven to be kind and what some would qualify as sweet. We have lovingly dubbed her "Little Lady." A small indulgence we have allowed ourselves. Our social experiments have been diligently administered in the highest controlled conditions, a recent development in this process has proven fruitful to our common field of research. According to DNA testing, Little Lady is in fact a one of a kind hybrid; an accidental fusion of human and cockroach genes. The discovery of specimen LV81958 in the north Nevadian icefield is indeed one of the most interesting breakthroughs of our present time Your analysis of the situation will be of the utmost importance.
The piece opens with a video. In it, LaFond appears as a wide-eyed but confident girl in a dream sequence. She is in a desert sleeping under the protection of rock formations. She wakes up and does some exploring. She walks about the desert but suddenly her movements become repetitive hyperspeed affectations and skitterings, then back to normal. There is a handmade teddy bear with button eyes. An eye falls off and rolls away. LaFond comes across it, puts it in her pocket and takes off assuredly through the desert. The film fades, and there is the Little Lady on stage, just waking up from her dream, her derriere in the air.

Little Lady is wearing a coral 1940's style dress with headscarf to match. She's wearing large cartoonish glasses. She moves about the stage in what dancers call a forced arch; on the balls of the feet with heels raised, and a bent knee to force the ankle even further forward. She does this for a punishingly long time, aided by a tiny cane. Her physical extremes simultaneously allude to her little old lady character, and to the joints of insects, and as we know from the program note, our Little Lady specimen is half cockroach.

Jane Siberry
She really is quite adorable. She squeaks and oohs and giggles. If we compare her with someone we might come up with a combination of Jane Siberry, Lucille Ball, Björk all wrapped up in one.

Lucille Ball

She is infectiously cheerful about her little lab/dollhouse routines that are cued by the sounds of bells, tones and changes in the music (dreamy accordion waltzes with electronically-altered humming). She has a water mister to spray water into her mouth. She has a little tv show that comes on once a day that teaches her things (knitting lessons). She drinks water from a large silver bowl. She is allowed to eat red candy pills from specimen trays. She has a little notebook that she writes in once a day before sleeping. She puts her teddy bear on her little notebook and puts her head down on it, derriere in the air.

Her dreams give her new abilities. After the second dream, onstage this time, she is able to straighten her legs and walk on her feet. After the third dream, she contorts and snores herself into a gigantic bra with large toy rubber balls and pair of undies equipped with two more for a bum. These things amuse her for awhile, but as the days go by, she is allowed more red candy pills. The more she eats the sicker she gets and she ends up back on her toes and cane. Becoming despondent about her lab environment, she tries to make a break for it, but she finds herself trapped.

Just when we think she's trapped forever, she finds a yellow dress hidden in the body of the teddy bear. Finding this dress seems to be her out: she is freed from her head scarf, she no longer needs her glasses. She stands straight again and can even do a playful leaping dance, briefly showing some of her skills as a dancer. She transforms into the brave dream girl in the video and can now make her getaway.

LaFond is 110% physically committed to her fully-realised character and story. Little Lady stands on its own as a multi-disciplinary theatre piece, as dance theatre and as avant clowning.

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