Sunday, January 25, 2015

Le Grand Continental: Day 1 Performances

Yesterday was the big day: our first performances before an audience at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza! When we arrived for our first 9:15 am call time, it was still pouring out, as the first weekend of PuSh has just happened to coincide with the arrival on the West Coast of that meteorological phenomenon known as a Pineapple Express, bringing warm temperatures (yay!) but also lots of moisture (boo!).

Leaving home after a restless sleep (nervous, I, like Peggy, had basically spent the night running through all the choreography in my head), I had dumped most of the contents of my drawers and closet into two big bags: two pairs of shoes; extra socks and underwear; three pairs of pants; three different coloured ball caps; various combinations of outer layers in anticipation of different levels of precipitation; and, of course, a towel. However, when I arrived at the old restaurant on the east side of the Plaza that was functioning as our green room (overseen with genial aplomb by Barb Clausen), I discovered that I was traveling relatively light. Several of my fellow dancers were trailing large suitcases, not surprising given the weather and the elaborateness of some of their costumes (I think Susie takes the prize with her beautifully embroidered traditional Irish dress). With racks and hangers having been set up on which to hang our various outfits, the room soon looked (and, given the general dampness, smelled) like the bargain basement of a department store.

It was still raining pretty hard when we began our dress rehearsal at 10:15 am. As a result we were allowed to forgo lying down on the ground during the "Fatboy Slim" section. Nevertheless, we still got pretty wet and my trusty, supposedly waterproof Treetorn shoes were no match for the various puddles that had welled and formed on the Plaza. As for the run-through itself, it was pretty much the worst I'd ever danced the piece: "Cumbia," especially, was a disaster. But I tried to put it out of my mind, reminding myself of the performance cliche that a terrible dress means a great show. After changing out of our wet clothes, Hilary and I and several others grabbed our lunches and headed over to Library Square to chill and chat in the covered atrium--which, as I mentioned to Peter Cox, wouldn't have made a bad space in which to hold our performances.

Back in the green room for our 12 pm pre-performance call time, excitement (and, to be sure, a little bit of anxiety) steadily mounted as we changed into the first of our costumes, helping each other out with accessories (thanks, Kerstin, for the adjustment of the bow tie), borrowing hair dryers, sharing food, offering stretching tips, and the like. Two of our members (Kuei-Ming and Lynda) even handed out personalized messages and gifts to the entire company, which was incredibly touching. And then, before we knew it, it was time to line up for our entrances. Peaking out beyond the curtains that had been put up in the green room, I was surprised to see how many people had assembled. The rain had tapered off a bit, but it was still coming down pretty steadily. Okay, then, if they had all come out to watch us despite the inclement weather, then we had to give them something to remember. Go team! And leave it to Taz to lead us out with an appropriate cheer.

The performance itself was a bit of a blur. I do remember freaking out a bit that in our south-facing line after our entrance I ended up looking directly at Vancouver dance artist Bevin Poole, saying as much out loud to Caroline, who was standing next to me. But soon the wave sounds from the opening began, and there was no time to worry about who else might be lurking in the crowd. I know I made mistakes, but nothing major, and nothing that I couldn't quickly recover from. The point was that I was having fun and giving it my all, which included the frying bacon bit on the ground. After all, it wouldn't be an authentically Vancouver experience of Le Grand Continental if we didn't get wet. What was most surprising for me was how quickly it was all over. Thirty minutes felt more like fifteen, which was an interesting lesson in the temporality of performance, and how audience and performers might experience the duration of an event very differently.

In the green room afterward, everyone was pretty stoked; at this point, most of us forwent all modesty as we peeled off layers of wet clothing and changed into our outfits for the second performance in front of each other. I snuck away to the Library once more for a few minutes of alone-time. And then it was back for our 3 pm call.

By the 4 pm show, the rain had pretty much stopped and the crowd that had assembled was about double the first, with spill-over from the just-exiting matinee of Séquence 8 no doubt helping to swell our numbers. PuSh Operations Coordinator Christopher Gauthier, who was counting both audiences for grant reporting purposes told me afterwards that he put the morning group at about 300 and the afternoon one at 650! There were several recognizable faces in the crowd (thank you Tiffany [and Spirit] and Alana and Carole, plus all the wonderful PuSh staff and my fellow PuSh Board members who were there). But this time it didn't freak me out; it energized me. I know I still screwed up in a couple of places (including a stupid mistake in "Stockfunk"), but the 4 pm show was an even bigger high than the 1 pm.

At the end of each show we invite audience members to come into the performance square and dance with us. Needless to say, there were far more partakers after the 4 pm show than the 1 pm--although Voetvolk's Lisbeth Gruwez and Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, in town with their wonderful show It's going to get worse and worse and worse, my friend, were jiving up a storm following the earlier show. I regret I couldn't stay for long after the second performance; Richard was picking me up as we had to rush off to another event. But, on the topic of audiences, I will say that I was a bit surprised that folks watching us didn't make more noise. Sylvain had prepared us for the fact that friends and family would be calling out our names (which, to be fair, did happen once or twice), and clapping and shouting and whooping all the way through the show--and that we musn't let that distract us. On the whole, however, I think both groups were relatively sedate--not an uncommon response among visiting artists when they present here. In the case of the 1 pm show, it could have been that most folks were holding umbrellas. But today, I think, the weather should be pretty good.

So there's no excuse, Vancouver. If you're at the Queen E Plaza this afternoon at 1 or 4 pm, you have a simple task: MAKE SOME NOISE!


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