Variety aplenty at FemFest

On Sept. 17, I had the pleasure of attending the opening cabaret for FemFest. FemFest is an annual, weeklong Winnipeg festival that showcases women in art, organized by the theatre company Saravati Productions and held in the Canwest Centre for Theatre and Film.

The cabaret aims to give a teasing glimpse of the assortment of shows that are put on during the week.

The evening started off with a short play called Breathtaking by S.G. Lee. It consisted of two actors breathing heavily and interacting to recordings of people’s most breath taking moments. These moments ran the range from being awe inspired by scenery, to the joy of delivering a child, to panic attacks caused by sexual abuse. The actors spent their time on stage running through a finite range of motions and breathing in various ways. It was rather eerie, certainly the strangest thing I’ve seen in a theatre in a long while.

Also part of the cabaret was Fufuchichi, a nine member comedic band from the West End. This was only a three-member performance but Michelle Boulet, Sarah Constible and Liz Quesnel put on a great show — their harmonies were so lovely I have a hard time trying to imagine their songs done by a larger group. The band’s lyrics were funny, truthful and politically incorrect; they dressed in Mennonite garb and sang about crazy homeless men who looked like they would kill you and living on the shady side of the street. They had the audience laughing out loud.

Big Drive by Anita Lebeau, a wonderfully engaging short film, followed in the night’s festivities. The film is an animated piece about driving across the prairies and the various wells from which children can pull inspiration. The exchanges between siblings ranged from peaceful to annoying, cooperative, obnoxious, playful — so very true to life. It characterized the relationships between siblings perfectly and was creatively entertaining.

Hip Shakin’ Mama, Shelley Lynne Hardinge, was a soulful jazz vocalist who got us all revved up about . . . farming. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the euphemism of ploughing a field, but she had so many puns and playful phrases going on I was impressed. Crop rotations, indeed.

Halfway through the performances there was a presentation of a few art pieces hung around the room. Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art artist Kelly-Jo Dorvault spoke about her work with wool. Dorvault’s pieces consisted of a sweater knitted together with many different fabrics and what looked like tangled wool hanging from a wire.

There were also excerpts from a few longer plays, the most notable being Traveling Light by Zena Edwards. In the short snippet we saw her sing, recite poetry, play her Jamaican grandmother, her British immigrant mother and a first generation citizen of the U.K.. Her accents were phenomenal; she embodied all of her characters not only in voice but also in her actions and her words.

The cabaret ended with tribal belly dancing by Prairie Caravan, by far the highlight of the show. The moves looked deceptively simple, but the grace with which the dancers moved was well trained. Long flowing skirts in bright colours, bangles and jangly tummy baring tops, flowers in their hair — the outfits alone were enough to make you want to dance with them!

FemFest is a fabulous showcase for the talent we have brimming in Winnipeg; the opening and closing cabarets, in particular, are definitely well worth your time. There is always lots of variety in mediums, genres and subject matter, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you missed out on the action this year I would definitely suggest planning ahead to attend next year, or in the meantime look up some of the artists who appeared at this year’s fest (most are local) and find out where they’re performing next.