The performers are beautiful. Aspects of the artistry are beautiful. But, for the most part, The Value of Things is thematically obvious.
Created by Montréal’s dance/theatre company Grand Poney, The Value of Things is about materialism and craving.
It starts off with a Tantalus-like image: a man has a helmet on his head; there’s a rod attached to that helmet; and, dangling from the end of the rod, just out of the man’s reach, there’s a little orb, maybe an apple. The image is playful, but it’s not what you’d call subtle, and the exploration of its simple idea goes on long after all possible meaning and interest has been wrung from it.
Virtually every passage in The Value of Things overstays its welcome.
That said, some thoughts, images, and theatrical conventions are engaging.
In a kind of philosophical stand-up routine, performer Jacques Poulin-Denis, who is also a central creator of this project, talks about the illusory nature of monetary value, beginning with the notion that the Canadian penny was discontinued because the cost of producing it was 1.6 cents.
As he goes on to quote eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith—”All money is a matter of belief”—Poulin-Denis’s live speaking voice is overridden by his recorded voice, which gives his argument about dislocation wittily concrete expression.Throughout, the sound design, which often uses rhythmic reconfigurations of sound bites, is excellent.
There’s a hip-hop section in which all of the performers, four men, step into boxes that come to their mid shins—cardboard boxes are the building blocks of the set—and hump their way around the stage in deadpan bad-assery.
In their fake-fur coats, they are clearly sending up the reactively consumerist culture of hip hop, and they also send up its consumerist sexual culture. By the end of this passage, just one dancer, Gilles Poulin-Denis, is left standing in his box, shirt off, pants down, orange underwear glowing, humping and slapping the butt of an imaginary sexual partner until he simply loses steam.
It’s a lonely image, and, for me at least, loneliness, which is an intrinsic part of the emotional displacement of materialism, came up elsewhere, too. I’m thinking of a moment, for instance, in which James Gnam, the most physically pliable of the performers, writhes, upside down, in a chair.
There’s an implicit eroticism in all performance—again, for me at least—and, with the four beautiful young men in this company, which also includes musician Francis d’Octobre, that element is undeniable.
I wish these guys had done more with my attention, though. There is some intellectual challenge in The Value of Things and there are some moments of aesthetic surprise and pleasure. But there’s not enough conceptual challenge, and too much of the form is filler.