Pivot Festival brings destruction to a Whitehorse stage

There's a new show coming to Whitehorse, and it's almost impossible to describe. It might make you cry. It will probably make you laugh.

There’s a new show coming to Whitehorse, and it’s almost impossible to describe.

It might make you cry. It will probably make you laugh. And then it might leave you wondering how you can laugh at something so tragic.

L’Immediat is a highly acclaimed blend of slapstick circus and physical theatre that follows a group of people as their world quite literally crumbles around them. And it’s making its North American debut in Whitehorse next week, as part of the annual Pivot Theatre Festival.

Created by French performer Camille Boitel, L’Immediat is a story told without words by a group of seven acrobats, dancers and actors.

“They try to speak,” explained Boitel, “but all the time they have problems, so they cannot.”

The play’s characters are trying to complete simple tasks on a stage piled high with old furniture and other odds and ends – all the junk that crowds into everyday life.

But as they move, those odds and ends begin to topple, break and fall to pieces around them.

Boitel said the show is comic and tragic at the same time. “If it was in real life I think it would be very sad. But on the stage, it’s like this magic trick. The worst can be the best.”

For the most part, Boitel said, the actors show very little emotion amidst all the destruction.

“Most of them, they are a bit lost,” he explained. “It’s not that they are paralyzed. It’s more that they… it’s their life. Maybe they are always living like that, so they are used to it.”

Even after years of touring this show in Europe and Asia, Boitel doesn’t seem entirely sure what it’s all about.

There’s something about these characters we can all relate to, he explained. They’re looking for something, but they don’t necessarily know what it is. They share a certain fragility as they move through their lives.

“I think it’s about us, maybe. Or about the world.”

But what is perhaps most remarkable about this show is what it took to bring it here. Boitel has been in contact with Norman Armour, the artistic director of Vancouver’s PuSh festival, for several years, but the two never managed to organize a North American trip.

Recently, after touring L’Immediat for five or six years, Boitel decided it was time to move on to other things. Jokingly, he told Armour he would come to Canada for a final tour, but only if he could come to the North.

So Armour contacted Eric Epstein, the artistic director of the Yukon Arts Centre, and together they applied for a grant to make it happen.

“There were a lot of logistics to work out,” Epstein said. “There was a lot to take on, but I thought it was such a special show.”

Getting the grant was just the beginning. Boitel and his company travel with a 40-foot container that holds everything they need to build the set. That trailer has to travel by ship across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of North America to Vancouver. It’s now being trucked up to Whitehorse.

The whole process is kind of absurd, Boitel said, since nothing in the container has any value.

“All the furniture is from the streets, so nothing costs money,” he said. “It’s junk. It’s like things from real life that nobody wants.”

Still, he said it’s easier to bring everything with them than to try and collect new set pieces at every stop.

Once the container gets here, the stage will take three days to set up. And after every show, it will take five or six hours to rebuild everything for the next performance.

“It’s the worst idea that you can have to do that,” Boitel joked. “And people want to see it because of this. Because we are stupid.”

The Whitehorse stop is just the beginning. After the show wraps up next Friday, the set will be immediately disassembled and trucked back down to Vancouver for the next stop on the tour.

The group will then head out east, to Montreal and New York.

And because the container will be crossing the U.S. border, one of the other performers, Celine Schmitt, had to prepare a list of every single item it’s carrying – all 12,000 of them.

“It was one week’s work,” Schmitt said. “Three people working on it for one week.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, Boitel said this will be L’Immediat’s only North American tour and its final encore.

Originally, he wanted to burn the whole set once the New York shows wrapped.

“But we cannot, because it’s importation,” he explained. “So we have to take it out to burn it in France.”

Once they get home, they plan to perform the show one last time, and then light the whole set on fire.

Evidently, this will be Yukoners’ only chance to see this unique performance. But L’Immediat is only one of the shows on offer at the ninth annual Pivot Festival.

David Skelton, artistic director of the Nakai Theatre, said all the Pivot performances explore new forms of expression.

Another show, called Mouthpiece, will be quite different from L’Immediat. It features two women with just a single set piece.

“So it’s very austere,” Skelton explained. “And it’s more centered around the voice and text. So it’s voice-based more than (about) physicality.”

The Pivot Theatre Festival runs from Jan. 24 to 31 at various venues around town. Tickets and information can be found at www.pivotfestival.com.

L’Immediat will be performed at the Yukon Arts Centre from Wednesday to Friday.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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