White Elephant

Curated by Marie Lambin-Gagnon, White Elephant is a poetic and visually dynamic performance, engaging with the expression of personal narrative through collective memory and the collection of bubble wrap. The sold-out second performance of White Elephant took place in the Centre for Social Innovation on Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto.

An anticipant audience gathers around a large sheet of white plastic draped from the ceiling. The opening dancer, Corrado Cerruto, moves languidly to Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle among the mass of bubble wrap that covers the entirety of the dance floor. The lively audience conversation slowly dies as the soundtrack changes to a classical piano score and the first deliberate popping of the bubble wrap can now be heard. Cerruto slowly retreats behind the dimly lit white plastic structure. White Elephant commences.

The soft tones of Come Away with Me by Norah Jones begin to fill the space as Cerruto re-emerges, limbs out stretched. The white plastic falls from the ceiling and the entire dance floor is bathed in a soft pink glow. These changes in light and colour continue to amazing effect throughout White Elephant; all aspects of the show are visually engaging.

Copyright: Jae Yang

An urgent piano score now begins, accompanied by a red light that filters across the entire room. Picking up a microphone, Cerruto begins to read from a diary. Fragments and memories of events fill the space as the other four dancers begin to slowly move amongst the bubble wrap. Non-chronological memories are continually read, fragmented, repeated. The dancers search for pieces of bubble wrap, assessing and holding onto different fragments. A sense of anxiety and nostalgia remain throughout the performance.

Copyright: Jae Yang

Another light change occurs, and cold blues and whites illuminate the space. Dancers Sébastien Provencher and Kaitlin Standeven now stand opposed, covered in bubble wrap and seemingly armoured for an event. What is this protection for? Somber strings replace the eerie piano, and a dramatic blue light floods the floor. A crackling can be heard underfoot as Provencher and Standeven draw closer, swaying together yet separated by layers of bubble wrap. Now pushing against one another the scene becomes erotic, both dancers seemingly pulled together in a series of physically exhausting movements. And yet, no amount of physically throwing themselves towards each other detaches the bubble wrap. They ultimately remain separated. Finally falling to the floor their heavy breathing begins to relax as the scene changes and Mairéad Filgate and Kathia Wittenborn enter.

Copyright: Jae Yang

Filgate and Wittenborn again amass a collection of bubble wrap, and, swaying gently, hold it pressed between their bodies. Wittenborn extends the microphone towards Filgate as she narrates a memory, fragments of which could be heard in the first diary reading. Filgate recalls a childhood party during which the narrator is told by her mother that she must go to her room. Suddenly Filgate snaps out of the role of narrator, instead taking on the character of the mother and yelling sternly at the audience. There is a stark contrast between the narrative that Filgate is telling herself and others and the understanding of this event from the perspective of a child. We are told that the narrator’s mother captures the party in a photograph in which the narrator, teary-eyed, stands behind her cake. This insistence on a physical link to memory clearly informs the narrative that is developed later to express this event.

Copyright: Jae Yang

One of the most emotional scenes of the performance occurs next. Kathia Wittenborn is seated with the microphone and begins to narrate a memory of a father and his death. As she does so, Cerruto slowly encases her in bubble wrap. The anxiety of the situation is enhanced as he begins to wrap her eyes, nose and head; eventually she is covered in a bubble wrap cocoon. Initially protected from view, Wittenborn gradually contorts while repeating fragments of the narrative; shifting beneath the bubble wrap, she grapples with this memory from the past.

Copyright: Jae Yang

A yellow glow floods the dance floor next as Kaitlin Standeven slowly moves in synchronization with the music. Following a series of deliberate poppings of bubble wrap, a yell pierces the peaceful space. Standeven begins to shout fragments from Come Away With Me by Norah Jones, and then attempts to recite the song throughout a dynamic dance that appears to leave her breathless on the floor amidst the bubble wrap.

Copyright: Jae Yang

An ultraviolet glow slowly floods the space, bringing out the fluorescence of the bubble wrap. All dancers now sit in a circle at the periphery of the floor, gently pulling the sea of bubble wrap towards them. Sébastien Provencher now narrates the story of a first kiss with a man at the age of twenty-four. The phrase “my skin, soft skin” echoes throughout the space as Provencher details the unexpected sensation of facial hair that is encountered when kissing a man. A beautiful and freeing dance performance by Provencher ensues.

Copyright: Jae Yang

All dancers begin gently curling beneath the white plastic and bubble wrap covering the floor, edging towards the center of the room. “My skin” continues to echo softly throughout the space as the white plastic and bubble wrap forms a skin around the dancers until each seems to be encased in a shared collection of bubble wrap, fragments and memories. One cannot help but feel that this a cathartic performance; a performance in which dancers give voice to personal narratives, a performance that pops the protective bubble wrap.


T6 thanks Marie Lambin-Gagnon for allowing us to document her event!

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