Sunday, August 21, 2016

Vines Art Festival at Trout Lake

Last year SFU Contemporary Arts alum Heather Lamoureux created the Vines Arts Festival, an event designed to make contemporary performance more accessible by siting it in a public park (and making it free), and also to promote environmental awareness by showcasing work engaged with themes of climate activism and sustainability and/or responding to its natural setting--in this case, the south end of Trout Lake. That one-day event, put on with a budget raised solely through door-to-door fundraising by Heather, was a huge success. This year, the festival not only attracted major corporate and government sponsors, but it also expanded to four days and multiple sites, with events taking place over the past few days at Hadden Park in Kits Beach, Pandora Park on the East Side, and Maclean Park in Strathcona. However, the main event continues to be located at Trout Lake, and yesterday I cycled over just past noon to take in as much of the action as possible.

Combining installations with roaming pieces, workshops and individually timed performances on five separate "stages," the festival featured an abundance of work to stimulate one's senses, both physiologically and politically. I arrived in time to catch the last half of Ariel Martz-Oberlander's Grief + Dignity; a devised theatre piece loosely constructed around five women's attempts to blockade the Site C Dam project, the work is essentially a conversation about the relationship between intersectional feminism and attempts to raise awareness about the negative social and climatological effects of resource extraction. Next, there was Alex Mah and Arash Khakpour's Hold My Beer, a deconstructed "bromance" in the form of an alternately affectionate and aggressive danced duet that provided something of a gendered corollary to the Martz-Oberlander piece, suggesting that a reciprocal ethic of care between men might actually start with care for the environment.

Meegin Pye's Integral Elimination is a solo work of physical theatre that uses a quintessential rite of fitting oneself into a box--the job interview--to both materially and metaphorically take on how contemporary urbanites have increasingly boxed their horizons in by literally walling themselves up. While I found the text a bit jejune in parts, and the hopping from side to side to indicate different sides of a conversation somewhat of a too-easy dramaturgical choice, Pye was thoroughly engaging as a performer, and much of her piece reads as a caustic commentary on Vancouver's current crisis of accelerated development.

With the PuSh Festival's Joyce Rosario and Bonnie Sun by this point having joined me (graciously sharing their blanket), we then roamed to a succession of dance and movement-based performances. Sophie Brassard and Carly Penner's Pseudo-Flora-Commorancy, a piece for nine women dancers, captivated with its clever use of a net of tied-together plastic bags. Initially the women get caught in this net like so much discarded flotsam, but though a combination of working together (cue some ingenious unison) and discovering, successively, their individual relationships with the space around them, the women are able to free themselves from the artificial tentacles of this ur-symbol of consumerism. Sarah Gallos' Follow is a duet with Hailey McCloskey that uses a succession of slow falls and rises from the ground as a motif for co-animacy of and in space, both in terms of the dancers' awareness of each other and their responsiveness to their surroundings (which included some initial choreographing of the audience). In Archaea, dancer Molly McDermott develops an improvised score of micro-moves as a way of physicalizing the micro-biology of park ecosystems that remain invisible to us, her every neck twitch and foot flex accompanied by Stefan Smulovitz on the violin. Even standing stalk still McDermott is interesting to watch, but with her body wrapped upside down around a tree you can only gape in awe. Finally, in Toothpaste Carolina Bergonzoni enacts the story of her year-long quest to make an all-natural cleaning agent for the teeth and gums from household products through the slow accretion of a simple yet effective gestural vocabulary that mimics the trial and error methodology of her dentifrical experiments. All while wearing a skirt made of used toothpaste tubes and boxes!

Borgonzoni also collaborated with my fellow Wreck Beach Butoh colleague Bronwyn Preece (who, in addition to Molly and her mom Irene, Dana Marquis, and Henry Wong made up quite a strong WBB contingent at this year's Vines) on a unique sartorial painting project that greeted me upon arrival. Together with the music of Son Bohemio, a unique and meditative installation by Elissa Hanson and Claris Figuera called At House, At Home, and an inspiring talk by the Coast Salish ethno-botanist Cease Wyss these were just some of the many Vines offerings I was able to take in. It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon and I hope this new addition to our local festival landscape continues to grow.


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