Falling into place

Virginia Baxter

Marie Brassard, Jimmy

Marie Brassard, Jimmy

Marie Brassard, Jimmy

I once dreamed I was falling off a bridge and as I fell, scolded myself, “Dreaming symbols again!” as if my failing had caused the fall.

Marie Brassard has come up with a richer commentary on the postmodern condition in her solo work, Jimmy. For Brassard, a close collaborator with Robert Lepage, the creation of this play in 2001 was her first experience as solo writer/director. The work has been an international success with tours and translations. She arrived in Sydney after a successful season at the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Her new work, La Noirceur premieres in Montreal in June.

In Jimmy, Brassard spins the intriguing tale of a homosexual hairdresser born in the dream of a (homophobic) American general in the 50s. “As [Jimmy] is about to kiss his lover in the dream, the general dies, leaving the 2 in no man’s land, in a state of pure pleasure. After staying suspended in time for 50 years, Jimmy starts to live again, but to his despair, in the dreams of a Montreal actress.”

Brassard’s beautifully orchestrated performance takes place on a deceptively simple stage. We’re on the sloping edge of somewhere, a step in time maybe, with only a mirror to reflect on. Using a pitch-shifting device to deepen her voice, Brassard’s measured delivery is captivating, her richly detailed tale of longing holding us in thrall till the end when she drops us too suddenly back into the world. Along the way, there’s a nicely orchestrated rift in the narrative when the device drops out and for a moment we’re unsure whether the technology has failed. This gives the real actress a chance to reveal herself momentarily to her audience. I’m a sucker for these gaps in the theatrical fence. Others, I discover later, find the postmodern folly too familiar—don’t fall for it at all. This lapse into uncertainty makes the telling even more enticing. Brassard has such a light performative touch, her French-Canadian accent delayed by the device makes her sound like a live puppet. This effect is enhanced by her fixed facial expression and articulated movements confined largely to a fixed plane. She is the perfect dream being, waiting to be filled with our projections.

There’s a note in the program about the moment of waking from a pleasurable dream in which we try to return: “You close your eyes again and you try to slowly get back into the exact same position you were in when you opened them. You try to go back to where you were. To that place you only glimpsed.” Like many artists before her, Marie Brassard attempts to capture that state and very nearly nails it.

I think I know where Jimmy spent those 50 years he went missing. Days after this performance I dropped into Light from Shadow, the wonderful exhibition at Ivan Dougherty Gallery that features recent hologram art in intriguing juxtapositions with historic works by Tiepolo, Goya and others. Peering into Paula Dawson’s To Absent Friends (Midnight Fragment) 1989, a silvery hologram of a totally realised hotel bar, I swear I saw Jimmy’s shadow.

Jimmy, performer Marie Brassard, design Simon Guilbault, technical designer Christian Gagnon, sound adviser & soundtrack realisation Michel F Cote; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Nov 4-7

Light from Shadow: The Legacy of Chiaroscuro in Spatial Imaging, Ivan Dougherty Gallery October 22-Nov 29 www.shadowyfigures.com

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 25

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2003