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Magnetic North magnificence

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Another thing I like is having Good Seats when I go to any kind of live performance. It’s to the point where I will avoid going completely if I Good Seats aren’t available—or are outrageously priced. Because I’ve tried, and I just know that being too far from the stage really does diminish my enjoyment.

Hence it was that we ended up at a performance of Norman last night.

Norman was playing locally as part of the Magnetic North theatre festival. I had never heard of this festival before, but apparently it’s been running for a number of years now. Every other year it goes to a new Canadian city; otherwise, it’s put on in Ottawa. This year is Kitchener-Waterloo’s turn.

When I heard about it, it sounded like something interesting and that I wanted to support. I was especially excited that Rick Mercer was doing a show as part of the festival. But when I finally remembered to try to get tickets for Rick’s show, the seats just weren’t that Good. Row M, kind of off to the side. It was dimming my enthusiasm.

So I looked through the program for what else might work, and Norman sounded interesting:

Most of us grew up with the work of Norman McLaren. Between slick Saturday morning cartoons or on clunky classroom projectors, McLaren’s mesmerizing work slid unexpectedly into the lives of generations of Canadians.

In the internationally acclaimed Norman, ground-breaking projection technology allows a performer to physically interact with the cinematic universe of award-winning Canadian film pioneer Norman McLaren. Join us as they delve into the vaults of Canada’s National Film Board to combine technology, animation and theatre in an unforgettable visual experience.

Seats were not actually being assigned for this, which made me think they weren’t expecting a big crowd. Smaller crowds always greatly enhance your chance of Good Seats. So I got tickets for that.

The performance was at 7:00. We arrived around 6:35 to find the Centre in the Square looking eerily empty, with maybe 10 other people there at that point? So yeah, no problem getting Good Seats!

As the performance approached, fortunately, more people showed. The crowd was still one of the smallest I’ve seen at the Centre, but at least had swelled to filled all the best seats in the house (though all the bad ones were empty).

I wasn’t terribly clear on what we were about to see, Jean even less so—he had no idea who Norman McLaren was, and had been telling people he was going to something called Daniel that night. After a short announcement, which concluded with the reminder to turn off your cell phones, the lights dimmed, all went quiet, and…

Someone’s cell phone started ringing. Couldn’t believe it!

That is, until I realized that this was part of the show. The single performer, dancer Peter Trosztmer, talked on the phone on his way to the stage, then addressed us about his obsession with Norman McLaren.

The 90 minutes that followed are really hard to describe, but were completely riveting. Peter would talk about McLaren, show parts of his films, but also interact with them in dance movements. He would dance between the intersecting lines. He would bat away the assembling and dissembling balls. He pulled away Norman’s chair in the well-known Chairy Tale, then interacted with his own. He became one of the dancers in the beautiful Pas de Deux.

I don’t know how they did it all, but it was absolutely brilliant.

Intersected with these film/dance pieces were documentary bits, in which holographic images of various people who worked with McLaren spoke about him. Also shown were some interviews with McLaren himself. It all gave me a much deeper appreciation of McLaren’s genius, particularly his skill at making music visual. It makes me want to go watch a bunch of his movies—which, fortunately, the NFB makes easy to do. (And isn’t it fabulous that staid old Canada funds a film board where an eccentric genius can spend a lifetime producing abstract short films?)

Much as I was taken with the whole thing, I wasn’t sure how Jean would react, but I needn’t have worried. Though he opined that it could perhaps have been a tad shorter, overall, he was in awe. He loved it.

So thanks to all you people who quickly snapped up the Good Mercer Seats, thus leading me to one of most intriguing live performances I’ve ever seen.

(Waterloo Region Record review of Norman)

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