Phenomenal Parade Kicks off Festival With Help From Local Fairy
The afternoon sun is casting long shadows in the park on the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Laurier street, where a large group of people have gathered under the trees.
Some of them are holding up stars made out of cardboard and painted metallic silver or gold. Others are carrying pink and blue umbrellas that trail long paper ribbons, making them look like jellyfish swimming in the bright blue sky.
Claudia Clorriveau is wearing a black top hat affixed with gears and bolts and holding her three-year old son, who is similarly decked out in steam punk attire.
Like everyone else, she’s here to march in the parade that marks the start of the Phenomena Festival, a multi-disciplinary arts festival which runs from October 5-23 in various venues around the city.
“What I like is that it’s a place to see our neighbours, to celebrate autumn. And it’s an art event. it’s unusual. You have to create something and as citizens we don’t often have that opportunity,” she says.
A group of tattooed brides begin to roller skate on the pavement behind Clorriveau, spinning in circles in their puffy white meringue dresses.
“It’s starting!” says Clorriveau happily, turning away to search for her darkly clad stream punk group, which includes teenagers from Dans La Rue, an organization that helps out street kids.
For its second ever event, parade co-organizer Patsy Van Roost, also known as The Mile End Fairy, and the Phenomena team, assigned community organizations and residents of certain Mile End streets a theme with an accompanying colour-scheme.
As the groups of celestial bodies, birds, flowers, sprits of the forest, steam punkers, walking works of art, and imaginary animals make their way toward towards the street, the scene looks like a cross between an Edward Gorey and a Dr. Seuss book.
Van Roost, who is set to lead the parade, is a hybrid creature, dressed in blue and pink as “a bird who loves flowers or a flower that attracts birds.” She’s holding up a gold sign that reads,” Thank-you for being here.”
The parade begins to wind its way down Saint-Laurent Boulevard, and crowds of hipsters leave the comfort of their sidewalk terraces to take pictures and videos with their phones.
Van Roost pauses to chat with the spectators, “It’s poetry in the street,” she explains. ” Come and walk with us--we are going to have a party in the skatepark.”
“It’s always total craziness. I lead the parade, so everything is behind me and then after I discover everything and it’s like total awe when I see everyone’s photos and videos,” she says.
Van Roost and the Phenomenal team have been preparing this event for months. In June they began distributing invitations to households in Mile End. “There are a lot of spiral staircases,” says Van Roost, rolling her eyes and explaining that due to the enormous amount of work involved, the parade will only take place every two years.
“We could have bought the flowers at the dollar store, but the idea is to be DIY, so we made 1000 flowers,” says Van Roost, who along with artist Katrin Lebond, designed a “walking human garden” which they created with a group of 56 women. “The idea was to make a carnival float without a car, for 10 people to become one thing.”
“It’s an amazing thing, closing down Saint-Laurent Boulevard for poetry. It was D. Kimm’s dream, she said this is the first time Saint-Laurent Boulevard has been closed not for a street sale, but for art.”
D. Kimm, the founder of the Phenomena Festival and the production company Les Filles Electriques, says her favourite part of the parade is seeing everyone in their costumes. Her team helped organize workshops to teach people how to make their own costumes.
“They heeded the call. They made their costumes, even if they didn’t have a lot of money.”
Kingkeo Savejvong is a member of Santisouk, a Laotian housing co-op whose name translates as “happiness.”
She says the residents of Rue de Laos, who live near the railway tracks in Mile End, were thrilled to be able to go with the theme of birds because the eagle is a key figure in Laotian mythology.
She says her experience at the parade has been “wonderful.”
“There are several generations here, great-grandparents, grand-parents, and their children and grand-children. We have a beautiful energy together. Many cultures together is the heart of Mile End.”
Van Roost says she sees the parade as a way to build ties between people, and that it’s a continuation of her artistic practise.
“A lot of my work comes from the experience of being alone. I was a single mom, raising my son alone, working at home alone. I didn’t feel a sense of community.”
The Mile End Fairy is now well known for her talent of bringing people together. She acquired her nickname in 2012 over Christmas, when she decided the only way to survive the holiday was to create a project that would bring people together and get her neighbours talking to each other.
Van Roost set about cutting the text of Hans Christian Anderson’s story The Little Match Girl into 25 pieces. She delivered one part of the story to a different home on Waverly Street every day from December 1 to 25, with instructions to paste the excerpts on front doors.
To her surprise, people followed along, and she found herself on the cover of Le Devoir. Van Roost decided to dedicate a year of her life to her neighbourhood, and to transforming commercial holidays into magical moments. Her projects such as Love in the Mile End have been silkscreened, etched and stenciled on poles, trees and sidewalks all around the neighbourhood.
Van Roost’s work has also spread beyond Mile End and inspired other Montreal neighbourhoods to put poetry in their streets.
“I met a giraffe,” says Van Roost, referring to a costumed parade-marcher, “and she said our parade inspired the one in NDG this summer.”
The phenomenal parade winds down at the Van Horne skate park. Giant soap bubbles fill the air, floating and swaying to the brassy sounds of the Van Hornies, whose instruments are covered in paper flowers. Everyone is smiling and talking to each other. Van Roost’s mission to make meaningful connections between strangers is once again a fait accompli.
Now in its 8th edition, this year’s Phenomena festival centres around the theme of Transmission. From October 7- 11 La Chapelle Scenes Contemporaines will present Numain, a critically acclaimed work by Stephane Crete. Valparaiso, by Dominique Parenteau-Lebeuf will run at La Chapelle de L’espace Fullum from October 10-23. Au Royaume de Kekeland will unite 30 artists and hit the stage at the Sala Rosa from October 19-25.
The festival will also feature a Dada Cabaret, work by Innu poet and story-teller Josephine Bacon, an event performed in sign language, as well as comedic interpretations of election night results. There will be off-site events, including Hold it Kiss It Squeeze it by Jacqueline Van de Geer and Michael Martini. Artist Lucie Bazzo will also be offering luminous, guided 3-d tours of Mile End. The festival‘s grand-finale, The Boudoir Fantasmagorique, will feature local burlesque stars like Rose Bourgeosie, Frenchy Jones and Tristan Ginger.
For the full schedule, please visit www.festivalphenomena.com