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I had the pleasure of attending Catherine Kidd’s preview of Hyena Subpoena, which debuted pieces from her new performance and revisited a few old pieces too. The performance took place at New City Gas in Griffintown – a big old rustic space that was an ideal venue for the show. Kidd had a few benches set up for her guests, though far more than she expected turned up.

As always, Kidd’s performance pieces are energetic and poetic. She is a true wordsmith who fuses humour and facts (often pertaining to zoology and biology) and showcases an uncanny ability to tell stories in a truly vivacious way. A pro at making connections, she veers off on unexpected tangents and moves seamlessly from one subject to an entirely divergent one. This is all furthered by her incredible ability to perform– utilizing an array of voices, accents, facial expressions and gestures. Often she sets her pieces to music (provided by DJ Jacky Murda), and “video environments,” created by herself and Geoff Agombar, are projected behind her.

Kidd marched out looking convincingly like a nervous youth, with a colourful collaged helmet on her head. Her opening story was about two pre-teens into John Lennon and anti-violence being harassed by the jocks on their school’s lacrosse team.

Kidd explained that all of her new oral stories examine the notion of the outcast, those who are different from others, whose unique personalities result in their exclusion. The hyena was chosen for having a bad reputation while another piece touched on the attitude the majority of people have towards the homeless.

The title piece of her new performance, “Hyena Subpoena,” featured footage Kidd shot in 2007 in South Africa of a young female hyena. Kidd rapped her rhythmic poetry, which offered unique insights, while playing as always, with the sound and texture of language.

An unnerving film of a dying lioness (also filmed by Kidd while in Africa) was meant to make the audience squirm, which it did. The content of her piece “Dying Lioness” shifted from the irony of infection diseases to refugees fleeing poverty. Her performance of this piece at New City Gas can be viewed on Kidd’s website.

Another piece is told from the perspective of an acapela antelope and takes inspiration from the short story The Lottery. This piece began rather humorously, with an antelope reflecting on his species’ nature of chewing and listening and commenting on the slower antelopes, those who fail to follow the herd. The focus shifted to ideas of predator and prey and a tale of a young girl’s hazardous encounter with some older boys.

Kidd’s old performances were just as gripping. “Sea Peach” was about the sea creature that resembles a human heart, and a female woman who is in actuality a fox, her true identity only revealed is she allows herself to fall in love.

Kidd is a truly charismatic performer who never breaks character and whose show was flawlessly tight. Kidd has a lot of guts, to say the least, to perform alone on stage with her personal thoughts, words, and emotive expressionism. Kidd is not merely a poet, but truly a performer, and actress.  Few writers would have the courage to put themselves on display in the manner she does, and performances of this type seem to, unfortunately, be few and far between these days. Her show stuck with me and all of my friends that accompanied me for days after and everyone in attendance that didn’t already have her previously released books rushed to purchase them. Missing the Arc (Kidd’s first and only novel so far) is one of my all time favourite novels and works of writing in general, infused with zoology, biology, poetry and an intimate sense of realism.

Kidd is planning to take her new set of performance pieces on the road in 2011. If she performs again in Montreal, I highly recommend attending. You certainly won’t regret it as it is an inspiring experience unlike any other.