Exploring the Saint Lawrence through the performing arts

Exploring the Saint Lawrence through the performing arts

The Saint-Laurent is an immense theater that surpasses us. Its excess is such that its horizons escape us. Even if we combined our scientific, economic, historical, cultural, industrial, political, or logistical knowledge, it would be impossible to grasp its dynamics as a whole.

If we can’t define its scope through science, could the performing arts allow us to see bigger? This article tells the story of the project. ecH₂osystemwhere through the circus arts I seek to stage the complexity of what connects us with the ecosystem of San Lorenzo, through the echoes of those who work in its waters.


This article is part of our series El San Lorenzo in depth

Do not miss the new articles about this mythical river, of remarkable beauty. Our experts analyze its fauna, its flora, its history and the challenges it faces. This series is presented by The Conversation.


exHtwoosystem It is a documentary-type maritime research-creation. His approach is the source of my doctorate in the study and practice of the arts at UQAM and several scientific and artistic projects that combine my last twenty years in the performing arts and my long-standing fascination with the maritime world.

Research-creation is characterized by a double objective: the production of a work and the production of knowledge related to the phenomenon of the creation of the work. exHtwoosystem it mobilizes knowledge, facilitates intersectoriality, intertwines the arts and sciences and questions the arts as a way of knowing from an ecosystem of which we are part. Based on these reflections, in 2020, I propose this idea of maritime research-creation in the sense that it is the waters that drive the engine of creation, unlike a project that would start from a concept, a text, an aesthetic, a performance or a staging.

Change of address

In 2017, I left my career marked by creations and tours around the world to head to Saint-Laurent.

people in a cage at the end of a crane attached to a ship
Sea ice sampling aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker CCGS Amundsen.
(Genevieve Duperé), provided by the author

Two elements are at the origin of this decision. In 2016, after the creation of light, of Cirque du Soleil, I sneak away from theaters for a few weeks to cross the Panama Canal to Ecuador as a crew member of a ship. One day of layover, the Gorgone science team invites me ashore. I am swimming towards the island, when two jets appear. Surprised by two whales, without a life jacket, I almost drowned. This lesson in immensity has been with me ever since.

The second element is linked to the first maritime stage project I worked on. avodo is a large-scale project by the Compagnia Finzi Pasca that marked the 375th anniversary festivities of Montreal. Director of artistic and historical content, it took me three years of research to link the synopsis to maritime colors.

Throughout this process, the historical perspective of the river challenges me. What about the St. Lawrence today?

thousands of memories

Between 2017 and 2022 I set out to explore from the river to the gulf, aboard several fishing boats, research vessels, bulk carriers, ferries, tugboats, launches, barges and even aboard a tractor that moved along the part of the coast located between the extreme limits of high and low tides, which is called a sandy beach.

Five years of research have allowed me to meet more than 300 collaborators from marine and freshwater sciences, fishing and the maritime and port industry. These collaborators come from various research groups, ministries, corporations, First Nations, port authorities, institutes, networks, municipalities or family traditions. They come from all generations, from professors emeritus to students trained at the forefront of technology. They contribute to the common thread of history through the transmission of their knowledge and experiences, as well as the ties that are woven throughout the trajectory. Thousands of memories accumulate.

person suspended on a giant wheel at the end of a crane
The O de échH2osysteme is an innovative maritime aerobatic device.
(Genevieve Duperé), provided by the author

I record in real time these pieces of experience that intersect with maritime, scientific and fishing knowledge. To the sound of the soundtrack made up of the voices of the collaborators taken on site, the acrobatic maneuvers transport the spectators to a port, a laboratory, on a ship or, for example, during the winter scientific mission of the Réseau Québec Maritime, to breeze board – CCGS ice Amundsenjust as oceanographers discover a (rare) halibut larva in their sampling net.

the EITHER ofecH₂osystema single device

To maneuver from river to stage in a sustainable horizon, I envision a maritime stunt boat. As a researcher at the Center for Research, Innovation and Transfer of Circus Arts (CRITAC), I designed the EITHER ofexHtwoosystem in 2018. The EITHER It is a four-meter-diameter wheel that is fixed by means of a crane to the deck of a ship, to a dock or to the banks of the San Lorenzo in small and large municipalities. The background waters become the heart of the narrative in real time.

In 2020, the completion of the EITHER It brings together a cross-sector research team and partners including the Quebec Maritime Network, Doorspec, Multi-Électronique and the Ocean Group shipyard where this unique device is being built. The tests on the EITHER In the summer of 2022, a new phase of the project will begin, supported among others by the CALQ, CAC and NSERC innovation program.

people working on the design of a wheel
The completion of the O brings together a cross-sector research team and partners, including CRITAC, Quebec Maritime Network, Doorspec, Multi-Electronique (MTE), and Ocean Group.
(Genevieve Duperé), provided by the author

This new stage allows for a series of collaborative work residencies where scientists become co-choreographers, fishermen become co-directors, sailors become co-playwrights.

From the river to the spectator and from the spectator to the river

exHtwoosystem it does not explain the excesses of the San Lorenzo ecosystem. It seeks to put it on stage by transferring the knowledge of its actors. If we raise the EITHER on top of a crane, the acrobat becomes tiny. At 20 meters high, the water column becomes vertiginous. Instinctively, we hold our breath. If the wind picks up, the feeling increases, even if the acrobat is in a harness and the boat crew takes all safety measures. EITHER.

Drawing on contemporary documentary theories and the writings of director Peter Brook, the performing arts have this ability to intersect with reality and go beyond words, data or representation. In 1989, filmmaker Pierre Perrault was looking for a gift in the river. “Does he even exist? The arts become a lens that allows us to shrink life by transposing it to an intelligible scale.

person on a barge seen from above in winter
Five years of research have allowed me to meet more than 300 collaborators from marine and freshwater sciences, fishing and the maritime and port industry.
(Genevieve Duperé), provided by the author

My first weeks of maritime acrobatic exploration in Sept-Îles, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Rimouski and Rivière-au-Renard reveal promising preliminary results. In the summer of 2023 this exploration will continue in several riverside municipalities so that the following year he can coordinate the co-orchestrated scenes with the collaborators. This eventual first show will be aimed at the general public, trying to reflect the San Lorenzo on a larger scale.

In trying to highlight the links between the river and the viewer and between the viewer and the river, exHtwoosystem is interested in the way in which research-creation invites us to represent our links with an ecosystem “in which we live, not as spectators, but as participants”.

The waters of the Saint Lawrence are home to microscopic shrimp, gobbled up by the largest giants on the planet. They flow from melting glaciers into the taps of millions of us. In the coming decades, this knowledge will be exHtwoosystem over the currents from the Great Lakes to the Arctic to ascend to the stage, where spectators are part of the theater of this ecosystem.

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