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Interview— The Hour

Updated: Mar 19, 2020

Party Like It's 1699: Nouveau classic

by Robyn Fadden – July 30, 2009

Party Like It's 1699 strips down 17th-century attitude and finds modern-day youth alive and kicking

Baroque musicians Les Tabarnaks d'Époque team up with Montreal dance and art stars for irony-free Party Like It's 1699

Kids these days, all they do is make a racket, wear crazy clothes and stay up until the crack of dawn, dancing and gossiping. But damn if that isn’t what being young is all about – how can anyone learn anything about life without taking chances and doing a few spectacular/stupid things? Party Like It’s 1699 director Aleks Schürmer’s baroque-period-meets-modern-life spectacle is about that particular kind of youth-culture freedom (and fun!) that seeks out the new and different. But with more than just a shutter-shades glance at history.

Schürmer, himself in his 20s, is not only classically trained in the drama, steady beat and wilful experimentation of 17th- and 18th-century music – "it’s really something that’s closer to rock music; it’s kind of dirty" – but has immersed himself in treatises, journals and writings of the time to glean what it really sounded like and how it was performed and experienced.

"When you think of something like the kind of music I’m most interested in, French court music, the court of Louis XIV is St-Laurent Boulevard," he says. "You have all these people from different socio-economic statuses, who dress a certain way to fit a purpose, gossip up and down the street, go to shows that are the cool thing, want to be seen. This is no different from back then: People were out until 9 in the morning, they didn’t have a DJ, they had an orchestra, they danced all night, just in a more formalized way."

Even so, today "classical" music (Schürmer is no fan of the undifferentiating term) is too often seen as a status symbol, and, worse, is performed in unexciting, stagnant ways. "I’d like to get people to listen to this music and realize they could like it," says Schürmer. "The reason why ‘the kids’ don’t like it now isn’t because it doesn’t address them, it’s because it’s not presented in a way they care about."

In Party Like It’s 1699, Schürmer and baroque music group Les Tabarnaks d’Époque pair up with the inspired choreography of Andrew Tay, Dana Michel, Mélissa Raymond and Sasha Kleinplatz to show history’s immediacy and correlatives in our present-day lives: "Decadence and frivolity and partying is fine – these people did that, but they were intrinsically connected to art and culture – but you can’t just make a performance without meaning."

While music and performance are at the core of Party Like It’s 1699, the otherworldly set design and adornment – professionally styled hair, fashion, make-up – of all 15 musicians, 10 dancers and the evening’s host, supermodel and musician Irina Lazareanu ("she’s art") complete the experience.

Schürmer finds truth in a quote attributed to Marie Antoinette: "There is nothing new except what’s been forgotten": "In a time when all genres of pop music sound the same, there’s a lot of stuff that’s been forgotten that still resonates with people now," he says. "Most people haven’t even seen these instruments before and they get excited about them – it’s something new again."

Party Like It’s 1699: A Postmodern-Baroque Spectacle At Interstice (242 Young St.), Aug. 3-5, 8 p.m. doors, 9 p.m. show, $10

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