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Mardi Gras: secret men’s business

Eleanor Brickhill talks with dancer Brian Carbee

Dean Walsh & Brian Carbee, Stretching It Wider Dean Walsh & Brian Carbee, Stretching It Wider
photo Heidrun Löhr
While Stretching It Wider is the name of the whole show, there are 2 other pieces, Glory Holy! and Madame. In this program Glory Holy! is reworked. It’s still the same piece in structure and text from a year ago, but the gestural element has changed. I thought I’d try to find a new place, go somewhere else, play with new rhythms. The text itself was pretty much ingrained, and I didn’t have to study it, but I’m finding new things coming out. I want to become reacquainted with it, let it tell me a few things instead of me determining it all the time.

Glory Holy! shifted very quickly through extremes of characterisation. For instance, that pervasive mother character who called at inappropriate times.

Yes, that phone call from ‘mom’ was from another piece, In Search of Mike. I thought it would be fun to see how mother would go in Glory Holy!. There was a montage of characters: a truck driver leaning out of a window; a person in a box at a fairground; a dog in a kennel. The preacher was pretty much the central character though, on his soapbox.

Is Glory Holy! still about that, or has it changed?

On the surface it’s about death, consumerism, sin, sex, all the big things. On a deeper level it’s about intimacy and isolation. It’s what that set is about, that booth/confessional/box office thing, where the central interactions occur through a little hole. There’s an element in that box which is like a womb, the greatest place of intimacy really. And that’s why the mother visited, to support that sense of female, even though it’s in a very male environment.

What about the food images, mother’s little aphorisms that constantly filtered through?

My mother’s conversation was all clichés. But they were far from meaningless. She had her own unique set, and as I got older I discovered they were unusual, completely particular to her. There’s a surface conversation that makes a kind of trivial sense, but there is a deeper level you can get to. And just that lack of being able to communicate speaks volumes. It makes you ache a little bit.

I remember sex and food and religion, and the selling of all of that, and how it all merged. Was that really what it was about?

A lot of elements of popular culture, like consumerism and sex, are advertised, and the preacher is the consummate advertiser. He sells God; he sells morality; he’s a moderator of thought. He’s right up there on his pulpit, preaching his faulty gospel. It’s all so corrupt. And yet, those extremes are part of a mix; extremes dictate each other, help to define each other. So it was a mix, too, with the sexual thing. The booth was a place of false intimacy, but also quite intensely intimate.

Madame had its genesis—and this is by no means what it is—when I worked with Jean Genet’s The Maids. I’m not really dealing with any of the issues of that play. I just wanted to take that character out for a walk, basically, to see what else she can do. I think the whole program is about intimacy and isolation, about 2 people trying to make a connection. In Madame, you might wonder whether making a connection is a game, because it’s really about not making it. The characters, they both get off on that. A lot of people do that: being thwarted, people thrive on it.

Stretching it Wider is about walking into that rehearsal room and not knowing what we’re going to do, me and Dean Walsh and the composer [Drew Crawford]; just let’s go somewhere. We’re looking at how bodies connect, and what that connection yields, and ways in which bodies act, react and over-react. It’s tending towards the over-reaction, but that’s Dean and me.

And again, it’s turning out to be lots of fun. The whole thing of stretching it wider has sexual connotations, for Mardi Gras, but it’s also looking at art practice, stretching that a bit wider, too. We’re working with blindness, taping over our eyes so we actually have to feel and connect, seeing how adventurous we can be in that realm. And you do feel a real dependence there; and you feel anxious when you lose that contact. But that was one of the precepts, to challenge ourselves, make it risky and make it work.

The 2 coins we tape over our eyes suggest a death image. It’s physically very striking, with black tape around our heads, very bondage. But more than anything I like it to be about Dean and I having fun. If it’s not fun, not pleasurable, then especially at my age, I don’t want to do all that big stuff. I’m 10 years older than Dean. Let him do all the wild stuff. Dean’s also in Madame. I’m Madame, though, and that’s a big change, getting Dean out of drag. But it really is a Mardi Gras program.

What is a “Mardi Gras program”, actually?

Glory Holy! is very Mardi Gras. I hadn’t actually seen that hidden, secret men’s business on stage. In the gay community it’s still an area that people don’t talk about, don’t own. It’s very much a place of non-communication; people don’t talk. And because it’s a place where people don’t talk, they don’t talk about it, either. This piece does have a gay sensibility, but then Dean and I are very queer in our own beings, so the sensibility is there. But I would like to see Mardi Gras just do work by gay artists, and not necessarily gay themes. I think that might be an important direction for the festival to go.

Stretching It Wider, Brian Carbee and Dean Walsh, produced by One Extra Company, Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, Downstairs at the Seymour Centre, February 28 - March 2

RealTime issue #41 Feb-March 2001 pg. 27

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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