Thursday, December 7, 2017

Shiny at Left of Main

Kelly McInnes' Shiny, on at Left of Main through this Saturday, is a bold and timely work. Given the ongoing fallout of sexual harassment and assault in the entertainment industry that continues to dominate the news, it feels prescient that McInnes should be tackling in this piece the related (although admittedly not new) issue of representational violence perpetuated by the impossible standards of white feminine beauty circulated within glossy women's magazines--and consumed and internalized by readers of all genders. That pages from said magazines are themselves incorporated into the work and very materially structure the movement of bodies within it only helps to make physically manifest the problem of fit between flat images and live bodies that McInnes and her collaborators are trying to draw our attention to.

To this end, we enter the performance space to a striking tableau. McInness sits at a sewing machine stage left, decoupéd and laminated magazine pages covering her private parts, and with what looks like a film strip of more cut out pages hanging above her. Sitting on a stool centre stage is a clothed Maxine Chadburn; her back is to us and she is combing her long shiny mane of hair. In front of her is a lumpy quilt of even more stitched together magazine pages. Occasionally it seems to rise and fall, suggesting a body underneath. Stage right of Chadburn is something even more striking: what looks like a series of body parts, again made out of magazine pages, hanging from a makeshift clothesline. Further to the right there is also the hollowed out frame of a full-length mirror and some kind of body suit on the floor; it is also made out of magazine pages, the finished prototype of what we might assume to be the assembled parts hanging from the clothesline.

Sound cues--almost all of them related to stereotypically female domestic activities--are important in Shiny. Thus, following an opening address to the audience from McInness (to which I will return), when McInnes begins to sew this is the signal for Chadburn to turn around, a winning smile plastered to her face. She starts to disrobe, and then to draw the items on the clothesline towards her. One by one she slips them onto or wraps them around different parts of her body: a shoulder epaulet here; a shin guard there; one half of a breast plate; and then the other. All the while as Chadburn is donning her armour (a fitting image used by McInnes to describe this sequence during the post-performance talkback), her smile never wavers. But, as disturbingly, her movements become stiffer and more constrained: legs and feet have to be shifted and manipulated externally, as if Chadburn has become a mannequin. The effacement of Chadburn's real body is completed when she puts on the last item from the clothesline: a head mask with no visible holes from which to breathe or see, but with several pairs of photographed and airbrushed eyes and lips and noses nevertheless staring eerily back at us. (There is also the fact that this second skin into which Chadburn binds herself, combined with the sound and image of McInnes sewing throughout, put me in mind of the Buffalo Bill character from Silence of the Lambs, who wishes to stitch together a new skin for himself from the flayed corpses of his female victim.)

This sequence ends with Chadburn pulling the quilt on the floor before her towards her lap, attempting to attach it like a skirt with a needle and thread. But there is indeed someone under there, and she is not keen to give up her cover--or, perhaps more properly, to be exposed to our scrutinizing and sexualizing gaze. This is the third performer in the piece, Rianne Svelnis, who does end up losing the fight for the blanket to Chadburn. In exchange, Svelnis takes Chadburn's magazine helmet and places it on her own head, her subsequent blinded movements accompanied by the sound of McInnes using scissors to cut up another magazine. Eventually McInnes turns those scissors on Svelnis, cutting off the cubist montage of newsprint she had been wearing and dressing her in the French maid's outfit we are meant to understand she had been sewing all this time. This image is complete when McInness places a vacuum cleaner beside Svelnis.

The final section of Shiny involves all three performers attempting to reject, only to reincorporate (quite literally in one case), the proscribed images of white femininity to which they have become shackled. McInnes tries to feed the magazine pages hanging above her sewing machine into a paper shredder, but the laminate makes it jam, and so she decides to eat what little detritus she has made instead. Chadburn throws off her amazing technicolour magazine coat in a robust bit of floor thrashing, but ends up trying to tape herself into the abandoned body shell off to the right. Svelnis tries to suck everything up with her vacuum cleaner, including McInnes and Chadburn. The final image is of all three women sitting topless underneath the magazine quilt staring out at us with fake smiles that gradually grow more and more nervous and questioning.

Shiny has been workshopped over the past two years, and that clearly shows within the thoughtfulness and integrity of its dramaturgy. That extends beyond questions of design and mise-en-scene to the careful way McInnes has thought about the vulnerability of her co-performers (both of whom were eloquent in the talkback in elaborating on the physical and emotional demands of the process). My only real critique of the piece has to do with that opening address from McInnes. It comes in the form of an acknowledgement of her own (and her performers') privilege, that as a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman she cannot presume to be speaking for or representing in this work the experiences of all women. I get that, but framing the show with this statement has the effect of overdetermining our interpretation of it, something that was confirmed for me by the fact that PuSh Festival Director of Programming Joyce Rosario asked a question about it in the talkback, and then talkback facilitator Ziyian Kwan invited McInnes to repeat it at the end of this post-show conversation. For me, opening with this statement suggests something of a lack of trust in the audience to do the work to arrive on their own at the same conclusion--or perhaps nervousness on the part of the creator that the work won't lead them to this conclusion. At the same time, it betrays the much harder work that the statement is standing in for: including non-white, or trans, or differently abled bodies into the piece itself.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Lady Parts Episode 2: Brains at The Emerald

Last night was the second instalment of Katey Hoffman and Cheyenne Mabberley's Lady Parts, a sketch comedy series exploring what it means to be a woman in today's world that is being presented as part of Pi Theatre's new Pi Provocateurs platform, which aims to present "political performance in unconventional spaces." The back bar of The Emerald was certainly cramped (and the line-up for drinks achingly slow), but that also created a nice sense of intimacy, and the crowd was certainly with the performers for the whole evening.

I had missed the first episode of Lady Parts, which focused on "boobs." This second episode was structured around "brains." In the interim, the whole Harvey Weinstein scandal and its ongoing aftermath has exploded, which made the true stories shared by Hoffman and Mabberley and guest performers Genevieve Fleming and Arggy Jenati about sexual discrimination and harassment in the local acting industry all the more powerful. As effective were the fictional episodes skewering myriad myths surrounding women's intellectual capacities (an ongoing gag about staying on hold while waiting to pay one's phone bill that featured Jenati was particularly effective).

Also showcased last night was the improv work of Nasty Women (liked the killer waffles at the AirBnB from hell bit) and the stand-up of Julie Kim, who was hilarious about life with her new baby.

Lady Parts: Hearts and Lady Parts: Vaginas are up in the new year. I shall definitely be in the audience for both.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Wells Hill at SFU Woodward's

It's been almost three years since Richard and I saw the first excerpt of Vanessa Goodman's Wells Hill at the Chutzpah! Festival. We've been following the progress of the piece ever since and last night we joined a capacity audience at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre for the world premiere of the full length piece. In a unique partnership between DanceHouse, SFU Woodward's Cultural Programs and the School for the Contemporary Arts (of which Goodman is an alumna), Goodman and her creative team have been in residence at Woodward's this past summer, and then again for the past month and a half rehearsing in the actual Wong space. Including Thursday night's preview, the piece is getting four instead of the usual (for DanceHouse) two performances, and a whole suite of cognate discursive events relating to Goodman's subjects of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould have been curated by Richard.

Vanessa also commissioned me to write an essay on the piece for its premiere, which you can find on her Action at a Distance company website. I won't repeat what I had to say there, and will instead concentrate on my experience of some of the changes and refinements to the work since I last experienced a run-through back in the summer. One of the biggest things I noticed was the tightening of the overall structure. Goodman has divided the work into two clear parts, which she sees as corresponding to our pre- and post-Internet ages. Both are marked by the appearance of talismanic glass icon in the shape of an upside-down pyramid. At the start of the show, as Lara Barclay performs a sinewy and graceful solo to one of Gould's Goldberg Variations, the curve and extension of her long limbs accentuated by the shimmery translucent shift designed for her by Diane Park, the rest of the ensemble stares blankly at the empty pyramid, which we might in this instance read as a stand in for a television set. The glass pyramid returns at the start of the second half of the piece, but this time projected into it is a holographic image of McLuhan talking about the effects of media, with the conceit of Goodman's dancers (and, to be sure, us in the audience) now staring into rather than at or through the glass container, combined with McLuhan's quasi-3D animation, signalling the more immersive and interactive media environment heralded by the advent of the Internet. That this shift has both connected us and atomized us in unprecedented ways as social beings is wonderfully brought out in the conclusion to the piece. Structurally we are returned to the beginning with the musical reprise of Gould's solo piano refrain. This time, however, while five of the dancers sit downstage right, Bevin Poole and Bynh Ho perform a soft and slow duet that in its fluidity and seeming bonelessness recalls Barclay's opening solo. At the same time, the fact that Poole and Ho, dancing side by side and clearly responding to the directional force and energy of each other's movements, never touch leaves us to question how truly connected to each other we are in today's wired world.

As I say at greater length in my essay, Goodman's overall goal in making this piece has never been to explain or illustrate concepts from McLuhan and Gould through dance. Instead, she has taken what I've called the "'homely' coincidence" of growing up in the house once owned by McLuhan, and where the two men had lengthy conversations, to explore how dance, as an embodied medium, is contiguous with, rather than separate from, other kinds of media technologies. To this end, one of McLuhan's concepts that Goodman is most taken with is that media are themselves extensions of our bodies, even becoming part of our nervous systems to the extent that they act upon us as much as we act upon them (her example during last night's pre-show talk about our Pavlovian response to the buzzing or dinging of our various devices captures this best). In Wells Hill, Goodman explores this idea not just through the choreography, but also through the creation of a total media environment that feels uncannily immersive. That is, last night my own spectating body was not just stimulated by the sight of a twitchily hyper-kinetic Alexa Mardon buzzing about the stage like a computer cursor gone rogue as the rest of the group walks robotically this way or that; or by Arash Khakpour and Dario Dinuzzi breaking out of the latter formation to either throw themselves horizontally to the floor or shimmy vertically towards the ceiling; or even by the unexpected surprise of Karissa Barry, clad in an illuminated body suit of the sort worn for motion capture or digital character modelling in gaming and computer animation, pulsing and swaying on the other side of the footlights, right in front of the first row of the audience. My senses were also triggered by the throb of the respective sound compositions of Gabriel Saloman and Scott Morgan (Loscil), by the pixelated and increasingly accelerated wash of the projections designed by Goodman, Ben Didier and Milton Lim, and by the amazing lighting design by James Proudfoot, which uses the distinctive flash and jump in current that accompanies the turning on and off of flourescent tubes to terrific effect. In other words, despite its traditional proscenium staging, Wells Hill is a piece where the audience definitely feels part of the feedback loop of communication, in which the output from the stage most definitely affects our individual sensual experience, but in which the collective processing of that experience is likewise put back into the system of the show.

While this ideally describes the special interactive experience of any live performance, and while I cannot pretend to be unbiased about the merits of this show, I do believe that Wells Hill is that rare work where the abundant ideas informing its creation do not get in the way of its in-the-moment physical enjoyment. It is especially wonderful to see Goodman making this work here, drawing from the abundant talents of such gifted local dancers and designers. And now here's hoping it has a long and robust touring life.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Titus Bouffonius at The Cultch

In 2015 Rumble Theatre launched an ambitious project to commission new works from acclaimed Canadian playwrights based on classics from the Western dramatic canon, but adapted to a contemporary local/Pacific Northwest context. The first work in the series, Hiro Kanagawa's Indian Arm, based on Henrik Ibsen's Little Eyolf, premiered in April of that year and has just been awarded the 2017 Governor General's Award for English drama (my review of the original production can be found here). Last night, the second play in the series, by the two-time GG award-winning playwright Colleen Murphy, opened at The Cultch. The Society for the Destitute Presents Titus Bouffonius (which from here on we'll simply abbreviate to Titus B) is Murphy's inspired take on Shakespeare's bloodiest and most violent play, Titus Andronicus being a revenge tragedy more in the mold of contemporary works by Thomas Kyd and Thomas Middleton than what we later came to expect from the author of Hamlet and Othello and Macbeth.

Murphy is no stranger to dark material. Her play Pig Girl, inspired by the Robert Pickton case, depicts in one of its parallel plots the murder of an Indigenous woman in real time. But whereas Julie Taymor's 1999 film adaptation of Titus played to the gory appetites of screen audiences, bathing scenes in spectacular hues of red while also taking itself far too seriously, in Titus B Murphy chooses to mine the black humour of Shakespeare's original text, adopting a caustically farcical tone precisely in order to mock our fascination with generational violence. And she does so by drawing on the tradition of bouffon, her time writing the play having coincided with a playwright-in-residence gig at the University of Alberta, where Michael Kennard (one half of Mump and Smoot and a consultant on this show) teaches the art of clown. Thus, unlike with Kanagawa's take on Ibsen, Murphy's adaptation of Shakespeare is more one of style than of content. The characters and plot (albeit radically telescoped) remain the same, and large chunks of Shakespeare's dialogue are recited by the actors; however, at the top of the show a frame narrative introduces us to the members of the The Society of the Destitute, a taxpayer-funded community theatre troupe comprised of the very bottom layer of the 99% that will be putting on a show for us well-heeled types in the audience. Sob (Peter Anderson) plays the Roman general Titus; Spark (Naomi Wright) is Tamora, Queen of the Goths; Leap (Pippa Mackie) is a sexually aware Lavinia, daughter to Titus; Fink (a completely unrecognizable Craig Erickson) assails the dual roles of brothers Saturninus and Bassianus; and Boots (Sarah Afful) takes on the role of Aaron, though he would really prefer to be playing Macbeth.

Indeed, a whole bunch of other Shakespearean references get thrown our way throughout the ensuring 90 minutes, and if it quickly becomes clear that, notwithstanding their occasional lapses in delivering their lines, this rag-tag bunch of fringe performers knows the Bard's canon like the back of their characters' soon to be lopped off hands, we are also repeatedly reminded of why they eventually chose to stage this one: because it contains fourteen murders (a chalkboard keeps track of the victims). All of the deaths are depicted in a grotesquely cartoonish manner on stage, complete with plastic knives and ketchup bottles of fake splattering blood in the climactic scene where Titus serves up his revenge to Tamora and Saturninus in the form of a meat pie (its telegraphed appearance serving as a running gag throughout the play). And on the subject of meat pies, it should be noted that Murphy, like Stephen Sondheim in Sweeney Todd, also seems to be drawing on the traditions of Victorian melodrama, not least in her incorporation of music and song (the composer is Mishelle Cuttler). As with the story of Todd, who has been wronged by the legal justice system that has also robbed him of his wife and child, in Murphy's version of Titus's revenge plot there is a strong critique of the state, and especially a child and family welfare system that seems to prey on the most vulnerable in our society. To this end, the murders of Titus's and Tamora's sons are represented in this version via the dismembering, beheading and crucifixion of a succession of plastic baby dolls. And the real horror in watching comes not from registering the immense glee with which the performers attack this task, but in noting how hard we are laughing.

Stephen Drover's maximalist direction is perfectly suited to this material. I imagine that the operative word in rehearsal was "more": as in more mugging; more writhing; more fake blood. Production designer Drew Facey has constructed a set that nicely captures the play's gallows humour, including a final reveal that really hammers home Murphy's Swiftian point about the state eating its young. Finally, all of the actors are superb, inhabiting their bouffon humps and displaying their blackened teeth with slouchy, wide-mouthed delight. They are also able to move on a dime between line-perfect readings of Shakespeare's poetry and the contemporary comic asides interpolated by Murphy, and are clearly revelling in the physical comedy and direct cajoling of the audience. Sometimes that cajoling is scripted and sometimes it arises in the moment, as when last night, during Lavinia's "big feminist speech" about how only she has a right to decide who does what to her body, a cell phone went off. Without missing a beat, and following Mackie's lead by staying in full clown mode, the entire cast did a blistering take down of the offender and then adroitly picked things up from where they left off. Then again, maybe the interruption and ensuing admonishment was planned. Either way, it worked within the overall ethos and tone of the piece.

This is a production that takes its mandate to offend extremely seriously, and no matter our level of discomfort upon exiting the theatre we should be extremely thankful for this. We should also be thankful that we have in this country a playwright as fearless as Murphy. Formally there doesn't seem to be anything she can't do (witness the epic imagination of The Breathing Hole, which premiered earlier this year at Stratford); and in terms of subject matter, she is unafraid to stare into the abyss, and then to stare us down with what she has found there.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 40

The 2017 edition of Dance in Vancouver officially kicked off yesterday, which also means that our Dance Histories Project is now cumulatively launched into the world. Natalie Purschwitz's installation has been on glorious display for a while now, but to this in the Faris studio lobby we've now added our gesture video and sound installation. Even the turn-down trivia for DiV presenters successfully found its way to Holiday Inn hotel staff. And several t-shirters and gesturers were in evidence in the audience yesterday for the roundtable organized by DiV guest curator Adam Hayward on "Why Shrink the World?"

Ostensibly about the idea of working locally but thinking globally (in one's artistic, curatorial and social practice), the roundtable showcased the work of three New Zealand/Aotearoa artists: Jack Gray (also presenting alongside his Native American collaborator Dakota); Julia Harvie; and Claire O'Neil. I very much enjoyed hearing about all of their practices, but the session ran rather long, and there wasn't really much time for any back and forth with the audience. Still, the session, following upon a studio showing by Olivia C. Davies (one of our Dance Histories interviewees), did importantly emphasize the parallel IndigeDiV focus of this year's biennial--a dance and conversation series organized by Raven Spirit Dance that focuses on Indigenous artistic creation and expression on these unceded Coast Salish Territories.

I didn't stick around for the reception following the roundtable, nor for that evening's performance (Wen Wei Wang's Dialogue, which I previously wrote about here). In fact, I won't be attending any of DiV's mainstage performances this year: a combination of other stuff competing for my attention and also waiting too long to purchase tickets that I'd wrongly assumed might be extended our way complimentarily as a result of our Dance Histories work (which is, after all, featured in the DiV program). Not a big deal, as I've seen and written about most of the work before. But it does mean that I won't witness how DiV presenters and audiences experience and interact with our "lobby animation," as it's officially been called.

Nor, for that matter, will Alexa, who beginning tonight will be busy performing in the world premiere of Vanessa Goodman's Wells Hill (which I look forward to seeing Saturday evening). We'll have to rely on Justine to let us know how things go. Indeed, I look forward to the post-DiV debrief. In the meantime, I think this post more or less concludes the on-line documentation of our work on this project. Hard to believe it's been more than two years since we've been working on this (and closer to three for Alexa and Justine). And, of course, it's not finished, nor will it ever be finished. Figuring out where we go from here will almost surely be part of our debrief conversations.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Smart People at Studio 16

Currently I'm reading Ta-Nahisi Coates' newest book, We Were Eight Years in Power. A collection of several of the essays he wrote for The Atlantic during Barack Obama's two terms in the White House, it is a sobering account of the brief window of racial possibility that was opened in the US with the election of the country's first African-American president, but even more so of the accompanying retrenchment of the forces of white supremacy that then paved the way for Obama's replacement in the Oval Office by Donald Trump. Drawing on the sweep of American history, as well as pop culture and his own personal experience, Coates lays bare in at once measured and urgently impactful tones that the US will always be a racially divided country until it comes to grips with the fact that its very foundations (politically, ideologically, economically) are based on slavery and the violent suppression of one race by another, and that this fact continues to inform every aspect of American society.

Coates' book is useful supplementary reading to Mitch and Murray's production of Lydia R. Diamond's play Smart People, directed by David Mackay and running at Studio 16 through this Saturday. The play, while written in 2016, is set in 2007-January 2009, spanning the period from Obama's announcement of his presidential candidacy to his inauguration. Diamond gives us a cross-sectional snapshot of race relations in Cambridge, Massachusetts during this period by focusing on four highly accomplished professionals. Two of them work at Harvard. Brian (Aaron Craven) is a white liberal neurobiologist who claims to have hard scientific data proving that white peoples' brains are genetically hardwired to hate black people. At a faculty meeting on diversity Brian meets Ginny (Tricia Collins), an Asian-American psychologist who studies the internalization of stereotypes by young Asian-American women, some of whom she also privately counsels. The two other characters are both graduates of Harvard and are also both black. Jackson (Kwesi Ameyaw) is a surgical resident chafing under the paternalistic mentorship of his white hospital superiors, while also running his own clinic in a predominantly Asian-American/mixed ethnic neighbourhood. He meets Valerie (Katrina Reynolds), an MFA graduate in acting whose classical training comes up against the limits of colour blind casting, when she visits the clinic to receive stitches after an accident during rehearsal. The play is loosely structured around the progress, or lack thereof, of the two couples' relationships. Along the way, we see Ginny visit Jackson's clinic to make a case for recruiting participants for her research; we witness Valerie take a job as a research assistant for Brian in order to earn additional rent money; and we learn that Brian and Jackson are old friends who like to shoot hoops together. However, all four characters don't come together and sort out their intersecting ties to each other until the penultimate scene, a dinner party at Brian and Ginny's. Crucially, this is also where we learn that even among this rainbow collection of educated, progressive people, those ties do not and cannot supersede race. Brian by this point has lost his bid for tenure, Harvard only having so much tolerance for his proof of its institutional racism. When the other three people of colour at the table try to make him understand that his research represents not so much a solution to the scourge of white supremacy as a threat to the ways in which it continues to flourish by invisibilzing its claims to majority power, Brian proves this very point with his own racist outburst.

Diamond is herself a very smart playwright. Her script trades in some complex, hot-button issues, but it never feels like she is hectoring the audience, or scoring points off of her characters, all of whom she portrays as richly complex and sympathetic, even the hapless Brian. Mackay has elicited superb performances from the entire ensemble; you can tell the actors are really enjoying sinking their teeth into Diamond's fast-paced and meaty dialogue, especially the many comic barbs, and there is palpable chemistry emanating from the stage. That said, I did find the mostly episodic structure of the play a bit of a spectating challenge, with the succession of short, sharp scenes punctuated by blackouts a bit visually wearying. Mackay resolves this structural issue somewhat by staging this production in the round, with the four points of access allowing for swift actor-driven transitions, while also suggesting that a shared arena is both materially and metaphorically perhaps the most apt container for the bloodsport that is race in America. Still, I wondered if we needed all of the moving on and off of furniture between the scenes, or even the multiple blackouts; perhaps having some of the scenes overlap spatially and temporally would have aided in structural continuity. And depending on one's position in the audience, it can be challenging to see some important stage business. Richard and I, for instance, did not learn [SPOILER ALERT!] that Brian had hooked himself up to the heart rate monitor attached to his computer in the final scene--in which the other characters separately report on Obama's inauguration ceremony--until Richard Wolfe (who was seated in another section) told us what was happening in the cab ride home.

But that is a minor criticism. This is stellar production of an incredibly timely play, one that in using Obama's election as the social and political background to its dramaturgy ends up foregrounding the problems with Donald Trump being given free reign on the world stage.


Monday, November 13, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 39

In addition to commissioning Natalie Purschwitz's amazing installation (now on full glorious display in the lobby of The Dance Centre), one of our more inspired ideas for how we would disperse and animate aspects of the interviews that we collected for our Dance Histories Project during the upcoming Dance in Vancouver biennial was to pull quotes from each of our interviewees and, with their permission, iron them on to T-shirts that also had that their name and interview number on the back, like so:

That's the front of Deanna Peters' T-shirt, and the back of Jane Osborne's, carefully decaled into place at an ironing party that Justine and Alexa and I had at my house last Monday morning. Over the rest of that week, I completed the rest of the 53 total T-shirts (in my earlier summary of the folks we'd interviewed, listed here, I left out Kelly McInnes and Olivia Shaffer, both of whom Alexa interviewed, but whose videos she hadn't been able to upload to our shared Dropbox folder from her phone). Yesterday Alexa and Kate Franklin and I distributed about half of them to the current students of Modus Operandi following their Sunday hip-hop class at The Dance Centre:

For the second half of this part of the project is that we're asking volunteers to wear one of the T-shirts during the week of DiV, and also to learn three shared gestures, and however many additional ones they'd also like to embody--all culled from our video interviews with Vancouver dance artists; whenever they're at The Dance Centre, or wherever else they might be in the city, our T-shirt-wearing volunteers are then invited to either slip these gestures covertly into routine conversations and interactions, or else to deliberately interrupt and/or open up a space through the repetition of the gestures. In this way, the discursive histories we've captured through our interviews will be reembodied and redistributed through this double act of transfer.

The Modus students all seemed eager to participate, and also proved amazingly adept at learning some very complicated gestures. Next Monday we'll have a further T-shirt and gesture distribution session at The Dance Centre with a bunch of dance artists (including several of our interviewees) who are keen to participate. Together with the sound and video installations we're also planning, it will hopefully be a lively complement to the regular DiV programming.

Everything kicks off on November 22nd. You can check out the full schedule here.


Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Powell Street Festival at ISCM's World New Music Days

Music on Main is partnering with the International Society for Contemporary Music and the Canadian League of Composers to present the 2017 edition of World New Music Days. As MoM Artistic Director David Pay has put it, the event is sort of like the Olympics of contemporary classical and post-classical music, featuring hundreds of composers from around the world, and traveling to a different host city every few years. It's a rare opportunity for Vancouver audiences to see daring new work and innovative programs showcasing performances by a roster of the city's most talented performers and ensembles.

Such was the case yesterday, when Richard and I attended an early evening concert at the Annex dubbed the Powell Street Festival. It wasn't entirely clear to me if the iconic summer festival of Japanese Canadian art and culture was a co-presenter of this particular ISCM event, but it did culminate in the Canadian premiere of Japanese composer Yasunoshin Morita's Reincarnation Ring II, a delightful work of "surround" sound performed by Ko Ishikawa that pairs the shō, a traditional vertical reed instrument, with five "half-broken" iPods playing similar tunes. The performative aspects of the piece were as fascinating as its conceptual premise.

The rest of the program featured Mark Takeshi McGregor on flutes, Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa on piano (together they perform as the Tiresias Duo), and Brian Nesselroad on percussion performing works by Justin Christensen (Canada), Etsuko Hori (Japan), Murat Çolak (Turkey/USA), and Laura Manolache (Romania). I was captivated by all of them except the first, by Christensen, which employed spoken text in a way that I found knowingly pretentious. But the other pieces, especially those of Çolak (flutes and percussion) and Manolache (flute, piano and percussion), were wonderfully inventive, producing combinations of sounds that were completely new to me, not least for the ways in which they were produced instrumentally.

I guess that's what the world of new music is all about, and I look forward to the other concerts we have planned for today.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Ballet BC's Program 1 at the Queen E

Because Richard and I were attending the world premiere of Marie Clements' and Brian Current's new opera, Missing, last night, we had to trade our usual Friday night Ballet BC tickets for replacement seats on Saturday. It was the final performance of the season-opening Program 1 for the company, and for it Artistic Director Emily Molnar featured the return of two familiar Ballet BC choreographers: resident choreographer Cayetano Soto; and Johan Inger, whose Walking Mad (the piece with the big wall), was a crowd-pleaser back in 2012. In style and tone the works could not have been more different. Nor my reaction to them.

Soto's Eight Years of Silence was first on the program. A dark and moody piece set to a mournfully elegiac musical composition by Peter Gregson, it opens with Brandon Alley (I think) standing alone and centre stage. He (and the rest of the company, as we shall soon discover) wears a shiny, leather-like leotard that hugs his body, almost like an exoskeleton one would see on a lizard or a turtle. From this position of stillness he moves suddenly into a sharp and contained solo, kicking out one leg and then raising it into the air while windmilling his arms around his head and about his torso. Midway through this another male dancer appears upstage and falls effortlessly into unison with the movements being performed by Alley, who eventually cuts short his dancing and walks off stage. This pattern of a new dancer falling into step with and then almost erasing away the movement of a previous one continues with the entrance of the first female dancer, and for a time I was quite taken with the conceit.

But, as with everything in this ponderous and bloated work, it goes on far too long. Soto has structured the piece episodically as variations on a theme, which means there is a lot of starting and stopping, with dancers--at first individually and then in duos and trios--spending a lot of time walking on and off stage in a kind of slouchy zombie mode before they hit their marks and launch into a new movement pattern (for all of their extraordinary talents as virtuosic movers, Ballet BC dancers are among the worst walkers I have ever seen). Occasionally Soto mixes things up by throwing in a blackout and surprising us with the apparition of an unexpected group formation, and as the piece progressed the partnering became more complicated and visually interesting. However, dramaturgically there is frankly no accounting for the decision to bring down the curtain half way through the piece; first of all, if you are going to do so while two of your dancers are still moving in unison, and thus focalizing our attention on their lower limbs and feet, then you had better ensure that they are in sync (last night they were not). Then there is the fact that, per force, most in the audience will assume that the piece is over. Unfortunately, it was not. Nor was there a radical shift in scenographic design or kinetic composition when it came up again: just the same wash of chiaroscuro lighting and the same washed out movement. Consequently, I was even more bored during the second half than the first.

By contrast, I was fully engaged from the get go by Inger's B.R.I.S.A. First created for Nederlands Dans Theater's Company 2, the piece has two things going for it from the very outset: a musical score set to the songs of the great Nina Simone; and an arresting design feature in the form of a shaggy brown carpet that covers the stage. Indeed, these two design elements combined to suggest to me a cross between Twyla Tharp's Nine Sinatra Songs and Pina Bausch's famous Rite of Spring, with its dirt-strewn stage floor. The latter reference may not be so far off; for, whereas Bausch's work culminates in a sacrificial death, Inger's B.R.I.S.A. opens with a symbolic image of rebirth. As the curtain rises and the lights come up, we see two or three dancers shuffling their feet back and forth along the carpet, motoring from side to side like blown up ants in the sand revealed through the lens of a telescope. But we also notice that there is a large bump in the carpet in the middle of its upstage lip, and sure enough one of the dancers soon drags the body of another out from underneath it. This act of rescue seems to send a new current of libidinal energy throughout the ensemble, and one of the pleasures of the piece is to watch the dancers successively release their hips and sway their pelvises to the contagious rhythms of Simone's songs, often falling into simple but infectiously joyous bits of group unison.

However, just as the heat on and off stage starts to ignite, Inger decides to cool things down, with one of the female dancers moving downstage right to catch the cooling breezes of an offstage fan. Curious, the other dancers soon join her. But then the fan suddenly cuts out, which leads to some conceptual hilarity as the various members of the ensemble compete for the use of a red hand fan that Peter Smida somehow magically produces from about his person. From there, things ramp up as first rival hair driers and then leaf blowers are retrieved from offstage. All of this might have devolved into mere shtick had the accompanying movement not also been so effective, the various wind producing devices, when directed at different nether regions of the body especially, helping to initiate some surprising currents of movement--as when, for example, Smida and Christoph von Riedemann, lying on their backs on the carpet, lift their pelvises and begin a lively routine of Cossack-style air kicks. Eventually the carpet gets rolled up, and with it one of the female dancers.

But this is not her, nor our, ending. There is a final danced coda that, fittingly, concludes by shooting the breezes on stage out into the audience. And on the warmth of this particular zephyr Richard and I exited contentedly into the cool night.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Missing at the York Theatre

Last night at the York Theatre was the world premiere of Missing, an opera co-commissioned and co-produced by City Opera Vancouver and Pacific Opera Victoria, and presented in partnership with Vancouver Moving Theatre and the Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival. The libretto is by the award-winning playwright, filmmaker and multidisciplinary artist Marie Clements, and complements previous work she has done on the subject of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in The Unnatural and Accidental Women and, most recently, The Road Forward (both the live musical performance and the hybrid documentary film). Settler composer Brian Current was chosen to write the music after a blind jury process, and his very contemporary score is surprisingly spare: for example, there is one haunting section, a nightmare scene of attack upon the Native Girl, that is sung almost completely a cappella, with only the occasional rat-a-tat-tat of some kind of drum or woodblock conjuring the terrifying sounds of approaching and retreating footsteps in the woods. Current's score also makes interesting use of percussion and wind instruments, particularly to ring out lighter, more hopeful notes from the triangle and the flute, in keeping with a thematic focus on Clements' symbol of sparrows taking flight. Another important aspect of this production is that much of Clements' libretto is sung in Gitxsan, and while surtitles are used throughout (including, somewhat unnecessarily, for the English lyrics), one does not have to spend much time looking at the screens bracketing either side of the stage to understand the story of inter-generational and inter-cultural trauma that Clements is trying to tell.

For one of the more interesting choices that Clements takes to telling the story of BC and Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women--along with abstracting and deliberately depersonalizing the violence none of us really wants to confront (we never see the attack upon Native Girl, who is also never named)--is to filter it through the perspective of a white settler woman. Following a car crash on the Highway of Tears, Ava (Caitlin Wood) locks eyes with Native Girl (Melody Courage), who is lying on the ground. Returning to law school at UBC, Ava cannot shake the image from her head, and thanks to her Indigenous professor, Dr. Wilson (Marion Newman), she becomes newly schooled in the epidemic of violence against First Nations women in this country--which also means cutting ties to her racist friend, Jess (Heather Malloy). Ava's increasing politicization around Indigenous issues leads her to begin studying the Gitxsan language and she eventually marries her classmate, Devon (Kaden Forsberg), in a traditional Gitxsan ceremony. In the hands of any other writer, the charges of cultural appropriation would likely fly fast and furious, but having established Native Girl's haunting of Ava in the first scene, Clements explores the idea of shared trauma and reciprocal empathy as a bodily process of incorporation--and also, as interestingly, excorporation. That is, the opera culminates in a moving duet between Ava and Native Girl in which, both naming and then touching different hurt parts of their bodies, they physicalize what feeling the pain of another actually means. At the same time, Native Girl's trapped soul can only be freed once she takes Ava and Devon's baby--whom we are told cries often and seems to be wracked by some sort of spirit--in her arms and soothes her.

Parallel to this story of inter-cultural connection we also witness the effects of Native Girl's absence upon her mother (Rose-Ellen Nichols) and her brother, Angus (Clarence Logan). Crucially, the only interaction between the family is shown in a brief flashback scene, in which Angus and Native Girl frolic and play across time and space, while in the present their mother keens her relentless and bottomless grief. In this we are witness to one of the other major issues connected to this national tragedy: that without these cases being solved and the bodies of the missing and murdered women being recovered, there can be no closure for their families, only an endless void. As effective as this is, I have to admit that as with Corey Payette's Children of God (which played the York earlier this year, and which I blogged about here) I did feel at times like the Indigenous characters at the heart of this story appeared peripheral to it. Nichols (who played Pauline in City Opera's original opera about the life of E. Pauline Johnson a few years ago) is such a commanding stage presence, and on some levels she seems under-used. To be sure, Clements is far too intelligent and savvy a writer not to understand what she is doing on this front. Just as this story would not have been ignored for so long had the women who were going missing been white, so is Clements forcing us to ask ourselves, in our focus on Ava, why are we only paying attention now? And to the issue of settler self-positioning in relation to this tragedy, it's important to note that Native Mother does indeed get the last word. And it is very much a challenge: what are you missing?

Assuredly directed by Peter Hinton, and with expert conducting by Timothy Long (subbing for an ailing Charles Barber), this production also features amazing projections by Andy Moro (who also designed the set) and a terrific lighting design by John Webber. With the troubled inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada having just released its interim report (asking for, among other things, more time and money), and with the recent discovery and identification of the remains of Traci Genereaux on a farm in Salmon Arm, this opera couldn't be more timely. But it also deserves to have a much longer life, and will ideally tour across the country, and also enter into Canadian operatic canon.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages

Richard and I are in LA, where the temperatures have soared past 100 degrees fahrenheit the past three days. We've been enjoying the latest Pacific Standard Time conglomeration of visual art shows that have taken over the major public galleries here in the city; this time the linked series of exhibitions is focusing on Latinx artists along the west coast of the US and throughout Mexico and Central and South America. We especially enjoyed the Radical Women show at the Hammer, which was superbly curated, and which featured a ton of important work we wouldn't have otherwise ever seen.

However, truth be told, the real excuse for the trip was to finally take in a performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda's blockbuster musical Hamilton. The touring version of the show is on in LA through December, and this was the first chance we had to score non-resale tickets; that said, the regular orchestra price for our seats at the historic Hollywood Pantages Theater (a huge over-the-top art deco pile near Hollywood and Vine) was still the most I've ever paid for a theatre show. Was it worth it? In a word, yes: not least for the actual spectating experience itself. I don't think I've been in a house where the anticipation and excitement was so palpable, nor where the full diversity of its members (from the very young to the very old, and with the widest cross-representation of races I've ever seen) have been so consistently rapt in their attention.

As so much has already been said about this particular work, I don't think I will attempt to provide a standard review. Instead, I propose to offer a few impressions of the global experience of the production:

1. Getting there. The performance really started on the way to the venue. A bit pressed for time, we decided to grab a cab from the stand outside our hotel on Sunset Boulevard, rather than use Uber (which has been a mixed experience so far in LA). Traffic was literally bumper to bumper, as there had been an accident on Fountain and Hollywood was closed for some reason. However, knowing we had this particular curtain to make, our driver did an amazing job of negotiating the side streets, depositing us outside the theatre with ten minutes to spare.

2. Believe the Miranda hype. As book-writer, composer, lyricist and original star, there is no denying that this show is Lin-Manuel's baby. Two years after its Broadway debut, with the work now fully franchised and raking in the cash, and with Miranda single-handedly trying to save America, one might be tempted to cut this particular tall poppy down at his knees. But it's hard to deny the real talent behind what we see on stage. In terms of musical idioms alone, Miranda's abilities seem limitless. Of course, the way in which he has so seamlessly incorporated hip hop into the musical theatre form is what everyone has been obsessed about (and the rap battles between rival senator-MCs Alexander Hamilton and a boastful and self-obsessed Thomas Jefferson--who does not come off at all well in this version of history--are a real highlight of the show); however, Miranda has just as much facility with more lyric forms, and he gives most of his lead cast members an opportunity to let loose in a power ballad. His rhyming abilities also ably cross musical genres: someone who constructs a whole song around the multi-syllabic word "Unimaginable" has got to be respected.

3. The show is about today. While Miranda does not shy away from delving into the historical complexities of colonial America, the early days of the US republic, and Hamilton's own complicated personal life, the material never feels overly explanatory or didactic. Instead, we receive many of the scenes and plot details as resonantly contemporary. From the references to slavery and Wall Street (Hamilton having been the architect of the US's financial system), to King George's "I told you so" musings on the difficulties of governing and getting rid of a leader you do not like, it is hard to ignore how much the issues explored in the musical intersect with the pressing problems of a divided modern-day America. A case in point: Hamilton is arguably the first major American politician brought down by a sex scandal. Plus ca change.

4. Hamilton and Burr. One of the great strengths of this work is the central dynamic between its two leads. As with any great tragedy, we know from the beginning that the mercurial Aaron Burr is going to kill our hero, Hamilton. However, like Jesus and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, the two men--whose lives were thoroughly intertwined from a very young age--are presented as two halves of the same coin. Indeed, Hamilton is as much of an antihero as Burr, who as both character and narrator in many ways emerges as the work's central focalizing agent--particularly with respect to the idea of how historical legacy depends on who is telling the story.

5. Movement. In all of the press around the musical, I don't recall there being much discussion about Andy Blankenhuehler's choreography. That's a shame, because it's an integral aspect of one's enjoyment of the show. And while I haven't seen Christopher Wheeldon's celebrated adaptation of An American in Paris, I would hazard to say that there hasn't been as satisfying an integration of music and movement in an American musical since Jerome Robbins helped lift the music and lyrics of West Side Story (of course, I had to get a reference to Stephen Sondheim in here somewhere).

6. The cast. It is truly remarkable to cast one's eyes upon a professional theatre stage and see so many non-white bodies. But it's the depth of talent among these individuals that most resonates. A couple of members from the Broadway show have joined this touring ensemble (including Rory O'Malley as King George III and Emmy Raver-Lampman as Angelica Schuyler, both amazing); but most of the cast is new and relatively untested. You wouldn't know it. This production is as good as anything I've seen on Broadway or in London's West End. Consider, as well, the fact that three of this show's leads--the actors playing Hamilton, Burr, and Eliza Hamilton--were being replaced by their understudies last night; this did not diminish my appreciation of the work in any way. Everyone was at the very top of their game.

Throw in the fact that outside the theatre I also got to trod upon Bette Davis's Hollywood star and you have the makings of an amazing performance memory.


Monday, October 23, 2017

King Charles III at The Stanley

Following last season's staging of The Audience, the Arts Club continues its Stanley stage love affair with recent British plays about the royal family. On now through mid-November is Mike Bartlett's King Charles III. Cleverly written in blank verse and with all manner of Shakespearean references, the play imagines an all too real crisis of succession that just might ensue following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. In the days after his mummy's funeral and leading up to his official coronation, Charles (Ted Cole) starts not just to believe in, but to act upon, his droit du seigneur. In his first official meeting with the sitting Labour Party Prime Minister, Mr. Evans (Simon Webb, channelling Jeremy Corbyn, albeit in more sharply tailored suits), Charles queries a new bill that will soon come before him for royal assent. The bill applies restrictions on the freedom of the press and despite his own family's private life having been mercilessly subjected to the muckraking of the UK's notorious tabloid press, Charles believes that the bill is fundamentally flawed. Be that as it may, Evans instructs Charles that it is his duty to sign the bill, for not to do so would run counter to hundreds of years of ceremonial convention and undermine the very foundations of Britain's parliamentary democracy. However, receiving the Tory leader of the opposition, Mrs. Stevens (Christine Willes), immediately after Mr. Evans, Charles latches on to her not at all disinterested statement that, as King, it is his prerogative not to sign the bill.

Things escalate when, incensed by the Crown's usurpation of parliament's democratically elected power, Mr. Evans introduces a new bill that would eliminate the requirement for royal assent for all future legislation. Once again at the prompting of Mrs. Stevens, Charles exercises his power to dissolve parliament and call for new elections, alienating the populace and throwing the country into a constitutional crisis. Meanwhile, inside Buckingham Palace there is additional intrigue. Prince Harry (Charlie Gallant, sporting a bad ginger dye job) moons over the free-spirited commoner Jess (Agnes Tong), whose past will soon be splashed all over the pages of the press that Charles has lately come to defend. The ambitious Kate (Katherine Gauthier, a dead ringer for the Duchess of Cambridge), sensing an opening, does her best Lady Macbeth in convincing William (Oliver Rice) to force his father's hand, with the abdication that inevitably follows leading to William's coronation instead of Charles'.

Not everything in Bartlett's play works. I found the conceit of having Diana's ghost (Lauren Bowler) appear to both Charles and William somewhat clunky, and the character of Camilla (Gwynyth Walsh) was curiously marginalized. The final scene's pageantry and tying up of loose plot lines also tends to foreclose upon any tragic pathos we might feel for Charles as a fallen protagonist, his brief "hollow crown" speech not enough of an emotional punctuation to the play's larger themes--especially when, as in this staging, the blackout that follows seems to come almost as an afterthought. But Bartlett's plotting is absolutely gripping, not least because of his success in making us believe that this scenario could indeed be something that comes to pass. He also pulls off the use of blank verse, successfully adapting its rhythms to contemporary colloquial speech while also showcasing passages of beautiful poetic interiority in many of the characters' soliloquies to the audience. The character of Charles is also richly complex, someone who is at once Machiavellian and idealistically naive, a little bit Richard III and a lot Richard II. That Bartlett is channeling both the Houses of Lancaster and York in his portrait of the divided Windsors is to be expected, but it's his wider allusions to the corpus of Shakespeare (including King Lear) that make the work even more satisfying.

Unfortunately, director Kevin Bennett's production does not always elevate the text in equally rich ways. The performances are uneven, with several actors having trouble speaking the verse. Some of the blocking choices are bewildering, especially when one character will stand in front of another downstage with his or her back to the audience. I also don't understand Bennett's penchant for upstage tableaux, often keeping his actors on stage as background figures to populate a scene. Sometimes it works, but mostly it's distracting and looks ridiculous, as when the company, in black trench coats, pulses in a line to techno music while Harry and Jess have a moment in a London club. The fourth wall is broken from the very start of the play, when the entire company does a version of a royal walkabout, kibitzing with and waving to the audience while the house lights are still up. Those lights continue to come up during Charles' and other of the main characters' soliloquies. However, the choice to have Harry climb down from the stage and walk out into the audience during a nighttime scene with his brother doesn't seem to fit at all within such a dramatic world. I did enjoy Kevin McAllister's set, which manages to feel sparely modern and imposingly medieval at the same time. And Christopher Gauthier's costumes were a monarchist's delight, especially Camilla's hats.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Animal Triste at The Dance Centre

Animal Triste is Montreal-based choreographer Mélanie Demers' take on the evolution of that most melancholic of species, the human. Co-presented by Demers' company, Mayday, and Vancouver's plastic orchid factory, the piece continues at The Dance Centre through this evening and opens with a striking image. Demers' four dancers--Brianna Lombardo, Marc Boivin, plastic orchid's James Gnam, and Riley Sims--are positioned as naked odalisques among the snake-like yellow cords attached to the floor lights that rim the stage. Slowly and methodically as audience members file into the auditorium and take their seats, the dancers wrap long strands of pearls around their necks, pulling them tight so that the resulting chocker looks something like a cross between an Elizabethan ruff and African or Asian neck-stretching jewelry. After this task is complete the dancers begin putting on their clothes, reversing the usual trajectory of the revelation of flesh in contemporary dance, but also telescoping through this simple montage of collective dressing the historical domestication of the human animal.

Once dressed, the quartet of dancers gathers in a horizontal line upstage right, stretching and jumping in place, a series of preparatory calisthenics preceding the subsequent physical striving that seems to constitute each member's attempt to define his or her relationship to the others, and to the group as a whole. This mostly take the form of individual bodies twisting in place, with the dancers' bent torsos, splayed knees and crooked arms adding up to a strange family tableau. Albeit one in which the human invention of binary genders is for the most part played with and resisted. In this respect, while one is tempted to read Boivin and Lombardo as the parental figures in this quirky brood, Boivin, despite his imposing size, remains a rather passive paterfamilias (at least to begin with). By contrast, the compact and muscular Lombardo's physicality seems far more intense and explosive, with her body shooting forward from the line at various moments, the restiveness of her limbs seeking to be freed from the torpidity of her male confrères' movement. Gnam is deliberately channeling an androgynous presence, both in the long tunic he wears and in his sinewy and languorous locomotion across the stage. And Sims seems to be pure id, the child whose impulses derive from pure instinct and polymorphous desires.

Certainly in the program notes (accessible through plastic orchid's website) Demers makes no secret that her dancers function as allegorical figures, and many of the sequences in the piece have a distinctly ritualistic feel, especially when one pair's tribal-like movements are purposely framed by the bodies of a second pair, often arranged in a still Sphinx-like pose. But there comes a moment when the mythical and the untamed aspects of all of this energy seems to be brought under the thumb (or, more precisely, hand) of patriarchy. This happens when Sims sheds his t-shirt and Boivin, hitherto shirtless, dons his own. All of a sudden Boivin starts to corral the various members of his wayward family, bringing them in close to his now powerful and centrally positioned body. To be sure, they chafe against this, with Sims in particular twisting and fighting to be let free. However, Demers seems to be suggesting with this final image that what makes the human animal most sad is not its poverty of means for real communication despite its acquisition of language (as demonstrated in an earlier sequence in which the dancers spout tired maxims and various pop memes gleaned from song lyrics and other empty cliches), but the (hetero)normative organization of its kinship relations.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Guys and Dolls at the Stratford Festival

I'm in Burlington visiting my family for a few days and yesterday we all piled into the car to take in a matinee at the Stratford Festival, which is just winding up its 2017/18 season. The timing of my visit--combined with what seems like the steady yearly attrition of the festival's Shakespearean mandate--meant that it was Guys and Dolls which was in repertory that day at the main Festival theatre stage. Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, who has established herself in recent years as Stratford's musical theatre hitmaker, the production had also received glowing reviews. So I was anticipating a pretty good time. Apart from the dancing of the male chorus, however, I was mostly bored.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (based on stories by Damon Runyon), Guys and Dolls has famously been dubbed "the perfect musical" and despite its antiquated gender politics is regularly revived. The movie adaptation starred an incongruously cast Marlon Brando as the high rolling gambler Sky Masterson, and Frank Sinatra turned the song "Luck Be a Lady" into a signature tune. The plot focuses on two apparently mismatched couples: Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle) is a dice man who runs a weekly craps game in and around Times Square, and who has been engaged to his long-suffering fiancee, the nightclub performer Miss Adelaide (a winningly cartoonish Blythe Wilson), for fourteen years; Masterson (Evan Buliung) has never met a bet he wouldn't take, including as concerns our plot the challenge of convincing the straightlaced Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown (Alexis Gordon), who is not having much luck of her own saving souls among the denizens of Broadway, of flying with him to Havana to have dinner.

In between the two sets of lovers inevitably coming together--as, of course, they must--we get to hear a lot of great tunes, including "A Bushel and a Peck," "Adelaide's Lament," "If I Were a Bell," the aforementioned "Luck Be a Lady," and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," a gospel-tinged roof raiser which is delivered by the secondary character Nicely-Nicely Johnson (a scene-stealing Steve Ross) at a climactic Salvation Army prayer meeting attended by the grab-bag of gamblers from Nathan's craps game as a favour to Sky--who has promised to deliver to Sarah a roomful of sinners in order to impress her superior. These last two numbers feature spectacular choreography by Feore for the male ensemble, who far outshine their female counterparts in the hoofing department. By contrast, in terms of the acting and singing of the leads, it is the women who trump the men. In its depiction of the relationship between the sexes, one might say that Guys and Dolls is the Taming of the Shrew of Broadway musicals. And so much hinges on the penultimate number, "Marry the Man Today," in which Sarah and Adelaide decide together to take a risk on their hapless men, under the assumption that they'll be able to bend them to their respective wills after a ring is placed on each of their fingers. Happily, Feore has Gordon and Wilson telegraph proto-feminist resolve rather than wifely submission.

Elsewhere, however, some of the director's decisions are head-scratching. Why, for example, during the Hot Box number "Take Back Your Mink" would you send out Adelaide and her accompanying chorus girls wearing rhinestone necklaces rather than pearls (as indicated in the lyrics)? Much of the blocking between songs in this book-heavy production also seemed counter-intuitive. More generally the pacing felt sluggish, with the energy from the choreography accompanying the bigger numbers failing to be sustained in the dialogue between the actors.

Not that any of this seemed to bother yesterday's audience, which was instantly on its feet at the end. That included the class of high school students sitting behind us, Guys and Dolls being a staple of high school musical theatre repertoires. My drama teaching sister-in-law Arline has seen many such versions of the musical, and also directed one of her own. She, like me, was not impressed with this one.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

1 Hour Photo at The Cultch

Tetsuro Shigematsu's 1 Hour Photo, which opened last night at The Cultch's Historic Theatre, is his follow-up to the wildly successful Empire of the Son. Like Empire, 1 Hour Photo is once again being produced by Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT), and Richard Wolfe returns as director. The two shows also follow a similar format, with Shigematsu, as writer-performer, recounting his story directly to the audience and using miniature digital cameras and live video feeds to animate various on-stage objects to startling effect, including in this newest work a miniature dioramic model of the North Vancouver house where Shigematsu lives with his family.

The replica house is a significant symbol, and in many ways represents the bridge between these two works. Thus, near the top of 1 Hour Photo, we learn that Shigematsu moved into it with his wife, children and parents at the insistence of its owner, VACT's Artistic Producer, Donna Yamamoto. It was here that Shigematsu cared for his dying father (who was the subject of Empire), and also where he discovered, in the form of an old Japan Camera coffee mug, the first clue to the life story of Yamamoto's father, who is the focus of this piece.

Mas Yamamoto, 91 years old and still going strong, owned a string of Japan Camera outlets, which were among the first photo development franchises that began offering one-hour return service in the early 1980s--hence the title of the show. But before he became a successful businessman, Mas lived several other lives, which coincided with some of the signal events in twentieth-century British Columbian and Canadian history. Distilling 36 hours of interviews with Mas into an 18-minute first-person narrative that he then pressed into a vinyl recording, Shigematsu, aided by composer and onstage musical sidekick, Steve Charles, proceeds to spin his tale, giving us an excerpt of Mas's voice, and then elaborating on the larger social and political context. We learn, for example, that Mas was interned with his family during World War II at Lemon Creek, and that it was there that he met his first love, Midge. With only a Grade 9 education at the end of the war, Mas went to work to support his family, losing touch with Midge, and eventually working on the Distant Early Warning Line in the Canadian Arctic during the height of the Cold War. It was during this period that he met Joan, whom he would marry. Their growing family, and the need to supplement his meagre blue collar wages, prompted Mas to return to school, completing his high school equivalency, and a BSc, MSc and PhD in Pharmacology at UBC in less than a decade. And then, chucking his comfortable job as a government scientist, at the age of 50 Mas decided to become a photo shop entrepreneur. The story comes full circle when, later in life, Mas reencounters Midge, who will join Mas and his family in the gallery at the BC Legislature to witness Mas's daughter and Liberal Minister of Advanced Education, Naomi Yamomoto, deliver a speech endorsing a motion of apology to Japanese Canadians on the 70th anniversary of their interment.

All of this is supplemented by amazing archival photographs and film footage (the video design is by Jamie Nesbitt), and Shigematsu creates some wonderful effects with his live camera feed, as when a single miniature bunkbed placed within a mirrored box becomes multiplied into row upon row when projected on the backstage screen. Paradoxically, however, the visual design of the show points to the underdevelopment of the photographic metaphor in Shigematsu's script. Apart from one arresting description of multiple exposure as a way to think of the collapsing of time into a single stilled moment, I was struck by how Shigematsu's narrative portrait mostly eschewed such analogies. Indeed, it is the recording of Mas's voice that instead tends to dominate, and that via the repeated ritual of Shigematsu or Charles dropping the turntable needle into a given groove on the spinning record accords that voice a necessarily auratic quality (Shigematsu's likening of this audio document to the recordings that were sent into space on the Voyager satellites only deepens this feeling). As a result, Shigematsu's own voice at times registered to me as more adjunct than central to the story, mostly serving to amplify or illustrate the gist of what Mas had to say. Most telling, in this regard, is that the references to Shigematsu's own father felt extraneous to this piece, almost as if they had been imported to tie Empire of the Son and I Hour Photo more tightly together.

I don't think such dramaturgical stitching is needed. The two works already complement each other in myriad other ways.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nederlands Dans Theater's Side A in Amsterdam

On our final day on the second leg of our journey to Amsterdam, I got to check something off my dance spectatorship bucket list when Richard and I attended a performance of the Nederlands Dans Theater's Company 1 at the ornate Stadsschouwburg in the Leidseplein neighbourhood. (Although the interior of the building has clearly had a major re-do recently, as the stunningly intimate presentation hall where we were looks brand new, and has a wonderfully deep stage and steep audience rake, which makes for near perfect viewing.) Overseen by the legendary Jiri Kylian for the past 25 years or so, but now it seems with longtime NDT house choreographer Paul Lightfoot installed as the current AD, NDT is renowned for the strength and virtuosity of its dancers, as well as for its commissioning of new work from top flight international choreographers (Vancouver's own Crystal Pite is an associate choreographer).

Indeed, the program we saw, Side A: Split into One, was comprised of three world premieres, all of them having a distinctive scenographic design element, and with the first two likewise structured around the musical oeuvre of contemporary pop composers. First up was Proof, by former NDT dancer Edward Clug. Kylian has a remarkable track record of seeding new choreographers from within NDT's own dance ranks, often by first providing opportunities to create work on NDT's Company 2. So it was with Clug, whose 2015 debut for NDT 2, mutual comfort, was very well received. In Proof, set to the music of Radiohead, we encounter seven dancers who move in and out of different duos and trios, sometimes with stunningly solicitous intimacy, and sometimes with bold aggression. Distinctive in each modality is the dancers' arm work, sometimes loose and looping, reminding me a bit of vogueing, and sometimes fast and choppy, as in karate. Clug is also not afraid of stillness, keeping several of his dancers frozen on stage as others move around them. The piece ends with a captivating bit of scenography, when a zeppelin-like installation descends from the ceiling, into which one of the dancers steps, and behind which another quartet, divided into pairs and attached at the waist, make ghostly silhouettes--all while another dancer impresses his head into one end of the plastic balloon. It was a wondrously powerful end to a terrific new piece.

The second piece on the program was a new work, SOON, by Mehdi Walerski, also a graduate from the NDT dance corps. Walerski  should be familiar to Ballet BC audiences who have seen his Petite Ceremonie, and who are no doubt eager for his take on Romeo and Juliet when it premieres at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next spring. For now, however, there is this beguiling new quartet, inspired by the music of Benjamin Clementine, a young British singer-songwriter who has been hailed as reinventing the art song, and whose albums I am going to be sure to download when I get back to Vancouver. As the curtain comes up, we see a male and female couple, clad in matching blue suits, standing in a circle of bright white light. The light is emitted by a lowered klieg light that is attached to a rotating contraption, at the other end of which is a large reflective disc. This device rotates continuously throughout the performance, at times blocking the dancers, but at other times becoming part of the choreography, as when the reflecting disc passes through the stilled and facing bodies of two of the dancers. The first couple is eventually joined by another, and in the tightly geometrical movement that Walerski composes for the quartet in the very centre of the white floor spot he seems to be drawing upon and reinventing aspects of the quadrille. At other moments, the dancers break off into pairs and also solo sequences, with one of the male dancers successively ghosting each of his fellow group members in a final bit of unison at the end of the piece, the space between the bodies, as with the switch to negative lighting that recurs throughout the piece, here suggesting the aspect of longing over time that is necessarily a part of any kind of belonging.

The evening concluded with Sisters, by NDT house choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon (they are also a couple). A work for six dancers, three men and three women, it aspires to be a surreal fantasy, complete with a splayed out roll of black plastic that dominates the set. Perhaps it's meant to evoke the inky depths of the unconscious, or the dark world of fairy tails. Whatever the case, I found most of the choices in this piece to be choreographic caprices, not least the decision to send out one of the women dancers with her right arm pinned to her chest inside her lyotard. Clearly there were no disability rights advocates in the house, as the audience gave the piece a standing ovation. Mostly I found the piece to be egregiously pretentious, and rife with imagistic cliches, as with the closing tableau, in which the three women, now clad in matching black cloaks, swaying their bodies in front of the men, bewitching them with their sorceresses' powers.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Mosquitoes at the National

One of the plays that was on my radar to see during this trip to London was Mosquitoes, which is on at the National's intimate Dorfman Theatre (formerly the Cottesloe) until the end of this month. The playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, is one of the buzziest in the UK, having attracted a great deal of attention (and a lot of awards) for Chimerica a few years ago. Then there was the fact that it would be starring the two Olivias: Williams and Colman, that is, with the latter having long been a favourite from TV programs like Broadchurch and The Night Manager. But of course when I tried to book tickets from Vancouver all performances were sold out. However, when I randomly checked the National's website on Monday, miraculously there were tickets available to the Tuesday matinee.

The performances lived up to, and in places surpassed, my expectations. The play, however, is a bit too ambitious for its own good, suffering from an excess of plot lines and ideas. The main drama concerns the tense relationship between sisters Alice (Olivia Williams), who is a top flight particle physicist working on the Higgs boson as part of the Large Hadron Collider lab at the CERN facility in Geneva, and Jenny (Olivia Colman), a telephone insurance salesperson living in Luton who spends a lot of her time on the Internet. Following the sudden death of Jenny's young daughter (which is partly connected to her incessant Googling), she and the sisters' aging mother, Karen (Amanda Boxer), herself a retired scientist, descend on Alice in Geneva just as she and her team at CERN are about to launch the next phase of their research, and also while she's dealing with her temperamental teenage son, Luke (Joseph Quinn), who holds his mother responsible for the flight several years earlier of his father. Jenny's grief-laden self-destruction, combined with the family's long history of dysfunction and mutual recrimination (which mostly centres around the gap between Alice's intelligence and Jenny's apparent stupidity), sets off a chain reaction of cause and effect relations that culminate in Luke's disappearance.

The problem is that all of this is hung only very loosely--and wholly metaphorically--on the idea of particle physics and the chaotic make up of universal matter, whose lessons are rather high-handedly delivered to us by a lab coated character called the Boson (Paul Hilton), and which must additionally serve as a representational allegory for the perils of social media, the plight of women in patriarchal society, and the weight of family inheritance. Then, too, I found that the emotional core of the play was not entirely credible: that Alice and her mother could be so consistently cruel to Jenny in putting down her intelligence when, clearly, she is the only character who can intuit what is wrong with Luke starts to grate after a while. Obviously we are meant to understand that Alice is blindly obtuse in matters of the heart. But why this at once mutually sustaining and parasitic relationship between the two sisters needs all of the added carapace that Kirkwood has built around it, is beyond me.

And it is in part these structural weaknesses in the play, I think, that explains its overproduced staging, with all kinds of fancy multimedia effects and physical tricks used by director Rufus Norris to embellish the science that we are also told very bluntly at one point we are too stupid to understand. Maybe that's true. However, one thing I do know is that but for the brilliance of her cast, Kirkwood's play would likely not connect with audiences at all.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Loot at the Park Theatre

When Joe Orton's second major play, Loot, premiered 50 years ago, it ran afoul of the Lord Chamberlain's office on two fronts. First, London's theatrical censor insisted that Orton's more overt references to the sexual relationship between best mates and hapless thieves Hal and Dennis be removed, or else coded in layers of subtext. Second, the playwright's stipulation in the script that the corpse at the centre of the plot's farcical antics be played by a real actor was vetoed. A dummy had to be substituted.

Both of these cuts have been restored in a 50th anniversary production of the play that is currently running at the Park Theatre in the Finsbury Park neighbourhood of North London. Assuredly directed by Michael Fentiman, this staging is the first to be based on Orton's original, uncensored script, recently rediscovered, and given the go-ahead by Orton's sister and his estate. Orton's scabrous wit and savage satirizing of social mores remain as fresh and breathtakingly funny as ever--notwithstanding the odd racist and misogynistic joke that might offend the politically correct. Luckily for us, Orton is so far from being a PC playwright as to make comedic offense into a blunt force weapon. Not for him the smooth sliding in of the skewering dagger alongside indulgently mocking Wildean aphorisms; Orton serves up his comic barbs the way the Greeks did--lewd and in yer face. I realize I'm mixing a lot of different theatrical references in that last sentence, but as Fentiman writes in his program note, Orton's dramatic knowledge and reading were prodigious, as is his own influence on a subsequent generation of taboo-smashing British playwrights.

For Orton, whose entire writerly project might be summed up as an epic battle to demolish the binary between the sacred and the profane (this was someone who went to prison, remember, for defacing library books), taboos are made to be smashed. And in Loot we see them come down in spades. Defiling a corpse: check. Hiding stolen money in a coffin: check. Lampooning Catholic piety and blind faith in the absolving power of confession: check. Openly celebrating buggery and getting away with murder: check and check.

But what elevates Orton beyond being a playwright who merely wishes to shock (in addition, that is, to his truly astonishing command of language) is that his satire is expressly political. Indeed, the biggest taboo to be smashed in Loot has to do with our liberal democratic belief in--and willful adherence to--the benignly just execution of the law. Thus, the most menacing character in the play is not the murdering Black Widow of a nurse, Fay (an excellent Sinead Matthews), nor the larcenous lovers Hal and Dennis (Sam Frenchum and Calvin Demba, both also terrific), but the incognito detective, Truscott (Christopher Fulford, in a toweringly funny performance). Entering the McLeavy residence under the guise of a city water inspector in order to avoid the inconvenience of needing a search warrant, by the end of the play he ends up colluding with the criminals, taking a cut of their "loot," and sending an innocent man, the grieving Mr. McLeavy (Ian Redford, moving from befuddlement to outrage and back again with great aplomb), to jail. That this also enables the closing tableau of this production of the play, in which Hal and Dennis kiss passionately, while simultaneously each rubbing a breast of the imperiously self-satisfied surrogate mummy figure Fay, still clutching her rosary, is a fittingly queer victory for a playwright whose own untimely death coincided with the decriminalization of homosexuality in Britain.

This production, then, is a double anniversary, and on both the level of hilarious physical comedy (major kudos on that front to Anah Ruddin as the put-upon corpse) and savage political commentary, it lives up to the weight of expectations. Added bonus at the performance we attended: the legendary Tom Stoppard was in the audience. He was laughing uproariously. If that's not an imprimatur, I don't know what is.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 38

If you're at the Dance Centre in the coming weeks, you'll be able to catch sight of the installation that Natalie Purschwitz has conceived for our Dance Histories project taking shape. On Wednesday, with the help of DC technician Daniel O'Shea, we rigged the main supporting platform into place. This was no easy task, as the installation is essentially a very complicated Calderesque mobile that will hang from the ceiling above the stairwell leading down to the main Faris Studio. And because Natalie will need to be able to raise and lower the platform while she is working on the installation, this involved figuring out a very complicated system of rope pulleys. And finding a three-quarter inch drill bit--which proved the most difficult task of all.

Nevertheless, success was eventually achieved, and now the main task is threading the hundreds and hundreds of names that Natalie has attached to different playing cards through the holes that I punctured through the platform. Having spent seven hours yesterday and Wednesday doing so, I can attest to how finicky and time-consuming this work is. Add to this the very real risk of the different bits of dangling threads getting hopelessly tangled as the platform is raised and lowered and just generally moved around, and you can understand how stressful all of this can quickly become. And it doesn't help that we're doing all of this in a tiny corner of the Faris lobby near the bar, and having to work around matinee and evening performances.

Natalie has worked out a very complicated system for how all the different playing cards fit together, which perfectly captures our goal of illustrating how all of these histories overlap and intersect--and which will be represented in the finished installation by the bits of orange coloured thread that horizontally connect the dangling vertical cards. But in an Excel spreadsheet, as a list of names and a numbered count of times mentioned, such a system is one thing. Three-dimensionally it's quite another, and Natalie said that if it sounded like she was talking to us like children in explaining things we shouldn't take offence; she was simply figuring things out herself in the process of articulating them.

I feel bad abandoning Natalie and the rest of the crew just as the work is getting started (Richard and I are off to London and Amsterdam for 10 days); but I'm sure there will still be stuff to do when I get back. And, in truth, it's probably good to have me and my clumsy fingers out of the way during the main and hardest phase of work.

As Justine said yesterday, that work will take as long as is needed to complete. And when it's done, the piece is going to look amazing.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Embryotrophic Cavatina (Part 2) at the Roundhouse

So I guess if you're choreographing a dance to a piece of requiem music that introduces a saxophone in its second half, then that licenses you to shift the movement score pretty radically as well. Back in August I blogged about Kokoro Dance's free showing of the first part of Embryotrophic Cavatina, which was originally created in 1989 and 1990 and set to the opening half of Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner's Requiem for My Friend. Last night at the Roundhouse the company unveiled the new second half to the piece, and it definitely wasn't what I was expecting--which is a good thing.

A shift in tone is first of all effected by the fact that following an exit of the performers (Kokoro co-founders Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi, accompanied by regular dancers Molly McDermott and Billy Marchenski) from the stage and a brief pause, they return wearing long and vibrantly hued shifts designed by Tsuneko Kokubo. The designer's large format paintings of edible and medicinal plants were also projected throughout this final section. While the program note indicates that Kokubo considers these images to be metaphors for "the migration of peoples," when combined with the impetus for the music (Preisner's mourning of the death of his friend, Krzysztof Kieslowski), we might also see them as gesturing toward the migration of souls, each of whose journeys in the afterlife is made singularly and alone.

This in turn perhaps explains the shift in movement. Whereas the first half of the piece was pretty tightly structured around a central quadrant of mostly unison sequences, in the second half the performers appear to be improvising their own individual scores. Eventually, however, we detect that a through-line of shared gestures and movement patterns (many of which I recognized from Barbara's recent morning dance classes at KW Studios) has been distributed throughout the bodies on stage, like an extended or staggered canon, each of the dancers completing the same combinations of spins and thrown arms and collapsed walks, just in radically different sequencings. Well, all of the dancers except Jay, who during this second half mostly stays upstage, repeating echoes of the movement from part one. Near the end, however, he joins the group as the apparent chaos of mass solo improvisation gels into a slow and simple cycling through of a gesture base associated with the senses, the sticking out of the tongue, the cupping of an ear, and the tracing of a hand up an arm continuing to attest to the vital materiality of the body even as the dancers slowly exit the stage.


Monday, September 18, 2017

Fringe 2017: Fifty Shades of Dave

My second Fringe show yesterday was Fifty Shades of Dave. Full disclosure: this one I went to because I know the writers and performers. Co-writer and performer Nico Dicecco was my former PhD student, and co-writer Kyle Carpenter is currently finishing his PhD in the English Department at SFU. With this work they both reveal additional hidden talents I didn't know either had.

Fifty Shades of Dave, punning on the E.L. James novel, is an erotic parody of Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe stories, with husband and wife protagonists Dave and Morley accidentally discovering a penchant for BDSM. Dicecco, doing what I gather is a spot-on impression of McLean's voice, spins three such tales in a hilariously homespun manner, the very dailiness of the details (Dave heading off to the hardware store to buy rope to tie up Morley) parcelled out in the set-up to each increasingly hot and heavy story climax making the narrative payoff that much more satisfying. While I confess to never having listened to The Vinyl Cafe, I do understand good writing, and this show has it in spades. To wit: after seeing this show, your understanding of the meaning of eating ice cream will forever be changed.

Nico, as McLean, is also a natural performer. And while I'd very much like for some academic institution to give him a job, I was delighted to discover that another possible career also awaits him. I look forward to hearing more from this duo.


Fringe 2017: Lovely Lady Lump

Once again my plans to see a whack of Vancouver International Fringe Festival shows were thwarted this year, my whole experience reduced to two shows on yesterday's final day. First up was Lovely Lady Lump, by Australia's Lana Schwarcz. The show fits the standard Fringe template of one-hour solo comedy, which if I'm honest is partly why I see fewer and fewer Fringe shows each year. The line between theatre and stand-up comedy is increasingly thin, and while the subject matter may change from show to show, I find the homogeneity of form to verge on stupefying my spectating sensibilities. Of course, I'm generalizing--lots of dramas and multi-character and longer form works do exist at the Fringe. And there are all sorts of reasons why the one-hour one-hander tends to proliferate--cheapness being one of them. But I do think fringe festivals are facing something of a crisis of identity when it comes to fostering meaningful new theatre voices.

Schwarcz makes her living as a stand-up comic, so there's no getting around this set up for Lovely Lady Lump. Except in this case the subject matter is novel: Schwarcz's breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival. That Schwarcz's breasts (she still has both of them) are the stars of the show is an understatement. She reveals them to us at the top of the show, as part of an explanatory vignette involving a visit for radiation treatment, and we see them again and again during subsequent visits. There is nothing titillating here; indeed, one of Schwarcz's concerns is to demonstrate that the very routine of cancer treatment is one of its most brutalizing effects. But mostly the mood is light and Schwarcz is, it has to be said, very very funny. She's also an amazing puppeteer, and she combines both skills memorably during a sequence involving a nightmare reference to The Shining, and also in a bit about her hormone blocking therapy in which a shadow puppet valley girl incarnation of estrogen becomes a pile of shit.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 37

All this week and next Justine and Alexa and I have bracketed off morning studio time to start pulling together the various threads of our Dance Histories project in advance of their unveiling at Dance in Vancouver this November. Actually, the first of those quite literal threads will be visible to Dance Centre patrons later this month--maybe even as early as the end of next week. That would be Natalie Purschwitz's rhizomatic installation based on the interconnected web of names and places we have collected via our interviews with local dance artists. She has a fantastic design concept for how to represent all of the overlapping layers of influence and attachment and bodily and spatial sedimentation--which I won't spoil here. Let's just hope it can be sustained by the actual material supports of the Dance Centre building...

The last piece of data collection necessary for Natalie's work was completed this morning when Justine and I finally interviewed Alexa about her own dance history. Afterwards Alexa said that she now understood why so many of our interview subjects likened the experience to a kind of therapy. Perhaps because this particular interview came at the end of our process, but more likely because Alexa is such a smart and reflective person, for me Alexa's narrative was at once singularly her own and also so consciously and respectfully connected to so many of our previous conversations: not least concerning the idea of developing an ethic care--with respect to our bodies, our collaborators, and our community.

Among other things, I learned that Alexa dates her Vancouver dance history from 2010. That's when she returned to the city from London, where she'd been trying--and in her words failing--to be a commercial dancer. While shooting a television commercial for the SyFy channel choreographed by Kelly Konno, and that featured Josh Beamish, Alexa learned about Modus Operandi. She promptly went to an Out Innerspace show, saw Elissa Hanson do something amazing, and said she wanted in. She did two and a half years of the program, before gravitating toward a cohort of dance artists affiliated with SFU, including Daisy Thompson, Katie DeVries, Emmalena Fredriksson, Erica Mitsuhashi and, eventually, my colleague Rob Kitsos.

In addition to dancing for and with Deanna Peters, Amber Funk Barton, and Vanessa Goodman (whose upcoming Wells Hill will premiere at the end of November, overlapping with Dance in Vancouver, and thus keeping Alexa extremely busy between now and then), Alexa is also an amazing dance writer and critic. Collaborations with Lee Su-Feh on the Migrant Bodies Project and Brynn McNab on An Exact Vertigo at UNIT/PITT Projects are just two instances in which Alexa has demonstrated her amazing choreographic facility with words. At one point in her interview, Alexa talked about an inspirational moment in a workshop in Toronto with Ame Henderson, in which she reported saying "I'm a writer and a dancer and I'm trying to figure out if both of those things are part of my practice." Mercifully for all of us--and especially for Justine and I on this project--Ame's definitive response was "Of course they are!"

In fact just today Alexa was instrumental in contributing to the short blurb that she and Justine and I crafted for what it is we think we're doing at Dance in Vancouver. We've given the various distributed component parts a three-part title: Our Present Dance Histories, or, Dance Histories Project, or, Vancouver Dance: an incomplete history of the present - Part 1. Because, of course, we didn't get to interview everyone we'd ambitiously planned to (on the way out of the Dance Centre today, I bumped into Joe Laughlin, who is somewhat egregiously missing from the hours and hours of our compiled video footage); because history is never finished and always moving; and because, after two years, we're only just getting started.

That said, here's a roughly chronological list of the 51 Vancouver dance artists we've interviewed (sometimes all together, sometimes in pairs, and sometimes individually) as part of this first phase of research:

Rob Kitsos
Vanessa Goodman
Ali Denham
Delia Brett
Lee Su-Feh
James Gnam
Deanna Peters
Ziyian Kwan
Judith Marcuse
Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg
Arash Khakpour
Aryo Khakpour
David McIntosh
Chick Snipper
Jennifer Mascall
Natalie LeFebvre Gnam
Alana Gerecke
Molly McDermott
Elissa Hanson
Sophia Wilde
Barbara Bourget
Jay Hirabayashi
Bevin Poole
Amber Funk Barton
Justine A. Chambers
Diego Romero
Paras Terezakis
Karissa Barry
Caroline Liffman
Lesley Telford
Natalie Tin Yin Gan
Noam Gagnon
Ralph Escamillan
Emmalena Fredriksson
Karen Jamieson
Josh Martin
Jane Osborne
Olivia Davies
Judith Garay
Alvin Tolentino
David Raymond
Margaret Grenier
Laura Avery
Anne Cooper
Lara Barclay
Kim Stevenson
Lexi Vajda
Wen Wei Wang
Peter Bingham
Alexa Mardon

Stay tuned for words and gestures from many of these individuals coming to souvenir t-shirted bodies near you this November.