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push festival


connect: canada and australia

realtime at the push festival of performing arts, vancouver


WE ARRIVED IN VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA KEEN TO ADJUST TO THE CLIMATE AND CULTURE, AND LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE FROM WESTERN CANADA IN THE PUSH PROGRAM. WE WERE REWARDED WITH CRISP, ICY TEMPERATURES, A LITTLE SNOW AND PLENTY OF SUNSHINE, AMPLE CANADIAN GOODWILL AND, SOME VERY FINE WORKS FROM VANCOUVER ITSELF BY ELECTRIC COMPANY, THEATRE REPLACEMENT AND BOCA DEL LUPO.

PuSh sees itself as a festival committed to presenting groundbreaking work. Executive director Norman Armour’s 2008 program included Romeo Castellucci’s Hey Girl!, Nigel Charnock’s Fever, neworldtheatre/Teesri Dunya Theatre’s My Name is Rachel Corrie (a Vancouver-Montreal collaboration) and three Australian works, The Space Between by Circa, Small Metal Objects by Back to Back Theatre and Chunky Move’s Glow.

These works and Electric Company’s Palace Grand [p5, 11], Theatre Replacement’s Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut [p4] and Boca Del Lupo’s My Dad, My Dog [p6] gave the festival its edge, along with Toronto-based Mammalian Reflex’s hugely popular Haircuts by Children (which also played at this year’s Sydney Festival).

November Theatre’s The Black Rider and Catalyst Theatre’s Frankenstein, both from Edmonton, capital of neighboring Alberta, were given fine ensemble performances, but appeared to belong to an earlier generation of experimental theatre, while a local adaptation of Balzac’s Old Goriot and the Montreal-based Théatre la Seizième, in Août, un repas a la campagne (August, an afternoon in the country), evoked an altogether older theatre tradition. Not everything then was groundbreaking, but in the end we couldn’t complain.

Hey Girl! [p8] divided audiences, even generating anger, not because of the work’s sublimely alien theatricality but because it was regarded as didactic (which for a Castellucci work it was), sexist (the male director portrays captive woman, liberates her and apparently disempowers her in the process) and racist (the black woman freed by the white woman remains a distant, dancing figure without agency). Others felt the work more complex with its mutating images and shifting symbolism.

The Australian works were well received; Circa in The Space Between [p8] for moving beyond the usual frame of the physical theatre routine and for the dancerly quality of their work; Chunky Move [p5] for Glow’s innovation and passion (save for some who saw it as mere technological demonstration); and Back to Back’s Small Metal Objects [p10] for the unique experience it offered, subtly challenging notions of morality and normality in an altogether different theatrical space.

Boca Del Lupo’s My Dad, My Dog ably and sometimes quite magically integrated live performance with projected animation, with the animator onstage adding further dimensions to the action in a work that very laterally addressed cultural and personal differences. Some fine, witty, elliptical writing sat side by side with some too familiar postmodern framing, but it’s not difficult to envisage a superior version with a little tweaking.

The Electric Company’s Palace Grand was revelatory, a theatrical delirium of multiplying doppelgangers (all played by the same actor, Jonathan Young) and a remarkable staging of screens within screens, and rooms within rooms, disappearing our normal notion of the stage. Palace Grand gave us a glimpse of Canada’s psychological relationship with its ‘interior’, the North. I immediately wanted to see the company’s previous works about Nikola Tesla and Eadweard Muybridge.

Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut was another PuSh highlight, and like Palace Grand and the best writing in My Dad, My Dog, put paid to the commonplace we’d been hearing that “Vancouver has some great visual theatre but it’s let down by the writing.” There are a couple of episodes that Clark and I...could live without to make a more potent work but it is already a powerhouse of wit and hard-learned wisdom as performed by an actor in a rabbit suit [James Long], supported by an onstage video artist managing the projected images drawn from a suitcase of abandoned photographs that inspired this very funny but tough work.

Australians have seen little contemporary Canadian performance, Robert Le Page, Marie Brassard and Daniel McIvor aside. Palace Grand, challenging though it is, and Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut, wonderfully accessible but defiantly tough as it is, should be welcomed by Australia’s international arts festivals.

There are other Vancouver companies like Radix and Theatre Conspiracy, a performance art scene (with a bi-annual festival), and sound and music events at Western Front (a venue eerily like Sydney’s old Performance Space) we look forward to reviewing.

Norman Armour not only programmed Australian works but he also invited RealTime to run a review-writing workshop for his 2008 festival. Let’s hope that Armour’s interest in Australian work (he’s here for the 2008 Australian Performing Arts Market) and in establishing a dialogue between our countries grows and is, above all, reciprocated by Australian festivals taking on Canadian works.

We enjoyed a wonderfully informative, creative and collaborative workshop with our writers—Vancouver-based Anna Russell, Meg Walker, Alex Ferguson and Andrew Templeton, and Brussels-based Eleanor Hadley Kershaw. We thank the Vancouverites and Norman Armour for their hospitality and look forward to a developing relationship between RealTime and Vancouver and Canada beyond. Thanks too to the Canada Council and the Australia Council for support towards our workshop. KG


RealTime-PuSh Review-writing Workshop, PuSh International Festival of Performing Arts, Vancouver, Canada, Jan 20-30

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. 4

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

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