Catapulted onto the international scene by the success of Robert Lepage, Quebec's particular genre of interconnected movement and theater has led to some of the most exciting theater work in Canada. Carbone 14, a leading practitioner of the form led by the imaginative Gilles Maheu, unveils "L'Hiver" (The Winter), a work right up there with the best in the company's extensive repertoire. Part of a trilogy (along with "The Forest" and "The Dead Souls"), "L'Hiver" is an allegorical examination of puritanical, clergy-driven forces in battle with untamed nature. The 70-minute show is an evolving work, at this point focusing on the choreography, with videographic and historical elements to be developed by December. Even unfinished, what's there now feels so complete and is delivered with such flair that there's no sense of being cheated. Perhaps a stronger linear through-line will make some scenes clearer in intent.
Using a series of moveable scrims, slide projectors, the occasional set piece, simple costuming, a magnificent soundscape ranging from Philip Glass and Bartok to the Kodo Drummers, and the wizardry of Alain Lortie’s lighting, Maheu’s nine performers create a shifting, magical landscape. Mostly clad in black-and-white, with splotches of red in the scarves and gloves, the performers swirl, pivot, leapfrog and amble through short, specific scenes, each a finished portrait in itself. Maheu, like Lepage, often uses his actors to create living sculptures, and here shadow-play and silhouettes are used to great effect.
“L’Hiver’s” impressive visual vocabulary includes school desks piled with snow, an old priest crossing the stage on skis, children in white frocks throwing snow to the rafters and adults in black attire twirling in suppressed passion. These tableaux float by, occasionally pausing to stick and resonate in the subconscious, Quebec’s contribution to the world of imagistic theater continuing to impress.