Mélanie Demers -Cabaret noir
Cabaret noir 2023 Dance/theatre
Text by Maurice Demers
In her text for the CNA on this show combining “happening and advocacy”, she proudly states: “I am a bastard! As a child, I lived in an ill-fated neighbourhood of Quebec City. Somewhere between the zoo and the prison. You have to believe that both their cages have inspired in me a desire for freedom. I loved going to the Zoo parking lot and feeding the gulls with white bread. In modest happiness mode. Mother and daughter, alone, together and united. We were forever my little hand in hers. She, blonde with blue eyes. Me, black with black eyes. When the bastards in the area called me a black N-word, my mother reminded me that I was lucky to have my mixed blood. Look at the purebreds, she told me. They are the ones who die first. Bastards, like you, continue to prowl… since then, I have been proud of my exquisite bastardness. Her matriarchal lineage comes from her mother (cousin of Jean Demers, see our Facebook page) and she even passed it on to her son. She was raised like the other Demers children in Quebec City and did not explore her Haitian lineage until her twenties. She is now exploring all its richness with this Black Cabaret creation.
She studied in Montreal and then entered the world of dance. A transdisciplinary artist, she founded her own company in 2007. “Choreographer and artistic director of MAYDAY, Mélanie Demers makes the stage a forum to question the role of the artist and of theatre, a space to reflect collectively on the fate of the world and individuals. Without being accusative or giving in to sterile defeatism, she sounds the alarm by highlighting the grey areas of the human condition. Resolutely engaged, her works are both calls for help and an invitation to transformation. That’s why she named her company MAYDAY: she hears hope as much as distress in this cry. (Visit the website for more information: https://maydaydanse.ca/). She has had a great success. On our Facebook page, we have already honoured her Grand Prize at the 11th Prix de la danse de Montréal (PDM) in 2022. They praised “the unique mark that this Métis artist leaves on her time”. The award rewarded, among others, La goddam voie lactée, “a creation unfolding in 12 sketches in which Mélanie Demers casts both a feminine and acute light on our time, from the #MeToo movement to the exacerbation of racial tensions in the United States and elsewhere. ”
She then responded to the invitation of the Théâtre Prospéro to create a show to put the spotlight on “blackness”. Inspired by the books in her library that relate to the subject, she surrounded herself with black collaborators of various origins and professions. For the form, she was inspired by the famous Cabaret Neiges Noires (Montreal, 1992: “A huge fuck you in the form of a party” according to Catherine Pogonat in https://revuejeu.org/2017/12/06/cabaret-neiges-noires).
This recent Cabaret Noir show tries to “articulate this thing, this pain, this injustice, this repeated story”, by presenting us cabaret-style sketches on the impact that have had on the performers key moments or texts in the history of Blacks: Martin Luther King, Mohamed Ali, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, an embarrassing scene from the famous series Lance et compte, Shakespeare’s Othello. I enjoyed the song Strange Fruit at the opening, the shadow posing of Mohamed Ali, the song from the Bible: “I’m beautiful, but I’m black,” and Othello’s dialogue, erupting into rap. Like a jazz ensemble, the chronology of the scenes is improvised every night, which renews the actors’ juices and requires an attentive presence. It is very intense and moving for a white spectator, even if in her words: “We pour our gall, of course. But we give it back to you in small jars of honey.” Indeed, the interpreters make us live these dark moments with a certain joy, without moralisation. As La Presse says so well Mélanie “still has a lot to say, and does so, once again, with relevance and intelligence, avoiding pitfalls and beaten paths” (https://www.lapresse.ca/arts ). The show then went to Toronto at the Canadian Stage, and a critic commented: “In inspiration from literary references and pop culture, CABARET NOIR questions the ways in which “blackness” is embodied and is as much a celebration as a criticism of the limits of the concept. ”
Melanie’s first foray into theatre as a director and her skilful integration of music, dance and theatre are a great achievement of which all Demers can be very proud. Let’s hope that the NAC’s invitation will not be limited to Black History month and let’s take this opportunity to salute the presence of blacks in our family. She will return to Ottawa in March with her show Public Confession and I will add more info on that date.