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.

It has been a long time since I’ve posted… somehow between wrapping up our season, witnessing a new conservative majority come to power, and getting ready to shift into festival mode, there has been little time to put any thoughts down in print. While so much has happened in the past several weeks, I’ve chosen three things to share. From politics, to media persuasion, to glorious art, in no particular order here’s a salvo of things worth thinking about:

1) My colleague Gay always tells me to start things off with a bit of positive stuff (good advice!), but in this case, I have to get something off my chest. Perhaps like you, I support many of the issues brought to light by AVAAZ, and am proud to have helped thwart Sun Media (SM) in its bid for public funding. This of course couldn’t stop them from being on the air, but it did prevent us taxpayers from having to pay for their vile skewing of information. Case in point: the SunNews/Krista Erickson interview with Margie Gillis, aptly headlined ‘A lack of Compassion”. The attack – it can be called no less than that, certainly not objective journalism – launched by Ms. Erickson on her unsuspecting guest, is truly incredible to witness. While Ms. Gillis was certainly not prepared for the direction SM pursued, I am super impressed by her grace under fire. The whole point of SM/Erickson’s indignation centres on public funding for the arts or, as suggested in her closing remarks, for anything that isn’t “profitable”. (I wonder what Erickson drives and if she has any idea how much the auto industry has been subsidised – as Michael Franti sings: “Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury, raise the double standard!”). The big reason I am bothered by this is SM’s “reporting” on arts funding contains only bottom-line figures and zero attempt is made to create any context for those figures. Statistics are available that demonstrate a decent return on every dollar of public investment in arts and culture and high public support for government funding of the arts. Journalism is supposed to inform, and while it is naive to imagine that today’s pop-journalism isn’t biased one way or another, the distortion of information that is this “interview’s” net result is sickening. More disturbing is the connection between Quebecor, Sun TV News, Kory Teneyecke, and Stephen Harper… (If you want to have some fun, do a Google search using Sun Media/Teneyecke and AVAAZ).

2) OK, time for the good stuff… while media moguls are working their spin to influence our minds, Paul Kent and the people at the Greater Halifax Partnership have been exercising their minds to craft a new five year strategic plan. It’s got some pretty inspirational stuff in it, not the least of which is the inclusion of greater support for arts and culture funding and infrastructure development. You see Ms. Erickson, some people do know what the “creative economy” is and appreciate the important role its many parts play in the strengthening – and betterment!! – of society. I would venture an opinion that these ideas are particularly important in their application to the emergence of ever important city states. I guess the folk at GHP aren’t listening to SM…

3) Speaking of city states, in terms of culture Montreal has it going on! I am currently here checking out shows at the FTA (Festival Trans Amériques). While everything I’ve seen thus far has value (as a tax payer I am more than happy to contribute a few dollars a year to have access to this unprofitable stuff), a few of the works have really rattled my cage – in ways good and bad. While I suspect I will feel compelled to write about these in greater length in a future post, last night’s show by Japanese artist Daisuke Miura was a true punch to the throat. Yume No Shiro (Castle of Dreams) is a hyper realist slice of life that pitches the audience into the role of voyeur looking into a day in the lives of eight young adults co-habitating in a tiny Tokyo apartment. Blistering in its emotional hopelessness/indifference this Castle of Dreams proposes a bleak existence for today’s Tokyo youth. Damn if my world view didn’t get expanded by this work of art… As with some of the other shows I’ve seen here, whether or not it’s my “cup of tea” is irrelevant. The impact and end result are what matter. Do I have a new perspective? Have I been forced to confront something uncomfortable? Do I now look at my fellow humans with different (more compassionate?) eyes? Yes. Yes. And Yes! Art is grand: It raises us above the muck of ignorance and asks us to be present, to form opinions, to be open to the experience of others, and to acknowledge our humanity.

Live Art Dance kicked off its last show of the season last night and it rocked. I first got turned on to Vancouver”s 605 Collective almost two years ago at the annual Dance in Vancouver festival. DIV has two primary objectives: Shine the spotlight on dance to celebrate the province”s artistic richness, invite “buyers” to the party to share the wealth. I remember being impressed by the number of artists and the quality of work being made (especially when you consider that BC ranks dead last (by a long shot!) in terms of per capita cultural investment) but what really impressed was the number of younger artists who were pushing barriers and fully/successfully embracing DIY production. I”ve been looking forward to seeing 605 Collective”s show Audible live since first meeting these people back in October 2009.

Our evening started with a great history lesson provide by Drew Moore/Concrete Roots. While I”ve been privileged to catch snapshots into the history of hip hop culture by the likes of B-boy Buddha (Canadian Floormasters), Moore gave us a very precise idea of how hip hop was born (I had an aha! moment when I realised that”s how the term Break dance emerged!) Anyhow, long story short, the 605 Collective has respectable street cred while managing to pull off a smokin” hot contemporary dance performance.

The level of energy they sustain from start to finish is amazing… As one of The Woods grrls mentioned afterwards, usually a hip hop dancer has to go all out for three minutes max, then they get at least a small break… Once Audible starts the 605 crew rocks til the end. Run, jump, flip, hit the floor, slide, a little lockin” and poppin”… Don”t miss this show!

Oh, and before I sign off, while this is definitely a feel good show that you can just watch without thinking about anything, they also challenge you to think (something I always welcome in dance). The inspiration behind Audible was born largely from how we now communicate – texting, tweeting… face-time with out actually having any face to face time! Interesting to see how this very tight ensemble shifts in and out of harmony with each other depending on who”s leading, who”s biting, and who”s actually looking in another person”s eyes. Virtual vs flesh and blood.

I love the idea of dance on film… it”s like a great clash between opposing forces: on one side we”ve got the ephemeral and somewhat esoteric David and on the other the timeless and ubiquitous Goliath. What great mash-up potential!

Over the past decade dance on film has really come into its own. Festivals have popped up all over the world and the marriage between the two has become really profound. I certainly don”t mean to suggest that no hot dance films existed before we rang in the new millennium (Norman McLaren”s Pas de Deux dates back almost a half century!!)

Still from Nora (in the photo: Nora Chipamaure)

It”s more that the working relationships between discipline specific creators have evolved, leading to some great collaborations between choreographers and filmmakers. While “dance films” made by choreographers/dancers with cameras (who seem to have, ahem, limited knowledge of film making) are still abundant, it is now far slotmachines easier to find great films (usually made by people with actual film-making experience.) Laura Taler is one such individual: oodles of dance experience that has for over a decade now been wonderfully channeled into making dance films. Check out her deliriously wonderful A Very Dangerous Pastime.

While YouTubing is great, it does not replace seeing a film”s colours and images bursting off a screen in large format. Live Art”s Dance on Screen goes live tonight (April 6) and one of the feature films that you will be hard-pressed to see anywhere else is Nora by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton, with choreography by Nora Chipaumire. Based on the life of Zimbabwean-born dancer Chipaumire, this film is part biopic, part fable, part dramatic cinema… and a totally perfect marriage of dance on film!

Witness the marriage of two beautiful art forms as dance on Screen goes live as part of the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival at the Lord Nelson Hotel (1515 South Park) in the Regency Ballroom, April 6th and 7PM.

I recently had an opportunity to witness Chinese dancer/choreographer Gao Yanjinzi teach a class in Halifax. Wow!  Phenomenal strength and control married with explosive energy were the qualities that were readily apparent. Every hand gesture and limb movement was so precise, and seemingly butterfly light. It was thrilling to watch our local dancers tackle her movement and see it translated into their occidental bodies.

It really makes me wonder what we are going to see tonight, when Wen Wei Dance and the Beijing Modern Dance Company take to the Rebecca Cohn stage in Under the Skin, a work co-choreographed by Vancouver-based Wen Wei, and Beijing-based Yanjinzi. Each created work on the other’s dancers, creating a culture clash that I strongly suspect will be thoroughly enjoyable to witness.

Read Andrea Nemetz’s preview here.

Depending where you live, you will have more or less access to performance opportunities born of spices not indigenous to your locale. Forgive the spice commentary – I’m making a dal as I write this – but the analogy is not so far off. After all, how much cultural trading has taken place along the spice route?

OK, maybe I’m just hungry… but one thing is for certain: I am definitely turned on by cultural differences found in food and art!

That’s why I am so excited about this weekend’s show at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Vancouver-based Wen Wei Wang became an instant favourite a few years ago when he and his company performed Unbound. His highly anticipated return, with the Beijing Modern Dance Company, brings a whole new flavour to the Halifax dance scene, one that we are not likely to have again for a number of years!

Wen Wei’s latest work, Under the Skin, co-signed by BMDC choreographer Gao Yanjinzi, with dancers from each of their companies performing alongside each other, will be flavourful indeed!

Upcoming Shows