Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 8

Today it was all Barbara, and as often happens at this stage in the process nothing we did was right. It lacked energy, it lacked character; it was too fast, it was too slow; we were too much in unison, or not enough. I have learned, by now, that this is Barbara's way of pushing us, towards the end of the rehearsal period, once we more or less have the choreography in our bodies, not to become complacent and to keep striving to meet or surpass her impossible expectations, despite our exhaustion.

But it can still be dispiriting to be told, after the fourth or fifth stop and re-do, that "professional dancers learn to do it right the first time." Last time I checked most of us in the room wouldn't self-identify as "professional dancer." Not that I'm asking to be cut any slack. Just acknowledging that part of being a feeling body who can interpret complex choreography means that one also has feelings--and they can be hurt.

Then again, as Barbara would say, "boo hoo!"


Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 7

Yesterday I was tired. So I was grateful that, after our warm-up, Jay's morning class was devoted mostly to refining the detail and quality of some of the less physically taxing movement: the cat-cow back and arm waves on our walks to find our partners; our teeter-totter steps; and the arm bumps.

But in the afternoon we ran through Jay's section twice and Barbara's once, this time with the additional knowledge of our spatial orientation vis-a-vis the beach--with upstage the ocean, downstage the cliffs, stage left the north shore, and stage right south. We also were instructed on how we will emerge from the water at the beginning of the section to find our assigned places on the sand prior to the beginning of the dragging sequence. But no word yet on how we actually get into the sea to begin with.

Finally, we were assigned partners for the seed picking and arm bumping sequences. I was briefly with Molly, which I was very happy about, as this meant when it came to timing and counts (two things I still am not clear on with respect to these two moves), I could just follow her lead. But in the afternoon I was reassigned to Barbara! Talk about pressure--including on my shoulder. She puts a lot of weight and force into what I thought were supposed to be gentle taps...

Of course this gorgeous sunshine we've been having isn't supposed to last. We may be lucky for Friday's undress rehearsal and the first performance on Saturday. But they are predicting rain for Sunday--and cooler temperatures all around. Brrrr!!!


Monday, June 27, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 6

Week 2 and but for the stressed IT bands as a result of yesterday's half-marathon, the body is holding up. I do wish I were getting more sleep; I think, paradoxically, all of the physical activity makes it more difficult to fall into immediate and sustained restfulness. Then there's the fact that I keep rehearsing in my brain at night all of the choreography we've learned (in between worrying about everything else I have to do this week); Barbara thinks the choreography-as-counting-sheep idea is actually a good thing, as it will embed the movement even more thoroughly into our bodies. But if the rehearsing of it in one's mind over and over again actually prevents one from ever dozing off, then surely that defeats the purpose.

Speaking of the choreography, having learned all of it by the end of week one, Barbara today proceeded to do what she apparently always does (at least judging from last year and from more veteran participants' testimonials), which is revise it. Most of her edits were minor and involved jettisoning various phrases rather than adding others. However, there was one major new move she gave all of us that had me more than a bit flummoxed for several minutes--a variation on the boxed monkey step that in the third iteration she now wants us to do with alternating raised legs. While Barbara's demonstration of the move seemed reproducible enough, the count she gave for it struck me as counter-intuitive, and it wasn't until I figured out that there was essentially one extra step for nothing included in her count that I was able to get how to alternate the raised legs. Not that this accomplishment means that the movement is any more fluid or that I am now an expert. I wish I could commit more intuitively and fully from the get-go to the choreography Barbara and Jay give us, but there is something about my overly analytical nature that tells me I have to get it right before I can actually do it.

Of course there is no time or room for second-guessing in performance on the beach. Which is both the beauty and the terror of this process.

In the second half of this afternoon's rehearsal Barbara also let us in on how the first section of her choreography will unfold in two separate circle formations, one contained inside the other. I'm part of the inner circle, with Barbara as leader, which means the choreography as she claims to now have definitively set it will inevitably change yet again on the days of performance. Because Barbara has a habit of spontaneously changing her mind and also, though she'd likely not admit it, simply forgetting some of the phrases that repeat. As Bronwen whispered to me at one point after I queried the dropping of one move, being in Barbara's group means you follow Barbara, not what you learned in rehearsal.

Today was also eventful because just prior to entering Studio 1 at 1:30 pm one of the students in another class at Harbour Dance dislocated her shoulder. The cries of pain were truly arresting, as were those that accompanied the resetting of the poor girl's shoulder a half hour later when the paramedics arrived. My throbbing IT bands seem positively benign in comparison.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 5

Well, we made it through to the end of the first week, our bodies stiff and sore, but more or less intact, and having learned more or less the entire piece. In the afternoon rehearsal we put Jay and Barbara's sections together and ran them through from start to finish. The work clocks in at just over an hour, with our entrance and first foray into and out the water yet to be added. But Barbara said things always speed up on the beach, and how fast or slow we are next weekend will also likely be contingent on the weather. That is, if we're shivering in the rain, chances are we'll be going faster.

I experienced more than one brain fart during the run through, and I know the quality of my movement was far from refined; however, I was pleased to discover that the overall structure of the piece is now in my body. Indeed, waking up early this morning, I was running the choreography in my head and thought I must be missing something in the opening of Barbara's section; but when I checked my notes, I had everything right.

At the end of rehearsal yesterday several of us went for drinks and as I was sitting next to Jay and Barbara I asked them about their process of choreographing independently and then finding a way to mesh their material together in rehearsal. Largely it has to do with expediency, with each of them developing and testing ideas separately in the weekly classes they teach. They are also fuelled by a healthy dose of competition. When Jay announced to Barbara six weeks ago that he'd already worked up about 30 minutes of material, she instinctively went into overdrive in order to catch up--and now, in retrospect, I can see where she was developing different phrases in weekly class. The quality of the movement in both sections is distinct, but somehow the overall tone seems of a piece. No doubt this comes from Barbara and Jay having collaborated together for so long.

Speaking of which: the two of them will be performing, accompanied by composer and musician Stefan Smulovitz, this evening at SFU Woodward's Studio D, as part of the Powell Street Festival. More details here.

Our instructions for the weekend were not to be lazy and to review the material. As next week is seven full days of intense work instead of five Barbara doesn't want us to go all doughy in our two days off. No chance of that in my case, as somehow I have signed up to run a half-marathon tomorrow.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 4

Morning class with Jay yesterday was less physically taxing than Tuesday, but also more philosophically enlightening. That's partly because Jay spent much of the time refining the smallest of details related to the very basic elements of his choreography and, in doing so, explaining what distinguishes engaged movement from pedestrian movement. Much of this centred around our practicing of different versions of the butoh walk, which I was happy to see return. One image that Jay gave us was to imagine ourselves as Buddha walking on water while holding a tray of water on which we, again each our own Buddha, were in turn walking on water, and so on ad infinitum. As we completed our slow steady tours across the studio floor, Jay kept repeating this mantra, while also inviting us to feel the farmers threshing wheat on our calves, the forest growing from our shoulders, and the orchid we were also holding at our throats. Thinking about how all of those images combine to move one's body with intention rather than moving the body mechanically to approximate some perceived external representation of said images is what distinguishes butoh from other kinds of dance. As Jay reminded us, his choreography is mostly pretty simple, and frequently repetitive; if it's performed mechanically, without bodily engagement and mental intention, it will look boring. But when one is engaged and intentional it can be beautiful and it can feel, for both performer and spectator, that time has in fact expanded to open up "the space between," or what in Japanese is referred to as ma.

After lunch we devoted the entire afternoon to putting most of Jay's choreography together, from the dragging and rolling sequence on the floor through to the arm bumping with our partners. We didn't get to the tick-tock sequence that follows the bumping, and there may me more yet to come, but it was nice to see how most of the parts are linked and, more especially, how we are meant to transition between them. It was a bit of a slow and laborious process as Barbara, working from a print out that she'd asked Molly to type up, had us go through each sequence over and over again, insisting that we get every detail into our bodies before moving on. This meant a lot of stopping and starting, and also some tense back and forths between she and Jay, but at the end of the day I was certainly more confident in my knowledge of the material (if not entirely competent in its actual execution). As Barbara said just before our dismissal, she knows that her methods can seem harsh, but it's the only way she knows to get us to learn an hour's worth of demanding choreography in nine days. And she added, with atypical generosity, that we should applaud ourselves for even making the effort, as many professional dancers wouldn't consider submitting to the process.

Not that Barbara got all warm and fuzzy. As I was leaving Jay had me show her my hip bruises from all the floor rolling we've done, and whose robust mauve tones he was fascinated to discover he had caused in the morning. Barbara's response: "Boo-hoo."


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 3

More bruises in more places. And in a rainbow hue of colours. It's surprising, stripping off at home in front of the bathroom mirror, to discover when and where new ones occur and, more to the point, not to be able to remember them being incurred. The work is physically hard, particularly Jay's floor rolling sequence, but in the moment you're concentrating so intently on learning the movement that you're not consciously registering the pain it's causing. That comes the next morning, as you try to roll your stiff and tired body out of bed. But, I have to stay, so far I'm surprised at how the old carcass is holding up. The day to day recovery is proving easier than last year and I haven't pulled anything major yet. I also haven't had to take any epsom salt baths yet, and I'm hoping to keep it that way. Notwithstanding Barbara's undeniable claims about their therapeutic value, I just can't stand sitting in a bathtub for any length of time; I get bored and intensely claustrophobic.

I really felt for Molly yesterday. When both Jay and Barbara forget their own choreography, which they inevitably do, she is the one who has to remember for them. This usually means demonstrating different sequences more than once in addition to participating as part of the general ensemble. On top of this, at break most of us cluster around her, peppering her with questions about when this move comes, and how exactly to do that one, etc. She handles it all with equanimity and grace and, selfishly, I have to admit that it is a treat to be able to watch such a talented dancer up close in the studio.

One thing I haven't quite wrapped my head around yet is the spatial orientation of the beach vis-a-vis our rehearsal of the movement in the studio. Last year at EDAM the west wall was always the ocean, and Barbara and Jay both made a point of emphasizing how the movement we were learning would translate directionally to the Wreck site. However, this year not only are we going back and forth between two different studios at Harbour Dance, but in doing so we are also switching our downstage facings. And with no indication as yet about how all of this gets mapped onto the beach. At least we know we will have a lot more space for our rolling on the sand. And Barbara did let us know that the corkscrew move we do at the end of the canon sequence is what locomotes us into the water.

That canon sequence had to be reset as we have apparently lost two members, taking the number of participants down to 12. I discovered last year that this happens; for various reasons people drop out. More often it's because of the time commitment than the physical rigours of the process. I'm discovering the consequences of that commitment as the number of tasks facing me keeps piling up. We'll see how I manage to revise that essay by July 1st...


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 2

And then we were fourteen: Brie joined the process yesterday. The even number makes for a nice bit of symmetry, especially in the canon sequence that Barbara is developing, and that we tried out for the first time in formation yesterday afternoon. Brie and Michael and Yvonne are the newbies this year, and they are all faring much better than I did at this stage last year. Yvonne actually has a long connection to WBB as one of Kokoro's preferred photographic documenters of each year's event. It's nice that she's now decided to join the performance.

Jay led class in the morning, and while I find his preferred warm-up routines easier to follow than Barbara's I had forgotten what a workout they are: all those sit-ups and leg squats that seem to never end. The second half of class was devoted to a continuation of Jay's choreography for this year. The particular sequence we learned was all on the floor and involved a lot of dragging and rolling of our bodies, with the latter gaining in speed over time. This will be easier on the beach, but even with long pants the parquet of Studio 2 at Harbour Dance was pretty punishing--I have the bruises this morning to prove it. We're also required to do some squat handstands, which proved particularly challenging for yours truly.

After lunch Barbara took over, beginning with her setting of the aforementioned canon sequence, which necessitates a lot of counting, another weakness of mine. Let's just say that I'm glad that for now I've been placed in Molly's group!


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 1

I guess I like pain. How else to explain my decision to fly back earlier than planned from a sojourn in Europe in order to put my body through the rigours of another Wreck Beach Butoh boot camp? Or maybe it's just that, after last year, I have a better sense of what lies on the other side of the nine-day rehearsal process in the studio: a truly transcendent experience on the beach.

A few things are different this year. We are a smaller group: 13 instead of 21, with all but two of us returnees. We're also rehearsing at Harbour Dance instead of EDAM, which makes for a slightly longer commute (but also more lunch options). (Originally the plan was to work out of the new Kokoro space at the Woodward's complex, but Barbara had said in class weeks ago that the renovations wouldn't be complete.) Then there's the fact that the actual performances this year will be in the morning, which regardless of whether or not the sun is shining means that it will be colder--because, as Barbara put it, at that hour the sun hasn't actually made it over the side of the Tower Beach cliff edge. Finally, we were informed that most if not all of the choreography this year would be new, so no relying on past storehouses of corporeal memory, even for WBB veterans like Tuan and Irene and Henry and Bronwen and Molly.

In fact, Molly is somewhat at an advantage. Not only, as a professional dancer of innate and distinctive talent does she absorb kinetic instruction more quickly than the rest of us, but as a Kokoro company member who takes class regularly with both Barbara and Jay, she has experienced and been involved over the past few months in testing out the movement ideas of each for this year's WBB performance. As someone who tries to take Barbara's Friday morning class as often as possible, I have had a taste of this, having learned and practiced with her at least three different movement phrases that she is considering for the piece--my favourite, despite how exhausting it is, being what I'll call the monkey step. But it appears that Jay, together with Molly, has already developed much more material--almost 35 minutes worth, we were told. That perhaps explains why he took the lead in instruction yesterday, teaching us five different sequences he's been working on: some partnered bumping; a tick-tock walk in second position demi-plie that also involves full turns en dehors (something I have to work on); a series of backwards and forwards lunges and arm waves; an upright cat-cow walk, also with arms; and a bit that involved miming the picking up of a seed and putting it back on the tree from whence it fell. We repeated all of these sequences several times, receiving constant notes for improvement (as expected), and with Jay and Barbara yelling as much at each other as at us (also as expected).

A unique part of Jay and Barbara's process is, as I've partially outlined above, the fact that despite always collaborating on the choreography of each WBB piece (like most of the work they develop with Kokoro), they work on their sections separately, only bringing them together in the actual two-week boot camp rehearsal process. That means they, like us, are each experiencing the other's choreography for the first time; it also means they feel free to criticize that choreography, or at least the delivery of it, openly and loudly. Such was the case yesterday with Barbara, who especially had much to comment on regarding the timing of the bump sequence. This lead to the first all-out screaming match between she and Jay; it came a little earlier in the process than usual, but it definitely won't be the last. As Jay explained their working method yesterday, we'll experiment with lots of different ways of doing the movement over the next two weeks, and throughout he and Barbara will fight about what works best. And then, in the end, we'll do it Barbara's way.

None of us would have it any other way.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Theatre of the World at the Holland Festival

Our visit to Amsterdam has coincided with the Holland Festival, a month-long cornucopia of theatre, music, dance and the performing arts. In fact, Neil Bartlett's Stella, about which I blogged in my previous post, is on its way here after its run at the LIFT Festival. Also part of the line-up here is a presentation of Tanzteater Wuppertal's Nelken, one of my favourite works by Pina Bausch. Alas, it has been sold out for months and has a waiting list in the triple digits.

But there is plenty else to see, and so last night Richard and I were part of the audience at the wonderfully baroque Koninklijk Theater Carre, on the banks of the Amstel River, to take in a new opera by the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. Theatre of the World, which had its premiere in Los Angeles earlier this month, is a co-production between the Holland Festival and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Its subject is the seventeenth-century German polymath and Jesuit priest Athanasius Kircher, who has been equated with Leonardo da Vinci, and whose treatises on everything from Egyptian hieroglyphics to Chinese history to geology to the transmission of bacteria made him one of the most read minds of his day, but who fell out of favour with the rise of rationalist thinkers like Voltaire and Descartes (both of whom make an appearance in the opera).

Andriessen and librettist Helmut Krausser present Kircher's life essentially as a take on the Faust story, a conflict between the pull of his faith (Pope Innocent XI is a key figure) and the pull of knowledge. In the quest for the latter Kircher (a superb Leigh Melrose, in a lusty and intensely physical performance) is accompanied by a boy (a trousered Lindsay Kesselman, who has a gloriously rich mezzo) and is frequently prompted/taunted by a narrator figure played by Steven Van Watermeulen in a non-singing role, and who according to the program is meant to be an amalgam of Kircher's contemporaries Jan Janssonius, a Dutch cartographer, and Raffaele Fabretti, an Italian lawyer and antiquarian. There's also an executioner, three witches, and a Mexican nun, Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz, with whom Kircher corresponded and, it's suggested in this production, was secretly in love. The Italian soprano Cristina Zavalloni plays the latter role, often suspended in a picture frame upstage, and to my mind steals the show with her amazingly pure soprano. (Side note: all of the singers appeared to be miked, which I thought was a bit strange given the intimacy of the venue. This technical decision actually caused a bit of a problem last night, as Melrose's mic kept crackling at various moments and eventually had to be replaced by two stagehands, an unavoidable break in the fourth wall that was accommodated with patience by audience and performers alike, and that did nothing to diminish the overall impact of the show.)

All of this is exuberantly directed by Pierre Audi, with an expressionistic and psychedelic set and video projections by the Quay Brothers. The Dutch National Opera was in fine form, handling Andriessen's incredibly eclectic and widely variant score with aplomb. This is the first opera that I've been to that opens with a solo fugue for the slide trombone and that incorporates an organ at several key moments. In this, the polyphony of Andriessen's musical arrangements seems to mimic the intellectual curiosity of Kircher himself. Whether this is intentional or not, Theatre of the World is a gripping new work and deserves to be widely seen.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Stella at Hoxton Hall

Last night Richard, Cathy and I headed to the Shoreditch/Hoxton area of East London to take in Neil Bartlett's new play, Stella, currently running at the restored vaudeville-era Hoxton Hall as part of the LIFT Festival. I have been a fan of Bartlett's writing ever since I read his book Who Was That Man?, his cultural history of gay London as filtered through the symbolic figure of Oscar Wilde. I've also taught his play In Extremis, which also has a Wilde connection, focusing as it does on the palmist that  the playwright apparently consulted just prior to his arrest.

Like In Extremis, Stella is a mostly presentational play, composed of two linked monologues spoken directly to the audience by the eponymous title character: one when she's 21 and a coquettish cross-dresser awaiting a proposal from the wealthy older man, Arthur, who keeps her; and the other when, having reverted to his birth name of Ernest, Stella, now dying of throat cancer, awaits the cab that will take him to the hospital where he'll spend his dying days. The play is based on the historical personage of Ernest Boulton, who under the stage name of Stella appeared in countless female roles in 19th-century melodramas on stages around England similar to Hoxton Hall, and who also cruised regularly in the West End in full drag--apparently with the full support of her mother.

Bartlett draws on this archival record to sketch out a dual portrait of a contemporary of Wilde's who, though lesser known, likewise understood the porous borders between illusion and reality, art and life, and who in many respects negotiated those borders better than Saint Oscar (Stella was also arrested and accused of being a practising sodomite, but was found not guilty). The play itself is largely static in its dramaturgy, but the writing is remarkable, and the two performances by Richard Cant (as Old Stella) and Oscar Batterham (as Young Stella) simply superb. (David Carr also appears as The Attendant, a silent but symbolically significant supernumerary role.) Then there was the simple wonder of being in the Hoxton Hall space, whose wood-panelled history and proximate intimacy was marred only by the astonishing gall of the woman in the row in front of us taking multiple pictures of the stage action on her iPad.

After the actors' curtain calls Bartlett himself appeared and, referencing the recent tragic events in Orlando, asked the audience to join in a moment of silent vigil and remembrance for the victims. It was a solemn ending to a powerful play, but it was not the end of our encounter with Bartlett, as afterwards at dinner in the neighbourhood we had the luck to be seated at a table near to him and his party.

Needless to say, we took the opportunity to offer our warmest congratulations.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Royal Ballet in London

We're in London on a little holiday, and yesterday we took in a matinee performance of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden. Seemed the right thing to do on the Queen's official 90th birthday.

It was a mixed program, and featured the world premiere of resident choreographer Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear, which seemed to be a male version of The Rite of Spring, albeit with the goddess Nyx as the absent and all-powerful female figure overseeing the action. It was interesting to watch McGregor adapt his signature Random Dance off-axis choreography for a more traditional ballet audience, and while there were certainly classical patterns and steps (not to mention an explicit narrative) to follow as an anchor, I was pleased to see that McGregor didn't make things easy for spectators, especially in terms of where to focus our attention between the different kinetic groupings among the nine dancers.

Also on the program was a revival of Kenneth MacMillan's The Invitation, a psychological morality tale of sexual coming of age first staged in 1960 that features a rape scene that remains shockingly explicit, and that upon the ballet's premiere did much to solidify Lynn Seymour's reputation as the anti-Margot Fonteyn. (RB founder Ninette de Valois apparently tried to convince MacMillan to stage the assault offstage, but he refused.) The afternoon concluded with Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour, a pretty if somewhat emotionally empty exercise in balletic partnering and canon choreography.

It was a treat to be in The Royal Opera House, and to discover how intimate a space it is. Even from our seats in the second row of the balcony, the view was excellent. And to actually have live music was amazing--particularly in McGregor's piece, which is set to a score by the Finnish composer Essa-Pekka Salonen, including a violin solo that accompanied the dance's crucial opening duet that was simply stunning. 

I'm going to keep these on the road posts brief, as it's much more fun to be out seeing stuff than writing about it from one's hotel room.


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 17

Yesterday was my first solo interview. I met with Ziyian Kwan in my office at SFU Woodward's for a trip down dance memory lane and though she claimed at first to be flummoxed by the video recording (an unexpected surprise), the stories eventually came pouring out. Starting with Ziyian's decision at age 17 to head to Penticton for a beginner summer dance intensive (where she was the oldest dancer in the class). Upon her return to Vancouver, Ziyian enrolled in Main Dance at its original location in the old Arcadian Hall at Main and Sixth, where she studied with Gisa Cole, and where two giants in Vancouver dance, Karen Jamieson and Judith Marcuse, had their offices. Interesting fact: though the Arcadian Hall, a former Odd Fellows Lodge that had become a dance studio and live music venue in the 1980s, burned down in 1993 (the arson attacks and subsequent gentrifying real estate developments in Mount Pleasant date back that far), it literally remains a part of Ziyian's body via a wood sliver from the studio floor that is permanently lodged in her knee.

Soon after her training at Main Dance, and following some supplementary grounding in Graham technique in Toronto, Ziyian launched her professional dance career with Special Delivery Moving Theatre. Since then she has danced for almost every choreographer/company in Vancouver, including Kokoro Dance, Lola Dance, Susan Elliott and Anatomica, Alvin Erasga Tolentino, and Jennifer Mascall, for whom Ziyian has appeared in numerous works over the years. Indeed, Ziyian's recollections of dancing in Mascall's Housewerk at Hycroft Mansion, alongside Dean Makarenko and Ron Stewart and others, brought back a flood of memories for me. It's a measure of the length and variety of Ziyian's career that she told me she has appeared at least once a year on the Firehall stage since she began dancing professionally and that she has performed in all but one of the Dancing on the Edge Festivals. Over the years, as she has watched dancers pass through each other's work and different trends ebb and flow, Ziyian movingly described how she has increasingly come to recognize and value the importance of community, particularly as, with the formation of dumb instrument Dance in 2013, she has started to create her own work.

Equally moving was Ziyian's description of performing in the remount of Lola McLaughlin's Provincial Essays in Toronto during the last days of the choreographer's life. Just as the company was about to go on stage, they were informed that McLaughlin had passed, which was obviously some incredibly emotional news to process. However, in the performance that followed Ziyian said it was the first time she felt and understood what it means for the spirit of someone to live on in her work.

My interview with Ziyian turned out to be something of a serial exercise. Soon after we turned off the camera she remembered another anecdote about the first time she served on a Canada Council jury; so we turned the camera back on and she revealed this wonderful story about the late Grant Strate listening to everyone's deliberations, not saying anything and refusing to take sides, but finally and magnificently reminding folks that their job was to reward risk. Then, over drinks afterwards at the Charles Bar, Ziyian talked about Kokoro's vodka-fuelled tour to Poland, which gave me a new perspective on Anne Cooper... And, finally, there was one last anecdote that featured James Proudfoot in fuzzy bear slippers. For that one we also turned the camera back on!


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Induction at EDAM

Friday evening Richard and I enjoyed a lovely walk to the Western Front to take in EDAM's presentation of its latest choreographic series. The fans in the studio were whirling, it was not overly crowded (though the house was more or less full, which was nice to see), and cold wine and beer was for sale by Daelik at the bar: in other words, viewing conditions were just right.

First on the program was Tom Stroud and Peter Bingham's A Delicate Balance, a duet for Delia Brett and Elissa Hansen that builds slowly and subtly, sneaking up on one's senses. Which is only fitting given that it is about memory. The piece begins with the two dancers standing against the upstage wall; their gazes are fixed resolutely outward to the audience. First Brett and then Hansen draws a hand to her face and opens her mouth in a silent scream. In voiceover we hear someone describing her memories of a house she lived in. At a certain point the performers notice each other, and they slide closer to each other along the wall, at first curiously and then more threateningly, the dancers' more or less matching height used to wonderful effect as each alternates in looming over or cowering from the other, a shadow play enfleshed and come to life. Perhaps we are witnessing a battle between the ego and the id over who owns the past (or is enslaved by it); then again, as per the epigraph from Richard Holmes in the program about the muse Mnemosyne needing a twin (one who forgets alongside her remembering), that battle might actually be between two sisters' different recollections of the house they grew up in.

After this prologue, the dancers push away from the wall and advance toward the audience in parallel lines, improvising solo movement phrases as they reach searchingly into the immediate spatial void around them, building corporeal architectures in the absence of ones made of bricks and mortar. Eventually the dancers will cross paths, making contact and, using the vocabulary of that dance form, partnering in the sharing and redistributing of each other's weight--which, in this case, must include the weight of memory. To this end, the piece ends with an uncanny visual trick whereby the two dancers' bodies become one, Brett's initially off-beat and slightly delayed mimicking of Hansen's gestures eventually matching her partner's movements exactly as she slowly moves behind her, the two bodies now a perfect palimpsest as the voiceover intones about rooms and hallways leading to still more rooms. If, as Frances Yates and Marcel Proust and Sigmund Freud (among many others) have taught us, memory is essentially an architectural system, then what better medium than dance (whose archive is the body) to incarnate that system.

Following the first intermission longtime EDAM dancer Anne Cooper debuted FormSongs, which if I'm not mistaken might be her first work of original choreography. In the piece Cooper, along with partner Kelly McInnes, alternate between composed and improvised structures, solo and unison phrases, all performed to the live vocal improvisations of the wonderful DB Boyko (recorded music by Veda Hille is also used in the piece). The interplay between movement and voice was frequently fascinating to behold, as when Boyko's long sibilant exhalations of breath sent the dancers swooshing backwards into the distance, or when her staccato clucking had them ricocheting off of the floor and each other. I also appreciated the cross-disciplinary call and response aesthetic embedded into the work, with Cooper and McInnes at times answering Boyko vocally and Boyko likewise getting up from her station stage left to every now and then join the dancers in a bit of movement. On the whole, however, I think the piece went on a bit too long. The bit about the "Lemon Poem" by Pablo Neruda felt especially superfluous and unnecessary.

The evening concluded with a new work, Scenes for Your Consideration, by the always exciting Amber Funk Barton. A trio, the piece begins, like Stroud and Bingham's A Delicate Balance, along the upstage wall. Dancer Elya Grant sits on a stool, moving her hands from her thighs to her knees, and her head to her hands in perfectly controlled counts of eight as a song by Grizzly Bear plays on the soundtrack. Suddenly Andrew Haydock appears from behind the stage right door, inching his way, also in time to the music, to the empty stool beside Grant. Antonio Somero Jr makes a similarly dramatic entrance from the stage left door, and our menage is complete, as over the course of the piece the dancers will form and disperse and regroup in patterns that suggest rivalry and reciprocity, competition and care, friction and friendship.

What is so rewarding to take in is the depth and variety of choreographic skills that Barton employs to stage these scenes. A pleasingly geometric floor sequence involving the overlaying and collapsing of six sets of arms and elbows mixes a bit of unison, canon, and retrograde. Likewise, the influence of being in residence at EDAM registers in the bodily chains and gravity-defying support structures that Barton creates with her dancers. And, refreshingly, she is not afraid of stillness. One of my favourite moments in the piece is when, the music having cut out, Grant sculpts the bodies of Haydock and Somera into an interlocking tableau centre stage. All of these young dancers are on fire in this piece, with the tiny Grant especially watchable as she flings and slides her bodies across the stage floor, or bounces off of the studio walls. Barton also gives us a great ending as, with the lights fading, the dancers move upstage in a series of hugs, but always with one of them on the outside, and thus forced to break up any new relationship that forms. Something to consider, indeed.