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Montreal’s magical mystery tour

Dynamo Coléoptera channel bottomless energy into swirling surrealist performances

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“You are completely surrounded! Resistance is useless! Give yourselves up!” François Girouard screams through a screechy bullhorn. “It is evident that you are compl-e-t-e-ly circled,” singsongs his partner, Maya Kuroki, “by an ENORMOUS EGGSHELL!”

This is the startling opening to Dynamo Coléoptera’s joyously raucous show, and they couldn’t have put it better.

Fantastic, energetic, and all-encompassing, the Montreal duo’s performances meld surrealist stories with traditional Japanese theatre, psychedelic krautrock repetition, and eerie film-soundtrack hooks. Across the quilted barriers of their three-walled, self-designed stage scroll Japanese-English translations: otherworldly tales of a man who dreams he is being chased by an enormous floating egg. And among the audience, on a raised platform, Tomomi Morimoto, a petite woman in a large, cat-head mask jumps, bends, and generally rocks out to the noisy narrative being tinkered and hammered out onstage.

“We share a vision of how music should be,” says Girouard of his relationship with Kuroki, over cherry-infused green tea at Café l’Escalier, the sunny hangout where Dynamo Coléoptera first began to perform. “Like a trip, it should change, and tell a story,” he explains. Singing in Japanese, French, and English while pounding out guitar chords or noodling spaghetti western riffs, Kuroki expresses her desire to “create a universe in each song.”

“We don’t want people to know the song before we play it,” explains Girouard. “Sometimes you go to see a rock band, and you can kind of expect the next beat, the next thing. With the kind of music we make…we want people to wonder where they’ll go next.”

Dynamo Coléoptera hold fast to this aesthetic, both to their success and detriment. Certainly, they achieve their goal: pieces meld into each other, forming an unpredictable narrative that teems with recurring motifs and expository vocal passages. These are not songs, but movements, the acts of a play – only in a live setting can their craft be fully expressed.

“It’s one show,” insists Girouard, whose concert attire includes a goofy top hat that complements the bright ribbons in Kuroki’s braided hair. “Each element is just a part of the whole experience, which starts when people come into the [performance] space. An album is different. On a CD, everything is fixed; there are no surprises.”

Dynamo Coléoptera’s performances, continues Girouard, are ideally as exciting for the musicians themselves as the spectators to whom everything is new. In their shows, “It’s about sharing energy with the audience,” he affirms.

In fact, the group’s aesthetic interests have more to do with energy than Kuroki’s stage moves and Morimoto’s cavorting cat-woman. The name Dynamo Coléoptera comes from a verse by 1920s poet Kenji Miyazawa. Especially interested in the future, Miyazawa envisioned a world where power could be tapped from beetles, known in Latin by the order Coleoptera. To Kuroki, the hard-shelled insects exemplify beauty: “They’re maladroit and gentle, but [have] so much energy inside them.”

“[Today] we have to be serious about energy, because it’s a serious problem,” she cautions. Still, Kuroki’s solution may seem too deeply rooted in her own surrealist exercises. “It’s not about looking for energy from outside,” she reveals, “but from inside ourselves.”

Consider the wonder with which she regards the natural world, however, and it’s hard to deny she’s on to something. With surrealism, notes Kuroki, “We can become more compassionate, and understand that things are just there, that they’re beautiful.” Though hardly a raging political diatribe, her emphasis on appreciating the environment carries a certain heft.

It’s the same deep-rooted appreciation for their surroundings that allows Dynamo Coléoptera to develop their craft in Montreal. “It’s rare that cultures mixing can turn out so positively,” smiles Kuroki, who made the city her home seven years ago. “In this small town, there’s so much diversity. There are so many people, and still we don’t kill each other – we’re happy and smiling. It’s a miracle.”

Indeed, Montreal’s left-leaning roots and communal energy have brought a certain degree of acceptance for Dynamo Coléoptera. For the past year, they’ve been working with the technical and logistical support of Montréal arts interculturels (MAI), preparing for this week’s series of performances. The Conseil des arts et des letters du Quebec have also offered financial support to the group. The result: “We feel we’re on track,” notes Girouard, “and [we will go] where we want to go.”

While seemingly better suited to avant-garde artists’ lofts than the café-bars or youth centres the band often plays, Dynamo Coléoptera’s clanging, euphoric multimedia productions have steadily broken boundaries over the past four years. “We will not be imprisoned by definitions,” affirms Kuroki, softly. “We are not scared.”

Dynamo Coléoptera play at 8 p.m. today, tomorrow, and Saturday at MAI – Montréal arts interculturels (3680 Jeanne Mance). Student tickets are $15. They’re also performing a family matinee at 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free for anyone under the age of 16.