Slav promotional image featuring some of the cast from the Montreal International Festival de Jazz Facebook page.

‘Slav’ production to continue after Jazz Festival cancellation

Slav, the latest production from Quebec’s Robert Lepage and Montreal singer Betty Bonifassi, was cancelled after two performances last week, during the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

One of the most popular ticketed shows of the event, the first five nights had been sold out,

But protesters outside the theatre, on both nights, accused the production of  “cultural appropriation” particularly as the cast was mostly white.

SLAV protester outside the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal at the June 26 opening performance. “Descendents of slaves against SLAV” the poster says. (Facebook)

Bonifassi, the star of the show, had broken her ankle during the third show, and the injury along with the protests, led to her decision not to continue the run.

The controversy made international headlines in The New York Times, the The Guardian in England.

Described as “a theatrical odyssey based on slave songs” the debate over cultural appropriation got louder and more aggressive in front of the theatre.

Quebec City black historian Aly Ndiaye, also known as Webster, the Hip Hop Historian. wrote in an open letter, on his Facebook page, that he’d been consulted by Lepage and Bonifassi and had encouraged them to include more black performers.

Like many others, he was disappointed to see that only two of the seven performers were black.

American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, 28, pulled out of the festival venue in support of the protesters.

On Monday July 2nd, he wrote, “When I learned that the festival continued to defend this show publicly, even after adamant protests … I knew that I could not present my music at this same festival in good conscience,”

As the festival closed its 39th year, a meeting was held with members of the city’s Black Community to address the controversy.

In a later press conference, Jacques-André Dupont ,festival president and general director acknowledged that “there are some subjects we don’t understand well,” and that “there are issues for Montreal’s black community that we don’t get,” adding that the festival “has to do better.”

But the show will go on. ‘Slav’ is scheduled for one-night engagements in four cities around the province in early 2019.

It remains to be seen if the cast will be changed to include more black performers.

For the Saint Jerome performance, one of the producers has said the evening will be an occasion for discussion and debate, both before and after the show.

Meanwhile director Robert Lepage is not backing down. He called the cancellation of the show “a blow to artistic freedom”.

In a statement via his Ex-Machina production company, he wrote:

“When we are no longer allowed to step into someone else’s shoes, when it is forbidden to identify with someone else, theatre is denied its very nature, it is prevented from performing its primary function and is thus rendered meaningless,” he wrote in a statement through the Ex-Machina production company.

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