Categories: Entertainment

Mieko Ouchi’s The Dada Play navigates the tightrope of artistic revolution

Bradley Gamborski plays the feature role of choreographer Rudolf Laban in Mieko Ouchi's The Dada Play opening at Concordia University on Friday, March 9.

The Dada Play
Theatre At CUE
March 9 to 11 and 16 to 18
Al and Trish Huehn Theatre
Concordia University of Edmonton
73 St. and 111 Ave.
Tickets: $15 to $20. Call 780-420-1757 at www.tixonthesquare.ca

Is it possible that Lenin, the architect of the Communist Revolution, and Hugo Ball, the founder of the Dadaist Movement met and shared philosophies?

The world is full of coincidences, especially when you consider that Vladimir Lenin lived in Zurich in 1916 on the same street as the Voltaire Cabaret, the favourite watering hole for artists, exiles and pacifists that formed the Dadaist Movement.

Governor General Award winning playwright Mieko Ouchi toys with the idea of two historical figures meeting and exchanging ideas in The Dada Play.

Nearly 25 years after Ouchi’s initial scribblings, Theatre at CUE (Concordia University of Edmonton) mounts the Edmonton premiere from March 9 to 11 and 16 to 18 at the Al and Trish Huehn Theatre on campus.

“Mieko and I have been colleagues since our university days. Mieko actually wrote the play while she was still in high school. At that time it was called Cabaret Lenin and we did a reading of it,” said CUE Fine Arts Chair Caroline Howarth and play director.

The play was parked on the back burner until 2007 when Red Deer College commissioned Ouchi to develop a new work. She updated the old script, and within the next two years, Calgary’s St. Mary’s University College and the University of Oklahoma School of Drama also mounted the two-hour show.

The Dada Play took more than a decade to reach Edmonton, in part because the 16-actor script is economically unfeasible for most professional companies to produce.

“But it’s a wonderful production to do with students. It’s all about young rebels creating a subversive, avant-garde art movement,” Howarth said noting the play’s relevance to the current socio-political climate.

“The same kinds of things that happened then are affecting young people today. The world they are getting is not the world they want. The status quo is not what they want. It’s time to change things.”

The Voltaire Cabaret is a back room in a Swiss beer hall. Dadaist leader Hugo Ball (Nathan Hall) and his wife Emmy Hennings (Teagan Kamstra) attract artists, idealists and refugees from across Europe eager to challenge and change the conservative status. It is a backlash against the world.

“It took place in the middle of World War I in a very absurd situation. Their response was to throw out existing rules and create something that forced people to look at things in a new way.”

Howard gives the example of Marcel Duchamp’s famous 2017 installation of a urinal with just the signature R. Mutt on it. What started as a practical joke launched a career.

“It (Dadaist Movement) was unusual in that it spread quickly through all the artistic disciplines – painting, sculpture, music, dance, theatre.”

In Ouchi’s play Lenin (Zachary DesRoches) lives above the beer hall and becomes friends with the artists.

“He is inspired by their passion to use art as a weapon to change the world. He doesn’t actually get involved in what they do. He actually skirts the edges of the cabaret, but he gives a rousing speech to workers calling for revolution and the overthrow of oppression from their bosses.”

Bellerose Composite High graduate, Bradley Gamborski, now studying drama and music at Concordia, plays the role of choreographer Rudolf Laban, a dance theorist who pioneered modern dance in Europe.

“Laban had an early modern dance style. It was quite robotic and explored all the planes of a body. He found ways of moving the body in different planes and spaces. In ballet you go up and down. Laban would go low or go high. He’d move backwards or forwards,” Howarth explained.

And in the spirit of his character, Gamborski dances in one number.

“My dance background is mostly from being involved in theatre. I have been doing theatre since I was six and have learned most of my dance skills from that,” he noted.

Although The Dada Play is a drama, Ouchi throws in The Chorus Number, a musical showstopper.

“We are watching a play as a Dadaist art piece. It consistently throws things at you that break the expectation of what a play is supposed to be,” Howarth said.

She finds many reasons to attend the production.

“It’s exciting to see a group of artists do fine work and it’s an interesting play about the Dada Art Movement, something not many people know much about. It’s got music, romance, art and revolution.”

Anna Borowiecki: Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.