When trees start to wander in the Quartier des Spectacles

September 21, 2023

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Le chant de l’arbre, a roving show created by the street-theatre company Toxique Trottoir, is an exciting celebration of nature in the city. Presented by the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, the Conseil des arts de Montréal, the National Theatre School of Canada and the Regroupement des arts de rue, it will run from September 21 to 24. Along Sainte-Catherine St. W. to Esplanade Tranquille, visitors will witness a spectacular performance combining singing, music and forest aromas. We spoke with Muriel de Zangroniz, Toxique Trottoir’s artistic director, performance director and co-founder, to learn more about this original event.

What sparked your desire to present this nature-themed show?

The idea came to us two and half years ago, at the height of the pandemic, but it had been incubating in us for even longer. You have to understand that the company I co-founded, Toxique Trottoir, creates shows that address the big societal issues of the day. We’ve already explored racism, for example. Since 2017, environmental issues have been our major preoccupation. So we had the idea of creating a thematic trilogy comprising the theatrical journey of Arbracadabra, the cultural mediation project Entre les branches and the roving show Le chant de l’arbre.

What does the show consist of?

It’s a two-part performance. The performers are nine trees and 16 children. In the first phase we start at the corner of Saint-Urbain and Sainte-Catherine streets. The trees start moving slowly, and we hope the audience will follow them to their destination, Esplanade Tranquille, where the stationary part of the show happens. We can’t wait to present Le chant de l’arbre right in the heart of downtown Montreal. We’ve already presented it in Auriac, France, in a beautiful greenspace, and now we’re curious to see how it will be received in an urban setting.

Were you surprised by the audience’s response?

To be honest, their reaction exceeded our expectations. At the end of the performance, the emotion was palpable and more than a few spectators had tears in their eyes. Le chant de l’arbre is a celebration of nature, but it’s also a reminder of how essential nature is. Not to mention that one of our first ideas during the creative process was to highlight the lack of trees in the downtown core. That’s why it’s so important to present this work downtown.

What challenges have you had to overcome in putting together Le chant de l’arbre?

We had to deal with a long list of technical challenges, and I tip my had to our mask creator, Claude Rodrigue, and our costume designer, Barbara Ménard. Thanks to their talent and hard work we were able to bring our trees to life. I’d also say one of the biggest challenges we faced was slowness. We live in a world where we’re always on the go, but the world of trees is the exact opposite. So we had to strike a balance by including physical and dynamic aspects while still embracing that slowness.

How does the show make use of music and even aromas?

Catherine Beranek took charge of creating a palette of scents and filling public space with tree aromas. The idea is to create a sense of total immersion. Esplanade Tranquille is not a small space, but with a rain of leaves, the smells of pine, spruce and fir will fill the site. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is by a very talented musician, Frédérick Desroches. There are a few lyrics sung by the children, but the vocal parts for the trees, when they finally find their voices near the end of the performance, consist entirely of onomatopoeias. We worked with singer and musician Mikhaëlle Salazar, who specializes in vocal harmonies, and the result is magnificent.

What do you hope the audience will take away from this work?

This large-scale show is a unique way to celebrate trees. I hope the audience will leave more aware that there is no option but to care for them, as a community. I think Le chant de l’arbre can focus some attention on our shared biophilia – humans’ innate love of nature – which is deeply ingrained in each of us.

Le chant de l’arbre
September 21 to 24, 2023
Sainte-Catherine St. W. from Saint-Urbain St. to Esplanade Tranquille