Sunday, 1 June 2014

"Sho-Tel" - A Wild Night at the Aurora Motel with Mile Zero Dance

Allison, Jen, Gerry and Jodie descend on the Aurora Motel (source: Edmonton Journal)
I live in the west end of Edmonton. And for the most part I quite like it, and wish it would get more love. While Edmonton's city centre is green and increasingly inspired architecturally (as it should be), the west end is a mishmash of industrial and commercial sprawl - economically vital, teeming with life and hypnotic in the way a vintage Skinny Puppy album is, but on the whole unloved.

While Edmonton's new-found love for its downtown core is a welcome development, that love doesn't seem to extend west of 124th Street. The rest is pre-Mandel Edmonton - functional and essential to live but underpinned by a nagging sense of "It's better in the Bahamas."

But thanks to Mile Zero Dance's invasion of the classy confines of the Aurora Motel for one of their most memorable performances to date, I have a new appreciation for this repudiated part of town. In a show that felt like part Fernando Arrabal play, part Coen Brothers film (of the Barton Fink and Fargo vintage) and part episode of Portlandia, MZD again did what they do best - take an under-appreciated piece of Edmonton real estate and turn it into something wild and phantasmagoric.

Going to the show I had no idea what to expect, but it turns out a motel is a perfect space for an interdisciplinary dance-music-visual art installation: a bunch of rooms one after the other, occupied by a mix of MZD performers and actual paying tenants. At least I assume they were actual paying tenants, as in this show you were never quite sure who was a spectator and who was a conspiring member of the company whispering things you're supposed to hear into your ear.

Photos courtesy of Allison Nichols
The show began with simultaneous performances on opposite ends of the motel by Alison Towne of the Good Women Dance Collective and Jen Mesch of the Jen Mesch Dance Conspiracy, the latter featuring bass saxophone of New Music Edmonton Production Manager and U of A reed instructor Allison Balcetis.

Alison-with-one-L's performance was a sort of shopping-trip-from-hell dreamscape in which she dances through a never-ending series of gigantic President's Choice shopping bags, while mezzo-soprano Michelle Milenkovic (the star of this month's Body of Colour show) serenaded the crowd from her bubble bath in the other room in what was clearly the cushiest gig in this show. A gig that anyone who saw Body of Colour can agree she earned.

Over on the other side of the motel complex, Jen Mesch managed to defy both her impressive dance resume and her US Midwest origins by inhabiting the role of a nameless Alberta rig pig with a fixation on cologne and lofty aspiration (if questionable aptitude) as a dancer, in what was one of the most compelling pure acting performances ever thrown up by Mile Zero. Her performance was punctuated by the constant trolling of the character's gnawing subconscious self, as portrayed by Allison-with-two-Ls' bass sax, a rare instrument that she employed in a similar role in Gene Kosowan's Ghosts that Guard the Gateway back in New Music Edmonton's Now Hear This performance back in March.

And then it went on - with one of Mile Zero's most endearing performances to date courtesy of Jodie Vanderkerkhove and Artistic Director Gerry Morita in what was the only show to date I've ever been to (with the exception of a couple of Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings) where I've been offered toast - with butter and honey no less. Which admittedly was nothing compared to the pair of live lobsters in Jen's room, which she repeatedly offered up for dinner - although no actual lobstercide was committed.

With this closing show in Mile Zero Dance's 2013-2014 season, a troupe best known for their outlandish reinventions of the urban landscape truly outdid themselves. With the additional participation of Le Tivoli performance art madman Patrick Arès-Pilon (owner of the Sho-Tel megaphone car), installation artists Carly Greene and Devon Beggs and sound design by Dan BrophyJeff Carpenter and Dave Wall, Sho-Tel was a tour-de-force by some of Edmonton's most outside-the-box arteests in a piece of creativity run wild that will forever change the way I look at cheap motels - in Edmonton and elsewhere.

We've all, I'm sure, been fascinated by what goes on behind closed doors in places like the Aurora Motel. And MZD, in their endless quest for new perspectives on, well, everything, just gave us a glimpse of some of the wild dreams and raw, chafed dialogue that invariably goes on in half-asleep, half-awake states in places like these. And coupled with the olfactory component of the show - the cigarette smoke, the cologne and the weed (the weed may have been an audience contribution), it was as raw and all-encompassing a performance as I've ever seen - with absolutely no fourth wall whatsoever.

The name 'Mile Zero' has always made me think of a repudiated, end-of-the-road cul-de-sac somewhere - kind of like that motel that you always drive by but never give a moment of thought, that still has VHS and doesn't turn up anywhere on Yelp or Trip Advisor. and this time, more than ever, they owned that name. Happy summer, MZD! Thanks for a wonderful season - and an epic closer!

See you next year!

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