Monday, February 23, 2009

Going Gaga for Batsheva

This past Saturday Richard and I were back at the Vancouver Playhouse, in the exact same row we sat for Relâche. This time, however, we were there to see Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company perform Deca Dance, a program of reconstructed excerpts from works created by Artistic Director Ohad Naharin between 1990 and 2008.

Batsheva, founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild (from whom the company takes its name), is routinely cited as one of the most exciting and innovative contemporary dance companies in the world. And Naharin, who combines a sensuous musicality with a desire, above all, to communicate through his art the pleasure and joy in movement, has become one of the world’s most sought-after choreographers. He is also famous for inventing, and making a staple of Batsheva’s daily training method, GAGA, a movement release technique aimed at maximizing effort and the experience of the moment, and minimizing the stakes in what that effort and experience looks like or results in (hence the lack of mirrors in Batsheva’s rehearsal studios). GAGA classes are now taught regularly to non-dancers in Tel Aviv, and have been similarly exported around the world. Although the word is apparently meaningless, a nonsense expression invented by members of the company to describe Naharin’s improvisational and associative movement language, I have discovered that it also refers to an Israeli folk version of dodge ball that is frequently played at Jewish summer camps around the world.

Certainly Naharin draws inspiration from Israeli folk dancing traditions (he grew up on a kibbutz, where group dancing was a regular and cherished activity), and one of the most amazing things for me on Saturday was to see how he corralled his large ensemble of 24 dancers into precisely executed chain reaction movements through music. This was particularly true in the opening piece, which began with the dancers, dressed in the black suits and wide-brimmed hats of Hassidim, slumped in chairs arranged in a semi-circle across the stage. As the anthemic folk song playing on the sound system gained in force, the dancers flung themselves up off their chairs one by one from stage left to stage right, crashing briefly to the floor before bouncing back up to do some amazing sitting choreography on their chairs, and finally leaping to their feat to join in the song’s chorus. Except to this accumulative group movement Naharin also included some telling variations: one dancer on the end who would or could not pull himself up off the floor; another who at a certain moment broke the chain by leaping up onto his chair. It was a rousing way to begin, and had me completely captivated and enthralled from the get-go. The following link contains a sample of this piece, along with other excerpts from the mixed program, not all of which were performed in Vancouver.

Actually, most of the audience was mesmerized even before the official performance had begun. This was because our performance of Deca Dance included a bonus curtain-raiser solo by one of the male members of the ensemble, who improvised various steps and interacted charmingly with various members of the audience as the house was filling up and people were finding their seats. For him it might have just been an exhibitionary version of his normal backstage warm-up, but for us it was a delightful introduction to Batsheva’s movement vocabulary.

And to their penchant for audience interaction! For midway through one of the dances on the program (I am unable to refer to the excerpts by name, for while their titles are provided in the program, an asterisk also tells us that they do not appear in the order in which they are listed), members of the company suddenly jump down from the stage and each pick out a partner from the audience. What follows is a ten-minute feast of dance abandon, in which the lucky audience members are seamlessly incorporated into the work on stage, at once improvising singly to the tango movements of their respective Batsheva partners and then coming together as a group in a chorus line of random steps and shimmies. All those chosen willingly and gamely participated—especially one brave and talented woman who was rewarded with an extra slow dance with her male partner after the others had left the stage—and the joy they expressed in moving on stage was completely unself-conscious and totally infectious.

Mixed in with the overt theatricality of the larger ensemble pieces, there were also sparer works—most created for the women in the company—that emphasized more textured movement and repeated compositional forms and sequencing. This was especially true in a duet choreographed to an unusual arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero, as well as in a longer excerpt danced to some interesting post-feminist spoken word poetry.

All in all a most enjoyable evening—although one not without its share of mild controversy. As a leading cultural export from Israel, Batsheva’s current tour of North America has been targeted by protesters angry over Israel’s invasion and occupation of Gaza and calling for a boycott of anything related to the country until there is an end to a further expansion of settlements and a lasting two-state solution with Palestinians is reached. Similar protests had been called for in Vancouver, an idea that divided many in the dance community, and prompting many to anticipate some angry exchanges at the entrance to the Playhouse during Batsheva’s dates here. In the end, no protesters were in sight on the Saturday.

Which I was glad to see. Boycotting arts and cultural groups, often the most financially vulnerable and the most critically political organizations in any country or regime, does little to advance a cause. At least not in the way, say, as targeting Shell for its investments in Apartheid South Africa. Were we to stop reading Nadine Gordimer or listening to Miriam Makeba during the same era? My life would be greatly impoverished, politically and culturally, if I couldn’t watch the films of Eytan Fox, who has made some of the most affecting cinema on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, often complicating questions of religion and ethnicity with added issues of sexuality.

In fact, as with the work of Fox, I would argue that the active promotion and dissemination of art can actually do more to engage people politically than any mass boycott of cultural products or industries. Certainly in the wake of the most recent Israeli elections, in which the hawkish Netanyahu may have formed a temporary—and tenuous—coalition of convenience with the ultra-right Lieberman but in which he likewise needs the active support of Livni to survive (especially given the new government in the US), Batsheva’s visit gave me much to think about in terms of the history of the embattled Middle East and what might be done to secure its more peaceful future.

Kudos, then, to Dance House, Vancouver’s newest contemporary dance production series, for bringing this amazing company to the city for the first time (and to the Chutzpah Festival and the 2010 Cultural Olympiad for partnering with them). And to making such splendid use of the Playhouse as a dance venue. I look forward to visiting again in April to see Hubbard Street Dance.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Of Rest and Revivals

Obamamania hits Canada, as the US President and his security detail descend on Ottawa today for his first foreign visit since taking office in January. A shame that Prime Minister Harper has nixed an address to Parliament, but no doubt he fears being upstaged. Kudos to the CBC and news anchor Peter Mansbridge, then, for getting Obama to sit down for a television interview in Washington in advance of his visit earlier this week. At least questions relating to Alberta's oil sands and Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan were put out on the table in an open and frank manner. Which is more than will likely happen at any press conferences or photo ops to emerge from today's whirlwind tour and meetings. However, of note to this blog's abiding interest in issues of performance and place, apparently Obama, upon reaching Parliament Hill this morning, first commented on its Gothic architecture, and the contrast between DC's Neoclassical/Beaux Arts style. Richard wondered aloud just last evening whether Obama would register the difference and make any connections re contrasting national temperaments and histories. Sure enough, he did. Smart man. I hope he's getting some rest.

This past week, we attended two wonderful performance revivals. First up was Turning Point music ensemble's remount of Erik Satie's 1924 Dadaist Gesamskunstwerke, Relâche, which featured original music by the composer, sets and dramaturgy by Francis Picabia, a ballet by choreographer Jean Börlin, and a cinematic entr'acte by filmmaker René Clair (featuring appearances by Satie, Picabia, Duchamps, and Man Ray). The original apparently thrilled and scandalized Parisian audiences in equal measure. This remount was the brainchild of my SFU Contemporary Arts colleague, Owen Underhill, who together with his Artistic Co-Director at Turning Point, Jeremy Berkman, enlisted the talents of local artist Greg Snider (also from SFU), choreographer Simone Orlando, dancers Tiffany Tregarthen, Edmond Kilpatrick, Heather Dotto, Scott Augustine, Josh Beamish, Mackenzie Green-Dusterbeck, and David Raymond, soprano Phoebe MacRae, and actor Patti Allen, to reintroduce Satie's music and Clair's film to a new generation. It was a truly delightful spectacle, a feast for all the senses, and a reminder that, as with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring nine years earlier, the European modernists still have something to teach us about artistic interdisciplinarity and avant-gardism.

Then this past Tuesday it was to the Stanley Theatre to see the Arts Club's revival of Somerset Maugham's 1926 comedy of marital infidelity, The Constant Wife. An updating of William Wycherley via George Bernard Shaw, the play is Maugham's smart and sassy proto-feminist take on love, marriage, and sexual economics. Constance Middleton (Nicole Underhay) appears blissfully devoted to her husband of 15 years, Dr. John Middleton (Ted Cole), and apparently equally ignorant of the fact that he has been carrying on an affair with her best friend, the blonde bubble-headed Marie-Louise Durham (Celine Stubel), for quite some time. This news is presented to us at the top of the play, by Constance's vexed sister Martha (Moya O'Connell), who is determined that Constance should know the truth and divorce John immediately. However, Martha and Constance's dowager mother, Mrs. Culver (Bridget O'Sullivan), is equally determined that Martha keep her mouth shut and not upset the status quo, arguing that men are congenitally unfaithful and that where was the harm in that so long as John continued to provide for Constance the life to which she has become accustomed. Finally, Constance's widowed friend Barbara Fawcett (Katey Wright), a self-employed interior designer with a booming business, has also heard the news of the affair, and has come to offer Constance a job, seeing financial independence as a bulwark against the possible dissolution of her marriage. 

What nobody knows is that Constance is actually aware of John's affair and perfectly content to let it continue without anyone's interference. This becomes clear when Marie Louise's husband, Mortimer (Mark Burgess), enters in Act Two to accuse John of adultery with his wife, having found his cigarette case under her pillow. Constance, however, claims the case to be her own, having long ago confiscated it from her husband and mistakenly left it in the Durhams' bedroom after a day of shopping and trying on clothes with Marie Louise. Mortimer eventually accepts this explanation, but the rest are left to wonder why Constance would lie for her husband, and why she is herself not beside herself with fury knowing she has been betrayed by her best friend.

This, then, is where Maugham elevates his elegant comedy of manners to razor sharp commentary that remains as contemporary today as when it was first staged in the 1920s (with Ethel Barrymore playing the lead). For Constance proceeds to outline a theory of love, affection, and desire that is as inconstant and mutable as marriage's institutional and economic structures are reliably gendered and hierarchized. In short, Constance is herself no longer "in love" with John; but she is fond of him, and very conscious of the fact that he provides a comfortable home and lifestyle for her, and so why should she not fully buy into the pretense of bourgeois respectability that she signed up for in the first place? Maugham is not content to leave things there, and complicates this situation even further by introducing an old suitor of Constance's, Bernard Kersal (Mike Wasko), into this mix. He is still madly in love with her, and she appreciates the attention, and so having decided to take Barbara up on her offer of joining her design firm, in Act Three proceeds to buy her way out of her marriage--at least temporarily--and go on a vacation to Italy with Bernard in order to test her own response to his ardor. She announces her plan to John, who is of course apoplectic with rage, but who nevertheless accedes to her artful and witty quid pro quo logic about sexual economics: having paid her own debt to John for his long-term financial support by returning to him a portion of her own earnings from Barbara's design business, she now feels she can, like him, take out a temporary mortgage on monogamous marriage and enjoy a break with Bernard.

As I said, the play continues to have all sorts of contemporary relevance, not least in the context of same-sex marriage. Indeed, given that Maugham's own serial infidelity toward his wife Syrie (herself a designer, and the model for Constance) mostly took the form of affairs with other men, the layers of meaning are very rich indeed. This production is smart and sexy, crisply directed (by Morris Panych) and acted (Underhay is a real gem), and gorgeously designed (Ken MacDonald's all-white art deco set is the perfect homage to Syrie, who was famous for introducing the look in the 1920s, and Nancy Bryant's costumes cut the perfect silhouette on all the actors, especially the women). The show runs until this Sunday--I urge all in the area to attend.

One final bit of sad news I just learned is that local actor and playwright Lorena Gale has metastatic stomach cancer. There will be a benefit performance in her honour at the Firehall this Monday, February 23rd at 7 pm, featuring staged readings from her plays Je me souviens, Angélique, and The Darwinist. Our thoughts are with you, Lorena.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

$1 Billion

That’s the total estimated costs for Olympics-related security in 2010, as finally confirmed by the federal government today. Organizers had originally budgeted one-fifth that amount. I guess this helps pay for all the helicopters that have been buzzing overhead in Vancouver during the past week as part of various “training exercises.” Nothing like going into full lockdown mode so we can all safely watch men and women hurl themselves down mountains or slap a little black disc across the ice. And so what if that means residents and business owners in the line of fire, as it were, have to put their lives and jobs on hold for two weeks or more as perimeter fencing is erected around their homes and stores? It’s all in the spirit of fun and cross-cultural bonding.

It’s exactly one year from today that the whole spectacle begins, and as you can tell I’m starting to get worked up. There are all sorts of celebratory events taking place across the city today, including a torchlight ski extravaganza on Grouse Mountain. I recommend, instead, hauling ass to the counter-torchlight parade being organized by the Olympic Resistance Network at Victory Square at 6 pm: details at This follows upon the 2nd Annual Poverty Olympics, which took place in the DTES on Monday. And a talk by Helen Lenskyj, a noted critic of the Olympics industry, on Tuesday (thanks, Myka, for the notice); I quote Lenskyj in my book, but alas I couldn’t go to her talk as I was at another event (see below).

In related news, Gary Mason reveals in today’s Globe that the city seems to have worked out a financing deal with a consortium of Canadian banks that will allow them to borrow approximately $800 million at a reduced interest rate of only 3% in order to pay back Fortress Investment and see that the troubled Athletes Village gets finished on time. This is good news, and while taxpayers are by no means in the clear yet, the situation is looking a lot better than it was several weeks ago. Kudos to Mayor Gregor for his quiet but intense negotiating on this one.

And kudos to City Council for also voting to cancel a plan to extend additional funding to the Downtown Ambassadors Program (DAP). A human rights complaint against Genesis Security, the private firm that staffs the program, and the Downtown Business Improvement Association, which will continue to pay for it in its current jurisdictional mandate, has recently gone forward at the BC Human Rights Tribunal. It alleges that the DAP’s coordinated intimidation of the street homeless population in the Downtown Eastside essentially amounts to a violation of the right to public assembly, and that in targeting some of the most marginalized populations in the city (Aboriginal people, the homeless, the addicted, and the mentally ill) is fundamentally discriminatory. (Lenskyj has noted that our DAP is directly modeled on a similar “hospitality force” put in place in Atlanta in advance of the 1996 Summer Olympics.) My friend Jamie, who actually covertly trained with Genesis as part of an art project he is working on relating to the DAP, gave a deposition as part of the complaint, and is keeping me informed about its progress. 

In the last post I reported on the rethink at City Hall about cultural programming and funding, and the possibility that we might get an independent Arts Council. Apparently opinion is divided on this issue, both among councillors and arts administrators: check out this item from The Georgia Straight. This is an issue I also will keep tracking. The same item in the GS also reports that attendance at this year’s PuSh Festival exceeded 24,000 and that Club PuSh, in particular, was a roaring success. Hurrah!

On Tuesday Alana and I went to see battery opera’s site-specific piece Lives Were Around Me. We were part of an intimate audience of three that assembled at the Alibi Room at 8 pm (we arrived earlier for a dinner, which was discounted by 10%, a nice surprise). After signing a liability waiver, we began following battery opera’s dapperly dressed David McIntosh east on Alexander Street. McIntosh was a charming, if cryptic, guide (“You can’t believe everything you hear” was the one line he kept repeating); he led us to the Firehall, on Cordova, where we were eventually met by Adrienne Wong (we would also later encounter Paul Ternes), who was more talkative, although no more understandable. This was because the text of the walking tour we were taking of the Downtown Eastside was freely adapted from James Kelman’s Translated Accounts, an abstruse, Kafkaesque novel made up of monologues detailing instances of surveillance, arrest, detention, and torture carried out in an unnamed police state. The effect was deliberately disorienting, forcing us to reexamine a part of the city that has historically been overdetermined with meaning, not to mention over-policed by various state apparatuses invested in the interpretation of that meaning. However, I think in the end the text dominated too much, and that the piece was perhaps overconceptualized dramaturgically, to the point where external intrusions—that is, the very space and community where the event was taking place—seemed to flummox our guide. 

This was most evident at the bar we entered midway through the piece. Like any bar in that part of town, it was filled with a larger-than-life cast of characters, and while a table had been reserved at the back for us (complete with a complimentary beer each) we were sharing the space with Bobby and his friend. We soon learned both just been released from jail and were interested in making conversation, and perhaps more (Bobby seemed to take a particular fancy to yours truly, displaying his tattoos, and offering up multiple hugs). But our guide, while polite with Bobby and tolerant of his interruptions to a point, kept telling him that she had to keep to her schedule, and consequently kept drawing us back to the tale she was telling. In other words, despite the piece being all about looking at/for/through evidence (we later had a tour of the Vancouver Police Museum, next to the Firehall, which was more than a little creepy), the material lives occupying the site in which the performance was taking place seemed ancillary to the abstract representation of various extreme scenarios of livability. To be sure, the juxtaposition of textual site and cited text necessarily prompted me to import other spaces as dramatic referents, some of which made me feel more, some less, vulnerable; none of which gave me any clearer sense of my bearings. But, overall, the performance seemed more interested in exploring the internal psychic excavation of various spatial archives (broadly and very sketchily defined) than it was in precipitating an external bodily encounter with the full repertoire of this particular place’s experiences (on the “archive” and the “repertoire,” see Diana Taylor). Nevertheless, in terms of the latter, the neighbourhood—and Bobby (who resurfaced, magically, at the end of the tour) especially—did not disappoint. Lives were around us. We, too, had an audience. All we had to do was look.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

PuSh Pull

The PuSh Festival wrapped up this past weekend. In the end, I couldn’t get to the Children’s Choice Awards event on Sunday (chose to bang away at a paper instead, as the writing had finally started to flow). Organizers had invited back the kids from Bridgeview Elementary in Surrey who had participated in last year’s Haircuts by Children by Darren O’Donnell’s Mammalian Diving Reflex (where yours truly was shorn). They were given free reign to check out the shows (though presumably not Ronnie Burkett’s R-rated Billy Twinkle—see below), and this was to be the red carpet moment where they revealed what they liked and disliked. I’m bummed that I had to give it a pass, but here’s my own verdict on the rest of the shows we saw:

1. Transmission of the Invisible: conceived, choreographed, designed, and scored by Toronto-based Peter Chin, of Tribal Crackling Wind, this was a collaboration between dancers from Canada and Cambodia that sought to explore the fusion between modern western and classical Cambodian gesture and movement. I’m not sure I was able to figure out entirely the narrative, aesthetic, and cultural codes at work in the interactions between the two male Cambodian dancers and the two female and one male Canadian dancers, though there were definitely some interesting racial and gender politics operating throughout. As a piece of intercultural performance, I appreciated Chin’s exploration of the difficulties of assimilating and making meaning from different cultural forms, but I also felt, paradoxically, that the accompanying video installation by Cylla von Tiedemann (one of my favourite dance photographers) demanded interpretation, especially as it featured, in my recollection, only the western dancers, presumably on the streets of Phnom Penh. An additional treat was a delightful solo by Chin himself, which preceded the piece—after which he bounded exuberantly up into the audience, and sat with us to watch the main performance.

2. Billy Twinkle, Requiem for a Golden Boy: Ronnie Burkett was back in town with his Theatre of Marionettes, this time offering what surely is his most self-lacerating and nakedly autobiographical puppet play yet. Billy, you see, is himself a puppeteer, working on a cruise ship with his “Stars in Miniature,” which include, most memorably, a saucy burlesque dancer, a roller-skating bear, and a dipsomaniacal off-key amateur opera singer. In the middle of one of the nightly routines he has been performing for years, Billy loses it over an audience member who won’t stop talking. He soon finds himself out of a job and contemplating suicide by hurling himself over the prow of the ship. Enter Sid Diamond, or rather his ghost, in the form of a bunny-eared sock puppet. Sid, it turns out, mentored Billy when he was just starting out, and has always lamented his pupil throwing away his talent on popular cruise ship entertainment rather than developing a more classical repertory such as his own (Sid does puppet Shakespeare, you see, and reacts badly when Billy introduces into his act a parody of The Taming of the Shrew called The Taming of the Moo). Sid’s job is to review Billy’s life for him, reminding him of why he started in the business in the first place, and what he himself has to teach to others. In exchange, Sid gets released from the quasi-limbo state in which he has been caught since his death. As usual with Burkett, the play is filled with bawdy humour, lots of camp asides, and of course delightful set pieces of marionette wizardry, including in this case Burkett manipulating Billy manipulating his own mini-puppets. I have read that Burkett interviewed older puppeteers who in fact worked the cruise ship circuit in the 50s and 60s, and the requiem of the title in part refers to those in-the-process-of-being-lost traditions of both artistic and queer tutelage. One hopes, in this regard, it is not also a requiem for Ronnie himself, and what his daring stagecraft has to teach a theatre public that thinks puppets are only for kids. And yet, after this one does wonder what he’ll do next. Perhaps that sock puppet is one clue of a change in direction?

3. The Invisible: the latest one-woman show from Montreal wunderkind and Lepage collaborator Marie Brassard. Richard and I had seen her piece Jimmy at one of the first PuSh Festivals several years ago, and so were anticipating this event very much. Like Jimmy, it continued Brassard’s explorations with sound, voice manipulation, and lighting effects. However, unlike Jimmy, which was a tight, focused bit of storytelling about the mutability of gender and identity, and which made of the technology of her dramaturgy an intimate dreamscape in which we, in the audience, felt invited to participate (in part via a canny breaking of the fourth wall at a key moment), The Invisible meandered randomly from a discussion of 19th-century spiritualism and the fascination with ectoplasm, to an account of a literary hoax in the southern United States involving an androgynous male prostitute called JT LeRoy, to various excerpts from Marie’s own dreams (the woman must be in analysis). And Marie (who is a tiny little thing) looked lost on Freddy Wood’s cavernous proscenium stage. As Josh Bowman, PuSh’s Fundraising Manager (and a former student), put it to me after the show, the piece was more compelling as a sound installation than as a work of theatre. But even here, Marie was verging on self-indulgence and the voice modulation shtick now feels somewhat gimmicky.

4. Nanay: a testimonial play conceived and co-written by Richard’s colleague Geraldine Pratt, who teaches in the Geography Department at UBC, and whose research has for a long time focused on Filipina nannies who come to Canada through the Live-In Caregiver Program, taking care of other people’s children while separated, often for years at a time, from their own children back in the Philippines. Using interviews with the caregivers, as well as their Canadian employers, and Canadian government officials, Pratt and her collaborators (including co-writer Caleb Johnston and members of the Philippine Women’s Centre of BC) created different theatrical environments in which they staged the stakeholders’ various stories, often in radically different dramaturgical ways. Audience members were given clipboards and a form at the outset, and were invited to write down our thoughts on whose stories we found most compelling, and whether or not we found all sides of the issue presented fairly. Afterwards, there was a talk back session, but we were not able to stay, as the performance went way overtime (we attended the first show), and we had to get to another event. However, I’m not sure what I would have said had I stayed. For there did seem to be a very radical divide in terms of how the nannies’ stories were told (literally up front and personal, as we crowded into a small kitchen space or a cold storage area to listen to compelling narratives of loss, privation and indignity that were presented with a minimum of theatrical ornamentation) and how those of their employers’ were presented (whether as melodrama or as farce, and with a clear sense—via the use of scrims, video projects, and the placement of the audience in tiered rows at a distance from the actors—that these were being staged as entertainment). Verbatim theatre is tricky, but with the right dramaturgy, it can be done well—cf. The Larmaie Project, or DV8 Physical Theatre’s recent To Be Straight With You. Unfortunately, I think Nanay ultimately missed the mark.

5. Assembly: Radix Theatre’s exploration of wholeness and fragmentation via a motivational speaking seminar that goes awry was one of my favourite shows at this year’s festival. Laugh-out loud hilarious and featuring expert and revealing (quite literally) performances from actors and co-creators Katy Harris-McLeod, Andrew Laurenson, Billy Marchenski, and Emelia Symington Fedy. From the mid-1908s era hotel boardroom where the piece begins (in the Granville Island Hotel, a place I’d never before been inside), to the nametags we were invited to wear, to the Madonna headset mics that adorn our “dream team” of speakers, Assembly mercilessly parodies the worst clichés of countless professional seminars and exploratory retreats many of us have had to attend over the years. But when Harris-McLeod starts to refer to different unprintable words for a certain part of her anatomy in order to distinguish the winners from the losers in the rat race of life, you know you’re in strange territory indeed. It only gets stranger, with a rather X-Files-like moment of exhibitionary display leading to a still more surprising—because so quietly moving—conclusion.

6. Live from a Bush of Ghosts: an interesting mixed-media experiment from Theatre Conspiracy about the “fallout” of electronic culture. Inspired by Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of industrial landscapes (see my previous post), Brian Eno and David Byrne’s recording My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s novel of the same name, writer Tim Carlson enlisted the DJing talents of local hip-hop duo No Luck Club, the live video mixing wizardry of Candelario Andrade, and the dancing and acting skills of Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg, to make connections between First World waste, Third World disposal, and Fourth World retrieval. Some of the digital and electronic effects were amazing, but I’m still struggling to piece together all of the story episodes, some of which worked better than others.

All in all a most satisfying and culturally edifying experience. Kudos to Norman Armour and his staff for PuShing the envelope of performance yet again in Vancouver. Whatever one ultimately thinks of the work, it is never boring.

Many of the performances at PuSh were included as part of the programming for 2010’s Cultural Olympiad, which is currently underway as we approach (tomorrow, I believe) the one year mark for the grand event itself. There’s been a lot of discussion in the arts community about what happens after that. While Armour and others are indeed grateful for the one-off boosts in funding and profile that Cultural Olympiad programming and sponsorship is providing in the lead up to the Winter Games, people are also lamenting a lack of longer-term arts legacy planning as part of the general Olympic mandate. There is evidence that the new administration in City Hall is undergoing its own rethink of its cultural programming structures, perhaps going so far as to create an independent Vancouver Arts Council that gets money from the city, but that also operates on an arms-length basis; but one wishes that Vancouver had hewed more closely in its Olympic preparations to the Turin model, which used the cultural opportunities created by the Games to revitalize its entire arts infrastructure, making the city a leading destination for contemporary art in Italy. The hasty and ill-conceived announcement by Premier Campbell about a new False Creek location for the Vancouver Art Gallery that would be part of a post-Games effort to build an “entertainment” district in the area adjacent BC Place (which would itself get a facelift as a potential home venue for the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team and as a more used destination for touring rock bands) is symptomatic of the short-sighted thinking on these matters. Rather than an “entertainment” destination, the city should be thinking about arts and culture integration, with the VAG, for instance, better suited to the Post Office location on Georgia and Hamilton, across from the Playhouse and Queen E, and in a prime location to make links with other arts and community organizations in the Downtown Eastside. But nobody asked me.