The chance element of live performance is part of what makes it so fascinating, for both the audience and performers. With Eeny Meeny Miny, director and choreographer Stéphanie Robert sets out to explore and explode this concept with what she calls “a life-sized card game of dancing, divulging and drinks.”
The basic premise is this: The performance is a game in which the dancers are directed by Robert (who is seated in the audience) to choose a card, which in turn instructs them to perform a certain task or dance phrase.
The concept is an interesting one, and in general, keeps the audience engaged, though it could have been stretched a little further. There was room to let the idea develop and to take more risks, allowing the piece to take its own direction. After choosing the concept of chance, I wanted Robert and her performers to take a chance on it.
The show begins casually, with the performers entering the space shortly after the house opens, chatting and taking a seat in a corner of the stage. The stage is set with a row of chairs, a couple of boxes of beer and three piles of cards with question marks inscribed on them.
An interesting dynamic is immediately established by the fact that the entrance to the house is at the back of the stage. Audience members step onstage without realizing they’re crossing the performance space to reach their seats. They unknowingly become performers for the performers, as well as for those of us already in the audience. For the most part, they seem blissfully unaware of this, and the fourth wall is broken in a very subtle, but I would venture, intentional way.
Once the audience is settled, storyteller Taylor Tower begins to recount a childhood memory. She doesn’t finish her story, however; she leaves us suspended in the middle of it, telling us we’ll have to wait to hear the rest. Then she addresses the dancers: “We’re here to play a game, right? So let’s get started!”
There’s a mad dash to the row of chairs at the back of the stage, and the dancers flip over the card on each chair, looking for the one that has their name. When they find it, they take a seat and hold up their card. We are immediately introduced to Marie-Pier, Maxine, J.D., Joa, Allison and Maude.
They pass beers among themselves and the game begins. From the audience, Robert calls out a dancer’s name, followed by the word “eeny,” “meeny” or “miny,” which dictates from which pile each dancer must choose a card. They perform movement phrases or tasks according to whichever card is chosen. At first, this is highly engaging for the audience because we are figuring out how the cards correspond to what is happening; we are playing a game too. Gradually we learn what each card indicates, but what helps maintain interest is the combinations in which the dancers find themselves. We see the challenges they face and the way they affect one another as performers.
Most of the movement phrases are light and energetic. While this is refreshing in a contemporary dance context, the energy throughout the show remains predominantly the same, and so the movements lose their impact. Fortunately this is alleviated by a moment of both physical and energetic gravity that occurs in a duet between the two men, J.D. and Joa. The movement is of a different quality than the others, and the focus instantly becomes less playful and more intense. In a good way. Although this phrase resurfaces again, the same change in dynamics doesn’t return, which is too bad. The light and playful looks lighter and more playful when there is also dark and brooding.
Regardless, a beautifully serendipitous moment occurs when Joa chooses the “Copy” card. Immediately after that, while he is waiting for someone to copy, Maude also chooses the “Copy” card. In that moment, audience and performers have a realization together, and it is pure magic.
The dancers begin copying one another’s small, pedestrian movements: brushing hair out of the face, shifting weight from one foot to another, blinking, looking at one another. We are fascinated and enthralled, and this could go on for five more minutes and the audience would be on the edge of their seats. But Robert chooses to cut it short after only about ten seconds or so, calling the next directive and neglecting what could have been the strongest moment of the piece.
That instant crystallized everything I think Robert was working for in this piece: there was chance, there was lightness, there was magic, there was no predicting what would happen next. And no choreographer could create or re-create such moments in a pre-meditated way. For a brief second we all felt it. These are the instances to take a chance with chance.
In the end, although greater physical and emotional contrast and a bit more risk-taking would have buoyed the piece even higher, the concept was an intriguing one, and perfect for a Fringe setting: it was innovative and engaging. I think Robert and her performers just need to trust what they have created and take that leap to let the piece have a life of its own.
Eeny Meeny Miny
@ Studio Jean-Valcourt, Conservatoire d’art dramatique de Montréal, 4750 avenue Henri-Julien