The High Performance Rodeo shifted into Legion #1 mode Saturday night, where a first rate tripleheader turned Seventh Avenue into a culture hub for a night.
Between 7pm and 10pm, the Rodeo rolled out three very different pieces, each uniquely theatrical – and all of them, from the sounds of it (I missed Countries Shaped Like Stars at 7pm but several of my spies who saw it, adored it) landing in the audience’s sweet spot.
The second show, at 8pm, was Trace, from Vertical City’s Bruce Barton (who runs the Department of Performing Arts at the University of Calgary), and Toronto’s Theatre Gargantua (Michele Polak and Martin Julien).
Trace was an audience inclusive theatrical event that featured Polak and Julien moving throughout one floor of the Legion, gently interacting with various audience members and conjuring up tiny little perfect shards of shared memories, often through interacting with some of the Legion’s artifacts – the dart boards and pool table and dance floor.
It was a little bit discombobulating – you never quite knew where to look next – and every once in a while, you’d look up to discover you were part of the show – like when Polak asked me about my first crush, and I found myself telling a room full of people about a girl named Julie I meant to ask to a Bachman Turner Overdrive concert 40 years ago but didn’t have the nerve – only to hand off to Julien, who suddenly turned it into a poetic riff on the romance of hoser classic rock.
Trace unfolded in a bit of a timeless haze, one story after another – such as the guy who told us about the ghost up in the attic of his parents’ farmhouse – with a soundtrack that felt pulled from the glory days of Legion #1, which begs for the Glen Miller Orchestra to suddenly appear and start blowing the doors off the joint.
Some people don’t like becoming part of the show – however, most Calgary audiences I have ever sat with seem to love being part of it. (We also love talkbacks with the cast after the show!)
Trace didn’t really serve up a narrative through line that delivered a cathartic payoff at the end, but I liked the flavour and texture of the stories and songs Polak and Julien shared with us. And it all ended in a slow, romantic dance that turned the Legion into one big old turn of the 20th century ballroom.
Then they kicked us out, in order to strike the show and set up for the Cris Derksen Trio at 10pm.
Soon thereafter, Cris Derksen and her drummer appeared onstage. Derksen is, by her description, a half-Cree, half-Mennonite electric cellist who’s got a sensational sound.
She also had a hoop dancer, who would periodically enter from a side entrance and mesmorize the audience, while Derksen and the drummer performed a hypnotic set that blended electronic music with an indigenous backbeat.
Meanwhile, an audience of about 40 people roared along with Derksen’s cello, while the hoop dancer performed incredible acts of physical agility.
“You’re great,” said one woman, from the audience. “What’s your name?”
“Cris Derksen,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Can we just do a Q&A right here?” asked the woman in the audience. “How did you get interested in music?”
“Maybe we can do a talkback after the show?” said Derksen, who was as self-effacing, funny and charismatic between songs as her electric cello was during them.
She was matched by the hoop dancer, who took over the Legion’s dance floor in spectacular manner.
“I’m liking this dance floor thing,” Derksen said, watching the hoop dancer perform. “It’s perfect for Timke.”
“Do a whole legion tour!” said the woman in the audience.
The Legion itself played a starring role throughout the night. Its a fantastic venue – historic, charming and intimate and as accessible a venue as you could hope for.
It turns out that the #1 in Legion #1 refers to the fact that it was the first Legion – anywhere – in Canada.
After Derksen finished her set, a longtime Rodeo patron on her way out stopped to chat, and we started to wax lyrical about the Legion, which sits on a rough stretch of Seventh Avenue, where there aren’t many stretches that are anything but.
(Seventh Avenue is the media op whenever there’s a story in the papers about shuttered storefronts in the current recession, even though they’re storefronts that were shuttered since long before the price of oil ever crashed in 2014.)
Some day, Seventh Avenue will be cool and beautiful again, and hopefully, right in the middle of all that awesome will be Legion #1, intact and flourishing well into the 21st century.
She shared a story about trying to find out, a little while back in the day, what kind of wine the bartender was serving her one particular night at the Legion when the wine they served at the Legion was just a bit, shall we say, on the suspect side of the street.
“What is it?” Turri asked, as she was presented with a plastic cup full of red vino, meaning – Shiraz? Malbec? Cabernet?
Everyone wants to know what kind of wine they’re being served.
“It’s delicious,” the bartender said.
So was Saturday night.
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Stephen Hunt is the 2017 High Performance Rodeo writer-in-residence.