entre chien et loup: the story of boundaries between the familiar and unfamiliar

James Gnam talks about the process of making a solo act during a pandemic

Gnam performing entre chien et loup. Courtesy of David Cooper

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

entre chien et loup — or quite literally, between dog and wolf — is a French expression used to describe the time between night and day where a dog is indistinguishable from a wolf. This expression is the title and inspiration for James Gnam’s solo act. The Peak had the opportunity to speak to Gnam about the process of creating a solo during a pandemic. 

Gnam is the art director and co-founder of plastic orchid factory, a space he created with his partner, Natalie, 12 years ago as a passion project. plastic orchid factory has since put out over 20 original works that have been in community halls, theatres, studios, and galleries across Turtle Island. Their work aims to “blend genres and facilitate collaboration, [developing] new frameworks for making and experiencing art and performance.” 

Gnam himself has a strong ballet background, and he spoke with reverence about how in sync he was with the many people he collaborated with, especially in times of discomfort. While discussing how fortunate he felt to have lasting creative partnerships, Gnam mentioned Vanessa Goodman and James Proudfoot, who have both been working with Gnam for 12 years. At this stage, Gnam finds that they have immense trust in each other, and knows that in times of uncertainty, they will land together.

The process for entre chien et loup actually started with another solo Gnam had been working on, which was meant to premiere in June 2020. The show was inspired by conversations with his parents about the possibility of the end of the world, in relation to the Cold War. As a parent of two young boys, he found that he was having similar conversations with his children, this time about the climate crisis. Gnam was fascinated with the paradox of having these parent-child conversations about the end of the world, both speaking about it as a possibility and with the overarching tone of needing to take care of the world.

In the fall when his kids were returning to school, Gnam decided he wanted to work on a different kind of show. “I realized that we’re all in the middle of this, we don’t need to make work about being in the middle of this. We don’t need to pour salt on [the] wound.” Instead, he decided to put his energy into creating a solo about the boundaries of daily life, where increasingly there seemed to be uncertain divides between the safe space at home and places that had become less clear and turbulent in the face of the pandemic. That’s where the name of the show, entre chein et loup, came about.

Gnam explained that the French phrase is “used to express the relationship between the domestic and the wild, between the known and the unknown, between fear and security.” Gnam was interested in exploring these boundaries in his solo. “It’s more about [ . . . ] our relationship to time and how that’s shifted over the course of the pandemic, [like] time and activity and expectation.” 

Gnam also explained that creating entre chein et loup largely in isolation has been difficult because he loves to feed off of and collaborate with people in real time, building the show incrementally with his team at the same time. However, given the themes of entre chien et loup, Gnam noted, “It actually makes sense for me to have spent as much time by myself in the studio for this work, because that’s the world we’ve been living in.” Gnam’s goal with entre chien et loup was not to provide a solution, but to express the ways his life and expectations have changed.

entre chien et loup is set to premiere on May 28 and 29 online, with tickets either free or by donation.