Dulcinea Langfelder, being carried by Eric Gingras, in Victoria, which is at Massey Theatre for two shows only next week. (photo from Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.)
Victoria is coming to New Westminster next week for two shows only. Created and performed by Dulcinea Langfelder, a versatile dancer, multimedia performer and award-winning choreographer from Montreal, Victoria is about old age and young spirit, about laughter in the face of tragedy.
Langfelder started her life in New York. She studied ballet and pantomime, singing and acting. After a few years in Europe, including London and Paris, she moved to Montreal in 1978 to join La Troupe Omnibus. Since then, Montreal has been her home. In 1985, she founded her own company, Virtuous Circle Dance Theatre. In 1997, the company changed its name to Dulcinea Langfelder & Co.
Langfelder loves Montreal and can’t imagine living anywhere else. “The city is effervescent, young culturally compared to New York or Paris,” she said. “Fewer boundaries between categories, and close enough to New York to visit my mom. Why on earth would I want to live elsewhere?”
The same philosophy applies to her choreography and performing. Why on earth would she do anything else? “For the moment, I can still do what I love to do, and I believe that it’s important to see older people on stage. Art has always been the most effective way to influence our attitudes. Victoria gives voice to those who have ‘disappeared’ through aging – but we are still alive and kicking!”
Although it’s hard to pinpoint Victoria’s exact theatrical classification, Langfelder said, “It is a multidisciplinary and multimedia work for the stage. There really is no major discipline. I work with the elements on my palette: movement (I guess I do always put that one first), text, humour, dramatic – through line, projected imagery, music and a bit of puppetry. Everything is choreographed, not just the movement.”
The heroine, Victoria, is “a wheelchair-bound 90-year-old, suffering from the loss of memory, autonomy and just about everything else,” reads the press release. But Langfelder melds poignant and funny in this show of an elderly woman’s courage. Victoria premièred in 1999, and Langfelder told the Independent about its origins.
“In 1994, an actor friend of mine, Charles Fariala, who also worked as an orderly and knew that I have a penchant for tragicomedy, called me to say, ‘You must meet Victor, an old man in a wheelchair who’s lost his memory; sometimes I wonder if he’s just gaga or if he’s discovered Nirvana.’ I immediately responded, ‘We’ll call her Victoria!’ I was intrigued by the question: Where do we find our mental victory when we we’ve lost our physical power?”
Inspired by the concept, Fariala and Langfelder started working on the project. “Charles wrote pages of text, which I re-worked,” said Langfelder. “I also incorporated a lot of text that came from Angel Petrilli, a woman who became the principal model for the character, although there were other people as well, including my own father. But this piece is multidisciplinary and multimedia, so the ‘script’ is composed of text, choreography, song and projected imagery. It was written in concert with all of my collaborators; I created the choreography.”
One of the most unusual aspects of the show is that the protagonist is bound to her wheelchair. “It is hard to tame the wheelchair beast,” Langfelder admitted, “but fascinating for a mover!”
The show’s success and longevity – 18 years now – surprises even its creator. “I didn’t think it would fly at all, with such taboo subject matter,” she said. “But I discovered that audiences had been starving to have this conversation in a non-depressing way. While treating this subject as accurately as I can, Victoria is an uplifting piece, because there really are rich, poetic and hilarious moments when dealing with dementia and the end of life. We just underline those moments, without taking the subject matter lightly.”
Like every performer, Langfelder knows that art must change with time, that an actor should be flexible in her communication with different audiences. Victoria is no exception to this rule. “It changed a lot in the first years,” Langfelder explained, “then subtle changes. It adapted to different languages and cultures, though it clearly reminds us of what we have in common around the world. We’ve done this piece everywhere from Japan to Zimbabwe, in seven languages.”
One of the latest changes was adding another actress to play the title role. “I recently realized that this piece could live longer than I will,” said Langfelder. “I trained Anne Sabourin in the role. She plays Victoria in French.”
Langfelder herself plays Victoria in English in every show, in every country, and the reception has been overwhelmingly favourable, but that is not enough for the actress. “The Victoria project is about touring the piece for the general audience it was designed for,” she said. “Plus, we work hard to get those who can most benefit, and are the least likely to frequent the theatre: seniors and family/professional caregivers. The way we get them to the theatre, and Victoria can’t be done anywhere else, is that we go to them first. We offer workshops that answer their immediate needs, like non-verbal communication, movement for seniors and seminars on creativity, humour and dementia. Then we use the opportunity to make them understand that theatre can actually be useful, even more useful than workshops. We invite them to the theatre.”
Like her heroine, Langfelder meets her challenges with a smile. “I love making people laugh at difficult situations,” she said. “It makes me feel useful. My father’s last words to me, before his stroke, were in response to me complaining about my challenges. He said, ‘You mustn’t get discouraged, because what you do is so important! You put human dilemma on stage and allow us to laugh at it; what could be more important than that?’ I had just begun working on Victoria, and he never saw it. I become him when I play Victoria.”
Victoria is at the Massey Theatre in New Westminster on Oct. 27 and 28. For tickets, visit ticketsnw.ca or call 604-521-5050.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].