Thursday, February 4, 2010

China and Kamp

Rounding out our PuSh Festival itinerary this year were China at UBC's Freddy Wood Theatre on Tuesday, and Kamp at the Roundhouse last night.

China is Sydney-based photographer and storyteller William Yang's latest illustrated monologue (he performed Shadows at the 2003 PuSh Festival). A slight, middle-aged Asian gay man, Yang combines the impish and the unctuous into an utterly charming stage persona all his own, weaving in this case a beguiling, humourous, and wistful tale of cultural difference, ancestral belonging, and displaced desire that is delivered in front of a series of stunning still and moving rear-projected images taken by Yang. The images, and the narrative woven around them, concern a series of trips/pilgrimages that Yang, the Anglophone son of Chinese immigrants to Australia, made to China between 1989 and 2005, ostensibly in search of some deeper connection to his familial and cultural roots. And yet while Yang's piece does trade at times in overly romantic, even mystical, representations of China's historical past (made all the more affecting by Nicholas Ng's haunting live score for Chinese violin and lute), what to me stood out was Yang's more prosaic accounts of his at times hilarious, at times maddeningly frustrating adventures with a series of (usually younger) male guides who together seemed to symbolize the aspirational reach and staid grasp of modern China, and towards whom Yang adopted an affectionately avuncular perspective.

For Kamp the Rotterdam-based company Hotel Modern has created a miniature scale model of Auschwitz, including a neon replica of the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign recently stolen from the real Auschwitz, and more than 3,000 handmade 6-inch puppets representing the prisoners and their guards. Performers Herman Helle, Pauline Kalker, and Arlene Hoornweg move about the set, manipulating the puppets as they re-enact a day and night at the camp, including the arrival by train of a new group of detainees, their execution by Zyklon B poisoning, their cremation in ovens, and the disposal of their remains. All of this detail is captured by tiny cameras held by the performers, and projected live on the back wall of the stage, accompanied by an eerie soundscape that combines a pre-recorded score by Ruud van de Pluijm and live acoustic effects (a prisoner sweeping the camp's grounds) picked up by hidden mics. The unique combination of distance and immediacy created through the puppetry and live video feed is bone chilling, and there is something about the manipulation of the physical scale of Auschwitz's spatial geography that makes all the more horrific the mass atrocities that took place there.


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