A cow’s skull hangs in the air across from several looming crows. With carrion birds and skeletal remains, death hovers in the air, ever-present. A tattered throne sits centre stage; in it, curled-up, waiting for some mystical signal to set her off, is performer Eléonore Lamothe. From this initial set-up, Night Cows, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, establishes it’s metaphorical space.
Contorting her lithe body into fantastical forms, Lamothe brings forth our narrator: a calf. As she speaks, creator Jovette Marchessault’s poetic and sensual text (with English translation by Yvonne M. Klien) hits with heavy, visceral force. In an awe-struck fervour, this young cow describes her mother. She pulls us along her body and we experience the textures of her flesh before moving inward, exploring her seemingly vast, meaty inner space.
During the day, cows exist in a dismal space: one of captivity, slaughter, commerce. At night, under the moon: a secret, vibrant, anarchic life reveals itself.
The dense text, which shifts from English to French, is dream-like and hypnotic; as is Lamothe’s primal, animalistic spasms. The language is provocative, eerily suggesting some deep connection to ancestry and a more intimate connection to nature. It was perhaps a little too hypnotic for me, too phantasmagorical. The piece started to lose me towards the end as my attention wandered and I lost the narrative thread.
The creator calls this piece a movement poem and that definitely captures it’s spirit. The echoes of Indigenous culture, the unnerving hints of mass slaughter, these carry significant emotional weight. Overall, I was impressed with the craft and found the piece generally haunting, but it was hard for me to fully connect to it.
While this didn’t draw me in as fully as I had hoped, my reaction isn’t a reflection of this work’s considerable craft. If the concept of Night Cows intrigues you, as it did me, I highly recommend checking it out.