Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Unnatural and Accidental Women at SFU Woodward's

Marie ClementsThe Unnatural and Accidental Women premiered at the Firehall Arts Centre in November 2000, two years before the arrest of Robert Pickton in connection with the cases of more than 65 murdered and missing women (many of them Indigenous) from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside (DTES). Clements' play is a haunting and highly theatrical dramatization of the lives of several Indigenous women preyed upon by another real-life serial killer in the DTES, Gilbert Paul Jordon, a barber implicated in the alcohol poisoning deaths of at least ten women between the mid-1960s and 1980s. Clements' title is taken from the coroner's reports on several of these women, which listed their deaths as "unnatural and accidental." Although he eventually served six years from manslaughter, Jordan was never convicted of murder: indeed, a terrible irony is that coinciding with the play's premiere a newspaper article appeared noting that Jordan was living on probation in the Vancouver area.

Fifteen years later, Clements' play is being remounted as the Spring 2015 mainstage show by SFU Contemporary Arts' Theatre Program. This time, there is another, more salutary coincidence of timing to note: the SFU production, which opened at Woodward's on Thursday and runs to March 7, is taking place just as Indigenous, provincial, territorial and federal leaders are gathering in Ottawa for a National Roundtable on Murdered and Missing Women in Canada. More proximately, director Steven Hill is interested in asking what it means to stage a work that explores the social conditions that allow Jordan and Pickton and other men to prey upon Indigenous women with apparent impunity in an institutional setting that abuts the very site of these women's marginalization and victimization.

In answering that question, Hill faced an immediate dilemma: his cast of student actors would be all non-Indigenous. How, then, to do justice to Clements' text without perpetuating additional representational violence upon the lives and memories of Indigenous women in BC and the rest of Canada? In consultation with the playwright (who, after all, gave her blessing to the production) and dramaturge Lindsay Lachance, among others, Hill's solution was in fact to prioritize the authority of the text. In the first act, which is comprised of a series of looping short scenes focusing on the increasing isolation of several women immediately preceding their deaths, company members, having first introduced themselves and the role(s) they will be playing, largely read directly from the text while seated at a long table in the middle of the studio stage (the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre has been reconfigured from its usual proscenium configuration to in-the-round, a point to which I will return). Guest readers--last night UBC First Nations Studies student Matt Ward and actress and singer Renae Morriseau--take turns reciting the stage directions, with some of the described actions and sound and visual effects materializing on the raised platforms encircling the audience and others being left to our imaginations. Hill's point, which he elaborated upon in the talkback that followed the performance, is that when Jordan's victims most lack agency it felt unethical to have the actors inhabit their roles naturalistically. I would add that the Brechtian alienation effect of having the cast narrate rather than play their parts also draws attention to the fact that for most of us in the audience these otherwise invisible women's lives only become meaningful--and knowable--to us through local media's spectucularized interest in the eventfulness of their deaths. This point is reinforced by Clements' call for black and white newspaper-style projections announcing each successive life lost. As Aunt Shadie says at one point in the play, "Being invisible can kill you."

However, in the second act of Clements' play the dead women come together to form a community that provides healing for the violence of their past lives and, as importantly, that helps to forestall Jordan claiming in the present yet another victim: the central character of Rebecca, who is seeking closure around the disappearance of her mother. In these scenes, when the women begin to reclaim in death what they were denied in life (including the physicality and sensuality of their bodies), it felt right to have the actors begin to enact the roles independent of the text (though the stage directions do continue to be read out). Most of that action takes place above and behind the audience, on a square of raised platforms. The only things that take place in the central space in front of us are the reading of the stage directions, the live preparation and cooking of banock, and Morriseau's singing and drumming--the latter activities a reminder that Clements' play ends in a celebratory feast. This "lateralizing" of the otherwise vertical set that Clements calls for in her playscript is a partly necessary concession to the incredible complexity of the playwright's design conception; at the same time, it puts the onus on the audience not to remain passive in our seats. We have to actively turn our heads and twist this way and that and, most especially, listen carefully in order to take in these women's stories.

As Morisseau put it to the audience in the talkback, we cannot remain mere spectators to Clements' play and the events upon which it is based. We must be witnesses. Witnesses have a duty to respond to the story. What are you going to do with the story, Morisseau bluntly asked.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vanessa Goodman and Idan Sharabi at Chutzpah!

Last night at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre, the Chutzpah! Festival presented a double bill of dance. The evening opened with the premiere of a new work by local choreographer and SFU Contemporary Arts alum Vanessa Goodman. Wells Hill takes its name from the street in Toronto where Marshall McLuhan lived before moving to Wychwood Park, and where he wrote three of his most famous works: The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media, and The Medium is the Massage. (It helps that I live with, and was sitting beside, a noted McLuhan scholar.) Goodman takes inspiration from McLuhan's ideas about mass communication and, especially via his collaborations with Glenn Gould, how media affect the ways we produce and consume art.

To a recording of Gould performing The Goldberg Variations, a sextet of incredibly gifted Vancouver dancers (Lara Barclay, Lisa Gelley, James Gnam, Josh Martin, Bevin Poole, and Jane Osborne) begin moving in formation stage right, their deconstructed white tuxedo shirts and grey skirts and slacks evoking elite private school uniforms (the costumes are by Deborah Beaulieu), an image reinforced by the evocative floor and overhead florescent lighting design by James Proudfoot. The five dancers, initially tightly grouped and moving their arms synchronously and geometrically to frame their heads and torsos, slowly break apart and fan out across the stage. At this point, Barclay begins weaving in and around them, our focus drawn to her different movement patterns, the amount of space she is covering relative to the others, and, in this instance, the deliberate showcasing of her virtuosity. If dance is a performance medium that also in some senses performs us, Goodman seems to be asking, in this opening sequence, a key structural question: how, to paraphrase W.B.Yeats, do we separate the dancer from the dance?

This parts/whole, content/form equation was what I kept focusing on throughout the remainder of the piece. For example, following the opening group sequence we get a gorgeous duet between Gnam and Poole; as they finish, they move upstage, making way for the pairing of Gelley and Osborne. As kinetically compelling as the the downstage duo is (and these women are truly exceptional movers), our attention is necessarily divided between them and the upstage duo, a reminder that in contemporary dance our awareness and sensory-motor perceptors are being hailed in multiple ways, and often simultaneously. So too is it when Martin joins the group a bit later in the piece; he is moving differently than the others, more fluidly, and as he floats in and out between the others' bodies we cannot help but follow his progress. Finally, there is the stunningly arresting final tableau that Goodman gives us: Barclay, having first been grabbed from behind by Gelley, is steered stage left, as one-by-one the other dancers attach themselves to her body (and to each other) from the wings, manipulating her limbs like she is a marionette (an image with obvious dance-world resonance). However, Gnam remains apart from this group, dancing a solo in counterpoint to the larger group machine.

A lot is going on here. On the one hand, Goodman seems to be suggesting that if the dancer's body is a medium, then it is the choreographer who ultimately works it over. But sometimes even the most disciplined bodies can resist being conscripted for a particular message--hence Gnam dancing alone off to the side. Then, too, the dance-as-performed works on us (including kinaesthetically), a reminder that in the feedback loop of communication it is the audience that completes the circuit of both the medium and the message. This is something Gould recognized. Influenced by McLuhan, he famously gave up live performance for the perfectibility of the recording studio. But he never forgot who was at the other end of "his master's voice," that his records needed to be played and listened too. (Gould and McLuhan both appear at various points in screen projections curated by Goodman and Ben Didier). Likewise, in this very smart and important new work, Goodman recognizes that if, in McLuhan's words, "Art is anything you can get away with," that art nevertheless demands a response.

Idan Sharabi's Interviews/Makom is a set of twinned works based on a series of conversations the choreographer conducted with Israeli residents (and members of his own dance company) based on the concept of home. Excerpts from the interviews play throughout both pieces and in Makom (Hebrew for "a place") dancer Ema Yuasa, originally from Japan, speaks about her feelings of displacement--even after eleven years, and despite pursuing her dance dreams--living in Holland. Interviews, the newer of the pieces, is staged first; the conversations, recorded during the most recent conflict in Gaza, are filled with moments of quite tension that the dancers occasionally respond to through physical gestures. For example, when Sharabi makes a reference on the tape to the balled up fists of the woman he is talking to, we see Sharabi and fellow dancer Dor Mamalia shake their own fists at each other on stage. Later, in Makom, another interview subject also references his hands, stating that he routinely walks with his hands in his pockets as a defence against having to shake anyone else's hand. At this point, we see Mamalia take off his pants, turn them inside out, and put them back on, the interior flaps of his front pockets now plainly visible to us.

These moments of theatricalizing the interview tapes were less satisfying to me than the otherwise mostly non-representational movement. All the dancers (the fourth of whom is Dafna Dudovich) are superb in interpreting Sharabi's alternately propulsive and flowing choreography. The complex floorwork in both pieces is a particular highlight, with the dancers sometimes sinking liquidly into jointless splits and at other times throwing themselves aggressively onto their backs, legs and arms angled awkwardly about their torsos. The threat of violence is never far from the surface in both works, with a transfer of chokeholds between Sharabi and Mamalia featuring in the first part, and with Sharabi moving Yuasa about rather wildly by the back of her neck in the second part.

Trauma--the trauma of exile and migration, as well as the trauma of a homeland that is contested and under perpetual siege--is an important through-line in Interviews/Makom. And, as Diana Taylor has noted with reference to theatrical responses to Argentina's Dirty War (in The Archive and the Repertoire), the structuring motif of trauma, like that of performance, is repetition. Thus it should come as no surprise that Interviews and Makom are to a certain extent mirror halves, with the male and female dancers further twinned along gender lines. Sharabi and Mamalia begin both pieces by walking from the wings onto the stage (in the first work backwards and more slowly, in the second facing front and much more quickly), eventually meeting in the centre and extending but not touching their hands. The women, however, never dance together. Instead, they exchange over the course of both pieces each other's roles. Yuasa lies prone upstage left at the beginning of Interviews, before eventually taking a seat in the audience to watch the proceedings--including, eventually, Dudovich dancing up a storm alongside both men--along with us. In Makom the women's positions are reversed: it is Dudovich, likewise initially lying inert on the stage floor, who watches Yuasa and the men from the audience. Maybe this was Sharabi's comment on the important role of the witness in traumatic events; but his explicit gendering of this role was a concern for me, as was how much less, as a result, the women had to do relative to the men.

While both pieces had moments of outright silliness, Makom, created first but staged second, was far lighter in tone. This is a reminder that trauma can produce moments of spontaneous comedy, not least in bodily eruptions of what Henri Bergson would call "mechanical inelasticity" (when, for example, our brain tells us to do one thing, and our body responds by doing the opposite). There were many funny moments when one marvelled at the apparent incongruity of what the very elastic bodies of Sharabi's dancers were able to do. That said, I was a bit surprised by the degree to which Makom elicited outright guffaws from some quarters of the audience, including for the songs of Joni Mitchell that Sharabi incorporates into the score.

Sharabi, in his choreographer's notes, admits that for him Interviews/Makom is still a riddle. I tend to agree, and while I'm not all that concerned that the riddle be solved, I would suggest that as the piece evolves not only should it be edited for length (each half is about 10-15 minutes too long), but also for the overall quality of feeling the choreographer is seeking to provoke in his audience.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Backstage at Chutzpah!

I give credit to Chutzpah! Artistic Managing Director Mary-Louise Albert for wanting to shake things up a bit, moving the opening of this year's festival from its traditional anchor venue at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre at Granville and 41st to the Red Room Bar, downtown on Richards Street. There Maria Kong's Backstage is receiving its North American premiere this weekend, with two more performances today.

Founded seven years ago by former Batsheva company members, the Tel Aviv based Maria Kong combines dance, music and visual effects to create what it calls "live movement experiences." As is the case with Backstage, these experiences are often immersive and, indeed, upon entering the bar last night we were told by one of the hostesses that we should feel free to wander around the space during the performance. What we weren't told was how strictly our movements would be controlled.

The show begins suddenly with a lone troubadour singing and playing his guitar on the edge of the stage, where a full band will later set up. As the crowds fill the dance floor in front of him and rush to attach a body to the voice, another man wearing tuxedo tails starts weaving through the masses waving his arms and directing traffic, encouraging people to sit down on the floor so that everyone can see. Fair enough--standing audience right, near one of the space's three bars, I didn't mind having my sightlines improved as I listened to ballads about pirates and life at sea. However, when the singer introduces three dancing sirens and points them out, shimmying behind and to the left of the audience, near the bar's entrance, the crowd's natural impulse to move towards them is forestalled by our gentlemanly traffic cop, whose constant pacing and silent but insistent gestural adjustment of spectating levels is so distracting that I hardly pay attention to the trio of dancers.

Next, our gaze returns to its opening proscenium orientation as the full rock band comes on stage, accompanied by our mistress of ceremonies, the "Shadow Lady." She purrs into the microphone about the journey we are about to take and then introduces the two other main players in the evening's proceedings, a pair of muscled male dancers clad in tight-fitting post-apocalyptic gladiator gear, as if they are escapees from one of the Mad Max movies. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, these two mostly strut about like rival cocks on the walk, at one point even engaging in a simulated boxing match overseen by the Shadow Lady as ringmaster.

The plot of the piece doesn't much matter. Mostly the work is composed of discreet episodes that are sited in different parts of the bar. Many of these are movement-based, but the choreography is not especially memorable, and I paid far more attention to the costumes than the dancers' footwork. There are also two video sequences, projected onto a screen opposite the stage. I gave up trying to follow the accompanying narration as, again, I became frustrated with being told where and how to stand. Indeed, for the last half of the piece I retreated to the table at the back of the room where Richard had remained stationed from the beginning. From there we only caught occasional glimpses of the movement. But we could hear the music just fine--which is the best part of the piece.

I get that if only for the safety of the dancers an element of control over the audience's proximity has to be exerted. I object, however, when that control comes to dominate one's experience of the performance. That's when immersion turns into coercion.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Salt Baby at Talking Stick

I always forget what an avalanche of Vancouver performance comes after PuSh: the Talking Stick Festival, which opened on Tuesday; Chutzpah!, which opened yesterday; the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival and the Vancouver International Dance Festival, both coming up at the beginning of March; and on it goes. And that's on top of all the regular subscription series and venue programming throughout the city. There's so much to see that one can forget one is supposed to have a day job.

Mercifully, mine allows me to scoot out like I did this afternoon to the Roundhouse to catch the final matinee performance of Falen Johnson's play Salt Baby, first seen in Toronto at Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA) in 2009, and now in Vancouver as part of Talking Stick. Directed by former NEPA Artistic Managing Director and Unplugging author Yvette Nolan, Salt Baby tells the eponymous story of a contemporary Mohawk and Tuscarora woman from the Six Nations reserve in Ontario (Dakota Hebert). Though she has her status card, and though she remains deeply connected to her father (Curtis Peeteetuce) and the spirit of her dead grandfather (Colin Dingwall, excellent in a number of roles), Salt Baby, who can pass as white and who has lived for many years in the polyglot "big city" (presumably Toronto), feels anxious about her heritage, and in particular the exact mix of her Native blood. In part these feelings are exacerbated by Salt Baby's budding romantic relationship with, Al, a young white man (a winsome Nathan Howe) whose initially obtuse and naive and gradually more genuine questions about her family background prompt a crisis of identity in Salt Baby. On a visit home to see her father, Salt Baby begins asking questions about her genealogy that leads her on a quest--via conversations with family friends, a dubious online choose-your-own-adventure-style survey, an even more dubious psychic, and finally a community elder--to discover the truth about her ancestors. But it's the DNA test that Al suggests she take and that her father resists helping her with that looms as the real source of Salt Baby's ontological dilemma: if she takes it, she risks discovering that she is not who she thought she was; but, even more pertinently, she risks reducing her identity to the sum of her genes.

What elevates the will she or won't she plot question above a mere device to maintain narrative suspense is Johnson's recognition that paternity for Salt Baby--and Indigenous peoples more generally--is not just an existential cri de coeur or a mathematical abstraction; it has real-world and historically material consequences. Notwithstanding our twenty-first century rainbow celebration of cross-cultural relationships, the irony is that couples like Salt Baby and Al actually fulfill what was once a de facto government policy in this country: forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples through intermarriage (and see, in this regard, former deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs and celebrated Canadian poet Duncan Campbell Scott's "The Onandaga Madonna"). Indeed, Salt Baby's father, in querying his daughter's need to know, definitively, what tribes she descends from, notes that in the early part of the twentieth century several Indigenous peoples voluntary switched their tribal affiliations in order to keep dwindling band numbers up. (As an aside, I also want to point out that the first homecoming scene between Salt Baby and her father contains what I take to be an overt reference to George Ryga's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe; upon entering her father's house, Salt Baby kicks off her shoes, noting that walking on concrete in the city always makes her feet hurt. This is an echo of a line spoken by Rita Joe's sister in Ryga, that when Rita first came to Vancouver her feet hurt.)

What makes all of this so dramatically affecting is that Johnson skillfully grounds these larger cultural--and expressly gendered--questions in an honest, funny, and incredibly believable romance between Salt Baby and Al. Indeed, as blissfully ignorant as Al might at first seem (we cringe, during the first scene, when he asks Salt Baby to speak some Mohawk to him), we gradually come to understand that the results of the DNA test are not an issue for him, and, indeed, that he eventually comes to rue his suggestion that she take the test in the first place. A genetic map won't make Al love Salt Baby any more or any less. Whereas for Salt Baby, Al's whiteness, regardless of whether or not she goes through with the test, will always be an impediment--and for precisely the reasons noted above. The burden of reproductive futurity dooms Salt Baby and Al, and it says something that in the scene where this is revealed (as well as a later one, when, after having broken up, Salt Baby and Al reencounter each other at an old hangout following a disastrous date between Salt Baby and an Indigenous man) the mostly teenage audience audibly sighed.

While I feel that the play is about 10-15 minutes too long, I was gripped throughout. All of the actors are superb, and the production is deftly directed by Nolan, who inserts some notable elements of physical movement in between scenes, most memorably a seductive dance between Salt Baby and Al just before they have sex for the first time. (As another aside, I am pleased to see that Nolan's The Unplugging, which received its premiere at the Arts Club's Revue Stage in 2013--and which I write about here--is getting a remount in Toronto, in a co-production between NEPA and the Factory Theatre, later this March.) A shout out, as well, to the simple yet highly evocative set design by Norm Daschle and Johanna de Vries, which makes effective use of a series of wooden containers and a suspended bamboo frame upstage to conjure different spaces; for example, sheets hung from the frame and between which Salt Baby and Al snuggle post-coitally become a nifty top view of Al's bed. The sound design (by Devon Bonneau, who also did the lights) also features a funky mix of songs by Indigenous artists, including Jennifer Kreisberg, whose Road Forward collaborator, Marie Clements, I was sitting beside in the theatre.

The Talking Stick Festival continues through March 1, with plenty to see. Check out the offerings here.


Miami City Ballet at the Queen E

In her pre-show chat last night, Lourdes Lopez, Artistic Director of the Miami City Ballet, noted that George Balanchine created more than 400 works of original choreography during his 55-year career. About 80-100 of those works remain in the active repertoires of ballet companies around the world. Those companies include the one Balanchine founded, the New York City Ballet, but also organizations like MCB, which was started by an NYCB alum in 1986, and has been led since 2012 by Lopez, herself a former principal dancer at NYCB and a director of the Balanchine Trust. MCB is in town this weekend at the invitation of Ballet BC, presenting an all-Balanchine program; it is a rare opportunity for Vancouverites to catch a glimpse of dances created by a choreographer some consider the greatest of the twentieth century, if not of all time.

I admit that I am not an ardent member of that fan club--in part because I resist the narrative that classical ballet, born in baroque France and refined in nineteenth-century Russia, reached its apotheosis when Balanchine came to America. It's a nationalist teleology that, as most recently recycled by Jennifer Homans' otherwise very informative and lucidly written Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (2010), insists that everything culminates with Balanchine's uncanny melding of European classicism and American athleticism. Et après Monsieur B, le déluge. Indeed, ever since the master's death in 1983 critics have been opining about who will be the next great choreographic genius to save ballet and lead the form into the future: Justin Peck, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky are the latest candidates.

Then, too, it has always struck me that the New York critics' cult of worshipping Balanchine for his musicality, the speed and intricacy of his footwork, and the stunning visual tableaux he creates through his partnering and his maximal use of the corps de ballet, means that everything necessarily devolves upon technique and the virtuosity of the dancers. The work is beautiful to look at, yes, but where is the emotional depth? This was the question I was left asking at the end of the first piece on the MCB program, Ballo della Regina, which is actually the most recent of the works, dating from 1978, and set to music from the Verdi opera Don Carlos. It is light and fast, filled with dazzling leaps by the male soloist (Renato Penteado) and complex variations by the all-female corps (including featured soloist Nathalia Arja, who does have a killer arabesque). But choreographed so assiduously to the music, the work comes off as a series of highly presentational interludes more than a self-sustaining whole, with the completion of a difficult or particularly acrobatic move, punctuated as it is by the score, not just craving, but demanding appreciation. It's an older version of showmanship in ballet that seems out of place in today's world--as evidenced by the confusion of the audience about when and with what measure of enthusiasm to applaud.

I much preferred the second work on the program. Symphony in Three Movements was choreographed by Balanchine in 1972 as a tribute to Igor Stravinsky, who had died the previous year. Set to a score that the composer had written in 1945 as a commemoration of the end of WW II, the movement features striking diagonal machine-like formations and opposing windmill arm turns by the corps, recalling the wings of bomber planes (and, to be sure, the female riveters who built them). One also detects the influence of Balanchine's NYCB confrère, Jerome Robbins, especially in the Jets and Sharks-influenced jumps of the male dancers. Finally, at the centre of the piece is a beautifully spare and simple duet that the program notes indicate was influenced by traditional Balinese dance. It begins with the male dancer positioned behind his female partner; as she bobs down, he pops up, the two of them syncopating this action with corresponding arm waves, as if they are swimming.

The evening concluded with the oldest piece on the program, Serenade, choreographed (in 1934) soon after Balanchine had emigrated to the US, and set on students from his newly formed School of American Ballet. Its famous opening features more than a dozen female dancers, clad identically in blue lyotards and long white tulle skirts, standing with their rights arms stretched out in a hieratic gesture reminiscent of Martha Graham. In perfect unison the women bend their arms and bring their hands to their foreheads before adjusting their feet on cue into first position. If there's one thing I will credit Balanchine for it is his democratizing of the corps de ballet--something brought out by the diverse MCB ensemble (which numbers some 50 members). In his works the corps is never mere decorative background; its members are, rather, fully integral to, and often initiate, the movement (and it is notable that when solos and duets do occur in Balanchine ballets, the corps is frequently offstage). This is clearly on display in Serenade, composed to music by Tchaikovsky, and filled with all manner of swooping turns, dynamic group patterns, and sculptural linkages--the latter showcasing another Balanchine trademark, the dizzying arm chains his dancers frequently form and through which they assemble into his signature bodily massings.

So, notwithstanding my earlier caveats, I guess you can say I was impressed. I won't lie--the choreography definitely seems "of a period." But, as enlivened by the incredibly talented MCB dancers, that choreography can still speak to contemporary audiences.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

PuSh 2015: Las Cafeteras and Wrap Party

Last night I finally made my way to Club PuSh for the first time this Festival to take in the L.A. combo Las Cafeteras. The septet (four men, three women) of self-described "border children" mixes African and Mexican beats with a SoCal hipster vibe and a social justice message that is as infectious as it is timely. They had the entire room bouncing by the end of their energetic set, which culminated in a version of Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba."

Following the performance by Las Cafeteras, we segued seamlessly into PuSh's wrap party, which was mostly an excuse to keep drinking and dancing and celebrating another amazing Festival. I happily indulged for as long as I could, which meant till about 12:45 am. Then it was home to bed and instant sleep.

It's certainly been a jam-packed three weeks; all I can say is that I'm grateful next week is SFU's Reading Break.

Till next year.


PuSh 2015: Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf, on at the Russian Hall in Strathcona through this afternoon as part of the PuSh Festival, is the debut production of Fight with a Stick, a new local company formed by my SFU colleague and former Leaky Heaven artistic director Steven Hill and veteran theatre artist Alex Lazaridis Ferguson. The work is an adaptation of Herman Hesse's 1927 novel of the same name, about a lone wolf writer, Harry Haller, who feels out of step with his times. (My lazy punning notwithstanding, the title of Hesse's book comes from the manuscript within the manuscript within the novel that Harry is given by a hawker on the street--and from which Ferguson reads in the show.) Ferguson and Hill also adapt, with this production, a design conceit from an earlier Leaky Heaven show, project x (faust), a take on Goethe by way of Rosemary's Baby that positioned the audience in front of a bank of mirrors, so that we became part of the action and also the object of our own categorical (and categorizing) gaze--you can bet that Hill has read up on his Lacan.

However, unlike in project x (faust), all of the action in Steppenwolf happens behind the audience, which we then see projected in reverse through the mirrors. And herein lies my chief problem with the piece: much of it was just plain hard to see. This became immediately obvious at the top of the show, when the performers hold up a bank of laptops, each cued to a series of interior images (rehearsal footage, I'm assuming). Besides the occasional hand that gets in the way and the rather clumsy choreography as the performers begin to move side to side with the laptops, the display screens were simply too small to be meaningful in any capacity other than as a nifty lighting effect; instead, I concentrated on the plinks of sound (street traffic, birds chirping) introduced during this sequence by the ever-talented Nancy Tam. Other video projections (by Josh Hite, working with Parjad Sharifi) were more effective, especially when combined with live bodies, as when Hill suddenly appears from behind a digital image of himself pacing the length of the Russian Hall stage, the image itself being "wheeled" back and forth by another performer in front of the red curtains.

As for the story by Hesse, Ferguson plays Harry, narrating a good portion of the text (and the aforementioned "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," in particular) from inside what I took to be a mini broadcast booth--or maybe it was supposed to be a television screen. I could listen to Ferguson read the phone book and be seduced by his voice, and the effect of what appears to be the actor reading the book backward is initially uncanny. However, this is also the part of Hesse's novel that rails against all the pleasure-seeking bourgeois folks with whom Harry feels at odds and I didn't really need this point driven home by the hand-held spotlight positioned above the mirrors that illuminates individual members of the audience in turn; the desired épater effect comes across more as biting the hand that feeds.

Things pick up when we enter the dance hall--via a whirling wooden house with multiple doors (the set is by Natalie Purschwitz, who has certainly been kept busy by PuSh shows this winter). There we meet the super-sexy trio of Hermine (Nneka Croal), Maria (Brette Little) and the saxophonist Pablo (Sean Marshall Jr.). They turn our Harry onto sex, drugs and other illicit pleasures, which culminates in a riotous orgy of onstage violence involving, among other things, several mannequin limbs (Nazli Akhtari, who danced with me in Le Grand Continental, and the wonderfully named Anais West round out the cast). This, one assumes, is the Magic Theatre that Harry has been searching for throughout Hesse's novel, and that Pablo finally introduces him to at its end. It is a space of reflective fantasy, a corridor of the mind with a row of doors on one side and, of course, a long mirror on the other.

I'm not sure that one needs to know this detail to "get" Fight with a Stick's take on Hesse's novel. However, it does help to understand that, as the creators note in their credit sheet, that this version of Steppenwolf is "a design driven theatre installation"--rather than, say, a devised play. It's also interesting to note that in the description printed in the PuSh program guide, the show is described as being "staged for" rather than in the Russian Hall. This is one of the things I have always loved about Hill's practice, including his previous collaborations with Ferguson on Der Wink and To Wear a Heart So White: how the specific material space of the Russian Hall has always been co-constitutive of the work.

I just wish, in this instance, that the audience didn't seem so superfluous to the process.


Saturday, February 7, 2015

PuSh 2015: Cinema Imaginaire

I write this an hour or so after having experienced Lotte van den Berg's site-based work Cinema Imaginaire, programmed alongside Dutch compatriot Dries Verhoeven's Fare Thee Well! under the PuSh Festival's thematic banner of "Dis/Appearing City." Unlike Verhoeven's work, van den Berg's piece involves participants walking around the city and performing specific time-based tasks. However, van den Berg shares with Verhoeven an interest in looking and perspective, albeit from a much more proximate vantage point. For me the work also compares with what I imagine Tino Seghal's participatory "performance experiences" to be like, minus the gallery or museum setting and the huge commission to the artist.


Having assembled, as per instructions, at the PuSh offices at 10:30 a.m., our group numbered approximately 20; this included several members of the Vancouver dance community--e.g. LGC rehearsal director Lara Barclay and 605 Collective's Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley--as well as Seattle choreographer Zoe Scofield, who along with her collaborator Juniper Shuey, opened the Festival in 2013 with A Crack in Everything. But I digress. Soon enough, we were directed to follow our guide to our starting location. That turned out to be the underground concourse of the Vancouver City Centre Canada Line stop. There our guide (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me) issued us each a timer, told us to set it to ten minutes, and then loosed us onto our respective movie sets, the hurly burly of activity about us our narrative canvas and any number of passers-by our potential protagonists. In short, in Cinema Imaginaire van den Berg is interested in emancipating us as spectators (in a way that has resonance with Jacques Rancière's famous recent theorization of this concept): with performances of all kinds taking place all around us, we decide what to watch and how to edit the footage into a private film loop of our own making.

Truth be told, however, this concept only became clear when the group reassembled after our allotted ten minutes and our guide starting asking us what type of movie we were making, and more specifically what particular genre it fell into. Having wandered rather aimlessly into the Pacific Centre Mall, and with my camera eyes roving rather restlessly hither and yon from one subject of interest to another, and from one store window to the next, I guess I was doing something more akin to location scouting or gathering images for a sequence of establishing shots rather than settling on a specific person or thing as my narrative focus. That said, in a heart-shaped display of "Things we love" taped in the window of Banana Republic (something also later cited by fellow participant--and former PuSh Board member--Jennifer Stanley) I had spied Channing Tatum's name. So when our guide asked me what my film was about I said I didn't know yet, but I did have a star.

For our second ten minutes we were given clearer instructions about honing in on the beginnings of a story, and so I descended to the subway and hopped the train to Waterfront station. I became obsessed with a pair of shoes a gentleman was wearing and in that instant decided that my film would be comprised almost exclusively of point of view shots. In hopping the next train back to City Centre I also decided that the image of the train doors opening and closing would allow for a killer matching cut in my film, one in which I could cross Sliding Doors with Kinky Boots: that is, a montage of our as yet unmasked Channing Tatum in men's loafers entering one train followed by a quick cut to the same character exiting a train in women's pumps.

With the conceit of Tatum as a cross-dresser firmly planted in my mind, for our next assignment--to linger over our shots and to play with close-ups or wide-angle zoom outs--I headed immediately back to the mall, hoping to find a lingerie store. I settled on Le Chateau and went up and down the aisles fingering the women's clothes, pretending I was Tatum shopping for a new fetching ensemble. In the next scene of my film I then tried on this ensemble, or at least approximated the effort by heading to Top Man in the basement of the Bay, grabbing a pair of pants from the rack and asking a clerk to direct me to a changing room. The conceit in this scene was to experiment with the presence of the camera by, for example, making it super obtrusive (e.g. getting in someone's face and staring at them intently, which, as Josh Martin later recounted, almost got him punched). On the other hand, we might want to play with the idea of a hidden camera. I opted for the latter, deciding that in my film we would cut from a POV shot of Tatum entering the changing room to try on women's clothes to a shot of him on a security camera, his back turned to us as he begins to disrobe. To make it feel authentic, I did get fully undressed (well, to my underwear at any rate), and the spectre of surveillance did seem pretty real.

For the last shot of our films, we brought our various storylines together. Having traipsed to the Robson street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery we were told to huddle under the awning covering the entrance and to stare out at the rain splattered plaza. We set our timers to fifteen minutes and let each of our camera-eyes roll; at whatever moment we felt ready we could individually enter into the frame, thereby magically crossing from our own into each other's films. I was the first to do so as the music that started to play, combined with the rain and my umbrella, screamed out the closing sequence of my film: Tatum (who began, remember, in the Step Up movies) recreating the classic "Singin' in the Rain" number from the movie of the same name, only this time as Debbie Reynolds rather than Gene Kelly.

After this series of slow dissolves into each other's films, we walked to the Vancouver Playhouse, entering through the stage door entrance at the back and gathering in the downstairs recital hall. There a camera was set up. But it didn't roll footage surreptitiously captured during our earlier wanders. Instead, our guide lifted the shutter and projected a single square of white light upon the wall, inviting each of us in turn to sit down in the chair positioned below the light, close our eyes, and recount to the group a scene from our movies. The scenes were alternately funny, moving, elliptical, and surreal, but never boring.

At the end, we celebrated twenty movie premieres with a glass of champagne, toasting the many private dramas that happen all around us in public.


PuSh 2015: The Road Forward

When Marie Clements' The Road Forward played Club PuSh for one night only as part of the 2013 PuSh Festival I ended my blog post on that performance by noting that the show needed to come back and be seen by a larger audience. Mercifully, PuSh AED Norman Armour got the message and at this year's Festival the work returns for a three night run at the York Theatre on Commercial Drive, in a co-presentation with The Cultch and Touchstone Theatre.

First presented as a ten-minute multi-media installation at the Aboriginal Pavilion during the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad, the work has developed over the past five years into a full-length theatrical concert. Or is it a rock musical? An illustrated song cycle? As Clements noted earlier in the day in conversation with me on the Cultch's Historic Theatre stage, she doesn't worry too much about generic categories. What's most important is the story that needs to be told; it's the story that dictates the form.

In the case of The Road Forward, the story is based on Clements' research into the archives of the Native Brotherhood (and Sisterhood) of British Columbia (NBCC), formed in 1931 and Canada's oldest active advocacy group on First Nations issues. In particular, Clements was astounded to discover and read through back issues of the NBCC's newspaper, The Native Voice, which became a powerful mouthpiece for and documentary record of Indigenous social justice activism--and not just along the coast of BC, but across Canada and the Americas. Video projections of scanned pages from The Native Voice appear throughout the evening and it is both astounding to see what the NBCC was fighting for 50 years ago and dispiriting to see what battles have yet to be fully won today.

Working with lead composer and musical director Jennifer Kreisberg, Clements, as writer, director and producer, has turned this history into a series of nineteen songs that marry celebration and lament, resistance and requiem, all with a driving drum beat that announces unambiguously Indigenous presence, sovereignty and futurity. This is also represented for us generationally on stage, with the cast of seventeen comprised of elders (for example, Latash Maurice Nahanee and Delhia Nahanee, of the Squamish and Nisga'a nations), their direct descendants (Amanda Nahaneee and Marissa Nahanee), and a wider network of relations. (Regrettably, Kreisberg's son Wakinyan RedShirt was ill with a fever and could not perform alongside his mother.)

The size of the cast, though a challenge logistically (they are squeezed even on the larger York Theatre stage), reflects Clements' commitment to marshalling and presenting to audiences the wealth of Indigenous performance talent from across the Americas. The heart and soul of this particular group are the three magnificent divas--Kreisberg, Cheri Maracle, and Michelle St. John (Clements' co-artistic director of red diva projects)--whose combined fierceness and vocal power quite literally "take [our] words away" (to paraphrase the song, sung by Russell Wallace, that introduces them). Harkening back to the classic African-American girl groups of the Motown era, this trio likewise sings a blues- and gospel-inflected repertoire of survival in spite of suffering, with each woman being given a thumping solo (Maracle on "This is How it Goes," Kreisberg on "1965" and the tiny St. John bringing down the house on "Thunderstruck") that showcases not just her extraordinary pipes, but also her indomitability of spirit. Kreisberg and Maracle also harmonize in haunting fashion on "My Girl's Song," a mournful lament for the Aboriginal girls and women who have been murdered or gone missing along BC's Highway of Tears. I would be remiss if I did not mention the groovy vocalizations of the trio on the classic Patti Labelle anthem "Lady Marmalade," which had me bopping my head and tapping my feet in absolute delight. A shout out as well to bassist Shakti Hayes, who takes a turn at the microphone for "Good God," a bitterly ironic ode to the religious indoctrination generations of Indigenous children were subjected to as part of the Residential School system in Canada.

Not to be outdone, the men of The Road Forward also shine. Special mention must go to co-composer,  lead guitarist, and band leader Wayne Lavallee, who has a classic rock star voice in the vein of Robert Plant (plus the hair to match). Drummer Richard Brown kept a low profile visually at the back of the stage, but we registered his beats aurally throughout the performance. Keyboardist Murray Porter rocks out on the classic tune "Come and Get Your Love," by the legendary Native American and Mexican American rock band Redbone; later Porter is also compelling in inviting us to come aboard the "Constitution Express." That song references an important cross-Canada consciousness-raising event led by George Manuel in advance of the repatriation of the Canadian constitution. Another important speech by Manuel, "If You Really Believe," serves as the basis of a riveting spoken word performance by Ostwelve, who also contributes the rap "All My Relations" to the final title song of the evening, which brings the full company together.

Seeing and hearing this show at the York was a powerful experience--we even got to don 3D glasses at the end to witness Native masks and and other iconic images pop out at us. But it needs an even bigger stage, a venue where we can not only listen, but also dance. It needs, in short, a cross-Canada stadium tour, complete with a red diva projects booth selling T-shirts and CDs. Clements was necessarily sanguine about the show's prospects following this revival when I asked her the what next question earlier in the day, citing the energy and the timing and especially the money to make something like a multi-city tour happen. But if there's anybody who can do it, it's Marie Clements.


Friday, February 6, 2015

PuSh 2015: Cineastas

Argentine performance-maker Mariano Pensotti is back at this year's PuSh Festival with another experiment in theatrical framing, both narratively and visually in terms of mise-en-scène. Like El pasado es un animal grotesco, which played the Festival in 2012, Cineastas interweaves the stories of several young inhabitants of Buenos Aires. Also like his earlier work, the stories in Pensotti's Cineastas are mostly narrated to us in alternating serial fashion by one of the rotating cast of five, who pass among themselves several wireless handheld mics. The voiceover effect is even more appropriate in this latest piece, as its focus is on the different aesthetic, political and personal struggles of four filmmakers.

Gabriel is a celebrated director of blockbusters married to a beautiful second wife, and with a young daughter to whom he is devoted. His latest feature stars a hotshot actor from Mexico as a man obsessed with finding and winning back the woman who dumped him, only to discover that his beloved has left a trail of broken hearts in her wake. During the shoot Gabriel receives a terminal diagnosis and as he grows increasingly ill he starts to insert more from his own life into his film. Mariela makes experimental documentaries; her latest, an homage to her Russian heritage, is a dissection of Soviet-era musicals (a genre that, if it does exist, I definitely must explore in more depth). In the course of her research, Mariela, who is unhappily married to an older man, falls in love with Dmitry, a Russian émigré. When Dmitry returns suddenly to the motherland and fails to contact her, Mariela, who is now pregnant, decides that in order to complete her film she too must visit Moscow. Nadia's first film, an independent made on a shoestring and drawing for inspiration on the lives of her circle of friends, became a surprise hit. Now she is under pressure to follow up its success, this time with a big-budget film contracted to a major studio. However, when it becomes clear that Nadia is blocked and cannot deliver a script, the studio assigns her to another property it has been developing. The film is about one of Argentina's "disappeared," a man who suddenly reappears in his adult sons' lives. During the course of the shoot, Nadia begins to imagine that she sees her own father, who also vanished as part of the junta, among the crowd of extras on set. Finally, Lucas is a corporate drone toiling for McDonald's who is struggling to find the time and money to finish his exposé on the company's multinational malfeasance, a kidnapping allegory involving an executive who is forced to dress up as Ronald McDonald and hand out coupons on the street day after day. Almost by accident Lucas starts to advance through the ranks at his local franchise and as he becomes more and more seduced by the motivational entrepreneurialism of his higher-ups he starts to lose interest in his film--until a group of workers trying to unionize literally beats some sense back into him.

The foregoing account gives some sense of how text-heavy Cineastas is, which is a trademark of Pensotti's work more generally. But this is balanced out by the artist's acute visual sense, which manifests most immediately in Pensotti's elaborate sets. In El pasado, for example, the action unfolded on a revolving stage divided into four quadrants. Here, in Cineastas, we get a split-screen effect, with the set divided horizontally. Below is a space that to begin with is cluttered with furniture and other objects; alternately functioning as a production office, a kitchen or living room, and the restaurant where Lucas works, this is where the action of the characters' lives unfolds. Above this is a bare white space that serves as the soundstage for scenes from each of our would-be auteurs' films. These scenes are acted out live, of course; however, the precision and speed with which we alternate not just between the four "real-life" storylines, but also the fictional tales with which they necessarily dovetail, is the theatrical equivalent of cinematic montage. And that by the end of the piece the overstuffed lower half of the set is gradually stripped of all its props (the unobtrusively busy stagehand is a crucial sixth player in this effort), so that it becomes a mirror image of the top half, reveals that the greatest ongoing movie of our time is life itself--a closing lesson Mariela perhaps somewhat too obviously learns, in true Eisensteinian fashion, on the Russian steppes.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

PuSh 2015: Time Machine

The always adventurous and ever-experimenting MACHiNENOiSY, co-directed by local dance artists Delia Brett and Daelik, take another risk with their latest full-evening work. Time Machine, created during the company's recent residency at The Dance Centre, and premiering there last night in a co-presentation with the PuSh Festival, pairs five adult dancers with eight child performers. What results, set to an original score by Chris Kelly that is performed live by Kelly, Peggy Lee and Dylan van der Schyff, is a whimsical yet rigorously conceptualized exploration of the porous borders between innocence and experience, art and play, fantasy and reality.

What most struck me about the work is its sensuous and material exploration of shape. At the top of the show, large geometric felt squares and cut-out circles designed by sculptor and visual artist Natalie Purschwitz are arranged into different built structures, only to be knocked down with deliberate glee by both the adults and the kids. This reminded me that one of our earliest developmental processes as children is learning to subvert, through movement, the expected outcomes of cognition and intellection: figuring out how to jam that round peg into a square hole; or adding the last building block to our tower in such a way that it will purposefully topple over. Purschwitz also designed the costumes for the show, including the stretchy black and white biomorphic bits of fabric that several of the adult dancers move inside, at once suggesting classic images from Martha Graham and the shadows kids create on their bedroom walls at night with their hands.

In some cases the children in the show are performing alongside their parents (as in the case of the family Gnam--James, Natalie and Finn), which raises additional questions of inheritance, physical and otherwise. This is something that is brought out in the kinetic juxtaposition and commingling of fully developed and still-growing bodies on stage. Sometimes this mash-up produces obvious contrasts of size and shape--as when the youngest of the performers crawl all over Daelik and pull out the stuffing from his bodybuilder costume. At other times, one is forced to do a double-take--especially when one of the larger of the youth performers is paired with Natalie Lefebvre Gnam, who herself looks like a teenager. That the whole work ends with an arresting visual tableau of many of these differently aged and sized and trained bodies melding into the busily patterned background of one of Purschwitz's large moveable felt pieces only reinforces the point that in the co-conceived world of MACHiNENOiSY, where the spontaneous creativity of children is given equal weight alongside the practised execution of adults, it is impossible to separate decorative embellishment from core structure, wallpaper from wall.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

PuSh 2015: Iva Bittová

Iva Bittová announced from the stage of the Fox Cabaret on Main Street last night that it had been 23 years since she'd last been in Vancouver. That's more than two decades too long for folks to have to wait for her singular musical and vocal talents. Last night's show, a co-presentation of the PuSh Festival and Music on Main, was simply transporting.

Bittová has been compared to Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson and Bjork for the rich, complex and unearthly sounds she can produce with her voice--and, in the case of the latter two, for the way in which she frequently twins these sounds with the strings of her violin. However, drawing primarily on the folk traditions of her native Moravia, in the Czech Republic, Bittová's repertoire is also uniquely her own. For one thing, she has a vocal range of four octaves, which means she can trill and tweet like a bird on a wire, the crystal clear notes answering in perfect harmony the delicate plinks and plunks of her bow on the violin strings (Bittová confirmed to Richard after the concert, as she was signing our CD, that she'd sung opera, and Mozart in particular). But her voice can also descend down to hit the bass notes, emitting burbles and growls and purrs that send a shiver down one's spine, straight to the pelvis--as when, for one of her encores, she sang an amazing version of "My Funny Valentine" that combined a bit of Ella Fitzgerald-like skatting and the lower-than-low range of Sarah Vaughan.

Bittová mostly performed songs from her new CD, Entwine, the title of which comes courtesy of Gertrude Stein, and whom Bittová is presumably drawn to because of her polyvocal play with language. The whole experience was made all the more captivating by the stunning acoustics at the Fox. A single microphone amplified Bittová from the stage, with two others positioned higher, I'm guessing for reverb purposes. Truth be told, Bittová's voice needs no electronic embellishment. This was demonstrated quite clearly during those moments when she came downstage to sing directly to the audience and also when, in chanting a "lullaby" unlike any other I've heard, she waded into our ranks.

Making her way back to the stage, Bittová caressed the top of Richard's head, a benediction that only added to the magic of the evening.


Monday, February 2, 2015

PuSh 2015: Fare Thee Well!

I'm just back home from having taken in Dutch artist Dries Verhoeven's site-based installation Fare Thee Well! Located on the observation deck of the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre, the piece involves viewers peering through a bank of telescopes pointed at an LED display screen that has been mounted on the side of a building several kilometres away (a warehouse at Railway and Jackson, according to the very helpful PuSh volunteer staffing the station at 3 pm on Monday afternoon). As the haunting aria "Ah! Spietato" (Oh, misery), from Handel's opera Amadigi di gaula, loops over the headphones that spectators are invited to don, a series of valedictory phrases scrolls across the screen.

To the naked eye, the words are not only indistinguishable because of the distance, but also because they appear upside down and move across the LED display right to left. However, seen through the telescope they are turned right side up and rendered intelligible--and intimately so, the magnified keyhole view combining with the music to make us register this catalogue of loss in a visceral and deeply embodied way.


Some of the goodbyes are fairly general and non-place-specific: "Farewell Libido"; "Farewell Kodak"; "Farewell Old Age Homes." However, working with the Vancouver based public art collective Other Sights, Verhoeven has also included many adieus specific to Canada, BC, and Vancouver, several of them bitterly ironic: "Farewell Canada Council"; "Farewell Jian Ghomeshi"; "Farewell Macmillan Bloedel"; "Farewell Canucks"; "Farewell Colbalt Motor Hotel." Then, too, scattered amid this account of leave-takings are some equally biting salutations: "Welcome Highway of Tears"; "Welcome Harper"; "Welcome Kinder Morgan." Finally, poetry (e.g., from Byron, "Let's not unman each other/ Part at once/ All farewells should be sudden when forever") and proverbs ("Great is the act of beginning, but greater is the act of ending") are also mixed in as part of the unfurling text.

One of the things that I most appreciated about the piece was that it was sited to the east, overlooking Vancouver's working port and industrial harbour rather than pointing in the direction of Canada Place and Stanley Park. If, as I suspect, Verhoeven is partly playing with classic philosophical ideas of the sublime in having us survey--and be unsettled by--the accelerated history of development and privatization in our urban surroundings, then far better to have us gaze with awe and horror at all the construction cranes in the rapidly gentrifying east side of Vancouver than be seduced by the picturesque   perspective offered by Coal Harbour and the north shore mountains.

Fare Thee Well! is paired with Cinema Imaginaire, a work by Verhoeven's fellow Dutch artist Lotte van den Berg (it opens this Wednesday). Both site-based pieces have been grouped under a thematic called "Dis/Appearing City," and point once again to the PuSh Festival's ongoing concern with the intersection between performance and place.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

PuSh 2015: Phantasmagoria

Loose Leaf Collective's Phantasmagoria: Circus of Dreams is a work of physical theatre devised and produced by students in the Bachelor of Performing Arts completion degree, a unique joint program between Capilano University, Douglas College, Langara College, and Vancouver Community College. Showcasing the acting, musical, movement, visual, and design talents of 23 talented young creators, the concept for the piece derives from the carnival side show, with vignettes made up of conjoined twins, a man-eating siren, and tap-dancing wind-up dolls, among others.

Not everything worked, and some of the transitions between scenes were either too rushed or filled with too much dead space. However, as an overall sensory experience, there is no denying the impact of the piece, particularly in terms of scenography and costume design.

Special kudos to the twinned Joni Mitchell-esque harlequins on keyboards and cello, and also to the woman who played the clown. The latter was no pratfalling jester out for the easy laugh; rather, in true bouffon style, she had an edge of meanness to her, harassing and cajoling the audience and her fellow performers in equal measure. And, as befitted her role (and the piece as a whole), she also brought things back to the body in the most grotesque and visceral way when she squatted and mimed a shit on stage. When's the last time you saw that in a theatre in Vancouver?

Another great thing to see: last night's performance was sold-out. In fact, so overworked was Roundhouse front-of-house manager Donna Soares that she conscripted me and two of my LGC dance crew who had turned up to see the show, Diane and Kuei-Ming, into helping out as ushers. I'm not sure if the lack of staff was a failing of the Roundhouse or the PuSh Festival; either way, I was happy to help direct folks to their seats.