Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup vs. the G20

Uruguay is the first team through to the World Cup quarterfinals, with a brilliant 2-1 victory over a valiant South Korea in the pouring rain in Port Elizabeth. Striker Luis Suarez is the hero of the match, scoring both goals for Uruguay, including a brilliant late bend into the right side of South Korea's net that took the momentum out of the opposing team just as they had started to dictate play during the second half.

The level of play was certainly much better than what we'd witnessed in the round-robin group matches. All I can say is that the ignominy of France's and Italy's exits after they'd reached the final in 2006 was well-deserved. Both teams played extremely poorly, and the behavior of Les Bleus, in particular, was shameful. Only in Europe, where they take their football extremely seriously, would all of this become a national incident.

Here's a thought: what if the leaders of the G20 were sent home as their national football teams exited the World Cup? That would get rid of Berlusconi and Sarkozy right away. And pretty soon it would be either David Cameron or Angela Merkel packing his or her bags. Maybe even Obama in the next few hours if Ghana can come out on top of the United States (as I'm hoping they'll shortly do). Likely we'd be left with Brazil's Lula and Argentina's Cristina Fernandez when all the dust had settled.

I kind of like that scenario.


The Fate of InSite...

... is in sight.

The decision about whether or not to keep Canada's only supervised safe injection site open and operating in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is now in the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The feds, under Herr Harper, had appealed a BC Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision ruling that the services provided at InSite are a provincial responsibility and not a federal one, and that the facility can therefore remain in operation despite the Conservative government's refusal to grant further criminal exemptions to the facility under Canada's drug trafficking and possession laws.

As usual, the Supreme Court has refused to give reasons for its decision. But here's hoping that Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin (who's from BC) and her colleagues do the right thing and uphold the BC Court of Appeal decision when they eventual hand down their ruling.


Tracy Wright: RIP

I was saddened to learn of the death earlier this week of Canadian actress extraordinaire, Tracy Wright. I hadn't known she was ill with pancreatic cancer. It's a great loss for Canadian theatre and filmmaking.

Though less well-known than her husband, Don McKellar, Wright was a quiet yet powerfully affecting presence in almost anything she appeared in, including Miranda July's Me, You, And Everyone We Know and McKellar's own Last Night, where she stole the show in her few brief scenes as a moony secretary, Donna, in love with her boss, played by David Cronenberg.

Wright was also memorable opposite her husband in Reg Harkema's Monkey Warfare and Bruce McDonald's Elimination Dance, a short film based on Michael Ondaatje's book of poetry. But my absolute favourite roles by Wright were in a sequence of films by Toronto playwright Sky Gilbert in the 1990s: My Addiction (1994); My Summer Vacation (1996); and I Am The Camera, Dying (1998), where Wright played a female heroin addict reincarnated as a gay sailor.

Wright was fearless in the parts she chose, and in the performances she gave (check out yesterday's Globe and Mail obit for details of how she launched herself--quite literally--into her first professional theatre role in The Lorca Play at Toronto's Theatre Centre in 1991). Even while battling cancer she managed to complete two more films for longtime collaborator McDonald: This Movie is Broken, currently in theatres; and the forthcoming Trigger, which I gather is sort of a female take on Hard Core Logo.

Wright's death is a huge loss for the performing arts in Canada.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Performing Apology

Word has it that Prime Minister Stephen Harper will issue an official apology to families of the victims of Air India Flight 182 at a special ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in Canadian history (and, until 9/11, the deadliest instance of global aviation terrorism) in Toronto this evening.

It will be interesting to compare the substance of Harper's apology to the one recently issued in parliament by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday in Derry, Northern Ireland--and not just because of Flight 182's explosion off the coast of Ireland. After all, the Harper apology, like Cameron's, is prompted by a damning official report (by retired Justice John Major) placing the blame for the tragedy squarely on the shoulders of the government and its law enforcement and intelligence agencies (the RCMP and CSIS). And yet whereas Cameron manned up in soberly acknowledging the role the British state played in whitewashing the truth regarding the events of January 30, 1972, the text of Harper's apology that has been sent in advance to the press performs its own exculpation, tacking "we're sorry" onto abstract statements about terrorism being "an enemy with a thousand faces" and the "wounds [that] are too deep to be healed even by the remedy of time."

There is a great deal of critical work being done on our current "culture of apology" (including by a very smart PhD student in the English Department at SFU, David Gaertner) and the "rhetoric of sincerity" and/or "deferral of responsibility" that may or may not accompany official state apologies. A contested marker of how we measure the "materiality" of sincerity/responsibility in this context has become financial restitution. With the report by Major in fact making this very recommendation, it will be important to see whether or not Harper, either this evening or in follow-up legislation, puts money where his mouth is.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Imprint and In Print

Turning Point Ensemble, Vancouver's fantastic new music collective co-directed by my SFU colleague Owen Underhill, has a new show up at SFU Woodward's Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, with performances continuing this afternoon and tomorrow evening.

The program features three world premieres: Minx, a short orchestral work by Vancouver Island composer Rudolf Komorous; Cut Flowers, by Linda Caitlin Smith, a lush setting of 44 lines taken from the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning for orchestra and soprano (the superb Phoebe MacRae); and Imprint II, an ambitious collaboration between Underhill and choreographer Henry Daniel (also a colleague at SFU) that combines music, dance, film, and multi-media installation, and that in putting all of these elements together makes fantastic use of this terrific new theatrical space.

Read David Gordon Duke's review of the evening in the Vancouver Sun here.

Meanwhile, in today's Globe and Mail we learn that the Victoria Fringe Festival, like Vancouver's event, is the latest community arts festival in the province to be denied a gaming grant this year. But not because they're a "commercial enterprise," as was claimed earlier by Rich Coleman in justifying the freezing out of festivals from eligibility for such grants. No, in the government's latest Kafkaesque (not to mention, tautological) logic, they have written (in an unsigned letter, no less) to Victoria Fringe Director Ian Case that the hugely popular 23 year-old festival does "not reflect the community, regional or cultural characteristics of [its] community," and is thus ineligible for a grant. Clearly, as with grants to municipal school boards and social programs across the province, Campbell and his band of philistines are just making their arts policy up as they go along.

In between trying to get their stories straight for the Basi-Virk trial, no doubt.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ballet BC on a Small Stage

The 22nd iteration of MovEnt's wildly popular Dances for a Small Stage opened last night at the Legion on the Drive. For once, I'd gotten there early, which meant Joanna and I were able to secure a prime table right up front, close to the action.

Which is where one wanted to be for this special all-Ballet BC-danced program of new works by Gioconda Barbuto, Edmond Kilpatrick, Farley Johansson, Donald Sales, Cori Caulfield, Lauri Stallings, Margie Gillis, and Cherice Barton. The small space seems to have brought out the theatricality in both the dancers and the choreographers, with most of the works (some of them, very witty) straddling the dance-theatre divide. This is as it should be, as the rejuvenated company is made up of wonderfully charismatic performers, and as the relaxed, cabaret setting of the Legion definitely invites interaction with the audience (exploited most effectively in the closing work by Barton, "Temptation," a mise-en-abŷme of a noirish riff on the whole bar setting itself, all to the strains of Tom Waits).

The evening got off to a fantastic start with Barbuto's "Clique," which featured the entire company of 14 dancers on the stage collectively showcasing their amazing technique in traded-off riffs, and phrases and partnerings of no more than a few seconds each. From there, we branched off into smaller-scale works that often effectively put humour together with rather pedestrian movements: e.g., Kilpatrick's "Love in an Elevator" and Sales' "Oops Sorry LOL Sh^t." Caulfield stuck Delphine Leroux in a hoop skirt and empire wig, while Margie Gillis put Maggie Forgeron in flowing tulle: in both cases the results were amazing. Alexis Fletcher and Gilbert Small were wonderfully sexy together in Farley Johansson's "pocket full of hoyle," while Leroux and Peter Smida (together with Alyson Fretz and Connor Gnam) were riveting in Lauri Stallings "Zak."

In introducing the evening with MovEnt Artistic Producer Julie-anne Saroyan, Ballet BC Artistic Director said the program was a chance for the company to get a bit down and dirty, and to take some of that aesthetic back to the Queen E stage. I look forward to the results.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Theatre

So my book didn't make it out in time for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But it has appeared in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which--despite David Beckham's torn achilles--hopefully still makes chapter three somewhat topical. (Should you feel so inclined, you can order it here.)

With the eight groups' opening matches now concluded, there has already been plenty of drama on and off the field, starting with last Thursday's Kick-Off Celebration Concert--and its tragic aftermath. To this end, the image of a clearly ecstatic Bishop Desmond Tutu dancing a jig and doing his best Shakira impression was quickly replaced the next day by a near-silent Orlando Stadium acknowledging, via his absence, the death of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter in a car accident on the way home from the previous night's festivities. A synecdoche--much like the entire World Cup event--for both the promise and possibilities and the stark realities governing the new South Africa.

This theme carried through to the host nation's beloved Bafana Bafana's opening match against Mexico. When South African striker Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the first goal of the entire 2010 World Cup, thousands of vuvuzelas erupted in a collective cry of jubilation that was truly ear-splitting, even as heard over the Internet. But that jubilation was eventually tempered by Rafael Marquez's equalizing goal late in the match. And now that Bafana Bafana has just lost its second Group A match to Uruguay 3-0, they will need a miracle even greater than the country's victory at the 1995 Rugby World Cup (a much better-funded, predominately white sport in South Africa) to move on to the next round.

Nevertheless, this hasn't diminished one iota the clarion call--nor, indeed, the decibel level--of all those vuvuzelas. Much to the dismay of the foreign fans, broadcasters, and especially players, who have complained repeatedly to FIFA officials about the distraction caused by the noise. Almost as much as they've complained about the Jubulani balls being used in the matches (too light). And the weather (too cold). A little less complaining on the part of most teams and a bit more concentration on improving the quality of their play would seem to be in order as far as I'm concerned. Apart from the Dutch and the Germans, one would think most of the higher ranked teams expected to contend for the title are in a rush to head home early. Spain was upset yesterday by Switzerland. Brazil could only eke out a 1-0 victory over the lowly North Koreans. The aging Abruzzi, and their 2006 rivals, France, could only manage draws in their opening matches--prompting, in the latter case, a severe tongue-lashing from Zinedine Zidane, likely still smarting from the ignominious end to his World Cup career four years ago. (Of course, France is lucky to be here at all given Thierry Henry's notorious hand violation against Ireland earlier this year in World Cup qualifying).

And speaking of ignominy, can you imagine being England's goalkeeper right now? After the fumble by Robert Green that cost his team an outright victory against the US, he became an instant pariah in the UK's notoriously vicious tabloid media. Talk about pressure for the rest of their Group C matches.

But as Globe and Mail television critic--and avid football fan--John Doyle has recently commented, responding to the plethora of complaints about the organization and opening week of play at this year's World Cup, such uncertainty is precisely what makes the event so exciting. As he puts it, employing a telling theatrical metaphor, "The World Cup lasts for a month, a real four-act drama that shocks, surprises, disappoints and exhilarates. It's not a movie. South Africa isn't a theme park."

So, unlike with the Springboks in 95, there's likely to be no Hollywood ending for Bafana Bafana (and thus no Oscar-nominated movie starring Morgan Freeman). And, as much as I'd like to see it, it's likely going to be hard for any team from Africa to win (though Ghana is looking strong). The continent's most popular player, Didier Drogba, has been cleared to play (despite the fact that his right arm is still in a cast), with his late game substitution against Portugal eliciting yet more vuvuzelean blasts. But neither he nor rival striker Cristiano Ronaldo (featured together baring their six-packs on the June cover of Vanity Fair, included above) could manage a goal in the 0-0 draw, and it's going to be a tough slog for either team to get past Brazil in the so-called "Group of Death."

And if not Africa, then why not South America? A triumph for the Global South would definitely be preferable to another same-old, same-old victory for Europe. (Not, to be sure, to discount either South Korea or Japan--both looking strong--who no doubt have some unfinished business to settle from 2002.) Argentina may have had a somewhat slow start (a tough 1-0 victory against Nigeria and its nearly impenetrable goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama), but they do have Lionel Messi on the pitch. And Diego Maradona on the sidelines. Watching Maradona alone is great theatre.

Which is why I love the World Cup.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fringe Fury

Further to my last post, on the website for the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, Executive Director David Jordan has posted a wonderful, righteously--and rightly--infuriated open letter to Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman pointing out the folly and untruths in Coleman's recent justification for making arts festivals in the province ineligible for future gaming funds.

Game on, Mr. Coleman!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ambassadors for the Arts?!

Just back in town after our extended sojourn in glorious España. Still adjusting to the shift in time zones and the chill, rainy weather. Not to mention the latest chill our benighted provincial government has sent through the arts community. I can't believe the fuckers have now cut off all festivals from gaming grants! Read all the sorry details, including Rich Coleman's bafflegab about "commercial viability," here.

Meanwhile, a 15-day BC Human Rights Tribunal hearing opened this past Monday investigating a complaint against the Downtown Ambassadors by Pivot Legal Society, VANDU, and United Native Nations for unfairly targeting the drug addicted, street homeless, and Aboriginal populations of the Downtown East Side. My friend, Jamie Hilder, who went "undercover" to train with the Ambassadors in 2008 as part of an online art project he created for the Audain Gallery at SFU Woodward's, was the first witness. Read what Jamie had to say here.

And check out the amazing project Jamie created as a result of his experience here.

My kind of ambassador; my kind of art.