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Posts Tagged ‘push festival’

When my brother was much younger, he would make model buildings out of paper and tape. They would be replicas of castles, of palaces (including a phenomenal one of Versailles), and other structures of note. He would also create little figurines to inhabit the space, perhaps imagining how they interacted once upon a time.

I think he would have loved this production of Kamp (from company Hotel Modern, the Netherlands) at the PuSh Festival. Just look at this set:

Kamp

According to a recent article on the show, there are 3500 hand-made clay figurines used in the performance. They are arranged, re-arranged, and animated by three performers; these mute performers are always visible and always present, though not the focus of the piece. The focus is on the buildings and the figurines that are captured by a video camera and displayed in real time on the white screen backdrop. The audience catches glimpses of the gas chambers, the sleeping areas, a nazi drinking party, the hard labour forced upon the prisoners, and one particularly wrenching scene in which a sadistic soldier beats one victim to death with a shovel.

It is difficult for me to understand the sheer magnitude of the Holocaust and its destruction; statistics and numbers mean very little to me, and that is often all we are given in history books. The most striking thing about this visual display was actually seeing these numbers, these statistics come to life: row upon row of figurines, their swollen faces staring out from the screen, the camera slowly and carefully capturing every detail; dozens of figures piled into the showers; dozens of bodies thrown into a pit. It hits you hard.

The performance is only one hour long. But the audience on Thursday evening stay for yet another hour to attend the talk-back. Some audience members had actually been to Auschwitz and said they found this performance much more personal and affecting.

One particularly interesting question was asked: how far can you push an audience? At what point does the horror and destruction become too much to bear? I’m thinking specifically of the scene with the shovel; it almost made me ill. Is this something we should strive for in dramatic theatre, or is it just too much?

Here are a couple more close-up photos:

Kamp

Kamp

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… and that’s why I love it.

scenes from Poetics: a ballet brut

One of the first performances I caught at the 2010 PuSh Festival was called Poetics: a ballet brut by this New York group the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. I decided to attend this show on a whim, so I didn’t have the chance to read up on the company (bad blogger, bad!), and for that reason assumed that I was going to be watching something resembling a ballet.

I have learned never to make assumptions about festival performance.

Four odd-looking performers (two male, two female) take the stage wearing eclectic street garb (running shoes et al), holding grocery bags, and flirting passive-aggressively with each other. The closest thing to dance in the first fifteen minutes is a series of gestures, such as putting hands on hips, crossing arms above the head, making devil horns, and grabbing their own chests. What followed was a series of movement pieces that seemed to be based around yoga and aerobics.

Immediately I was disappointed, as I recognized this as one of those shows that has been put on earth to bug me: more concept than result, more comedy than actual dance talent; some post-modern garbage that young people put out there to be different.

And yet I was seduced. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but at some point my eyes lit up and I thought to myself, This is genius. I think it was around the time the performers were doing some kind of rolling-in-your-sleep dance, and one of the guys rolled too far upstage and shrieked shrilly as he “fell” behind the curtain. It was a priceless, priceless moment: everybody got it and everybody laughed.

Then at another instance (at this point the upstage curtain has opened to reveal more audience seating) this guy strolls in — seemingly accidentally — from the back, and decides to find his place in the empty seats opposite us. As he watches the dancers, he pulls out his camera and snaps a picture of the dancers with flash. I think the funniest thing was how much this upset me: I get so annoyed with people who leave their cell phones on during a performance, or try to take pictures, or whisper back and forth. And yet, here it was, happening onstage in front of me, and it was part of the performance, so of course I had no right to be annoyed. It was so infuriating!

And then, near the end of the performance, the curtain opens yet again to reveal a 30-person dance chorus that participates only in the last few minutes of the show. And this was even more ridiculous! In my arts-administration mind, I imagined the cost of including all these dancers in the show and all the work involved for that short-lived routine, and it just boggled my mind. Same with the brief inclusion of the ballerina near the end — which, for me, made all sorts of implications about how street dance can influence classical dance, as she incorporated many of the contemporary movements they had used earlier into her routine.

This show is perfect for uptight people like me who need to loosen up a little bit.

Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut was another odd performance. Wearing an adorable bunny suit, James Long (Theatre Replacement) recounts the tale of trying to put together a show based on a number of family photo albums he found abandoned in an alley way in Vancouver. He tried to contact the family to ask permission, and had some trouble with certain members who ordered him to drop the project immediately. This turned into a whole debate about morality, legality, copyright, and ownership.

This show was originally presented two years ago at PuSh, mere weeks after Long was told he couldn’t use the material. Within that short period of time, he had to rework the show entirely to be in accordance with the family’s wishes, but still retain his sense of artistic integrity and share the story of which he had grown so fond. I think seeing this same show two years ago would have captured that sense of urgency and made for a really exciting performance. The one I saw this week, while delightful, was a tad too relaxed; and until a certain secret is revealed at the end, I wondered what the point of this would ultimately be.

That being said, Long is a wonderful performer: his writing style reminded me of a lot of storytelling and spoken word I’ve seen recently. I’ve learned that people love sharing stories and hearing shared stories, and that’s exactly what he is doing — offering up fragments of this simple family that has a dog and goes to the cottage with lots of children and takes lots of photos. It fills a basic need, provides a human connection. After the show as everyone was piling out of the theatre, I noticed an elderly couple still sitting in their seats, gazing at the empty stage, just holding each other. I’m not sure if it was because of the show, but I’d like to think so.

I’m glad I had the chance to see the video presentation of The Passion of Joan of Arc. The screening of this 1928 silent film was held at the gorgeous Christ Church Cathedral and was accompanied by the Eye of Newt Ensemble and singer Vivane Houle performing a new score by Vancouver composer Stefan Smulovitz. The film is haunting and the music was beautiful.

Also it gave me some context for another performance I saw two days later…

Reid Farrington’s The Passion Project is an electrifying work that compresses the entirety of Carl Dreyer’s classic silent film The Passion Of Joan Of Arc into a 30-minute concentration of movement, projection, installation and sound collage. The audience surrounds a 10×10 foot area, flooded by four projectors, in which Laura K. Nicoll meticulously arranges and rearranges a number of parchment screens in a series of choreographed movements that explode the film into three dimensions. A transformative and dynamic sculpture takes form as the hanging canvases grab hold of the fleeting, flickering images.

Reading the program, I was excited to note that Farrington is a former member of the Wooster Group, that very famous experimental theatre company based in New York. I had read so much about the collective, so I was glad to get a taste of this video artist’s work.

I loved the urgency with which the dancer Nicoll captured each film image with her panels. It seemed to say something about our desire to archive things that could very well be lost in time. This connects directly with the history of the film itself, so controversial that it had been destroyed and recreated more than once. This performance was more of a moving visual arts display than a theatre piece, and once I had that idea in my head, I could enjoy it entirely.

And that leads me to something I have been noticing lately about myself: I have become far less critical (far more open-minded, perhaps) when it comes to performance. Whenever I see something I don’t quite understand, or something that is unfamiliar to me, or something that I would not consider conventional “theatre”, I force myself to look at the piece from another point of view, to see its merits from an angle I had not considered.

This may be a good thing. After all, being open-minded opens up all sorts of possibilities and imaginative ideas; it makes room for discussion rather than flat-out criticism; it allows me to consider other genres and aesthetics when seeing theatre. I find that rather exciting.

But then, I don’t want to be one of those people who likes everything. I want to have strong opinions and strong tastes and be able to distinguish the brilliant from the banal. What do you think? Can I be open-minded and critical all at the same time?

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Okay, that’s a lie. I’m actually leaving on Air Canada. But that doesn’t sound half as romantic, and the plane will probably be late, and there will be all sorts of complications, and I’ll lose my suitcase, and there will be jet lag and general nausea…

I mean, yay! traveling!

This Sunday I am leaving Ottawa to do some research in Western Canada for my MA thesis. In case you’re not familiar with my academic work, I am currently studying at the University of Ottawa in the new Master of Arts program in Theatre Theory and Dramaturgy. That means lots of writing.

My thesis examines the role of festivals in the consecration and distribution of new works. I’m researching three different companies – Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton, the Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary, and Electric Company Theatre in Vancouver – and looking at how their productions have developed through the process of touring and participating in festivals. Here’s hoping it’ll be awesome and revolutionary; or at least that I’ll pass the program…

Here is my itinerary so far:

  • EDMONTON – January 10 to 17
    Purpose: visiting with Catalyst Theatre and attend rehearsals for Nevermore. Also visiting with the Artist in Residence at the Citadel Theatre. Oh, and freezing to death in the street.
  • CALGARY – January 17 to 28
    Purpose: seeing shows at the High Performance Rodeo (long-running international festival created by members of One Yellow Rabbit) and getting the general vibe of the event. Hopefully visiting the workspace of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
  • VANCOUVER – January 28 to February 7
    Purpose:
    seeing shows at the PuSh Festival (newer international festival) and meeting with Norman Armour. Also visiting the Electric Company Theatre and finding out more about their first show Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla. I’ll be seeing the following shows at the PuSh Festival: Joan of Arc, Clark and I…, Passion Project, Edward Curtis, Sonic Genome, Nevermore, Best Before, and Kamp.

I will try not to have too much fun because this is supposed to be a research trip for academic purposes and I’m going to be working really hard. At least that’s what I’m telling the university…

Check back on this blog for more details: I’ll be posting reviews of shows, sharing travel stories, and disclosing fun theatre gossip. Stay tuned!

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