Saturday, September 8, 2018

Interplay 2018 at Moberly Arts Centre

The 2018 rendition of Interplay is on this weekend at Moberly Arts Centre. Produced by Mutable Subject's Deanna Peters, the annual event is a great chance to see the first iterations of works-in-progress by a range of very talented multi-disciplinary artists. Plus it's a nice social atmosphere in a great (if somewhat remote) venue that has been showcasing important cultural programs (especially by dance artists) for years.

Six works are divided neatly into two halves, with Peters additionally spinning a series of 45s for us as each set is struck. First up was Alexa Mardon, performing an as yet untitled solo that combines her skills as a writer and a dancer, and that asks how we can be in two places at once, and if it's possible to re-experience an event, or its trace, retrospectively through the body. Mardon cannily marshals two chairs to aid her in exploring these questions, this particular piece of furniture always to my mind bearing the doubled imprint of who has sat there before and who will yet do so in the future. This is brought out in two moments that stood out to me: first, when Mardon sits in the stage right chair and begins a series of hiccupy upper-body movements, as if rehearsing how to lean into a remembered conversation with an invisible interlocutor, or, as we subsequently discover, how to remove her orange windbreaker, which she then makes magically bloom in her hands; and, second, when at the end of the piece she slips said windbreaker over the back of the stage left chair and inflates it with an air pump underneath the seat.

Slant Rhymes is a collaboration between dance artist Carolina Bergonzoni and writer and filmmaker Joel Salaysay. To a voiceover of a male and female couple talking about dreams, Bergonzoni crafts a movement score that asks us to reach into space to consider how the conversation we are listening to might be perceived differently, that is, as also unfolding kinaesthetically. What I liked about the work was that the collaborators allowed their complementary scores to both work together and independently of each other. There were moments when we were allowed to just listen to the text, and also moments when, in silence, we could watch Bergonzoni moving.

The final piece in the first half of the program was Ziyian Kwan's The Odd Volume, the first study in what is planned as a new solo work by the artist. Working with the music of Henry Purcell, Kwan emerges onto a set that features an upright piano and a fuzzy, fur-covered piano bench wearing boxing shorts, a hoodie, and trainers. Indeed, at first the somewhat pugilistic movement seems at odds with the music, and Kwan's own bodily relationship with the piano appears antagonistic, as she first pushes against it, and then climbs on top of and over it. The piece concludes, however, with Kwan making peace with her various instruments; having moved the piano bench in front of the piano, she lifts up the seat cover, which seems to unlock something within her. She then disrobes and after first curling up on the furry bench turns her attention to the piano keys, which she proceeds to play with delicate grace.

Following intermission we were treated to The Memory Palace, a work created by Nathan Marsh, Yian Chen and Clara Chow. An interactive electroacoustic installation that also featured movement, a recording of Roy Orbison's Only the Lonely, and several plastic cup versions of old-fashioned tin can phone lines, the mash-up of ideas didn't quite come together for me. With its books and candles and various listening and playing devices scattered about the stage, it might have worked better as a full-fledged immersive installation into which an audience might be encouraged to wander and durationally linger. In its current proscenium staging it was not particularly engaging.

Patrick Blenkarn followed with Donkeyskin, a lecture-performance and mixed-media work that combines aspects of first-person video games. Based upon ongoing research Patrick is conducting on politics under late capitalism, the disappearance of skilled manual labour, and the cultural history of donkeys, the premise is that three donkeys awaiting slaughter in China (their rendered skins now a valuable commodity in the health market) convene to discuss the reasons for this breakdown in their relations with humans. Patrick reads the text of the first donkey's disquisition aloud, which is a kind of Platonic apology for what their species might have done better in their communications with humans; the second donkey's fuck you to the human world, and also his own kind, is projected onto a screen; and the third donkey, we learn, decides to escape, at which point we're launched on a careening projected gallop through forests and rolling hills. What becomes of this last donkey we'll have to wait to see.

Finally, the evening concluded with Syn(es)thetic Nature, a collaboration between sound artist Michelle Helene McKenzie and media artist Brady Marks. Improvising from a table that was piled with an impressive array of technical gear, the two artists mixed a live soundscape into corresponding visuals that morphed in and out of different geometrical shapes on two screens. At one point early on in the piece the visuals cut out due to a glitch in the projectors, but with suitable sang-froid Marks got up, went behind the two screens and used a pocket flashlight to create some interim magic. It worked beautifully.

Interplay continues tonight at 8 pm.


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