Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Nuit Blanche: Festival guide

A night to remember

DOUBLE TAKE. Ulrike Quade plays conjoined twins in Me Too.

No, the buzz you’ve been hearing around Toronto is not a plague of locusts. It’s all about Nuit Blanche. Everyone who’s anyone will be there, don’t you know? Nuit Blanche, “a free all-night contemporary art thing,” returns for its second year on Sat, Sep 29 starting at 7pm and running until 7am on Sunday morning. Since Nuit Blanche in Paris 2002, the event has become an international phenomenon with festivities taking place from Latvia to Spain.

Toronto’s Nuit Blanche is much expanded this year. One of the more notable additions is the creation of Nightless City on Church St. Appropriately enough, Nightless City promises to bathe the strip in red light, transforming every little corner into a street-wide theatre spectacle. Event organizers are calling it “a grand erotic fantasy,” which, depending on what you are into, could also describe any given afternoon on Church St.

The start of Nightless City will be announced by a singular horn and drifting mist. “The intent of this project,” says project curator Kristyn Wong-Tam, “is to create an experience for the observer that embodies the restrained yet carefree and celebrated environments that the ‘floating world’ afforded the tradition-bound shoguns during Edo [now Tokyo] in the 16th and 17th century.” Calling herself “a bit of an East Asian history junkie,” Wong-Tam first got involved in Nuit Blanche as co-owner of XEXE Gallery, keeping the gallery doors open all night at last year’s event. “I distinctly remember getting goose bumps when I realized that, in the wee hours of that morning, I felt that Toronto had finally achieved some of that worldly status that we have been claiming to have for decades.”

Unlike other Church St events such as Pride or the Fetish Fair where performances are on stage, Nightless City performances will happen in storefronts and right on the street. Viewers are encouraged to dress in their own interpretation of what a red light night could mean, blurring the lines between spectators and participants. “There are no steadfast rules for Nightless City,” says Wong-Tam, “aside from try, taste and touch everything.”

The Nightless City will feature multimedia installations and modern dance to aerial acrobatics, opera, puppetry, improvisation and even psychic readings. Many businesses will stay open all night and a number of bars have extended serving hours (till 4am). A full listing of Nightless City performers can be found on the Church-Wellesley Village BIA website at Church-wellesleyvillage.ca/nuitblanche.

One Nightless City event to watch out for is a performance piece titled Me Too by Amsterdam-based theatre artist Ulrike Quade, an artist in residence this summer at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. A condensed version of the original hour-long performance of Me Too will be performed roughly every hour by actor Silke Hundertmark in the American Apparel storefront (500 Church St). Quade found inspiration in the story of real life conjoined twins and sideshow performers Daisy and Violet. Though Hundertmark herself only has one head, through the magic of puppetry, she will perform the role of both twins, recreating elements of a vaudeville revue.

Nightless City is also a chance to see new performance work by Toronto-based Ed Johnson and Paul Couillard. The art and life couple known for their durational work have been performing together as Duorama since 2000. Nightless City will mark their 104th performance. The piece, working with the idea of positive and negative as a reference to HIV status, will see the artists build a bed out of sugar cubes. Given that the work will last 12 hours, don’t expect big drama but rather a slow evolution throughout the evening.

Johnson and Couillard have performed around the globe. Duorama’s work has been staged in France, Poland, Croatia, Ukraine, Belarus, Finland, Germany and the list goes on. But Johnson sees Nightless City on Church St as a unique opportunity. He’s looking forward to performing, “for a much more gender-alt audience than we would normally,” he says. “We’ll have a chance to try some images that might not be understood in the same way in other locations.”

Johnson and Couillard often perform in their pyjamas as a way of distancing themselves from the spaces they are in but also to evoke of a kind of intimate, dream state. One of the ongoing themes of Duorama’s work is what Johnson describes as an investigation of “the borders of male intimacy in public.”

Even if you don’t buy the hype, Nuit Blanche and Nightless City, at the very least, will do something no singular gallery can do on its own: Incorporate art into life, bringing art and ideas to an audience not necessarily versed in the language and rhetoric of the art world. For at least one night this year Toronto will stay awake, shake the smog from its clouded head and turn itself into an artist’s playground. So let’s all take our cue from the immortal words of Rocky Horror’s Dr Frank-N-Furter when he says, “Don’t dream it. Be it.” Make Nuit Blanche a night to remember.