Cycling in to work this morning I was trying to remember the first time I saw O Vertigo founder Ginette Laurin”s choreography. After much wrestling into the murky depths of my grey matter I am convinced the answer goes back to 1988 when I was studying dance at Simon Fraser University and saw Full House (at the Cultch or the Firehall!!??). Curious to refresh those synapses, I googled Laurin Full House and, if I may digress, two sites of interest popped up: The first was connected to the Government of Saskatchewan”s Grade 6 Arts Education curriculum – Model Unit for Teaching Dance, Lesson 4: Looking at a Choreographer”s work. Holy…! Kids in Saskatchewan are studying Ginette Laurin”s 1987 work Full House! That is SO cool! Here is an excerpt: Explain that sometimes choreographers observe movements seen in daily life and change or abstract the movements for their dances. Discuss what abstraction means to students. Show examples or have students think of examples best online casino bonus they have seen in visual art or cartoons. Discuss ways every-day movements could be abstracted (for example, by modifying the elements of dance). Make connections between abstracted every-day or environmental movements and movements seen in the dances of various cultures. For example, the grass dance is inspired by the movement of prairie grass.

The second site was for a series of dance films by Moze Mossanen – The Dancemakers. There”s a short promo clip that contains a great excerpt of Ginette Laurin dancing back in the 80″s (check out the duet about a minute or two in). Wow! I”m assuming the choreography is hers (it shows the partnering that has largely come to symbolise her work) and is really interesting to see in context of other work being made at that time.

I don”t pretend to be a dance historian, but the “80”s were a heady time for dance in Montreal: Jean-Pierre Perreault, Édouard Lock, Marie Chouinard, Paul-André Fortier, and Ginette Laurin were at the forefront of a movement revolution that was defining Montreal as THE global dance capital. Interesting looking at those names and imagining their individual styles… What I witnessed in 1988 was a full speed charge of gloriously muscular bodies engaged in wild duets where push and pull were fueled by big energy. Lyrical? Yes, but these bodies were not so much about technical prowess as they were about resilient strength and physical passion. For me, as a young student, O Vertigo was unlike anything I had seen up until then – bold, unabashed, and a little in your face – and was one of the reasons I moved to Montreal a year later.

Over the years, Ginette Laurin has mastered the art of framing her dance within visual surroundings that heighten the themes she addresses. This is perhaps best illustrated by La Chambre Blanche”s superb decor, but truly every one of her works contains visual elements that lend a distinct tone, and Onde de choc is no different: it”s sound and light boxes permit an unprecedented interactivity that are splendid to witness.

Twenty-five years and counting – Halifax is finally going to get a taste of O Vertigo!

A quick tour around Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux’s website (Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie) reveals a pair of artists who know no bounds. While a good chunk of their individual and collective experience includes an abundance of works made for the stage, it also includes a number of projects others would only dream of. You know, the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” kind of musings born from good drink and spirited company. Wouldn’t it be cool if we took over a town in the middle of the prairies and invited a who’s who collection of artists to come and make work and got all the townspeople to be involved and then did a performance in Grasslands National Park? How about:  Wouldn’t it be cool if we made a play list of Sun Ra songs, assembled a kick ass ensemble of dancers from across Canada, and then invited the Arkestra to come and play live us? Ya, we could even go on tour with them!!

I don’t know where they get their ideas, but what ideas they get. The Grasslands Project (Where Heaven Meets Earth) happened in 2004 (and the Gros Morne Project in 2006), and Hymn to the Universe has been touring on and off with the Sun Ra Arkestra since 2008. Around that same time, Coleman and Lemieux invited James Kudelka to be the company’s resident choreographer (why not ask one of North America’s most celebrated ballet choreographers to join the fun?) and secured the rights to remount three classic works from his repertoire. Dream big or go home, right!?

From Grasslands to Gros Morne to music halls with the Arkestra to… a balletic evening full of glorious pas de deux, sweeping gowns, and amazing dancers in full flight underneath the limelight. Wow, talk about extremes, but it seems that this is where Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie thrive. While this diverse repertoire accurately encapsulates their artistic interests, performing classically derived work is by no means unusual; ie. they are as comfortable on stage as they are in site-specific situations, perhaps thanks in large part to the “compagnie” part of the bargain.While Bill and Laurence are the artistic motors, each project involves a select group of collaborators whose talents and experience are suited for the project. For a project such as In Paradisum, dancers of exquisite technical calibre need to be engaged (as Kudelka’s work is notoriously challenging). There’s nothing like the right person(elle) for the job, and Bill and Laurence seem to have an endless list of stellar collaborators to bring on board.

Given their track record for pulling off feats of magic in the most unlikely of circumstances, I am sure In Paradisum is going to be a memorable evening of beautiful dance. Don’t miss it: Nov 18 at 8PM in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium

Years ago when I was paying the bills working as a theatre technician I remember a TD saying something like: “90% of the audience has no idea we change the lights between shows”. While I won’t speculate on the accuracy of this statement, I think we can agree with its point: the audience pays to see the talent on stage, not the behind the scenes blood, sweat, and tears of the tech crew.

As the crew is working full speed right now, preparing for BJM’s World Premiere of Fuel tomorrow night (Nov 2), I thought I would give a big shout out to all the behind the scenes heroes whose modus operandi is truly: The show must go on!

First thing – every theatre is different, possessing its own stage dimensions, sight lines, technical equipment inventory, etc. One of a company TD’s (technical director) primary jobs is to make any show look more or less the same in every theatre it visits. When theatre specifications are similar this involves pretty basic application of available resources. However, when there are substantial differences the TD and their crew have to work magic. The Rebecca Cohn Auditorium is a grand old dame of a hall that has its fair share of particularities: the stage is asymmetrical and relatively shallow for starters, and the number of overhead (light) hanging positions has frustrated more than one visiting company… Suffice to say, this venue challenges pretty well every dance company that finds itself on its surfaces. I visited this morning and pros and cons were being weighed, solutions were being found, the show must go on.

People were pretty excited by the high jump pits that I delivered. That took some searching… What on earth does a contemporary ballet company need with a pair of high jump pits? A big shout out to LeMarchant/St. Thomas and Westmount Elementary for lending us theirs…

I guess we’ll see tomorrow how it all comes together. Just remember when you’re watching those beautiful dancers: A dedicated crew of technicians worked tirelessly to pull this show together. I applaud their efforts along with the performers.

I had a great visit to Calgary this past week to take part in my very first Fluid Festival. Wow! Great fun in a city that is going through dramatic changes – this classic boom/bust city is booming right now! They’ve just been named Canada’s Cultural Capital for 2012 and there seems to be a steady stream of cultural activity and investment. Fluid is growing rapidly and I give a great big tip o’ the hat to AD/programmer Nicole Mion for her wonderful vision and stout community building skills. Her festival has regularly included international stars as well as a stellar round up of local/regional artists.

Cayetano Soto's Fuel

Aside from seeing a bunch of shows, I also took part in Fluent, a dialogue about the change and growth our industry is going through. Ah growth… Communities change as a whole quite slowly but for individual organisations it can be quite rapid. Take for example les Ballets Jazz de Montréal: founded in 1972 by Geneviève Salbaing, Eva von Gencsy and Eddy Toussaint, the company’s early direction defined it as a force to be reckoned with in the classic jazz genre, ie. a blend of “traditional ballet technique with loose-hipped, more percussive and syncopated movement at times reminiscent of American show-dancing”. Enter Louis Robitaille as the new Artistic Director in 1998 and a whole sea-change began to take place. The overtly populist roots were trimmed and a whole new era of choreographers were ushered in to redefine the company. Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal became BJM Danse and the re-branding began. BJM is now recognised as a contemporary ballet company with highly skilled dancers (that can still do the “loose-hipped” thing when called upon).

Fuel duet

I haven’t personally seen their latest creation, Fuel by Cayetano Soto, but the word I heard from some peers in Calgary who were invited to an avant-premiere performance is that it is HOT! And Halifax gets the World Premiere!

More great news, the company has added Locked Up Laura to the program. I’ve been going back and forth with the company on program details and this duet by Anna Lopez Ochoa is divine fun. November 2 promises to be great fun for the world of dance in Halifax.

Two seasons ago Live Art hosted BJM Danse, who performed a pair of works by Aszure Barton, a Canadian who’s been making waves in the Big Apple. Barton’s work on BJM (Les Chambres des Jacques and Jack In A Box) were full of quirky physicality and technically challenging dance, qualities she had time to explore during her term as artist-in-residence with the company. Kudos go to Artistic Director Louis Robitaille, who has, since 1998, brought in a steady stream of ascending stars on the international dance scene: Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot), Rodrigo Pederneiras (Grupo Corpo), Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Mauro Bigonzetti…

Commissioning works is risky business: you don’t know what you’re going to get yet you have to be fully invested. Robitaille must have a crystal ball cuz he has an uncanny ability to find choreographers who will bring out the best in his dancers. He has steadfastly been leading a re-branding exercise for BJM, and now has his company well-positioned as a contemporary ballet company with a flair for lyrical, muscular works that are well-crafted, beautifully performed, and wildly entertaining.

Enter Cayetano Soto… This young Spaniard is creating gorgeously physical work full of intricate partnering, big lifts, and striking staging. Last year he created Zero In On, a short but exquisite duet. Word has it that M. Robitaille was so happy with the work that he invited Soto back to create a larger piece for the full company. Fuel is the resulting work and Halifax audiences will be among the very first to see the work performed. The World Premiere is Nov 2 in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. First Halifax, then the world!

Deborah Dunn kicked off Live Art Dance’s 29th season last night with an inspired solo performance of her work, Four Quartets. Using T.S. Elliot’s suite of poems by the same name as a departure point, Dunn guides the audience on a wonderful journey into time present. Like the still point in a turning world… I’ve often referred to dance as the most ephemeral of art forms. It has to be seen live (unless it has been expertly translated to film/video) and when it’s over it becomes the property of memory… Elliot’s Four Quartets contains numerous references to dance… I wonder if he was a fan.

There’s a great review in ArtsEast today. Check it out here!

My apologies for not posting with any regularity… I’d lay the blame on the summer doldrums but my posting record clearly lacked any regularity prior to summer… No excuses. As September comes to a close I pledge – yes, pledge! – to be a more constant correspondent and bravely trumpet the voice of dance! Let the long silence end… Vivre la danse libre!

My grrl and I enjoying the last days of summer

After a great summer full of family and friends visiting Canada’s Atlantic playground (for those of you who aren’t from here, that’s the slogan on our license plates) we are in the trenches preparing to open our season with Deborah Dunn’s remarkable solo, Four Quartets. I’ve been a fan of Deborah’s work for a number of years: her choreographic craft is impeccable and she always infuses her work with a sense of delightful humour and gorgeous costume details, often with a period bent. This comes as no surprise – her bio clearly indicates an interest in historical inquiry – but it is the way she juxtaposes images from past and present that is so fascinating. She has a wonderful sense of play that directs the audience down very specific paths before arriving at unexpected destinations. Her Elegant Heathens was very effective doing this: clothing her characters in regal garb before unraveling them to depict the banal relationship drama at the very heart of so much coupling.

It’s been a while since I saw Four Quartets but it struck me as a wonderful achievement by this talented artist. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s wonderful suite of poems by the same name (written in the few years leading up and into WWII), the poetry can perhaps be succinctly described as dealing with notions of humanity’s existence within the cycle of time.

Deborah Dunn in Four Quartets Photo: Chris Randle

Eliot suggests that time present, not past or future, are what really matters, and Dunn wonderfully connects this theme with dance (arguably the most ephemeral of art forms). The narration in Dunn’s performance is by the late Sir Alec Guinness and provides an incredible environment for the dancer’s movement, particularly in Burnt Norton where the garden is brought to fluttering life.

It’s rare that Live Art presents solo work, but this is work that must be seen. The show runs at the Sir James Dunn Theatre Sept 29 – Oct 1 at 8PM. For those who wish to gain some additional perspective into the work, join us for our first Live Art Chat of the year at 7PM Sept. 29 in Room 401 of the Dalhousie Arts Centre when professor Elizabeth Edwards (King’s College) will deliver a short talk on the central themes in Eliot’s writing.

Photo: Chris Randle

I recently posted my frustration with Krista Erickson”s “interview” (see Art and the Muck of Ignorance, posted June 9) with Margie Gillis and have since spoken about this topic with numerous people, how best to address this issue being the focus. While I agree that adding visits to the SunNews website only serves to demonstrate traffic (that they will no doubt spin as a positive to their advertisers) I am reticent to just ignore them and their base brand of “journalism”. It was thus greatly satisfying to read one of John Doyle”s latest offerings in the Globe. Ah, perspective… I”m not sure where the numbers come from but love the 7,000,000 : 7000 stat and his take on the humour (albeit twisted, dark, absurd humour) of the whole thing.

While it is gratifying to read a respected journalist”s take on an event that has ruffled the feathers of Canada”s arts community (no Krista, I didn”t use quotation marks… that”s because John Doyle IS recognised by his peers as a journalist), I do think Canadians need to pay attention to government policy and how it is translated into popular media, even if only 7000 people are tuning in at any given moment.

It is undeniable that we live in a world saturated with popular media messaging, but what is the effect of it all? I was getting all pessimistic with my father-in-law last night, talking about the individual”s right to form opinions, have desires, make choices, etc. All good gokautomaat stuff for sure, but when the “information” so readily available (dammit, yes Krista I do want those quotation marks there!) is skewed to generate a desired opinion – and people don”t know any better – then what is the value of the individual”s rights? OK, I”m being a little facetious here but only to make a point. Yes, I believe it is the individual”s responsibility to be informed. Yes, I believe there is as much (or more) misinformation out there and that we have have unprecedented access to it. Contradictory, partisan, biased or just plain wrong, the “He said, she said” stuff of the moment is one thing, the insidious crafting of popular opinion by media barons over an extended period of time is something entirely else.

With this in mind, check out what”s been going on at Summerworks Festival this past while. Here”s a couple of articles that are perhaps harbingers of what”s to come: Ottawa Cancels Funding… (by J. Kelly Nestruck & Guy Dixon) and Why Stephen Harper…? (by Stephen Wheeler) If you read through these articles, I strongly suggest reading comments to the Nestruck/Dixon one by heywriterboy: magnificent writing that touches on ideas of censorship and the muck of ignorance.

Enjoy!

(FTA = Festival TransAmériques) A brief and selective history… Those that know Montreal, know it is truly a city that knows how to put on a great festival. Jazz, francofolie, comedy, lobster… you name it, Montreal has a festival for it! Two of my favourites have always been the FTA and the now defunct FIND (Festival International de Nouvelle Danse). Happily, several years ago, several of Canada’s arts funders announced a request for proposals from org’s interested in replacing the FIND (well, replacing what the FIND represented to the arts (and art-going) community in Montreal). The FTA won the competition and their excellent bi-annual, theatre festival became an even more excellent annual dance & theatre festival. 2011 marked the 5th edition and it was a whopper, continuing the festival’s tradition for presenting a wide cross-section of work that represents both emerging artists and international superstars. From the delightfully palatable to the outrageously provocative, the FTA draws huge crowds while in no way shying away from work that is confrontational.

What I find absolutely amazing is that every show I attended was full: from the informal 100 seat studio performances to the grandiose 1000+ seat extravaganzas, Montrealers manifest their appreciation for live performing arts in abundance. While Vancouver has certainly shown they know how to throw a party (check the street action during the Olympics and the Canucks run to tonight’s game 7), and Toronto certainly has its moments, I know of no other place in Canada that is so perpetually festive in so many ways… J’adore les Montrèalais because of this Québecois joie de vivre. Vive la belle province!

While my hands-down favourite show was Kidd Pivot’s The You Show (Crystal, I love you!!) and Estelle Clareton’s S’envoler was a real treat, I am compelled to write about three other shows that I found to be wonderfully compelling and thought provoking. So, in order of viewing…

Gardenia by Alain Platel/Franck Van Laecke/C de la B

Not being familiar with Platel’s work I came into this show with no preconceptions (Is this not the best way to come into a show? Unfortunately it’s not always possible…) Inspired by the film Yo soy asi, the “story” centres on the closing night of the famous (fictional) Gardenia club. Eight drag queens/transvestites/cross dressers put humanity on display with remarkable tenderness in a work that addresses ideas of identity and conformity with great finesse. Yes, we got to play voyeur peeking behind the curtain as sexual identities are confronted & transformed, but it was not at all superficial titillation. The end result served to stir up stereotypes while holding the mirror up to the audience. While not wishing to be overly simplistic, quite simply we were treated to a group of people with dreams – both dashed and realised – whose lives were spent seeking love, acceptance, and validation. Like everyone really. I’m sure I was not the only one who left the theatre buoyed by the power of pride and acceptance so evident in the cast’s ensemble performance.

What’s Next by Dave St. Pierre and Brigitte Poupart

Walking into a packed warehouse-transformed-into-a-theatre in Montreal’s Point St. Charles industrial zone we were treated to a gang of circus artists warming up. A door opens and in comes the head-to-toe spandex-clad duo of St. Pierre and Poupart. What follows, before they get into the meat of the piece, is a brief/humorous/poignant suggestion that content has been displaced by form and Entertainment reins supreme. Our complicity in this is not really questioned, but our fascination with pop culture/”reality” television is teased. Then comes the offal, and blood, and meat, and sacrifice, and capitulation. Lots of powerful images and I certainly appreciated a lot of their poking at pop culture, but somehow the shock and gore factor came off as equally superficial. The work was not unlike a boot to the head: not very subtle but very effective. I can’t help but wishing there was a little more craft involved in this bloody mess.

Yume no shiro (Castle of Dreams) by Daisuke Miura

I am still somewhat speechless about how the performers in Daisuke Miura’s Castle of Dreams manage to perform the show each night they’re called upon to perform it. The work is a raw, violent, extremely graphic, and ultimately bleak depiction of Japan’s disenfranchised youth at the beginning of the third millennium. Theatrically speaking, I found the work brilliant: the show unfolds as a “day in the life” of a group of eight performers (4 of each sex) inhabiting a one room Tokyo flat; the audience is introduced to them first as outsiders looking in (with the noise of traffic roaring in our ears, it was as if we were suspended in mid air looking through a window into their private world), and then, with the window gone and the sound of traffic removed to the background, we are brought into their room to witness their co-existence up close and personal. Up close yes, personal no. Words are never spoken; tension grows before erupting into spontaneous brawls involving all; sex is initiated with the most animalistic respect to primal urges; a video game is played non-stop. Is this small universe of theirs far-fetched or is it hyper real? Its depiction of a generation in crisis is bleak and sheds as much light on the observers as the observed. There we are, all 100 or so of us packed into the Prospero, coolly fascinated and occasionally laughing at this outrageously comical zoo of live sex, emptiness, and alpha role modeling. Towards the end, having come a full 24 hours in their “life”, it is the sound of a single woman quietly crying to herself that sucked the breath out of me. It was then that the hopelessness of their situation becomes so profound. Wow. Bravo to the performers for their incredible work; Bravo to the FTA for an incredible programming job; and Bravo to Montreal for being so amazingly awesome.

Upcoming Shows

September 21 - 23, 2017
October 5 - 7, 2017
November 17, 2017
January 11-13, 2018
April 26-28, 2018