Peter Chin’s Flambeaux, produced by the Peterborough Festival of the Arts on August 13, 1989 in Peterborough, Ontario. Excerpts from the full-length production, filmed by Giovanni Sampagna and Claude MacIsaac.

The publicity said DANCERS, DRUMMERS, TORCHES & SIDEWALK SURFERS WILL TRANSFORM THE USUAL SIGHTS, SOUNDS & SMELLS OF URBAN STREET LIFE INTO A RHYTHMIC DANCE SPECTACLE. Set in a downtown parking lot adjacent to an empty building slated for demolition (see more about the location below), Flambeaux was all that and more.

Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist Peter Chin was commissioned by the Peterborough Festival of the Arts (PFA) to create an event that would involve the community as participants, much as his previous outdoor spectacle produced in Peterborough, 1987’s Circle of Fire, had done. The PFA was also fresh from the success of producing the epic R. Murray Schafer extravaganza “The Greatest Show” the previous summer (in which Peter performed and choreographed), and was looking for another, albeit less taxing, event to offer the Peterborough public. If the PFA wanted spectacle on a budget, Peter Chin, a wunderkind on the Toronto dance and music scene whose star was on the rise, was the one to deliver. For Flambeaux Peter choreographed, composed the music and directed the entire production.

Certainly the many local performers added colour to the production (notably seen here: Ron Gaskin with his green ‘69 Cougar at 1:16; David Ramsden in two roles, including a harried father at the end of a long day shopping at 3:44; and a bevy of kids on skateboards swirling around with real torches at 6:55) but the big revelation for audiences watching Flambeaux was the cast of performers Peter brought from Toronto, a hotbed then as it is now for contemporary dance makers. The six buff male dancers were Tom Brouilette, Benoit Lachambre, Stephen Osborne, Bohdan Romaniw, Alejandro Ronceria and Dan Wild. Add the vocal and performing chops of Marie-Josée Chartier and Katherine Duncanson playing a sophisticated form of white trash, as well as Eric Cadesky’s inventive way with myriad percussion instruments and the result was an astonishing event that came at audiences from all sides and was over before anyone really knew what hit them.

Before the show even started - or had it? - a car full of joy riding kids drove by taunting the audience. Two guys, one on a bicycle, circled each other in the parking lot/stage/seating area, trading insults and threats. Over here were dancers not dancing but playing Frisbee and breaking rocks with sledge hammers. Over there were two hookers hauling all their worldly possessions across a parking lot and up a fire escape, arguing over how many shoes had been packed. Interspersed among the chaos of urban life were the highly structured, ritual-like performances of the six bare-chested male dancers, whose chanting and shouting seemed to indicate they had come from a more primitive place. Cars entered and left the playing area with squealing tires to intervene either as makers of noise or as sources of light for the players. Fireworks placed outside the playing area and the honking of car horns signaled the beginning of the end, pulling focus away from the spot at the top of the sloped parking lot where a half dozen kids on skateboards were lighting torches and beginning their descent toward the crowd, then circling the performers, weaving in and out of the audience and finally passing off the torches to the dancers who finished the show with an exuberant, whooping fire dance.

All that remained for artists and audience members was to withdraw to the cast party hosted by production manager Bill Kimball, some of which can be seen at the end of this video at 8:19.

ABOUT THE LOCATION. The parking lot, and the thee-story building adjacent to it, no longer exist. In the 1990s they became part of the construction site for the new headquarters of Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. In 1988, the year prior to Flambeaux, the building was used by the Peterborough Festival of the Arts to house its production offices - most notably the costume shops - for R. Murray Schafer’s The Greatest Show.

The site, located at the southeast corner of Charlotte Street and Water Street, was originally home to a carriage maker and undertaker. In its final incarnation, up until the early 1980s, the rambling building housed an odd assortment of tenants, including offices of Bell Canada, two bars (The Backtrack and Shenanigan’s) and the Gatehouse Restaurant, which hosted Peterborough’s only dinner theatre, Whispers. Don White, the lighting designer for Whispers, recalls how he made the connection to the building’s origins when he worked there. Still sitting in the basement level was a large stone slab, three feet high, where the undertaker once prepped bodies for funerals. It was now keeping canisters of liquor and pop cool for the restaurant two floors above.

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