I spent the entirety of last week exploring the sights, sounds and cultural landscape of Montreal, Canada. In true intrepid adventurer style I made a number of influential discoveries. The first and most important of which is Poutine, a popular Canadian dish; one part french fries, one part incredibly rich beef gravy, one part cheese curds and one (optional) part chicken. I had to acquiesce and credit Canada with perfecting the ultimate hangover cure, knocking a can of Irn-Bru and Piece n’ Square Sausage off the top of the league table. Poutine is equally enjoyable as the reverse of remedy, as an accompaniment to copious amounts of beer. In fact, it can bolster you into drinking twice as much, comfortably and with panache!
The second discovery and of, now that I consider it properly, of equal importance is the fact that it is not uncommon in Montreal to find bars with beer taps plumbed into the tables; allowing you the freedom to pull your own pints as frequently as you wish regardless of the business levels at the bar. Dangerous yes, but where’s the fun without a little risk? If you ask me, this particular concept is long overdue in Scotland. Tennents, there’s something for you to market.
Another discovery made was that I quite enjoy ice-hockey, however this may be down to the utterly infectious passion that the natives have for this brutally fun sport.
However, I was not there solely as an ambassador for sport, beer and deliciously unhealthy snacks. The real purpose of my trip was as a delegate at CINARS – the International Exchange for the Performing Arts. Probably the largest of these types of conferences I have attended in my career to date it consisted of showcase performances, workshops, seminars and exhibition booths for companies and artists participating in CINARS. The purpose of CINARS, and of these types of events in general, is to strengthen the circulation of the performing arts, endorse artistic creation and promote business exchange and collaboration.
My specific responsibility during this trip was to speak on the panel of one the discussion events being held in the programme of activity, the focus of which was the “OFF Phenomenon”. To clarify, this phrase doesn’t actually exist within the UKs cultural vocabulary but it can be interpreted to mean the same as “fringe”. So in the same way that the Edinburgh Festival Fringe exists “on the fringes” of the Edinburgh International Festival other large cultural events across the globe have seen the inception of smaller, alternative programming side events bearing the “off” label.
It’s often easy to become acclimatised to the peculiarities to your own situation, because you’re in it, and what was brought home for me during the course of this discussion event was just how unique the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is as a model. The ripples of amused astonishment that reacted through the crowd of attendees as I relayed some staggering statistics about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that to me have become commonplace in some ways; 40,254 performances of 2,453 shows in 259 venues is utterly mind boggling. So in a way, through enlightening others to the fact I was reminded of just how wonderful a situation that is to have gotten used to and experienced the awe of it anew.
Other discoveries I made were artistic; there was a lot of performances to see over the course of my short six days. I confess that some of the theatre work I struggled with due to my terrible grasp of French.
I was exposed to some...interesting dance work...interesting being for lack of a less polite adjective.
Let’s put it this way, on more than one occasion I was transported to Spaced – Series 1 – Episode 3 “Art”. In my head I heard “Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit....ooh, like a little flower...rabbit, rabbit, rabbit”. It’s true what they say; really great art is NOT as easy as it looks.
What I did love however, and will keenly spread the word to anyone willing to be bored by me was:
L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestre - http://www.lodho.com/ - Also check out their Facebook
I’m not sure how to describe them other than what I saw was an epic tribute to the works of Tom Waits, crazily performed in the most non-traditional fashion.
Just....well, just look them up.
They were, I think, my main highlight. Not least because of my pre-existing enjoyment of their muse but I remained utterly enraptured by their manic performance style throughout. Unique, insane and captivating; it’s these sort of crazy bastards that make travelling thousands of miles, across on ocean, to discuss the politics of art worthwhile. Because discussions, politics and business aside, they are making it happen, in their own way, and that is ultimately what really fucking matters!