M/Hotel pushes boundaries at Dance in Vancouver

Hotel rooms are both welcoming and alienating places; when you slide your key into the slot and enter into an empty room, everything inside simultaneously belongs to you and has a price.

M/Hotel, presented by battery opera, brought the audience and performers into close proximity last week as part of the Dance in Vancouver festival. It was curious and interactive, and drew its richness from the power of narrative. The show included a marathon performances occurring every hour 12 times daily for three days at the Holiday Inn downtown. David McIntosh, artistic producer, stayed in the bar for that entire length of time to chat and answer questions.

Up to five audience members at a time shared unique one-hour experiences in a hotel room with two performers, who used dance, text, and music to tell stories. It pushed boundaries in the relationship between audience and performer, the space of the stage, and the fluidity of “performativity” in such an intimate setting.

M/Hotel relies upon short narratives written by David McIntosh in and around hotel rooms over the course of a year. There are 36 possible variations of the show, so each time slot is a truly unique performance. I chatted with David in the relaxed hotel bar between shows, and he pointed out the energy variations in the show. Every one changes, he said, depending on who is present in the audience, and even the performers often can’t anticipate exactly what their partner will do.

The audience themselves responded differently within the performance space. Some became uncomfortable and perch on the wall to spectate, while others were relaxed — even to the point of getting into the bed and napping.

Hotels are places of monetary exchange, and this economic necessity was symbolized at the start of the performance in the hotel bar. A man explained where our room was and requested both money and a set of house keys from the participants. Unwilling at first, I decided to hand over my keychain (what the heck!). He gave us a room number and sent us off up the stairs with a complicated set of instructions to find our room.

The two shows I saw were incredibly different, but had a similar structure. The first had two female performers; one acted out an improvised dance while holding my set of keys, and the other delivered a fascinating monologue about the power of smell in connection with memory. The atmosphere felt formal, like we were taking part in someone else’s dream.

The second performance felt more casual; there was no sense of tragedy in the air like the first show. In fact several times I laughed, despite its morbid story of an acrobat in the circus. With two male performers and a brighter room area, there was a new sense of playfulness that changed the way I read their actions. The story was less ambiguous, and cut through the air rather than pulling us along with it.

I have never viewed performances in such intimate settings. Hotel rooms are spaces you never share with strangers, so there was a delightful sense of awkwardness. I felt a strong connection to the other audience members, and a strange distance from the performers. They were right beside us, but inaccessible.

The viewing took on a strange sense of voyeurism similar to film; though we shared the same confined space there was a tactile separation between viewer and performer almost like a lens. The audience had a new power to dictate the mood of the performance, and it was the performers who responded.