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Three thumbs up for Shattered Cabaret

It began in hell—Cabaret Brise-Jour draws its inspiration from the inter-war cabarets of Berlin and Paris where decadence was seen as the best way forward.

Québec-based L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres performs Cabaret Brise-Jour April 2 – 6 at the York Theatre.

“Weird” was a word on the lips of most everyone leaving the Cultch’s York Theatre Tuesday night, but it was said with an air of delight that you’d think everyone had come to the opening of L’orchestre d’hommes-orchestres’ Cabaret Brise-Jour (Shattered Cabaret) expressly to get their dose of it.

It began in hell. LODHO draws its inspiration from the inter-war cabarets of Berlin and Paris where decadence was seen as the best way forward, and America had fallen in love with the romance of decadence too (French president George Clemenceau famously quipped that America had “gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization”).

The thread of decadence that Brise-Jour follows is that we’re living in an indifferent universe doomed to die ignominious deaths so, what the fuck, let’s make art. But decadence turns out to be the mother of invention and it continues to propel art movements even to this day—LODHO being a shining example.

LODHO objectifies everything within its grasp—props, lighting, musical instruments, and actors—all used and ultimately discarded. In a series of tableaux vivants LODHO conjures up an existential solitude without ever following any sort of narrative. Instead, with great lassitude the actors lounge about the stage until their solos emerge, which they then deliver with inventiveness and vigour.

All the music is draw from Kurt Weill, sung in English, French, and German, but highly processed through the LODHO’s steam-punk inspired props. A singer placed on a chair attached to an antique sewing machine shook violently enough to create a beautiful 30’s vintage vibrato. Later, an electric eggbeater provided a perfect drum roll when applied to a snare. Accordions and harmonicas were attached to bodies in fetishy ways that suggested much more than music. The highlight was the recorder chandelier made up of 20 or so soprano recorders attached by tubes to turkey basters, which descended from the ceiling so three players could play it like a calliope.

You’d think there’d be no room for intimacy, but that’s another curious quality of decadence in art—it bares everything. The final song, Ballade de la fille noyée (Ballad of the drowned girl), provides all the intimacy you’d think never possible in this mayhem. Naked and clutching a dulcimer to her breasts, the drowned girl sings into a bare bulb that flickers with the volume of her voice. She was a ghost at our camp fire come to tell us her sad tale and show us just how beautiful decadence can be.

Photos courtesy of The Cultch

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