The Hard Rubber people are a fairly whacked out lot, so they’d have probably given us a sonic shakedown even if they hadn’t won this year’s Alcan Performing Arts Award for Music/Opera. What the hefty cash prize allowed them to do, however, was throw a party, deck the whole house, hire dancing girls and give a performance that bled way beyond both ends of the time we spent in the concert hall. Even the pathway to the venue’s door was illuminated by ghostly images from hanging video screens. Inside, the decor theme continued (courtesy of DJ HoneyBee), casting its light on the crowds of mildly giddy patrons. The complimentary wine may have been a contributing factor, but something else was goosing the atmosphere as well, because from the moment I entered, it seemed like I was walking on a slant. I ran into my dentist, my date ran into his piano teacher, and we both ended up singing “Happy Birthday” to a woman we’d never met before.
Once inside the packed theatre, we felt cozy and pleasantly trapped as the 11 piece band came at us from down on the floor. A pretty, melodic overture abruptly gave way to driving, horn-shot jazz which was run over in turn by crazy, rattling percussion. From that moment on, a pressure began building and it never let up, despite the sonic shifts provided by the varied compositions of Giorgio Manganensi, Brad Turner, and Artistic Director John Korsrud. Even James Proudfoot’s lighting design kept things taut, with blackouts in which darkness decended from the rafters like a sheet. I stopped expecting any kind of arc to the piece as a whole and just enjoyed the tension.
Korsrud dragged in some vibrant visual artists whose contributions were projected above the playing area. jamie griffiths’ EEG-like patterns responded to every note of Peggy Lee’s gorgeous cello improv; Rena del Pieve Gobbi’s silvery projections of cut fruit were like a score played by the musicians; and Brian Johnson’s video footage turned dancers into amoebas.
The live dancers—Amber Funk Barton, Lina Fitzner, Katy Harris-McLeod and Jennifer McLeish-Lewis—would slink onstage every few numbers like flappers coming out to play. Martha Carter’s choreography featured her signature ripples and Egyyptian-frieze voguing, but also included some passages of Charleston-gone-made twitching that were the embodiment of jazz.
After the show, the audience hung around in the lobby for what felt like hours—being silly, getting a bit sozzled and generally behaving like party guests. In the end, maybe that’s what Enter/Exit meant: no event is over until everyone has left the building.