My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

The Progress festival presents provocative performances

February is a brutal month full of storms, cold and cabin fever. Valentine's Day injects a bit of heat for those lucky in love, and the Rhubarb Festival provides art, comedy and eroticism for the rest of us. The masterminds behind SummerWorks have decided to expand into this bleak time of year and create another festival boldly named Progress dubbed a "new international festival of performance and ideas." The inaugural set of offerings does encompass the globe and is packed with intriguing and daring works.

The choices were not made by SummerWorks alone and discerning partners like Buddies and Volcano Theatre have brought their unique tastes to the table - literally in the case of Silent Dinner, an eight hour marathon that includes the actual cooking and consumption of food.

While all of the performances appeal, there are two of particular gay interest. Canadian artist/provocateur Michael Dudeck presents, curated by the impeccable tastemakers at Videofag, his stylized ceremonial event The Messiah Complex 5.0. Projections, pounding beats, gender bending and disturbing content swirl together to riff on the Harlow monkey experiments where newly born rhesus monkeys had their birth mothers replaced by cloth and wire substitutes. Madness ensued for the monkeys, The Messiah Complex 5.0 promises to push its audience to the edge of madness.

Shapeshifting between human and primate, prophet and prostitute, animal and machine, Dudeck re-mixes information and histories in a stylized ritual that is hypnotic, immersive, and disturbing.

When Daniel MacIvor bid farewell to his groundbreaking and breathtaking solo shows by creating his own mini-festival at Buddies, Monster was one of many highlights. Part of the thrill was watching MacIvor's high wire act of a performance: one actor with pinpoint lighting and sound effects on a black stage creating an epic tale with a cast of dozens. Awed by MacIvor's powerful conjuring, it was only after that one stopped to realize how brilliantly written the text is. One person who noticed is Brazilian actor/director Enrique Diaz.

Diaz's version, Cine Monstro, rejects the minimalism of MacIvor's conception and uses elaborate projections and props. It is also in Portuguese (with surtitles) which can only up the melodramatic stakes while re-interpreting an already compelling work of art.

Of course Monster, and one can conjecture Cine Monstro, is deeply disturbing, making the two queerest offerings of Progress unsettling experiences - perfect for cold February nights.

Following the February 13 performance of Cine Monstro, MacIvor will join Diaz for a post-performance discussion that, for those lucky enough to have seen both productions, will be illuminating and probably as entertaining as any play or performance art offered by any festival.

Progress runs Wed, Feb 4 to Sun, Feb 15 at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W.