Monday, June 16, 2014

Ranking Vancouver

Last Tuesday, still jet-lagged, I gathered with about 30 other invited guests in the lobby of Vancouver Community College's Hamilton and Dunsmuir campus. We were attending a short preview excerpt of Ranking Vancouver, a site-specific work-in-progress that is a collaboration between radix theatre and the visiting Swiss theatre artist Matthias Werder.

The initial idea for the project arose from the fact that Vancouver and Zurich, where Werder is based, regularly top various urban livability indices and yet also share several pressing civic and social challenges, including affordability, street homelessness, and widespread injection drug use. As I understood from the excerpt that we saw Tuesday evening, the focus now seems to have narrowed to the role of gentrification in these issues as they have specifically affected Vancouver post-Expo 86.

To this end, the specific visual focus of the work is the iconic Del Mar Inn, the low-income hotel owned by George Riste (and now his heirs) that remains as a testament to one family's belief that, as the famous epigram on its facade boldly states, "unlimited growth increases the divide." The audience has a panoramic/bird's-eye view of the building and its immediate surroundings courtesy of a bank of windows in a fourth floor VCC classroom across the street, a venue whose spectatorial assets radix AD Andrew Laurenson had long wanted to exploit.

Indeed the viewing experience was not unlike that of attending an outdoor drive-in, as through the bank of glass windows we observed various comings and goings in front of and into the Del Mar and the adjacent Or Gallery, which was doubling as a dance club in this instance. The live action on the street (and, also, in one of the hotel windows) was courtesy the company members of O, o, o, o (Dan Borzillo, Tara Harris, Chelsea MacDonald, Sean Marshall Jr., Conor Wylie); meanwhile in the VCC classroom we heard in voice-over interviews with George Riste detailing his epic battle in resisting Hydro BC's pressure for him to sell, and once it became clear he wasn't about to do so the different tactics they used during the building of their complex on the adjacent corner to make his life and those of his residents a waking nightmare. This testimony mixes with another fictional narrative of the thoughts of one contemporary female resident of the hotel, whom we spy flopping on her bed and writing a letter at her desk. All of this loops with a sound score designed by Stefan Smulowitz and is accompanied by projections--the only part of the offering I found difficult to see.

Werder and radix are seeking additional funding to turn the project into a full-scale work. To this end, the showing on Tuesday was partly in service of creating a short video trailer to attract public and private investors. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.


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