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.