Against the current to save the arts

Contre-Courant isn’t a theatre show in the purest sense, or for that matter any sense. In fact, it’s the Fetish Film Festival, part of the 2009 Montreal Fetish Weekend, celebrating its fifth anniversary.

There were films by Anthony Teoli, Dominic Vincent, Matthew Saliba, Patricia Chica and others. Some were long, some were short, all were quite good quality and Fetish-themed. Some had little or no dialogue while all had stunning visuals.

Nat King Pole being led offstage by Dead Doll Roxy Hardon (photo by Linda Dawn Hammond)

The films were screened alongside performances by neo-burlesque dance troupe the Dead Dolls, highly entertaining drag king Nat King Pole, Celopatra regulars Reena and the Pussycat Drags and others. While this type of lineup may have happened before, there was something different thrown into the mix this time: theatre and politics.

Early in the evening, there was a piece of verbatim theatre dramatizing the proceedings at the Office de Consultation de Montreal (OCPM) meetings held in June. At these meetings, members of the group trying to save Café Cleopatra from destruction and trying to save the main in general from gentrification spoke as they did again Friday night at Le Medley.

Having attended both, I have to say that while the actual meetings were more effective in potentially stopping the construction of a giant office tower in place of performance venues in the Quartier des Spectacles (the OCPM ruled that the plan needs to be re-evaluated and now Angus development said they are going to do just that), this version was more fun. How many other consultation meetings can you drink a rhum and coke at?

Velma Candyass and Felicity Fuckhard of the Dead Dolls reenacting their consultation meeting presentation flowed into a touching musical tribute to the Main, a “beautiful disaster” according to the singer Tommy Toxic.   There were also speeches and presentations by Dr. Jean Dominqie Leccia and Vivian Namaste thrown into the mix.

Emcee Eric Paradis of Club Sin helped bring the situation to the forefront and asked why big-time entertainers got all sorts of money from the government and smaller entertainers, like those who played at Cabaret Cleo were for the most part ignored and threatened with eviction from their performance space.

Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis brought on stage by the Dead Dolls and dancer Legal Tender (photo by Linda Dawn Hammond)

Perhaps the most personal moment came when Cleopatra owner Johnny Zoumboulakis, after being brought on stage by members of the Dead Dolls and dancer Legal Tender, argued that Fetish and underground performers shouldn’t be relegated to a basement somewhere, but belonged on the Main. He also said that he and the rest of the artists of the Cleo didn’t want to be in the press for the reasons that they were, but they have to keep fighting.

Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention. A show like this with such an experimental mix of politics, theatre, burlesque and fetish films probably wouldn’t have happened if the lower Main wasn’t threatened. While the performers involved would prefer not to have to fight for their right to play, they have to keep fighting.

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