Thursday, July 14, 2016

Edge 6 at DOTE

It's that time in the Dancing on the Edge Festival when my desire to see as much work as I can exceeds my capacity to write in depth about it (a conference to plan for next week, wouldn't you know). So apologies for the capsule descriptions that follow of the pieces included on the Edge 6 program, which opened last night at the Firehall.

I've always loved Amber Funk Barton's taste in music. For Village, her newest work for her company the response., she choreographs a quartet to a suite of songs by Panda Bear. While content-wise the lyrics don't really have any direct correspondence to the movement, rhythmically Barton displays an intuitive sense of when to align beats with steps. In her program note, Barton writes that Village is about a group of individuals who live by the sea and survive a storm; that would explain some of the pantomimed sequences peppered throughout the piece: the shower scene that opens the work; the rope-pulling; the game of tag. However, not knowing this until after the piece was over, I was frankly more than happy to enjoy the movement for its own sake: the way Barton sends her dancers in and out of unison; how she creates subtle domino effects by having them lean into each other with their bodies; the way she juxtaposes small gestures (the kneeling prayer near the beginning) with more explosive and accelerated lifts and partnering sequences. Another thing Barton is really good at: spotting young talent. The dancers in this piece (Antonio Somero Jr., Andrew Haydock, Tessa Tamura, and Marcy Mills) were all excellent.

Sick Fish, by my colleague Rob Kitsos, is a charming duet that he dances with his daughter Beatrice, who has an abundance of natural stage presence. Set to an original sound composition by Lucas Van Lenton, and accompanied by digital projections of drawings that I gather were made by Beatrice and her brother Gabriel, the piece is about the playful and deeply mysterious world of children's dreams. It begins with Beatrice wandering the stage, glimpsing something off in the distance, something that may in fact be playing across the blankness of the upstage screen, but that apparently only she can see. Nevertheless, she tries to point out what she is seeing to her father when he joins her on stage, and later with his dancing--which begins with a simple repeated pull of his arms through space, as if gathering together the dark matter of his child's imagination--Rob will unleash a torrent of fantastical embodied shapes and projected images for us to revel in. The piece also incorporates lipsynching, a technique Kitsos has used in past work (for example, Barego); the uncanny alignment of mimed speech to the snatches of dialogue we hear in Van Lenton's score is another kind of aural kinesis that complements the physical movement. But it is young Beatrice who steals the show on this front with her own lipsynching to a song (sung by her younger self?) that gives us the title to the piece--and that in its mixing of the logically bizarre and the refreshingly unsentimental could only have come from a child's unconscious.

The program concluded with Starr Muranko's Spine of the Mother, a collaboration between Raven Spirit Dance and Starrwind Dance Projects, and an excerpt of which I had previously seen at the 2014 DOTE (and wrote briefly about here). Muranko has built what was previously a solo for the mesmerizing Tasha Faye Evans into a duet for Evans and Olivia Shaffer. At the top of the piece the dancers are positioned at opposite ends of a diagonal, with Evans facing us downstage left and Shaffer crouched with her back to us upstage right. As Evans begins a slow spiralling solo punctuated by the clicking sounds of the two rocks she holds in her hands, Shaffer initiates a subtle series of shaking convulsions with her body. In other words, the opening outwards of Evans' body is counterpointed with the contracting inwards of Shaffer's, a ripple effect shared across two female bodies meant to convey physically the shared belief among Indigenous peoples of the Americas that the continents are connected by the various mountain ranges that stretch from the Andes to the Rockies. By the end of the piece the two dancers will come together physically along the opposite diagonal axis to enact this very connection, their laborious and awkward earthbound crawl towards each other along the rock-strewn route that Evans had previously mapped for them by looking to the heavens (and which is visually amplified for us via Sammy Chien's projections) culminating in a mutual rise to standing that is accomplished by matching, vertebra by vertebra, one spine to another.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Edge 3 at DOTE

Last night's Edge 3 program at the Dancing on the Edge Festival was made up of three solos by three Vancouver artists/companies who like to explore the porous boundaries between dance, theatre and performance/installation art.

First up was dumb instrument Dance's Ziyian Kwan, remounting the neck to fall, which she first presented at Dance in Vancouver in 2013, and which I have previously written about here. The piece's movement has changed over time, as has Kwan's costume (I recall a black suit and heels from the premiere). But the core set of objects with which Kwan interacts remain; these include two cardboard boxes, one small and one large, two sets of chopsticks, a large plastic bag into which she sinks her head and body, and a furry stool, upon which Kwan at one point mimes a virtuosic cello solo, an ode to composer Peggy Lee's wonderful musical score. Each object anchors a set of external commands (delivered by a recorded Asian female voice) against which Kwan struggles to adapt her body, the piece being as much a rumination on perceptions of racialized and gendered comportment as it is a tribute to the pioneering work of somatic practitioner Amelia Itcush.

The second piece on the program was The Biting School's Helmeat. To the pounding beat of the classic song "War: What Is It Good For?," the curtain opens upon Aryo Kkakpour kneeling at the downstage edge of a red-taped square; he wears a red jumpsuit reminiscent of prison garb and wrapped around his head is a turban of tinfoil. At a certain point Khakpour unplugs the cable of the speaker to his right and the music stops; he begins to methodically lay out tiny squares of tin foil in a grid just on the other side of the downstage edge of the red tape. Retreating upstage and calling for the lights to dim, the next thing we see is Khakpour rolling about the stage, crushing the tinfoil atop his head into a face-masking silvery balaclava, minus the eye and mouth holes; thus blinded our hero staggers about his enclosure, feeling his way from object to object (two stacks of wrapped helmets upstage, a full-length mirror, a shopping cart, and that speaker) via the tape on the floor. However, the signature moment in the piece must surely be the extended bit of coitus that Khakpour engages in with the shopping cart, grinding his pelvis into its handle as he slowly positions it in front of the mirror. Climbing in, he takes out a kazoo and proceeds to hum out the tune to "The Ride of the Valkyries." The piece concludes with Khakpour turning over an actual helmet to reveal a mess of hamburger meat inside. Telling us that this is what we've been waiting for, he then proceeds to roll the ground beef into individual meatballs, which he slowly and deliberately places upon the squares of tinfoil from the top of the show. While this is happening, Arash Khakpour--Aryo's brother and the other half of The Biting School--emerges from the wings and begins striking the set. The link established by the two brothers between consumerism, petroleum products and war might seem a bit obvious were it not for the charisma of Aryo as a performer. He commits utterly to everything he does and so is eminently watchable. In turn, the strangeness of the world that he and Arash create, in which everyday objects and tasks are turned into exceptional and even alienating phenomena, reminds us of how thoroughly we have internalized war into our daily diet.

Finally, the evening concluded with a short excerpt from Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg's work-in-progress, I can't remember the word for I can't remember, a collaboration with local actor/writer/director John Murphy. Loping on stage on all fours like a chimpanzee, Friedenberg opens her big expressive eyes wide and blinks blankly out at the audience before climbing into the lap of one front-row spectator and proceeding to pick invisible gnats out of his hair. Already we are putty in her hilarious hands. After a short blackout, Friedenberg stands fully upright centre stage in a square of white light. She launches into a monologue, or at least one side of two potential dialgogues, about how she can't remember with whom she was having a conversation. This theme of waning memory, linked closely by Friedenberg to our current age of multiple electronic devices, social media and general information overload (who can remember anyone's phone number anymore, she asks), alternates with the piece's other big concern, namely the categorical boxes into which we slot different people, and into which we in turn are slotted (or slot ourselves). On the one hand, Friedenberg seems to be suggesting, there is the forgetting that happens as a result of benign neglect--that is, because we have ceded the task of remembering to software and big data. And then there is the more wilful forgetting we do, the things (or people) we put into boxes and then hide away at the back of our closets or underneath our beds. There's no suggestion at this point which kind of amnesia is more harmful, although (to go back to her opening entrance) Friedenberg does hint that both are evolutionary processes. And that each has bodily effects--which she ably demonstrates through a series of physical scores that accompany her text. I look forward to how text and movement evolve together in this piece as Friedenberg and Murphy continue with its development.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Outliner at DOTE

One of two indoor Dancing on the Edge shows not taking place at the Firehall this year is MascallDance's The Outliner, a compilation of pieces that choreographer Jennifer Mascall has made over the years in dialogue with different material objects, and that the company is presenting at its home base, The Labyrinth studios in St. Paul's Anglican Church on Jervis Street in the West End. An expertly curated and imaginatively staged evening of five short dances that brilliantly showcases the talents of a diverse array of dancers and designers, and featuring music by Stefan Smulovitz and lighting by John McFarlane (both colleagues in Contemporary Arts at SFU), The Outliner quite literally takes audiences on a ride they won't soon forget.

For one of the conceits of the show is that audience members sit on wooden pews that have been placed atop moveable platforms. As one piece transitions into the next we are wheeled about The Labyrinth's white Marleyed floor by an army of stagehands standing at the ready behind us; they move us into different geometrical and spatial configurations as the dictates of each work's choreography--and the shape and dimension of each set of objects--demand. But in so doing Mascall and her creative team have also cannily choreographed a sixth piece, the audience's quixotically sedentary movement with the pews constituting yet another dance between humans and objects.

At the top of the show the pews are facing each other in two diagonal rows. Between them the great Robin Poitras, her arms and waist and legs entwined in a series of circular wooden rings designed by Nathan Wiens, moves with delicacy and grace, advancing the length of the diagonal in the first part of We Are an Unfinished World, the only piece on the program receiving its premiere. Poitras and her rings will return three more times over the course of the evening: first as a magically moving conical triangle that completely obscures Poitras's body hiding underneath; then as an inverted bowl, with the top of Poitras's head just visible; and finally back to the deconstructed rings encircling different limbs.

Profilo Eterno, from 2011, features Elissa Hanson as a grounded skydiver, or a space traveler from another planet trying to make it back home. Racing onto the stage wearing a black vest from which I was half expecting a parachute to emerge, Hanson dons a helmet adorned with three plumes of bendy white plastic. Over the course of the piece, which features text by Susan McKenzie, Hanson will afix additional strips of plastic to her body via the vest she wears, metamorphosing into a multi-antennaed insect or satellite dish depending on one's perspective (the design is by Elliot Neck, after a concept by Catherine Hahn). Either way, there is no denying the force of the signals Hanson is both receiving and sending out.

Kaspar is the earliest work on the program. It dates from 1984 and in this iteration features Ballet BC's wonderful Gilbert Small wielding two sets of branches like truncheons against an invisible enemy. It begins with Small on demi point, one leg behind the other, his back arched, but with the weight of his upper body shifted forward and his arms in front of him clutching the stems of the branches, the tops of which graze the floor. Slowly he begins to undulate his torso, rounding and arching his back as he begins a slow forward walk, his head every now and then shifting suddenly from side to side, alert to potential threats. It was quite thrilling to see Small up close like this, especially when he steps up the tempo and begins flying through the air like he's Solor in La Bayadère, the branches slicing through the air like so many blades cutting into enemy flesh (though I am aware, as is often the case with the roles in which Small is cast, how this image reinforces tropes of the exotic other).

Next up was The Politics of Meaning (2010), a witty duet featuring the young dancers Ewoynn Penny-Hugeot and Amy Donnelly about the mechanics of writing (Alan Storey is the design engineer on this one) that also doubles as an allegory about dance notation and physical versus linguistic scores. Finally, the evening concludes with Graft, a 1991 solo featuring an arachnid-like fan of plastic poles designed by Ines Ortner (from a concept by Susan Berganzi), and here expertly manipulated by the gorgeous dancer Renee Sigouin.

All of this unfolded in just under an hour, and I could have easily sat through a half dozen more such vignettes. The Outliner is truly exceptional in its conceptual rigour and technical execution, a multi-disciplinary study in the myriad ways we dance with things.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Thus Spoke... at DOTE

I've had a dance crush on Frédérick Gravel ever since the multi-talented choreographer, musician and performer brought Usually Beauty Fails to town in January 2014 in a co-presentation between the PuSh Festival and DanceHouse. So I was super excited to see that he was going to be back in town as part of this year's Dancing on the Edge Festival. Thus Spoke... is a collaboration between Gravel and Montreal-based playwright Étienne Lepage. At the top of the show, a dapperly dressed and hipsterly bearded Gravel, who has been hanging about on stage with his fellow performers (Frédéric Lavallée, Marilyn Perreault, and Anne Thériault) as spectators file into the Firehall auditorium, stands before the microphone positioned centre stage and tells us that now it seems the categories between dance and theatre have become hopelessly muddled, with folks who go to his shows expecting to see dance calling it theatre, and vice-versa. It's a not so subtle warning that what follows will be heavily dominated by Lepage's text, as well as a formal philosophical apology, in the manner of Plato's defence of Socrates or Nietzsche writing in Ecce Homo, of the singular artist's right to present the work he believes in without worrying about labels or fearing judgment (a theme that will return later on in the show).

For, indeed, as its title suggests, this piece is very much an homage to the German philosopher with whom Gravel shares a first name, from the choreographer's opening monologue about how "privileged" we are to waste our time watching this show to its circular structure enacting Nietzsche's concept of the "eternal recurrence of the same." In between, the other performers discourse on assassinating the premier of Québec, gross capital accumulation, and not being bothered by either the benign existence or potentially malignant beliefs and behaviour of other people--among many other topics. Occasionally, the various monologues are accompanied by a bit of movement: simple but sharply executed group unison, as with the step dance that is attached to Gravel's increasingly rapid fire account of the mercantile relationship between the salaryman who spends his days photocopying and the contractor whom he hires to fix his house; and idiosyncratic solos that showcase the performers' obvious kinetic talents alongside their verbal dexterity. My favourite in the latter category is Lavallée's gleeful demonstration of the transformational potential of altering one's world view by moving in "backwards mode," his slow reversing towards the upstage wall, thrusting one leg behind him and then reaching blindly into the unknown, seeming to crystallize and coalesce in a succinct yet compelling way the suitably Nietzschean idea of turning traditional morality and metaphysics (or just plain physics) on their heads.

Would that the piece had ended there. Instead, out of the blackout that ensues Perreault's voice emerges, launching into a long rumination on how many "shitty shows" she has seen in her lifetime and lamenting that all she needs to ignite her interest is "one simple idea" to latch onto. This section gets a lot of laughs, but it's also hard not to read it, along with a subsequent and much more serious speech by Perreault about the violent game of justice, as a somewhat obvious and unnecessary attempt to forestall any potential criticism that might get levelled against this show. And on that front let me say that my critique is not that Gravel and Lepage have failed to produce a single compelling idea out of their collaboration; it's that they've paradoxically produced too many. Which is to say that the text is so dominant, dense and wide-ranging in its allusions that it is hard, beyond the formal structural nod to Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, to get a purchase on a through-line uniting each of the sections. But, then again, maybe this is just me seeking to impose a narrative the creators want to resist. As with the truss of band style backlights that, along with the microphone and stand passed from performer to performer, constitutes the main nod to scenography in the piece, perhaps we should approach this work like a rock concert rather than a concept album, revelling in individual moments rather than looking for the governing logic that connects them.


Friday, July 8, 2016

Edge 1 at DOTE

On a cold and rainy Thursday in Vancouver, with no cab in the city to be found, Richard and I made it to the Firehall a minute before curtain. This year's Dancing on the Edge Festival kicked off with an eclectic line-up: three very different pieces that offered up a mix of kinetic pleasures and conceptual challenges over the course of a somewhat too long evening.

Leading off was Here on the ground, a collaboration between Julia Carr and Meghan Goodman, of Body Narratives Collective, and Hornby Island choreographer Sarah Chase. The piece tells the story of Carr and Goodman's friendship through some of the surprising coincidences in their life histories and careers: both are longtime company members of the aerial dance company Aeriosa (performing a site-specific work in Stanley Park as part of DOTE this coming Wednesday and Thursday); both are new moms (plaster body casts of each woman's pregnant belly figure at a certain point and there is a very sweet moment near the top of the show in which each performer races to pack up the baby-related items needed for a day out in the park); and both have several family members who tend to share the same name. All of this is related to us through Chase's trademark cross-lateralizing of verbal speech with different combinations of physical gestures, which the dancers cycle through as they tell their stories. At different points in the piece, Carr and Goodman even let us in on the system by which the individual gestures are chosen and paired with different parts of speech: as she did with SFU's rep dancers during her Iris Garland residency in the School for the Contemporary Arts earlier this spring, Chase will pair a word or sometimes just a syllable with a gesture in whose articulation there will be embedded some physical or verbal mnemonic. For example, the wiping of invisible "slime" off of one's thigh will be cued to a word that rhymes with it, like "time." Knowing this, when the dancers then go on to repeat the gesture phrases, whether silently or while singing a John Denver song, we concentrate more intently, which fits with Chase's theory that the combining of verbal and physical scores in performance makes audience members as lucid in their reception as performers become in their expression. In a similar way, Carr and Goodman later show us some of the technique that underscores a few of the named moves they use in their aerial dancing (e.g. "Superman" or "The Bird"). It was fascinating to see what normally would be happening off the side of a building, with the dancers' harnessed bodies tilted 90 degrees and with our gazes tilted up, translated to a traditional proscenium setting: at the very least it was a reminder that aerial dancing is in fact dancing, and that just as we come to recognize the patterns of a story, so are we able, over time, to discern those that send--and keep--a body in flight.

Following a pause, we were treated to a solo by MOVE: the company's Josh Beamish. A choreographic collaboration with Toronto's Ame Henderson, Radios sees Beamish enter upstage left. He wears a baggy black jacket over a loose blue shirt and black skirt (with silvery shorts underneath); on his feet are green socks and black trainers. With bored nonchalance, Beamish slowly begins to move, folding one foot in on itself, then slowly lifting it up and letting it hover in the air before bending the other leg, twisting his torso and extending the raised leg in an off-axis and flexed arabesque that is as much a study in durational posing as it is an exercise in balance. The piece continues in this way, with Beamish slowly moving horizontally in front of the upstage white backdrop as he tests different movement possibilities: dropping suddenly to the floor with his legs splayed precariously behind him; or slowly arching his back and extending one arm behind his head, then letting the same arm upon its return first graze and then lazily drape along the back of his neck, fingers unconsciously tickling the fuzz of his buzzed hair. Mostly this is done in silence, but occasionally industrial-style rock fades in from what at first appears to be a speaker positioned in the wings. All of this suggests a club kid practising in his basement or his bedroom, and the pauses between the different poses, in which Beamish displays absolute indifference to his audience, frequently turning his back to us, were just as watchable as the Trajal Harrell-styled voguing riffs I was put in mind of by Beamish's pop preening and slow studied traversing of the stage. Near the end of the piece a stagehand wheels on that hidden speaker from the wings and the music returns; this is the cue for Beamish to ramp up his physicality and to become much more presentational in his movement, his now hyper-kinetic dancing veering suddenly towards more recognizably balletic technique, as if he and Henderson felt obliged to foreground the classical training underscoring a movement narrative they had previously seemed to be deconstructing. Even the speaker is revealed to be a chimera, with Beamish retrieving a small clock radio from his jacket pocket at the conclusion of the work and silencing the sound emanating from it.

Following the second pause I was getting restless. And it didn't help that the last piece on the program was a long conceptual work that in its durational slowness and repetitiveness tested my patience. Isaac y Diola, directed, choreographed and interpreted by Belgian artists German Jauregui and Anita Diaz, begins with the two dancers lying naked, one on top of the other, downstage right. In the shadows upstage are a number of overturned chairs. Juaregui begins to drag his (and, by proxy, Diaz's) body in the direction of the chairs. Eventually Diaz is discarded, like a second skin, and Juaregui begins the slow process of retrieving his clothes and then righting and rearranging the chairs about the stage. While he is doing this, Diaz starts crawling backwards to the chair positioned upstage left, upon which are draped her clothes. Quotes by Marguerite Duras, Jacques Lacan, George Orwell and Ayn Rand, among others, play in voiceover while all of this is happening. Only after this prolonged set-up do we get to the most interesting part of the piece: two paired solos that play off of the materiality and animacy of the chairs as objects of kinetic sculpture. That is, as Juaregui begins sawing the two front legs off of the chair upon which he is standing upstage centre, Diaz begins a gorgeous solo on her back. Then, after Juaregui tumbles to the floor, Diaz begins piling the remaining chairs into a stacked tower downstage left; following her delicate placement of the last chair, Juaregui begins his own solo. To the driving beat of a drum score, he throws himself about the stage in a remarkable off-balance and mostly backwards series of knee squats, at the end of which he places the final broken chair at the top of the ziggurat Diaz has made. Maybe because we did something similar in my play The Objecthood of Chairs, or maybe because I was just super-hungry by this point, I found this architectural culmination to the evening less impressive than it was clearly meant to be--at least judging by the response of the rest of the audience.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Sunday Performance

Bronwyn was right. I was actually awakened by the sound of the wind, which at first I mistook for pouring rain. By the time Dana and I gathered at Molly's, the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm--but definitely very breezy. And by the time the three of us plus Irene got to the top of the stairs at Trail 4 we could hear not just the wind, but the crashing waves. Half-way down we saw the whitecaps, which were pretty high and moving fast--so fast that they propelled an adventurous (and presumably well wet-suited) windsurfer back and forth across the horizon multiple times as we stared out at the waters, mouths agape. Meanwhile, a kayaker had apparently had enough, depositing his boat just at the mouth of the pathway on the beach we use to descend toward the water (where it remained throughout our performance--at the very least I hoped he stayed to watch given the visual interruption his vessel caused). One benefit of the powerful surf was that our pathway had been more or less swept clean of rocks; but also laying across it there was now a massive log, washed ashore by the waves, and forming a natural proscenium arch for our performance.

We were the first to arrive on the beach and as more and more people gathered there was one question: would we still be going in the water to swim at the beginning? When Barbara and Jay arrived they very generously confirmed that we would not start in the water, simply running instead to where we begin the dragging and rolling sequence at the south end of the beach, crawling to our respective positions once we neared the spot. A sigh of relief went through the ensemble when we heard this news, as to have begun the piece wet and shivery would have been distinctly unpleasant. Instead, having the sun shine on us while we were moving about the sand was actually quite pleasant, and during Sunday's performance I felt I could finally let go of the mechanics of the movement and really get into the experience of my body merging with the beach, so much so that I really let things rip during the super-fast rolls back and forth. Likewise, with the teeter-totter step that moves (quite literally) from the end of Jay's section into the beginning of Barbara's, I stopped counting and overthinking the steps leading into the leg swing and just went with the momentum generated by my off-axis body--and I think what resulted was perhaps the best I've ever done that move.

Not that everything was perfect. Just before this, Barbara forgot the eight fast pivoting hand claps between partners following the "picking-up-a-seed-and-putting-it-back-on-the-tree" sequence. I wasn't going to remind her about this, and so we were way ahead of everyone in motoring down the beach. And our interior circle went in the wrong direction with our rooster walk, which I'm sure caused the outer circle more than a little confusion as they reoriented themselves for our cross on the backwards crab walk. But I'm sure the audience, which was a lot bigger than Saturday's, didn't notice.

We did still go in the water at the end of the piece, but by that time I was ready for some cooling-off, and some help in washing the sand off my body, and just generally being buffeted by the waves.

Then it was time for a group picnic and reflective decompressing after two weeks of extremely intense work. Brie and Michael and Yvonne, who were doing WBB for the first time, all said it was an amazing experience and that, time permitting, they would definitely consider coming back next year. For me, partly as a result of the choreography this year and partly because of the storehouse of embodied and environmental knowledge I had retained from last year, I felt more than ever how truly unique WBB is as a work of site-specific dance: because of its sustained investigation of a singular but ever-changing site; because of the reciprocal material exchange between performers and site embedded into each iteration; and because of how much kinetic awareness (and locomotive energy) it also demands of its audience.

Then, too, Barbara and Jay, in their own inimitable tough-love way, give us through this process a lesson in what it means to come together as an ensemble. So, after all the hours of rehearsal, all the stairs descended and climbed, all the white paint applied and (imperfectly) removed, all the sweaty clothes and wet towels washed and dried (none of which I will miss any time soon), here's to us in before and after shots:

Left to right: Yvonne; Peter; Keith; Brie; Jay, Dana; Bronwyn; Molly; Irene; Michael; Tuan; Henry; with Barbara kneeling in front.

Look, even Barbara is smiling this time!


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Saturday Performance

What a difference a day makes. A later start time, warmer temperatures, and even some sun: all combined to make today's performance much more pleasant than yesterday's undress rehearsal. In fact, I would hazard to say that this morning approached near ideal conditions: not so hot as last year, but also no really gusting winds, and with the sea mercifully calm. There are contradictory reports on what it will do tomorrow: Jay says it will be even nicer, but the paper is predicting a chance of showers; and Bronwyn (spelled correctly this time!) says that westerly winds will push in colder air and water. I guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm just happy that the call time on the beach is even later.

Speaking of the beach, Jay and Barbara remapped our trajectory across it before the start of today's show. Following the end of Jay's section we now move further south on the teeter-totter walk, rather than north, as we did yesterday, to form our circles for the start of Barbara's choreography. Having walked us through all of this before we started putting on our make-up and doing our warm-up, there was nonetheless some dispute between Barbara and Jay near the conclusion of our opening swim about where exactly we were to alight on the beach for our dragging and rolling sequence. The shouts back and forth between them ("Jay, we said here"; "No, Barbara, we said over there") got quite loud, though Dana, Molly, Irene and I confirmed via Molly's partner, David, on the car ride home that no one in the audience could apparently hear.

Those of us downstage (that is, facing towards the cliffs) during this sequence made sure to position ourselves closer to the audience so that folks further upstage weren't rolling back into the water. However, there were tiny tide pools dotting the sandbar on which we were performing, and I somehow managed to position myself right smack in the middle of one, which made for lots of wet muckiness and water in the ears during the rolls. But I have to say, I did like the sloshy, suction-y sound our bodies made when they slapped over these pools as the rolls sped up. By the time we moved into the turning handstands it felt like the spiralling of my body had succeeded in digging a two-foot well, so deeply did my palms sink into the sand.

I think the performance went very well. I made a slight mistake in the choreography at the start of the dual circle sequence, and the timing of the two circles crossing was a bit off. But collectively we remembered to include all of the movement this time, and overall my balance was much better today than yesterday--no doubt because I wasn't shivering so violently.

I just wish there had been more people watch us. Jay said it was probably the smallest audience they'd ever had--perhaps as a result of this year's performances falling on a long weekend (and also not being tied to the Dancing on the Edge Festival, as they had been last year). Here's hoping more spectators come out tomorrow. But even if they don't, and in spite of all the pain and toil over the past two weeks, Sunday will be the culmination of a truly sublime experience.

That's the gift that Barbara and Jay give us each year through WBB, and while it may be hard to explain to friends and partners and family ("You're doing what?!," my niece Erika, a dancer herself, asked me when I told what I was doing this long weekend) why we do this, I certainly don't regret signing up for a second year.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Undress Rehearsal

The water turned out to be quite warm. It was getting out that proved most bone chilling, as by that time (around 9:30 am) a wind had picked up and it had started to sprinkle. The first part of Jay's choreography, where we dragging and rolling ourselves across the sand was a special kind of torture given the pools of water we were forming with our bodies, and then promptly rolling over. Poor Irene, who was in the back row, closest to the ocean, said in the car on the way home that every time she had to roll west, or upstage, it meant she was plunged back into the surf--which musn't have been pleasant.

Just when I thought I had my shivering under control, another wind would come up that would send my body into spasm yet again. At a certain point my fingers and toes started to go numb, which meant balancing in the sand (especially when walking backwards) and flicking ones hands proved extra tricky. Everyone's teeth were chattering loudly, and Brie said at a certain point she thought her jaw had locked. Barbara said she couldn't remember the last time it had been so cold for the undress rehearsal, and she must have been in a lot of discomfort because not only did she find it difficult to eat afterwards, but she also gave us no notes--which is more or less unheard of. At the end of the piece no one bothered to go back in the water to wash off the white make-up; we just dried off and wore it home, with Bronwen looking the most ghostly among us.

Despite all of this, and despite the fact that we were far from perfect, I did lose myself in the elemental experience of it all in several moments. We danced for over an hour, but it felt like the time flew by. In addition to official videographer Chris Randle, photographer Peter Eastman, and Tuan's wife, our audience included a lazily swimming seal and a great blue heron, who set off in flight from his perch on a rock just as we were emerging from the water to begin the opening of Jay's section--as if saying, "Yes, alright, you now have my permission to move in this space." And by the end of the piece, with our bodies a camouflaged tapestry of white make-up, brown sand and pinky-orange skin, it did seem that we had merged in some fundamental way with the natural landscape.

Which is why, I guess, we do this. Notwithstanding this fact, I do hope that, as forecast, the sun does emerge tomorrow and Sunday.


Wreck Beach Butoh Boot Camp 2016: Day 9

Yesterday was our last class and rehearsal at Harbour Dance. After a relatively quick warm-up, the morning was again spent refining specific moves, including the rotation of our heads and torsos on the monkey step, and then the leg lifts (or swings, as Barbara would say) on the sixes that follow. Given how long we spent on each move, I'm guessing we didn't succeed in perfecting anything to either Jay or Barbara's satisfaction.

After an early lunch we talk-walked the piece through once, and then ran it for the first time without music from start to finish. According to Barbara, we were "terrible." In fact, I think there was only one big disaster, and that was when the two circles are meant to cross in the first part of her section--which in this case got a bit chaotic and messy. We went back over that bit, and improved the second time around, but it's likely to be a whole other story on the beach--in part because I'm still a bit unclear of our directional orientation for all the different sections.

I also still don't know for sure how many turns we're supposed to do at different speeds during the picking-up-a-seed bit and whether "Molly going first with the sixes" means we in her quartet in the canon go at the same time, or wait a bit. I'm hoping I can clarify all of this in the car ride to the beach in two hours...

Of course, after all of the brutal criticism, at the end of yesterday's rehearsal Barbara turned into the sweetheart that she secretly is. She told us that we should take pride in all of the hard work that we've put into the process, especially given that the choreography is all new material and, in her words, is a real "Kokoro piece." Then we formed our car pool groups, confirmed our call time for the beach for this morning's "undress rehearsal" (8 a.m.!), and what to bring for supplies and gear.

It's just getting light out as I type this and the forecast is for overcast skies and a coolish 16 degrees for when we're meant to begin the run-through on the beach. At least it looks like the chance of rain has diminished. And we may even have a bit of sun for the performances on Saturday and Sunday.

Frankly, right now my only real concern is how cold the water is going to be!