Piss in the Pool is what happens when you give eight choreographers free reign to create original dance pieces in an abandoned bath house.
The event is organized by Wants&Needs, an innovative local dance company founded by choreographers Sasha Kleinplatz and Andrew Tay and known for putting on unconventional shows that endear the wider public to contemporary dance while challenging choreographers to explore the boundaries of their art form, often through the imposition of external constraints.
For Piss in the Pool, which took place at Bain St Michel – an abandoned bath house turned theatre in the Mile End, it’s the venue that tests the choreographers. They are given one month in the space to prepare their site-specific pieces. They get to decide where their dancers perform, and where the audience will sit. (Which, for the record, was really fun. Between each set the MC instructed the audience to walk to a particular part of the room. Sometimes that meant sitting inches apart in the deep end, other times that meant sitting, pool side, feet dangling.)The result is a one-of-a-kind experience for choreographers and dancers alike. It’s pretty special for the audience, too.
Normally the pool area of Bain St Michel is decked out with a stage and seating. For the annual Piss in the Pool, though, everything is removed. The only extra equipment are speakers, arranged at one end of the pool deck, and stage lights perched poolside.
This year – the ninth edition – the company invited eight choreographers to participate: Genevieve C. Ferron, Audrée Juteau, Benjamin Kamino, Andréane Nadere Leclerc, Simon Portigal, Jessica Serli and Helen Simard, and Andrew Tay.
Pieces varied. There was the participatory: Andrew Tay’s show opener included the wearing of talismans and the asking of the audience to meditate on memories, people and fantasies. There was the contemplative: Benjamin Kamino used sheets, lighting and a combination of pop and choral music to evoke a pensive atmosphere while he frolicked, naked, in the deep end.
The loudest applause came for contortionist Andréane Leclerc’s piece, “Bath House,” in which Leclerc, along with Erika Nguyen and Maude Parent, fell to the floor and not quite crawling, not quite writhing, moved around the bottom of pool. An onslaught of Russian folk music propelled the piece forward and shrouded the room in tension. The dancers’ impossible movements were dissonant and beautiful.
It was refreshing to witness these emerging choreographers embrace the strangeness of the space – Jessica Serli made clever use of a pitcher of water in her piece, La fièvre. It was the acoustics that elevated the experience, though. As shower singers everywhere can attest, nothing beats singing in a room completely covered in tile. Genevieve C. Ferron’s piece melded the rhythmic twirling of wigged dancers with William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. It was sad and weird and again, with the music, it was beautiful.
There was a theatrical element to a lot of the pieces, too. There were narratives in some (Juteau Audrée’s use of a couch cushion told the story of a child testing her strength). The final piece, by Helen Simard, was a scene from a movie, or could have been: audience members watched as a band quickly materialized in the deep end. The ensemble started on a little rock ditty, enticing audience members and dancers alike to get up and shimmy.
The space was unusual and so were the pieces. The lighting and reverberations created an ambience all its own. We look forward to attending next year’s 10th anniversary show. There’s no place we’d rather pee.