Self Help

Self-help, laughter and performance – The Jerusalem Post

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ANDREW TAY.
(photo credit: QARIM BROWN)

As users of the Internet, we are constantly being bombarded with advertisements for products that will make us feel better. If you’re having a bad day, a turmeric latte from Starbucks is just the thing to pick you up. Those designer yoga pants will be sure to boost your spirits on a down morning. Face creams, eye masks, juice cleanses, various powders and elixirs and shots and immune boosters are all on constant display, promising to pave the road to wellness.

To Andrew Tay, Montreal-based curator, choreographer and performer, this flush of goodies strikes an off-tune chord.

Three years ago, when Tay began creating Fame Prayer / EATING, wellness and self-care were on the tips of everyone’s tongues. “I wanted to be critical of this because I was in a lot of spaces, queer spaces, where people were using this wellness idea as a spa mentality, like ‘if you’re feeling s*****, have a spirulina smoothie and feel better,’” explains Tay via Skype.

It is early September and Tay is wearing a mustard-colored sweater to fend off the autumn chill coming into Montreal. In two weeks, he will trade his long sleeves for tank tops as he presents Fame Prayer / EATING in Tel Aviv as part of the annual Diver Festival. It will be Tay’s first visit to Israel.

Tay, 42, was born and raised in Windsor, Ontario. He received a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University and began presenting work. In 2005, he co-founded Wants&Needs Danse with Sasha Kleinplatz. Together, they produce performance events in Montreal and have choreographed shows for a number of companies, such as Cirque du Soleil. He is the artistic curator of the O Vertigo Creation Center in Montreal. In many of Tay’s previous works, he has incorporated observations and commentary of queer culture, identity and healing practices.

Fame Prayer / EATING is a collaboration between Tay, visual and performance artist Francois Lalumiere from Montreal and Katarzyna Szugajew, a Polish photographer and performance artist. In the program notes, the work is described as “a queer space of worship, a critique of healing culture, and a transgressive and disorientating performance for the audience to engage with.”
“We take self-help book texts and, instead of using them as strategies for our life, we use them for our bodies,” says Tay. “We’re in a constant state of negotiation with this idea in wellness that if something is wrong, you need to fix it.”

THOUGH TAY is the only formally trained dancer in the bunch, he assures that this does not play into any on-stage hierarchies. “We’re working with a strategy for the work where we try to put ourselves in a situation where none of us has more skill than the others.”

The performance was created while the trio were in residency at Montreal’s Studio 303. “We made it really quickly, we had 10 days,” Tay explains. In that time, Tay, Lalumiere and Szugajew were able to compose a clear score for the work, which left a lot of room for response to the here and now. No performance is quite the same as the last. One consistent factor, however, is laughter.

“It’s quite hilarious,” smiles Tay. “I think the most surprising thing is the way that the public reacts to it. We don’t make jokes and we don’t work with irony but something happens in the work where people laugh for almost the entire show. It’s rare that people laugh for a whole hour in a show. It’s kind of difficult to pin down why it’s funny. But I’d also like preface that with saying that while there is a lot of laughter, some people find the work traumatizing. They find it difficult because of the laughter or the release or because the physicality can be quite harsh even though it’s joyful. We take this kind of joy pretty politically.”

Tay sees politics as any moment in which a person takes a position. But politics are a major part of Tay’s life as curator in the progressive multi-cultural dance hub that is Montreal today. As such, the invitation to perform in Tel Aviv gave him a moment’s pause. “As an artist here in Montreal, I work with ideas of inclusion and political forward thinking. Me and Ido (Feder, artistic director of the Diver Festival) had quite a few conversations before I felt it was a context that made sense for the work.”

As part of his participation in the festival, Tay will join Feder, Omer Krieger and his collaborators in leading and artists’ lab on the subject of art, morality and getting into trouble.

Fame Prayer / EATING will be performed on September 19 at 9 p.m. at Inbal Theater. The performance will be followed by a discussion led by Lilach Livne. For more information, visit www.diverfestival.com.

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