Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cedar Lake at DanceHouse

The fifth season of DanceHouse was launched this weekend, with New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet presenting a mixed program of three works by Hofesh Schechter, Alexander Ekman, and Vancouver's very own Crystal Pite. When Cedar Lake was founded in 2003 by WalMart heiress Nancy Laurie, the chatter among the culturati was that this was a vanity project, sheer dilettantism. But under the direction of Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the company has grown into a respected corps of 16 exceptionally talented dancers, and has commissioned new work from some of ballet and contemporary dance's top choreographers.

Last night's program began with Schecter's Violet Kid, an almost full-company piece that Richard read as a deconstructed Rite of Spring. And, it's true, in one of the tableaux to emerge amid the mix of voice-over and blackouts during the opening sequence, we do glimpse one man on his knees with another holding his fingers in the shape of a gun at the back of his head, all while the other dancers look on. There was no Bausch-like earth on the floor, but we did get similar massings of bodies, advances and retreats, abrupt changes of direction, the contrast of squares and circles and lines--including an obligatory horizontal self-reference to the corps de ballet as a leitmotif. As Pouffer noted in his pre-show talk, Schechter is a master in his use of stage space, and it was a wonder to watch all 14 dancers come together in different mosh pit-like formations as the anthemic music (composed by Schechter) surged, only to break apart and disperse as first one and then another dancer dares to break free from the group.

Next up was Swedish choreographer Ekman's Tuplet, a witty essay on rhythm for six dancers that features spoken word voice-over by the dancers (letting us put names to bodies) and digital projections. The piece begins with the dancers entering, one by one, and taking up positions downstage on individual white squares, beating time not just with their bodies, but with their breath. There then follows a solo by the amazing Jonathan Bond, his body outlined against the backlit upstage screens as he glides and twists and writhes in response to Mikael Karlsson's electronic score. Back on their white squares, the dancers then show us a bit of their individual rhythmic styles (this is where the voice-overs come in) before Joaquim de Santana and Matthew Rich pair off in a duet that explores various dimensions of shared rhythm. All of this culminates in an extended sequence of syncopation, in which the dancers create their own percussive beats by slapping their hands in unison on their bodies.

The evening concluded with Pite's Grace Engine, which for me was a bit of a disappointment. Described by Pouffer as film noirish in style and sensibility, the full company piece once again sees Pite playing with the limits of narrative in dance, borrowing from notions of cinematic time and featuring an innovative lighting design by Jim French to evoke montage- and flashback- and dissolve-like effects. Moodily evocative and especially compelling in the slow-motion group sequences, where Pite's trademark head-to-foot bodily chains were used to great effect, the piece unravelled for me in its duets, especially the concluding one. Though it showcased former Ballet BC star Acacia Schachte's graceful talents, it ended rather abruptly, and I found myself struggling to assimilate it within Pite's larger conception for the piece.

That said, Pouffer's curation of this program reveals his sensitivity to stylistic contrasts and, above all, what pieces best highlight the amazingly athletic movement of his magnificent dancers.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Best Attempts

A brief note to say that Studio 58's 2012-13 season got off to a high-octane start this week with Katrina Dunn's excellent production of British playwright Martin Crimp's 1997 Attempts on Her Life. Crimp's play is famous for the fact that its central character, Anne (also referred to variously as Annie and Anya), never appears. Nor is the audience presented with a coherent narrative of her story. Instead, over the course of 17 scenes, a company of actors gives us different--and at times competing--versions of who they believe, or rather choose to believe, this woman is. Among the possible scenarios: a character in a film script; an environmental martyr; a runaway toting stones with which to kill herself; a terrorist toting bombs with which to kill others; an anti-government survivalist; an artist-suicide/suicide artist; a porn star; a mother who may have murdered her child; a pop music groupie; and a high performance sports car.

Moreover, because the dialogue in Crimp's script is not assigned to designated secondary characters, with changes in speaker indicated only by a dash, it is left up to the director and her company how best to divvy up the commentary on Anne, and to imagine the different personae issuing said commentary. Dunn and her talented cast are more than up to the task, creating a Rashomon-like portrait for our paradoxically faceless Facebook age that nevertheless contains abundant moments of real emotional connection; that makes a virtue of the play's episodic structure through choreographed movement and high energy physical theatre within and between scenes; and that cannily employs digital technology without becoming enslaved to it. Especially effective, in this regard, is the opening scene, in which a series of phone messages to Anne is repeated in voice-over as the actors, one by one, turn on their cell phones, using the illuminated displays like individual follow-spots of differently coloured washes, as they move in successive patterns about the stage.

Kudos must also be extended to scenographer David Roberts for his superb set, configured as an airport terminal waiting lounge, complete with a set of automatic sliding doors that also double as the audience's entrance to the theatre. In fact, we soon learn that they are not motion sensitive, as we suspect, but are being controlled instead by technicians in the booth, who keep us waiting for a few extra minutes outside, peering in through the doors and an accompanying window at what we think we are missing. Which, it must be said, is a lot, as most of the company is already assembled on stage, staking out their territory in relation to each other, and to us, and presumably to the multiple intertexts that make up Anne. Waiting, in other words, to take off on what promises to be a wild and exciting ride into the unknown.

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, and look forward to Dunn's next directing project for her own company, Touchstone: a production of Anton Piatigorsky's modernist literary whodunit, Eternal Hydra, on at Studio 17 from November 1-11.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Olympic Legacies?

An article in yesterday's Globe and Mail questioning the long-term benefits of Cultural Olympiads for local artists and arts communities. Apparently attendance at marquee galleries and museums in London plunged in the lead-up to the most recent Summer Games. And Robert Everett-Green does a good job documenting the wholesale negative consequences the Olympics and BC's giveth-with-one-hand-and-taketh-away-with-the-other approach to cultural funding has had on the Vancouver arts community, where we are down one regional theatre company, and where granting levels still haven't returned to pre-Olympics levels.

Meanwhile over at the Georgia Straight a Vancouver Olympics-related scandal of potentially momentous consequence. Investigative reporter Laura Robinson has uncovered that former VANOC CEO John Furlong, celebrated far and wide in this province and country for his stewardship of the 2010 Games, appears to have deliberately fudged key details from his personal and professional past, including when he arrived in Canada. In his 2011 autobiography, Patriot Hearts, Furlong claims he emigrated to this country in 1974, to take up a teaching position at a high school in Prince George. In fact, Furlong arrived in 1969 as an Oblate Frontier Apostle missionary, working at a Residential School in Burns Lake. Several former students at the school have signed affidavits testifying to Furlong's mental and physical abuse.

We'll see where this story goes, but kudos to Robinson and the Straight for breaking it. I guess the fact that Gary Mason co-wrote Patriot Hearts with Furlong meant that the Globe was not interested in pursuing questions about Furlong's CV.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Where Rabbits Meet

Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, on at the Vancity Culture Lab at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre through the end of the next week, gives new meaning to stage fright--both an actor's and an audience's. The central conceit of this interactive solo show is that it is to be played by a different actor every night. Having received only a few preparatory instructions 48 hours in advance of their performance, the actors each receive a copy of the script for the first time while on stage, and essentially must read it cold, doing everything they are instructed.


That one of the play's instructions involves drinking a glass of water that may or may not contain a deadly poison is just one of the theatrical--and moral--conundrums confronting the actor and audience alike. For White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is, on a very basic level, about the three-way contract established between playwright, actor, and audience in the theatre. As Soleimanpour has his actor state at the very top of the show, this is where all three "meet": "From now on we are all present." Even if, in Soleimanpour's case, he is not physically present. An empty chair in the front row (actually stage left in the Culture Lab's set-up, which for this show has been configured cabaret-style) has nevertheless been reserved for the playwright: to remind us metaphysically of he who has conjured this encounter, but also more materially of the fact that, even if he wanted to, Soleimanpour would not be able to join us, as he is currently without a passport and unable to leave his native Iran, having refused that country's compulsory military service.

And so, Soleimanpour speaks through his actor to us, seeking evidence of our presence at and participation in his show: notes and photos and video documentation that he asks be emailed to him at his gmail account, which he freely provides. And the actor, having begun speaking the playwright's words, cannot stop. She must continue to the end, doing everything the playwright asks, including an ostrich impression, and drinking that potentially fatal glass of water. And we, in the audience, in turn do everything the actor asks of us. Having numbered off at the top of the show, several "obligatory volunteers" are conscripted to enact parts of the scripts, and/or facilitate the actor in her progress through it. This included Richard, who, as number three, was required to play a white rabbit wanting to attend the circus, but who is accosted by a bear (another audience "volunteer") demanding payment. But it's the poor soul who ends up as number five who must empty the vial of "poison" into one of the two glasses of water on stage from which the actor must choose to drink at the end. That the woman who rather reluctantly did this last night was also the only one in the audience who attempted to prevent our actor from making this choice--actually getting up and attempting to remove the glasses--was instructive, if only for her failure to effect a different outcome than the one in Soleimanpour's script: the red rabbit who tries to separate herself from the rest of the warren's dominant white regime will nevertheless be dragged back by that regime (and here I'm referencing a specific allegorical tale that comes from Soleimanpour).

I'm happy to say that Studio 58 Artistic Director Kathryn Shaw, our actor from last night, lived to talk about the experience. But it was one of the most fraught moments in the theatre I've experienced in recent memory when she raised her chosen glass to her lips and drank. While most in the audience--which included many Studio 58 students--likely assumed, as I did, that whatever substance was poured into the glass was benign, there still remained some doubt--not least about our own failure/inability to intervene, and the ethics of witnessing what is in some senses constructed as a ritual sacrifice.

A most thought-provoking play, and one that I look forward to talking about with my ENGL 468W students (who are all required to see and review it in the context of Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer).


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Creating Trouble

I still remember a fistfight I got into with my brother in the early 1980s over some incendiary speech the Unionist politician Ian Paisley had given about Republican representation in the affairs of Northern Ireland. And we were both Canadian Protestants whose knowledge of the "troubles" in far-flung Belfast had mostly been gleaned from Bono and U2! Still, the episode is a telling example of how quickly and routinely the entrenched factionalism surrounding the fate of Northern Ireland--which had then ratcheted up another notch with the recent election of Margaret Thatcher--devolved into violence.

That fraught time--and, more importantly, place--is where we're once again transported in playwright and performer Stephanie Henderson's The Troubles, a multi-character solo piece from Resounding Scream Theatre that had its last performance at the 2012 Fringe Festival yesterday. And it's clear that even fourteen years after the Belfast Agreement, the wounds are still fresh.

Henderson is a wonderfully open and engaging performer, and the production plays to her naturally empathic strengths by having her address the audience directly from the top of the show--in a flawless Irish accent, no less. Her character, we soon learn, is leaving Belfast, fed up with the bloodshed and violence, and the rending of communities and families simply because of religious affiliation and/or the accident of one's birth. We only learn the woman's name, Molly, at the end of the show, but to Henderson's credit, we never learn her religion. Saving her ideology for where it most belongs--in service of compelling theatre and creating an affective connection with her fictional characters as they daily negotiate the turmoil of a city divided--Henderson, the playwright, wisely doesn't take political sides.

However, she does take lots of physical risks in embodying her characters, who range from a young schoolboy who literally has his friendship with his best mate, Jimmy, knocked out of him, to a father labouring to keep his family safe, to a beer-chugging Man U fan who narrowly escapes an IRA bomb, to a young Catholic girl who loses her brother in the Bloody Sunday attacks. All are believably drawn, and whether wearing a balaclava or toting a teddy bear, Henderson is never less than fully "present," drawing us into each character's story as much with her gestures as with her voice (if you want a lesson in how to make love to a pint of Guinness, see Henderson).

My one complaint, and it's a small one, is that the transitions between the characters are not always clearly delineated. Nor are the connections between them. Perhaps Henderson does not mean for the stories she tells to be linked in a direct way. That said, the conceit of framing the piece from Molly's perspective does encourage us to try to connect the dots of all that happens in between back to her. In future versions of this work maybe those connections (or disconnections) will become more sharply defined. So, too, may the purpose of the video projections. At present I feel like the iconic images we see (including of the priest Edward Daly testifying about the British military firing on unarmed civilians during Bloody Sunday) take the piece out of the fictional world of everyday negotiation Henderson has worked so hard to create and into the too-easy world of ideological identification and condemnation. Two-dimensional visual images, even of the documentary variety, have a way of flattening the lived--and live--complexity and messiness of day-to-day existence. Which is why, of course, we go to the theatre.

My own Fringe theatre-going, such as it's been this year, is over. But the fall season is just beginning. I look forward to what's in store.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Knocking it Out of the Park

In all the press I've read on Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, his Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier Award-winning play about race, class, and the history of postwar home ownership in urban America, no one has talked very much about how well-made it is. The focus has mostly been on Act Two's toxic humour, and what it reveals about the unleashed collective id of Americans, who even in 2009 (when Act Two is set), and with an African-American in the White House, remain deeply divided racially and economically. That unleashing is certainly part of the guilty pleasure of watching Norris' play, currently on at the Arts Club's Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in a crackling and superbly-acted production directed by Janet Wright. Returning from intermission, audiences are given permission to laugh uproariously at a succession of increasingly offensive jokes by the black and white neighbours who gradually shed all pretense of politeness in each other's company. However, I'm not sure the ideas behind the comedy are as profound as some reviewers have made out, and the retreat to the 1950s setting of the play's first act in the epilogue seems in some respects a flight from the politics of the present as consequential as the grieving Bev and Russ's planned flight to the suburbs.

That said, the relationship between the play's two acts is a structural marvel, with Norris constructing echoes of Act One in Act Two that are complex and nuanced rather than merely showy, and creating enough connection and distance between his characters to provide rich opportunities of discovery for both the audience and performers. The wonder begins with how seamlessly Norris evokes a parallel play world to one of the classics of modern American drama, Lorraine Hansberry's Raisin in the Sun. Bev (the wonderful Deborah Williams) and Russ (a perfectly coiled Andrew Wheeler) are a fifty-something white couple packing up their house in the Chicago neighbourhood of the play's title. It's 1959, and they are preparing to move to the suburbs, ostensibly to be closer to Russ' work, but as much to escape painful family memories associated with the house they've just sold, where their son, Kenneth, a Korean War vet, committed suicide in an upstairs bedroom. The local minister, Jim (the multi-tasking Sebastien Archibald), is on hand at Bev's insistence in order to coax Russ into opening up about his grief for his son. However, it is the arrival of Karl (the magnificently fulminating Robert Moloney) and his deaf wife, Betsy (Sasa Brown, skirting caricature with expert precision), that really begins to upset whatever peace remains within this domestic space.

For Karl is none other than Karl Linder, the white representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association (CPIA) who pays a visit to the Younger family in Hansberry's play in an attempt to dissuade them from moving into the all-white neighbourhood of which he is chief guardian. In Norris' play, Karl reveals to Russ and Bev that, unbeknownst to them, they have just sold their house to a black family (the Youngers), and wants to persuade them to let the CPIA buy it back--not because he's racist, of course (after all, he is au courant enough to mix it up with his references to Coloreds and Negroes), but because he feels Clybourne Park will simply prove to be too alien an environment for the Youngers, who presumably won't be ably to buy the food they like to eat at Gelmann's Grocery Store. All of this is conveyed as an object lesson in urban planning and social demographics by conscripting Bev and Russ' black domestic, Francine (Marci T. House, who is a revelation, and not just because of what she does with the most out-there joke from Act Two), and her husband, Albert (Daren Herbert, whose timing with Norris' one-liners is as adeptly cutting as his singing and dancing was smoothly graceful in this summer's Music Man at TUTS) into a conversation about why they surely would never want to live alongside white folks. Really, however, Karl is worried about what having a black family in the neighbourhood will do to property values, predicting that should other families of colour follow the Youngers' example, then there will be an exodus of white families, and the entire neighbourhood will become a black ghetto. But Russ is having none of Karl's posturing, noting that the white tribe of Clybourne Park's exclusive inclusivity didn't extend to embracing his war-damaged son.

Act Two opens fifty years later, and we learn that the scenario painted by Karl has indeed come to pass. Clybourne Park is now a predominantly black neighbourhood, one whose recent decline and proximity to downtown make it increasingly attractive to young gentrifying white couples. Enter Lindsey and Steve (Brown and Moloney), who have just purchased the old Younger house, and whose plans to renovate have got their black neighbours, Lena and Kevin (House and Herbert), up in arms. Together with their respective lawyers, Kathy (Williams) and Tom (Archibald), the two couples are attempting to make their way through a multi-page document that is to go before the new CPIA, and about which they are trying to reach certain compromise. But compromise, along with politeness, very quickly goes out the window as each couple's circumlocutions around easements and property lines, and where they've vacationed, and what's the capital of Morocco, is overturned by Steve's insistence that Lena's speech about the historical value of the neighbourhood is really a conversation about race. That's when the dangerous jokes start flying, and when everyone (except for the oblivious handy-man, Dan, played by Wheeler) is mutually offended we know for sure we're "in America"--as Maria from West Side Story might say (and the soundtrack at the start and end of each act is just one of the subtle period details that make this production so good).

Norris' dialogue is not just furiously funny, but also fast, and often overlapping, and the entire cast is uniformly up to task in their timing. Inevitably some lines got eaten by audience laughter, but in a play that's all about who gets to speak, when, and for and to whom, this becomes a structuring conceit in and of itself. Relatedly, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the play is how realistically Norris captures the internal dynamics of couples' communication (and, just as frequently, miscommunication), with Lindsay and Kevin each struggling in vain at certain points to ward off what they know will be offensive volleys from their partners. A similar marvel comes from how physical Wright manages to make what, blocking-wise, is a fairly static second act. Essentially all the actors are sitting in chairs (or on boxes) stretched horizontally across the stage. And, indeed, for most of the act only Lindsey and Steve, punctuated by the odd interruption of Dan, roam around the stage, visually establishing a proprietary claim to their new territory. But that doesn't mean the others recede into the background, and it's a tribute to Wright's expertly kinesthetic direction that you feel at any moment any one of the actors might leap up and throw a punch.

The punches in Norris' play stay--just barely--at the verbal level. But that doesn't make them any less hard-hitting. Like all great comedy, he first flays you with his wit. And then he makes you gasp at what is concealed behind it.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

For a good time...

Last night I had the great good fortune of moderating a panel at the Fringe Festival's St. Ambroise Bar on Railspur Alley. The panel was called "Let's Get it On: Sexuality in the Theatre," and featured a who's who of amazing women theatre artists talking about sex on stage and, just as importantly, about sexing staging.

I won't go into all the smart and hilarious stuff that was said, but I did want to plug these women's shows:

Celene Harder and Val Duncan (Calgary), Does This Turn You On?, Studio 1398

Gigi Naglak and Meg Williams (Philadelphia), Chlamydia dell'Arte: A Sex-Ed Burlesque, Performance Works

Cameryn Moore (Boston), slut (r)evolution, (Performance Works)

They were joined by Fringe vet Deb Pickman (Shameless Hussy Productions), who doesn't have a show at the festival this year, but who gave us a tantalizing hint of what her company has in the works.

The Fringe continues until this Sunday.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Early Lanford Wilson at the Fringe

American playwright Lanford Wilson and La MaMa impresario Ellen Stewart more or less invented Off-Off-Broadway theatre in New York. Both died last year, a great loss to the theatre community. But their legacies live on, Stewart's in the Lower Eastside institution that remains a hotbed of creative theatrical experimentation, and Wilson's in a oeuvre that spans iconic works like his Talley family trilogy (Fifth of July, Talley's Folly, Talley and Son), The Hot l Baltimore, and Burn This (which Richard and I saw in a stunning New York revival by Signature Theatre starring Catherine Keener and Edward Norton).

But  Wilson, who was also a co-founder of the Circle Rep Theatre Company, also wrote heaps of short plays. Home Free (1964) was one of his earliest, and it premiered last night at the 2012 Fringe Festival, in a production by the local company Staircase XI.

The play bears more than a passing resemblance to Jean Cocteau's novel Les enfants terribles. Like that work, Wilson's Home Free centers on two siblings, Lawrence and Joanna, who have isolated themselves from the outside world, whether as a consequence or because of their apparently incestuous sexual relationship is never made clear. What is clear is that they live largely within their own fantasy world, one that combines both the worst excesses of arrested adolescent development and wishful adult responsibility. Most of these excesses are borne by their imaginary children, Claypone and Edna, with whom they speak throughout, and whom they order about imperiously. None of this bodes well for what we assume is the real child growing inside Joanna's womb, whose imminent birth, we are to understand, will almost certainly lead to their eviction from their cloistered apartment.

What is real and what is imaginary is the central dialectic upon which this drama hinges, and as tensions escalate between brother and sister each (again like their counterparts in Cocteau's novel) knows exactly how to insert the knife wound into the heart of the other by calling into question what he or she most believes in. However, the stakes are high, and when--SPOILER ALERT--the pain in her shoulder Lawrence accuses Joanna of faking becomes seriously life-threatening, the choice the agoraphobic Lawrence makes--to send Edna in search of help rather than going himself--will prove fatal.

All of this is played with absolute conviction by Jason Clift and Maryanne Renzetti (also producer and, with Becky Shrimpton, Co-Artistic Director of Staircase XI). It is not easy in a house as intimate as the Carousel to direct dialogue at imaginary interlocutors downstage while maintaining the theatre's traditional fourth wall--a division crucially important in a psychological drama such as this. It is a credit to both actors--and director Brian Cochrane--that they make us believe in their belief in Claypone and Edna. Kudos as well to whoever designed the set and sourced the props (Co-Stage Manager's Anthony Liam Kerns and Erin Sandra Crowley?), as the look of Lawrence and Joanna's insular world enhances our own sense of entrapment in the dangerous space of their game-playing. A music box that Joanna winds at one point in the play to annoy Lawrence will come back at the end, an eerily perfect acoustic accompaniment to the play's denouement, and to end of childhood innocence more generally.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Fringe Begins

It's Labour Day, which means two things: a return to school; and the imminent start of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. The two are not always conducive to mutual enjoyment. Last year, being on leave, I could attend a decent number of Fringe shows. This year, class preps and related administration will likely mean I have to be more chary with my time. But I do plan to get out there and see at least a few shows.

Here's what's caught my eye so far:

Parczew 45 (Chai Productions) at Studio 16

Underbelly, by Jayson McDonald (of last year's most excellent Giant Invisible Robot fame), at the Waterfront

Loon, from the Wonderheads (the folks responsible for Grim & Fisher, last year's breakout Fringe hit, which is returning to the Cultch in January), at the Waterfront

Utopia (Theatre Free Radical) at Studio 1398

The Troubles (Resounding Scream Theatre) at Studio 1398

Recess, by Una Aya Osato, at the False Creek Gym

Home Free, Staircase Xi Theatre's mounting of a short play by the great Lanford Wilson, at the Carousel Theatre

Three More Sleepless Nights, a site-specific take on another short play by the equally great Caryl Churchill (I saw a version of this last December, and it was fantastic--highly recommended)

Slumming, by former student Barbara Ellison, at the Cultch

slut (r)evolution, by Cameryn Moore, of Phone Whore fame, at Performance Works

By the way, Cameryn, together with Gigi Naglak (Chlamydia dell'Arte: A Sex-Ed Burlesque), Celene Harder and Val Duncan (Does This Turn You On?), and Deb Pickman (Shameless Hussy Productions), will be part of a panel on "Sexuality in Theatre" that I will be moderating on Monday, September 10th as part of the line-up of sidebar events the Fringe folks have programmed at the St. Ambroise Fringe Bar (1363 Railspur Alley on Granville Island). The proceedings begin at 7 pm.

And of course all of this is preceded by the Opening Night gala and auction tomorrow at 7 pm at Performance Works.

Get your tickets for all events here.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

In the Rehearsal Studio with Kidd Pivot

Yesterday was one of those goose-bump inducing days when you just have to marvel at the amazing opportunities afforded you. In this case the source of wonder was attending an open rehearsal with Crystal Pite and her company Kidd Pivot, who are in residence at SFU Woodward's for the next two weeks while they get ready to remount her latest evening-length work, The Tempest Replica. In conjunction with DanceHouse, who will be presenting the piece at the Playhouse in November, Pite invited members of the public into the studio for an hour of danced excerpts and talk as she took us through aspects of her (re)conceptualization of the piece.

The Tempest Replica premiered last year in Germany, but as Pite told us yesterday evening she was never entirely satisfied with the piece. And so the present rehearsals have turned into something of a radical rethink not just of different aspects of the choreography, but also of sound (which they were having a bit of trouble with) and design. Combined with the addition of a few new company members who are learning the piece for the very first time, and following a two-month hiatus from dancing for the rest of the company, we were warned that what we would be witnessing was very rough and exploratory. If that's the case, then judging from what I saw--which was frankly stunning--come November the superlatives will be unrestrained.

Conceptually and structurally, The Tempest Replica is in the same vein as Pite's earlier Dark Matters. Both works are structured in two parts, with the first part in each case laying out the "story" in more consciously theatrical ways as a prelude to the pure dance sequences then elaborated in the second halves. The black-clad supernumeraries/shadow puppets from Dark Matters are here replaced by all-white (including fencing-style masks) stand-ins for the main characters from Shakespeare's play, who telegraph, or "storyboard" in Pite's words, the key plot points in various tableaux. From what I could gather yesterday, the movement here is deliberately contained, with Pite gradually developing the outline of the gestural language that she will elaborate more fully and complexly in the all-dance sequences of the second half, or what she referred to as the "real" world. So, for example, in an early scene from the first part, we witness Miranda (Cindy Salgado) being manipulated (almost like the marionette from Dark Matters) by her father Prospero (Eric Beauchesne) into watching the storm that he has conjured to shipwreck Ferdinand (Jermaine Spivey), Antonio (Yannick Matthon), Sebastian (Jiří Pokorný) and the rest of the crew from Milan. In the second half of The Tempest Replica, we see the same scene replayed, with Miranda's desperation at having to witness the suffering of those on the ship translated into a series of quick pivots and staccato movements that viscerally convey both her panic at what's happening and her horror that her father has made it happen. All the caveats about rustiness aside, the dancers yesterday were superb, and it was such an amazing gift to be able to see them work there magic up close. The duet between Prospero and Ariel (Sandra Garcia) was especially breath-taking, because the lifts that magically send the enslaved sprite flying are less than ten feet away from you.

The Tempest Replica continues Pite fascination with combining text and movement, this time having lines from the play both repeated and manipulated acoustically on the sound score (created by Meg Roe and Alessandra Juliani in conjunction with composer and longtime Pite collaborator Owen Belton) and, as Pite herself conjured for us, projected onto the back wall of the stage. I got to ask Pite about her fondness for text in a Q&A session after the rehearsal, and her remarks were very helpful in relation to my own current research on dance-theatre, of which her work forms an important part. Hopefully I'll be able to continue that conversation with her at some point in the future. In the meantime, I thank her and her dancers for their generosity yesterday in giving us a glimpse of their working process. And, of course, I look forward to seeing the finished piece when it comes back to the city in November.