info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

push 2011


the city: reversing lines of sight

alex lazaridis ferguson: push 2011, vancouver


100% Berlin, Rimini Protokoll 100% Berlin, Rimini Protokoll
photo © Barbara Braun/drama-berlin.de
FOR THOSE WHO FEEL THAT THEATRE IS SUPPOSED TO BE A COMMUNAL EVENT, THIS YEAR’S PUSH FESTIVAL TURNED OUT TO BE A POWERFUL EXERCISE IN CIVIC BONDING. WHILE THE FESTIVAL WAS AS EXPANSIVE AS EVER, ONE OF THIS YEAR’S THEMES WAS “NOTIONS OF CITYNESS.” IN A CITY THAT PRIDES ITSELF ON ITS PANORAMIC “VIEW CORRIDORS,” ARTISTS AT PUSH REVERSED THE LINES OF SIGHT, CUTTING INTO THE SURFACE GLOSS OF THE URBAN MATRIX TO REVEAL A SURPRISING DEPTH OF COMMUNITY FEELING.

100% vancouver

Theatre Replacement’s adaptation of Rimini Protokoll’s 100% series—in this case 100% Vancouver—was perhaps the most explicit example of this depth. The show puts 100 citizens on stage—representing all of the city’s neighbourhoods, ethnicities and ages—and has them group and regroup according to how they answer a number of census-like questions. It can be a surprisingly moving exercise—to see someone take centrestage in response to “How many of you are sick?” becomes a remarkable act of exposure. Vancouver, often a poster child for post-modernist urban fragmentation, is shown here to be anything but a place of disjointed neighbourhoods in which people of varying backgrounds are unable to connect with one another. I confess I was astonished when fists were raised in solidarity to the question, “How many of you would fight for your city?” Was this an expression of existing bonds or a longing for a unified civic identity?

City of Dreams City of Dreams
photo Tim Matheson
city of dreams

From demographic city to city as architectural accumulation. English director Peter Reder, in collaboration with Vancouver’s Urban Crawl Theatre, presented City of Dreams, an installation that constructs the urban landscape before the audience’s eyes. It begins with six performers outlining the contours of the city’s coastline with twigs and cedar fronds placed on the floor, and ends with them building a high-rise representation made of old bricks and glass vases. During the implied timeline, development accelerates after WWII. Neighbourhoods are filled in and the downtown area takes on the ‘city of glass’ character for which Vancouver has become known. Wine glasses line the waterways and dozens of tea candles are sprinkled throughout. In the dim light the effect is mesmerising. Each glowing candle is like a star in a constellation that happens to take the shape of the city.

During a post-show talkback spectators had a range of responses, from utter enchantment to grief at the loss of natural habitat and the aboriginal way of life. The unspoken ideological perspective of the piece was also questioned: didn’t the focus on urban development and on the past century support a Eurocentric, colonialist point of view? Reder had no arguments with any of this; he intended the piece to be open to interpretation; feelings of loss, including lost dreams, were part of it. I was one of the artists who built the Vancouver edition of Dreams, and I found that the differing opinions expressed by the spectators reflected my own conflicted views about creating the work. But I couldn’t deny that Reder and sound designer Tom Wallace had captured much of the city’s character. A week after the show closed I was riding my bike along the north side of False Creek at dusk. I looked across the water at the cluster of apartment buildings in Yaletown. The evening sun reflected off the glass exteriors. Individual flats were lit up warmly from within. It looked like life imitating art, like Reder’s miniature theatrical representation blown up to scale. It was breathtaking—monumental and fragile at the same time.

peter panties

It could be argued that with its tinkling of wine glasses amid a glittering assemblage of candle-lit skyscrapers City of Dreams had a West-side feel to it. Peter Panties, on the other hand, offered a glorious orgy of East-side freakdom. Panties, the brainchild of Niall McNeil, was co-written with Neworld Theatre’s Marcus Youssef and staged by the wild geniuses that typically make up a Leaky Heaven Circus performance. Panties is all about sex: Peter Pan (James Long), who by the end of the play is revealed to be McNeil’s alter ego, wants to get into Wendy’s (Sasa Brown) undergarments. The more Wendy resists coital and matrimonial union, the more trials the playwrights put her through. Peter is a creature of irrepressible sexual impulse; Wendy has a more thoughtful, searching side. While the character of Wendy is hesitant, the play as a whole indulges Peter/McNeill’s fantasies. These include having Wendy captured and bound by a Captain Hook figure in a scenario that is part innocent childhood fantasy, part sadomasochistic bondage routine; a showdown between Tinkerbell (Tanya Podlozniuk) and Wendy is performed in silhouette, emphasising the actors’ shapely bodies, and includes a tit-twisting wrestling match. I think it’s intended to be both titillating and absurd. Peter/McNeill’s adolescent sexual desire is the lens through which we see this transformation of the Peter Pan story, one in which escape from the constraints of ordered civilisation is taken to libidinal extremes.

The staging has a deceptively anarchic feel but is actually carefully composed and includes composer Veda Hille and the superb teenage rock band, The Bank Dogs, who together provide musical accompaniment for the songs. Peter Panties is like a slumber party where sexual latency bursts through the flannel and runs riot. The beautifully disjointed dialogue and stage imagery is full of unexpected turns, and is evocative of the theatre of Alfred Jarry, Dada and the Surrealists in that it is never lacking in delightful surprises. And, as a friend commented, “There’s something very human about it.” Kudos to Leaky Heaven for once again setting the standard for Vancouver theatre.

Hard Core Logo: Live Hard Core Logo: Live
photo courtesy the artist & Push Festival
hard core logo: live

Vancouver didn’t invent punk, but it has carved its place in history as the founding city of hard core. If this is a city of glass, then legendary bands like DOA have made it their mission to smash in the windows of the over-privileged. Contrary to the civic pride expressed in 100% Vancouver, punk takes aim at the “plastic people building a plastic steeple” (in the words of DOA). But trying to squeeze Punk sensibility into a conventional theatre format is a tricky exercise. When so much order is imposed on chaos is it still Punk? Hard Core Logo: Live is November Theatre’s stage adaptation of Bruce McDonald’s film adaptation of Michael Turner’s book of the same name. Turner’s book is a poetic account of the disastrous re-union tour of Hard Core Logo, a fictional band based on the real-life legendary hardcore Vancouver band DOA. McDonald turns Logo into a road movie, which is appropriate to the structure of the book. DOA has been going strong since the late 70s, but this show is essentially a nostalgic rock revue in which four aging band mates try to rekindle the anarchistic spirit of their youth, with music by DOA icon Joey “Shithead” Kiethly and lyrics by Turner. Michael Scholar Jr, who wrote the stage adaptation (and performs the lead role), keeps some of the flavour of the road movie and book while managing to flesh out the characters and their relationships to a degree that elicits more emotional investment than its predecessors.

For a two and a half hour performance that can’t offer the visual distractions of cinematography, or the freedom to put the book down when interest flags, this was a good move. But the frame of a conventional theatre set-up, in which the performers are confined to a proscenium arch stage, and the spectators sit obediently in the assigned seating area, undermines any subversive intent. The Vancouver Punk scene thrived in venues where audience and spectator were always a threat to one another. There was rarely a tidy separation between the two. It was also a politically charged scene. Its anti-establishment posture was intelligently focused—a fact which seems entirely absent from any of the three versions of Hard Core Logo. To this day DOA, the grand-daddies of the scene remain anarchistically active, musically and politically. Hard Core Logo, on the other hand, comes off as a harmless meander down a grunge-bordered memory lane.


PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver, Jan 18-Feb6, http://pushfestival.ca

RealTime issue #102 April-May 2011 pg. 40

© Alex Lazaridis Ferguson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top