I love Harbourfront’s World Stage series. Every year the shows I see as part of the series tend to make it on my list of most memorable performances of the year. Still Standing You, performed by Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido and presented by CAMPO, is no exception to that statement. I left Enwave Theatre on tuesday night knowing that it would be a long time before I ever forgot what I had watched over the past hour.
Not all performance is meant to make you comfortable, it is simply intended to make you feel. For me, there was an excess of emotions which I felt while watching Still Standing You. At moments I was laughing hysterically, at others I was cringing with discomfort or disgust. Though Still Standing You is listed as contemporary dance I personally would also consider classifying it as performance art. Ampe and Garrido have a very interactive and engaged relationship with the audience. Also, their movement, though probably greatly facilitated by their training, showed the kind of physicality and pushing of the body’s limits which is frequently present in the work of performance artists.
Still Standing You involves the audience right from the beginning. When we entered the theatre Ampe and Garrido were already on stage. The house lights were up and Garrido was pleasantly engaging the audience in conversation by asking them how they were, and talking about his experience in Toronto over the past 24 hours. While Garrido was talking to us, he was sitting atop Ampe’s feet, which were straight up in the air. Ampe was clearly in a significant amount of physical discomfort, which Garrido was entirely disregarding.
This moment of strain was just the beginning. The next hour became a constant onslaught of physical and emotional struggle as both performers constantly one-upped each other in regards to how much pain they were able to inflict as well as withstand. It was like watching a boys club gone wrong where men had pushed their bonding rituals to a level so extreme that you worried that permanent damage was going to be the final result. It was like taking the greatly popular show, Jackass, adding in contemporary dance, and presenting it live. You don’t really want to condone the behavior, but something seems to stop you from changing the channel.
Mixed in with this intense, physically painful story is also a significant amount of camaraderie and intimacy. Ampe and Garrido work together to do things like create a series of “creatures” by climbing on top of one another and stomping around while growling like wild animals. Then there are instances where their debauchery leads them to become quite close both physically and emotionally. It was these intimate moments within Still Standing You which kept me interested in what Ampe and Garrido were offering.
I kept thinking “How can you cause someone so much pain, yet also show them so much carrying?” It is a question which is quite pertinent when discussing current male culture. Many of Ampe and Garrido’s interactions are similar to ones which we see displayed in relationships between men without the behaviour causing us significant alarm. When removed from its regular contexts though and presented in quick succession, the treatment of men towards one another becomes much more questionable. If the male dynamic is so confusing for the observer how must it feel to be a player in the game?
I don’t know if I can say that I enjoyed Still Standing You in the conventional sense of the word. It was far too painful to watch in moments for me to feel right using the term enjoyable. I did however develop a huge amount of respect for the artists’ commitment, physicality and vulnerability. I appreciated the questions Still Standing You left me with to ponder and I admire Ampe and Garrido’s artistic relationship. It takes a significant amount of trust to allow someone to abuse you so intensely on stage every night and still trust them and call them a friend.
- Still Standing You is playing at Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West) until April 27, 2013
- Shows run April 26 and 27 at 8pm
- Tickets are $15-$35
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 416-973-4000
Photo of Pieter Ampe and Guilherme Garrido by Phile Deprez