Thursday, January 31, 2013

PuSh 2013: I, Malvolio

Tim Crouch, an old friend of the PuSh Festival, is back this year with I, Malvolio, on for an extended run at The Cultch (who are co-presenting the show) through February 10.

Beginning in 2003, Crouch has been writing a series of short solo works told from the point of view of secondary characters in Shakespeare's plays (Caliban from The Tempest, Peaseblossom from A Midsummer Night's Dream, Banquo from Macbeth, the poet Cinna from Julius Caesar). Now it's the turn of Malvolio, the Puritanical steward to Olivia in Twelfth Night who is tricked by Sir Toby Belch and crew into thinking that his mistress loves him, and is imprisoned as a lunatic when he foolishly tries to reciprocate her phantom desire.

In Crouch's hands, Malvolio's vow at the end of Shakespeare's play to be revenged for his humiliations becomes a bravura riff on our complicity, as an audience, in those humiliations. The house lights remain up through the entire 60-minute show and various individuals are targeted to either abet Malvolio's indignities--or suffer their own--on stage. Crouch is an amazing performer, never wavering in his squint-eyed scowl, condensing the entire plot of Twelfth Night into an explosive torrent of perfectly articulated verbiage, calling out our sustained laughter with a wagging finger that is less vindictive than vindication.

Which is, finally, what Crouch achieves for this much-maligned character at the end of the show--in a conceit that is an anti-theatrical stroke of theatrical genius. For if, having lectured and hectored us for the past hour, our revels are nevertheless to continue unabated, then there is only one thing for this theatre-hating stoic to do: walk out of his own play.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

PuSh 2013: Still Standing You

Still Standing You, a PuSh Festival co-production with The Dance Centre that continues tomorrow and Friday and Saturday, opens with Pieter Ampe lying on the floor, legs stretched in the air, supporting the full weight of Guilherme Garrido, who sits perched on Ampe's feet. Garrido proceeds to make casual conversation with the audience, mostly about the duo's explorations of Vancouver since their arrival, and their delight at discovering the nearby Elbow Room and owner Patrick Savoie and his staff's famous schtick of insulting their breakfasting patrons. The idea that a) we might willingly seek to be abused, debased, and humiliated, and b) that we might delight in watching this happen to others, more or less sums up the premise of this eye-opening show, which is as much an extended wrestling match as it is contemporary dance.

For sixty minutes Ampe and Garrido stomp around the stage, and on each other, grunting and sweating like cave men as they test the limits of what they can take from the other, and what they will give back in return. This includes whipping each other with their belt straps and, in the piece's most aggressively intimate sequence, manipulating each other's penises as they spiral and twist around each other in a gymnastic (and presumably painful) pas de deux. And all the while we watch avidly, laughing while wincing, enthusiastic and willing voyeurs to an S/M spectacle that is as tender as it is tough.

Still Standing You is unlike anything you've seen before--which more or less sums up what PuSh is all about.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

PuSh 2013: Haptic + Holistic Strata

The multidisciplinary dance artist Hiroaki Umeda, who first visited the PuSh Festival in 2009, is back this year at The Dance Centre (our partners on the show) with two new works that combine light, sound, and movement in stunning and visceral ways.

As Umeda said last night in a talkback after the show, his goal is to transmit sensation rather than meaning to his audience. In Haptic, the first piece on the program, that means bathing the stage in a succession of primary colours as Umeda slowly moves his body--in a succession of rippling waves and jerky spasms depending on the pulsating music--from upstage left to centre stage. In Holistic Strata, Umeda's body is dotted in particles of light, the floor and backdrop awash in a sea of black and white that resembles the snow on a television screen, or the swirl of stars colliding in a magnified galaxy. With the aid of sensors, and in tune with the electronic score, Umeda moves back and forth in a version of popping and locking, the projections often moving with or in counterpoint to him, creating a vertiginous, disorienting effect, much like we're falling down a strobe-lit black hole.

A DJ of visual, acoustic, and kinespheric space, Umeda's work defies easy description. Instead, it needs to be experienced.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

PuSh 2013: Ballet BC

Although Richard and I are subscribers to Ballet BC, and although we had seen all of the pieces that make up this weekend's Encore program before, last night still felt special, as for the first time this year the company is pairing up with the PuSh Festival. It was great to see all the PuSh program guides being perused by audience members, and I took the opportunity to make several recommendations.

Having earlier that morning talked about William Forsythe's Improvisation Technologies with my SFU Contemporary Arts students in the Dance-Theatre class I'm teaching this semester, I was newly attuned to how his Herman Schmerman, the first piece on the program, was put together in terms of shapes and phrasings and tempo. I detected a few stumbles among the dancers in the opening quintet, Forsythe's steps being notoriously difficult, and the pacing of this piece particularly brutal. However, Alexis Fletcher and Connor Gnam were on fire in the signature duet that follows.

Jorma Elo's 1st Flash is choreographed to Sibelius' stunning Violin Concerto in D minor, and features equally spectacular lighting. But the dancing more than holds its own, beginning and ending not just in half-light, but in silence, as if to say, which is more virtuosic: the music or the movement? With newer company members Alexander Burton and Livona Ellis (who emerged as the star of last night's program) joining veterans Maggie Forgeron, Alyson Fretz, Gnam, and Gilbert Small in realizing Elo's intensely physical but slightly quirky movement patterns (lush arabesques and lifts followed by squats and hops), the answer to that question in my mind was very clear.

Petite Cérémonie, created especially for Ballet BC in 2011 by Medhi Walerski, concluded the program,   a showcase for the full company's athleticism and witty theatricality (I had forgotten about Dario Dinuzzi's juggling and spoken word bit). Beginning with the exterior rear wall of the stage exposed, the dancers enter in turn from the wings, but also the audience, eventually joining each other in a quasi-chorus line, the only movement a simple shifting from one foot to the other. Things get decidedly more dynamic from there, especially when Vivaldi's Four Seasons starts blaring. I still think the piece, overall, is more style than substance, but one of the things I did notice this time in ruminating on Walerski's somewhat too-obvious metaphor of "life-in-a-box," was how (in addition to gender and the black box of the theatre) it could be applied to the choreographic box of unison vs. non-unison in movement.


PuSh 2013: Do You See What I Mean?

Yesterday at the PuSh Festival I went on a blindfolded tour that awakened in me an extraordinary new sensory experience of my city--and my body.

Do You See What I Mean?, the brainchild of Martin Chaput and Martial Chazallon, of France's Projet in situ, begins at the Access Gallery on Georgia Street, just east of Main. After checking in at the box office, you are greeted by Martial, who explains a bit about the concept of the piece, before placing a blind fold around your eyes and introducing you to your guide. In my case, I was paired with Mariana, and while over the course of the next 2.5 hours we chatted only briefly about ourselves and our lives (neither of us being big talkers), we nevertheless experienced what I am certain was for both of us an incredibly intimate social and physical exchange. In my case, not only did this involve placing my life literally in Marianna's hands, but, in taking hold of her right elbow and beginning to walk alongside her, shifting the whole kinespheric axis of my body in her direction.

The experience was uncanny and disorienting and exhilarating all at once, as guided only by Marianna's voice and the pace of her movements and subtle shifts in direction was I able to do what under any other circumstances I automatically take for granted: walk. And what a walk: so immersive, so sensual, so loud! Take away the visual sense, and suddenly you realize just how noisy your city is: car horns and engines accelerating; music from storefronts; the click-click-click of heels on sidewalks; shouted greetings. The snippets of overheard conversation provided an audio track all their own as I assembled different bits of information--and different languages--into a running narrative.

Then there was the heightened haptic sense: the texture of the sidewalk or road underneath my feet; the warmth of the sun on my face; always the nubbly fabric of Mariana's sweater at my fingertips. In a thrift shop I'd like to say was still somewhere in Chinatown (although I can't be sure) I was delighted to discover in my felt explorations of the wares a horse's stirrup: so unexpected amid all of the coats and leather goods and knick-knacks, and such a joyful surprise for that. This was the first of several stops that Mariana and I made on our journey: a pastry shop where I got to taste an orange-blossom macaroon; an apartment where our host Stephen gave me a motorcycle helmet to hold and told us the story of his ill-fated purchase of a vintage Vespa; an indoor-outdoor pool where Jimmy, himself non-sighted, tested my sense of smell and touch; and finally what I would discover later (once my blindfold had been removed) was the Roundhouse Community Centre, where I got to dance in the dark with Ziyian Kwan as I discovered new centres of gravity I never knew I had.

As I said to Martin afterwards, the whole experience was one of the most stimulating and emotional of my life. I'm still processing all the feelings (physical and affective) it produced. But one thing I know for sure: even if I never see Mariana again, I have some other sense that a part of her will always remain beside me.


Friday, January 25, 2013

PuSh 2013: Testament

Testament, one of three Shakespeare-themed works programmed as part of this year's PuSh Festival (and the first of two based on Lear), opened last night at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre. It was a revelation, a highlight among the consistently excellent offerings I have seen at the Festival so far.

The brainchild of the Berlin-based theatrical collective She She Pop, these "Belated Preparations for a New Generation based on King Lear" features three members of the collective--Sebastian Bark, Mieke Matzke, and Ilia Papatheodorou--acting on stage with their own fathers (Joachim, Manfred, and Theo, respectively), all of them retired, and none with previous performance training or experience. (A fourth member of the group, Lisa Lucassen, also appears, although sans paterfamilias.) What could have quickly become an exhausted gimmick instead turns into a moving exploration of the always complex bonds of debt and obligation between father and child--bonds that we cannot help but read through the lens of our own filial relationships. What's more, the piece is surprisingly faithful to Shakespeare's text (which scrolls across a projection screen throughout the performance), revealing new depths to key passages and scenes, while also updating themes of inheritance and post-retirement care for a generation of aging Boomers and their kids.

Everything about this production is dramaturgically apt: from the use of live video monitors to frame the patriarchs' grizzled faces as portraits projected onto the upstage wall, to the use of the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet "Something Stupid" as a leitmotif for what--to paraphrase the program notes--is the always delicate public negotiation of the terms of love's exchange between daughters and their fathers.

Testament runs for three more performances, and I believe there are lots of tickets left. I strongly recommend snapping some up, as this show will be the talk of the Festival.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

PuSh 2013: Look Mummy, I'm Dancing

Last night it was another intimate and exhilarating solo show at Club PuSh. Look Mummy, I'm Dancing is a stunning, emotionally raw monologue by Belgian actress Vanessa Van Durme that strips both the theatre experience and one's soul bare. Dressed only in a simple pink shift, Van Durme is alone on stage for 90 minutes: no background music of fancy lighting effects; a kitchen table and chairs, a glass of water, and two dolls--one male, the other female--her only props; the audience an uncertain witness to her story.

And what a story. Beginning with a casual, almost banal account of her frustration at being stuck behind a bickering couple in a supermarket checkout line, Van Durme dryly observes how much work it is to be a woman and, given the choice, who would willingly take up such a job? Van Durme did, and she proceeds to tell us about her life as a transgender person: from her difficult birth and boyhood joy at dressing up in her mother's clothes, to her courageous decision to undergo a risky sex change operation in Morocco in the 1970s and an unexpected 16-year marriage.

Van Durme's life is epic, and epically hilarious: a May-December romance with an American G.I. from Ohio; a catalogue of walk-on parts during her early career as an actor; waking up in a maternity ward following her sex change operation with the kindly nurse Fatimah telling her in Arabic that she has a lovely pussy; getting married in a Spanish prison. But at the heart of this piece is Van Durme's tender and heartfelt account of her relationship with her mother, who shielded her from her father's emotional abuse as a child, but who nevertheless feared and mourned the loss of the boy she loved as Van Durme grew into an adult woman--even as the once cold and distant patriarch welcomed a new daughter into the family.

It is Van Durme's willingness to explore with such honesty and openness the pathways and byways of family connection that cannot be explained by DNA or chromosomes that makes this such a rich and rewarding performance.

Look Mummy, I'm Dancing continues tonight and tomorrow night at Club PuSh. It is not to be missed.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

PuSh 2013: Photog

Boca del Lupo's Photog: An Imaginary Look at the Uncompromising Life of Thomas Smith, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T through Saturday as part of the PuSh Festival, is many things, all of them hybrid: it is documentary physical theatre; it is an illustrated lecture that doubles as a multi-media installation; it is solo storytelling mixed with collective indictment. However, I'm not sure these parts always add up to a satisfying whole.

Combining verbatim text from interviews conducted with conflict photographers with recorded and live video projection and Boca's trademark aerial work, Photog features company co-principal Jay Dodge as a world-weary photojournalist, home in New York, facing eviction from his apartment owing to the building's imminent redevelopment as a high-priced condo, and reminiscing about past assignments in conflict zones like Iraq, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. As Dodge talks, corresponding images--some benign, some absolutely rending--appear on a rear screen. Often Dodge interacts with these images with the aid of live animation. Some of the effects are stunning, as when Dodge's face appears in the rear view mirror of his Iraqi driver's car. However, for all of the piece's technical virtuosity--and kudos to director Sherry J. Yoon and the entire crew for their combined wizardry--Photog did not compel in me the empathy it seemed designed to elicit.

There were two reasons for this. First, Dodge's performance is so placid, so contained and unhistrionic--even when describing a hair-raising escape from the Ivorian militia with five thousand dollars strapped to his body--that I did not get a vivid enough sense of the physical and emotional toil his work has taken on him. Second, the connection that the piece seeks to make, via the narrative of the condo redevelopment, between first world economic greed and third world human misery struck me as at once too oblique and too glib. I get and support making a connection through performance between global events and local audiences (heck, I've written a book on the subject, and it's a mantra included in the subtitle to this blog); but I think there are more subtle ways of implicating your audience than by simply turning the camera on them.


Monday, January 21, 2013

PuSh 2013: Jan Derbyshire

Stand-up comedy is a deadly business: it's either kill or be killed. Those instincts, when mapped onto gender, can produce some additionally toxic results, both in the plethora of misogynistic jokes about women that are the staple of many male comics' routines and in the equally misogynistic belief (prominently upheld in 2007 in the pages of Vanity Fair by the late Christopher Hitchens) that women simply aren't funny. Fortunately, local comic, playwright and multi-media artist Jan Derbyshire puts the lie to both types of character assassination, proving that women can be riotously funny, especially about men.

In her most recent comic monologue, Stood, which premiered last night at Club PuSh, Derbyshire begins by playing with the killer tropes of stand-up, adopting a wise-guy accent, aggressively heckling the audience, and shooting out classic one-liners. But the heart of Derbyshire's comedy is personal storytelling, and after setting us up with all the comic "artifice" (including an amazing imitation of Carol Channing), she gently lets slip the mask, moving into a narrative about an epic road trip she took with her father--and the movie she would make of it--that is equal parts moving, politically savvy, and just plain hilarious.

That this narrative additionally involved the conscription of Club PuSh co-curator Tim Carlson in the role of Jan's father only added to the fun.


PuSh 2013: Cinema Musica

In addition to their always brilliant playing, what I most admire about The Turning Point Ensemble is the thoughtfulness and adventurousness of their programming, which frequently involves crossing disciplines and commissioning bold new work. Both of these elements were on display yesterday in Cinema Musica, a "live conversation" between music and film that unfolded at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Theatre, as part of the PuSh Festival.

As conductor and Co-Artistic Director Owen Underhill announced in his curtain speech, the program involved some "epic" technical demands. That said, the afternoon opened simply, with the only work not involving live musicians. Stan Brakhage's "..." Reel 5 (1998) is a hand-painted 16 mm film edited to composer James Tenney's Flocking, a work for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. While Brakhage's films are often silent, in this case the slightly dissonant call-and-response between the pianos enriches the dialogue between the two dominant visual styles of the film, which moves between images that alternately put me in mind of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings and Mark Rothko's multiforms.

By contrast, it was Paul Klee who came to mind in watching the piece that followed. Chromo Concerto (2007), a collaboration between composer Michael Oesterle and animator Chris Hinton, brought Underhill and a chamber-size portion of his musicians on stage, and featured a gorgeous piano solo by Chris Morano that added a different kind of tonal colour to the simple circle and line drawings by Hinton. This portion of the program concluded with Regen (1929), an early silent "city symphony" film by Joris Ivens for which Hans Eisler wrote a live score some 12 years later. Turning Point has been "instrumental" in researching the correct synchronization of sound and image, and yesterday the results were truly beguiling.

Following the first intermission was the world premiere of Good Night Vision (2013), a collaboration between visual artist Judy Radul and Turning Point that featured live and prerecorded video and performance. The piece begins with actor Aryo Khakpour commenting on a series of YouTube clips featuring thermal cameras (which operate on heat rather than light to produce their images), before noting the coincidence that the composer Ferruccio Busoni and the filmmaker Billy Wilder happened to live in the same Berlin apartment complex (though not at the same time). This, then, is the jumping off point for Radul's theoretical ruminations on film and death, music and elegy, turning two thermal cameras of her own on the Turning Point musicians as they play Busoni's Berceuse élégiaque, the ensemble's heat producing the equivalent of a negative film image.

Next up was Stan Douglas's Pursuit, Fear, Catastrophe: Ruskin B.C. (1993), a video installation that was originally accompanied by a computer-controlled piano playing an adaptation of Arnold Schönberg's Begleitmusik. For this screening of the film, a mash-up of early silent and film noir aesthetics that also serves as an oblique commentary on racial and environmental politics, Turning Point performed a chamber version of the score by Schönberg, who for many years tried and failed to write music for Hollywood cinema.

Finally, the afternoon concluded with another world premiere, François Houle's Suspense (2013), a rumination on the great symphonic film scores from the 1940s that was counterpointed--visually and sonically--with stop-motion images of various members of the Turning Point Ensemble projected onto a rear projection screen. Additionally, projected onto a white scrim at the front of the stage were images of gymnasts flying through the air captured with high-speed cameras by American video artists David and Hin-Jin Hodge. Visually this was all very stunning, but I'm not sure in this case the suspense created by the images went with that evoked by the music.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

PuSh 2013: Cédric Andrieux

Cédric Andrieux, on at The Dance Centre through Sunday as part of the PuSh Festival, is the latest in the series of dance portraits that Jérôme Bel (whose The Show Must Go On launched the 2010 PuSh Festival) has created in collaboration with and focusing on the lives of preeminent dancers working across a range of styles and techniques: Véronique Doisneau, a member of the corps de ballet of the Paris Opéra Ballet; Isabel Torres, prima ballerina of the Teatro Municpal do Rio de Janeiro; Pichet Kluchun, a Thai classical dance artist; Lutz Förster, longtime member of Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal; and Andrieux, a contemporary dancer who for eight rigorous years danced under the recumbent but watchful eye of Merce Cunningham. Combining dance excerpts with autobiographical storytelling, these works, in Bel’s words, “mark the place where the life of an individual intersects the history of dance.” Part of that temporal marking comes from the use of first person address to the audience, speech in this instance stripping away dance’s conceit of technical virtuosity by contextualizing the time and labour that go into choreographed movement’s “timeless” execution, and in the process revealing the person behind the dancer.

And, in that respect alone, Andrieux is utterly charming. Walking onstage in sweats and toting a gym bag, he proceeds to tell us how, as a boy growing up in Brest, he fell in love with dance while watching the television series Fame. Encouraged by his mother, a fan of contemporary dance, Andrieux soon enrolls in the local dance studio, where he is immediately told that, given his body and meager talents, his prospects are not great, but that the experience will be good for his “development.” This is the first instance of Andrieux defying his critics, and soon he auditions for and is accepted into the Conservatoire in Paris, eventually graduating at the top of his class, and demonstrating for us the solo by Philippe Tréhet, Nuit Fragile, that he performed for his exam. All of this is told to us in a voice at once deadpan, brutally self-honest, and utterly sincere, with Andrieux communicating his deeply felt love of dance, but also acknowledging his own technical limitations. Not to mention the additional off-stage exigencies of the dancer’s life, which include moving to New York for love and, once accepted into Cunningham’s company, dealing with the daily tedium of maestro Merce’s unvarying routine of warm-up exercises.

The sections dealing with Cunningham form the core of Andrieux’s narrative, and open up an amazing insider perspective on one of the giants of modern dance, including what it meant to take direction from an octogenarian who composed his works on a computer and barked instructions from a chair, the humiliation of wearing Cunningham’s trademark unitards, and the music that was always an afterthought for choreographer and performers, but that caused Andrieux’s grandmother, watching and listening in the audience, such physical and emotional distress. In recalling this seminal period of his career, Andrieux makes it clear that he has the utmost respect and admiration for Cunningham as an artist. But he also lets us know—and, indeed, demonstrates for us physically in excerpts from Biped and Suite for 5—that much of Cunningham’s movement was next to impossible to perform, and extremely taxing on the body.

Which makes all the more joyful the conclusion to the evening, when, back in France with new boyfriend Douglas, Andrieux conveys the sense of liberation he felt in dancing works by Trisha Brown and Bel as part of the repertoire of the Lyon Opera Ballet, as well as the chance meeting with Bel on a train that led to their collaboration on this piece, and to the credo that forms its heart: to move without judgment.

Added bonus: following tonight's performance, I get to lead a talkback with the artist.


Friday, January 18, 2013

PuSh 2013: Sometimes I Think I Can See You

Following a delightful lunch and conversation with A Crack in Everything creators Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey (who graciously agreed to talk to my Dance-Theatre class about their work), the three of us walked to the Vancouver Public Library to check out two of the pieces (or 1 1/2, really) that make up the 2103 PuSh Festival's "Fiction(s) Series."

Unfortunately, all of the "books" in the Human Library had been checked out for the day. And so we contented ourselves with lingering in the VPL's public concourse watching text unfurl on giant television screens as two local writers equipped with laptops spun spontaneous prose out of what they were witnessing. The brainchild of PuSh Festival favourite Mariano Pensotti (La Marea in 2011, El pasado es un animal grotesco in 2012), Sometimes I Think I Can See You gives new meaning to the digital book, transforming the act of writing into a visual performance, and asking what it means to read privately in public spaces, where any moment we might become a character in someone else's narrative.

I did not stay for very long, though long enough to say hello to Mariano (who was running between the VPL and the Vancouver Art Gallery, site of the work's other public outpost), and to witness one utterly beguiling moment. One of the authors (who, I confess, I did not recognize), in a J.M. Barrie moment of make-believe making belief, asked her readers to clap--at which point a group of Asian language students who had been following the text burst into spontaneous and enthusiastic applause.

A PuSh moment if ever there was one.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

PuSh 2013: Hawksley Workman

I confess that I'm probably the only person in Canada who was not familiar with the singular musical talents of Hawksley Workman. But after last night's performance of his latest cabaret act-cum-live concept album, The God that Comes, at the opening of Club PuSh I am definitely a convert to ecstatic worship of his genius.

The God that Comes, a collaboration between Workman and 2b theatre's Christian Barry, is a one man rock opera based on Euripedes' Bacchae. Workman plays all the instruments--including drums, keyboards, guitar, ukulele, and harmonica--and sings the three main roles of Dionysus, Pentheus, and Agave. An amazing instrumentalist, Workman also has a rich and theatrical voice (think Tom Waits, but up an octave or three), making him an intensely charismatic performer. He's also a perceptive reader of Greek tragedy, bringing out in canny and contemporary ways the genre's links between police states, family dysfunction, and gender dysphoria. As Workman sings, love is hard, surrender even harder: which is maybe why, for the Greeks, a mother and son inevitably end up in bed together, the one holding the other's severed head.

The God that Comes continues at Club PuSh tonight and tomorrow night. It's not to be missed.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

PuSh 2013: A Crack in Everything

After our opening Gala at Club 560 on Monday night, the 2013 PuSh Festival officially launched last night at SFU Woodward’s Fei and Milton Wong Theatre with zoe/juniper’s A Crack in Everything. In keeping with discussions I’ve been having with students in my Critical Writing in the Arts class this semester—and in part as a necessary mechanism of time-management—I’m going to keep my PuSh reviews short this year, and consequently tilted more toward descriptive and experiential rather than interpretive analysis.

Appropriate, therefore, that A Crack is such a sensorially rich and immersive piece, starting with Juniper Shuey’s video projections, which convey a porosity, a liquid viscosity, in keeping with the shiny white vinyl covering the floor of the stage. At times, especially in those moments when the equally stunning musical score (which combines well-known lieder and opera arias by Schubert and Purcell with original electro-acoustic compositions by Greg Haines) is stilled, and the dancers slowly take each other’s hands and then step and pivot in duos and trios in Zoe Scofield’s unique take on courtly dance, it’s as if the dancers are floating on a cloud, or (and here the title of the piece may be relevant) negotiating the slippery surface of a lake that’s not quite frozen. But the fact that we hear in these same moments the sticky sound of the dancers’ steps, along with the effort of their breathing, means that they are also one with that surface, and elsewhere Scofield exploits this in her choreography by using the floor like a trampoline or a sponge, launching her dancers vertically or sinking them horizontally into complex patterns of unison movement.

All of which is to say that for me the sense most triggered by this show was touch. From that porous vinyl floor, to the layers of opaque, sheer, and transparent scrims and screens (including one onto which Scofield traces the outline of her body in red marker), to perhaps the evening’s most stunning image—that of the dancers moving with lengths of red thread in their mouths: tactility was my way into this arresting and complex work.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Atlantic Crossings

The sight and sounds of waves lapping against the shore. A woman in an Elizabethan ruff and a plastic body brace—a whale-bone corset? an exoskeleton?—who begins to move her arms and hips in slow, undulating circles as voice-over text in English and Catalan talks of the mixed histories bred into those bones. She is soon joined by two other women, both similarly attired. The three fates, perhaps, come to speak and sing and move us, along with period instruments like the alto gamba and the lute and the oud, back across the Atlantic, that middle passage whose various repertoires we all must re-cross—sometimes above deck, sometimes below—as we daily negotiate our dis-placed  identities in a globalized age that stretches back at least to Columbus.

So begins Henry Daniel’s Here Be Dragons/Non Plus Ultra, an interdisciplinary collaboration with composer Owen Underhill and dancers and musicians and performers from Barcelona and Vancouver, that, in Daniel’s words, explores “new architectures of memory and belonging, forever going east to find west and west to find east.” Its final performance is tonight at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at SFU Woodward’s. If you are looking for an immersive sensory experience, one whose various acoustic, visual, and kinesthetic stimuli will also fire your brain, then this is the performance for you. And, apropos my Critical Writing in the Arts course, it’s the perfect barca, or vehicle, for descriptive and interpretive analysis.