The goddam song says, "Picture yourself" not "Picture us"!
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
"Cirque du Soleil is catnip for old people...[It's] what a Gay French dude sees in his head when he's tired and horny. There's a naked guy in a trapeze with his dick flapping around and there's a hedgehog with a boner on a tricycle and three clowns are jerking off on a ghost...everything in Cirque du Soleil is wet and French and Gay and on fire at the same time." Patton Oswalt
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We - as a culture (Canadian) - are turning circuses and spectacle and clowns into our own little cultural cliché...
As I sit here in Montreal watching the launch of our new symphony hall on Radio-Canada/CBC, Oswalt's words on the Cirque came back to me. The Queen's network not only added insane camera work (track-cameras!) on the orchestra, the idiot organization added a goddam circus show we were forced to watch and - worst of all - discussions of the importance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony DURING the goddam symphony. Music had nothing to do with anything.
Perhaps they were right to do so! Perhaps the TV audience is too damn stupid to listen to 50 minutes of one of the greatest works in the world without distraction. But I don't think so.
And I don't think we need the Cirque to illustrate the Beatles, or Elvis, and we don't need trapeze artists to decorate Greek tragedy, or waterfalls behind the dialogue of Michel Tremblay. We - as a culture (Canadian) - are turning circuses and spectacle and clowns into our own little cultural cliché; like the cliché of horns on the helmuts of every character in every German opera.
I have seen a gem of an opera where the director actually changed the music...
I wish I was exaggerating but for three decades I have witnessed the circusification of our theatre. It made me so angry, in one controversial incident, that I yelled out, "It's shit!" at the end of the play. (It was a goddam gimmick-fest!) I have seen a Hosanna that stripped the play of its street-level tawdriness and decked it all in white, the transvestite in a lovely Chanel-style pants-suit. I have seen works by our most renowned artist which were nothing but machines - drowning in imagery any text that might have been the play's point. I have seen a gem of an opera where the director actually changed the music to accommodate his vision (and our music critics didn't notice because they were unfamiliar with the work). I saw another well-known opera rendered incomprehensible by the director's party tricks.
Simply, we are living in a Cirque du Soleil world (our version of America's MTV world) where everything must be illustrated and, worse, it will not always be an illustration faithful to the meaning of the original. So, in effect, we are forcing actual ideas into the heads of theatre-goers who would, otherwise, be quite capable of forming their own. I don't even know what Vegas Cirque show Patton Oswalt saw with his parents and parents-in-law but look what he came away with! Visual garbage.
This isn't just the Cirque's fault. It's about cliché.
Moreover, a goodly number of our critics, cultural commentators and taste-makers have been swept along. They applaud with abandon the "esthetics" of these new shows - noticing, not at all, their vapidity. We have a writer who creams her jeans no matter what gibberish the Cirque throws out there. She no longer looks askance at the huge, hideous money-machine the organization has become. I have been to several Cirque shows and have been pretty much bored to tears after the second one. This isn't just the Cirque's fault. It's about cliché. It is also the fault of the production of Racine I saw that might as well have been in a tent, or the rarely-performed gem done with clown-face, or the Molière dumbed down to colours and noise, or the Shakespeare transposed to a period that didn't make a lick of sense but made for nice costumes.
But finally it was the Beethoven which had nothing to do with the piece, the composer, the concert hall, musicians or even about the adored conductor but about a show. A big, ugly, noisy and ultimately unwatchable show - junk food for the brain. In art a picture IS worth a thousand words, but the pictures have to be well chosen or it becomes just empty chatter.
The historic rendered insignificant.