Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

PSi 19 Day 4

Best day yet!

Not only did our panel totally rock, with MJ Thompson, Alana Gerecke and myself eliciting some great discussion from our audience on the "now and then" of dance, but Peggy Phelan was one of our most generous interlocutors!

What's more, Phelan went on to reference some of the discussion in our panel in her own subsequent plenary dialogue with Una Chaudhuri on the expanded temporalities of both climate change and performance studies. And their dialogue was certainly the most conversational of the three.

Top all that off with a once-in-a-lifetime workshop and planetary dance with the 93-year-old Anna Halprin, followed by a great tapas dinner in town with Alana, MJ and her husband, Mark Sussman, and you have just some of the reasons behind my opening exclamation.


Friday, June 28, 2013

PSi 19 Day 3

Performance is hard work, especially in the heat currently enveloping the Bay Area. Nevertheless, we soldier on. Highlights from Day 3 at PSi 19:

1. A great panel on performance and food featuring former student Ted Whittall, who has a fantastic career ahead of him.

2. Lunch with former Vancouver colleague Jisha Menon, now at Stanford, and just returned from a sabbatical in Bangalore to jump back into the fray of helping to manage a conference of this scale.

3. A plenary panel between Thomas Richards, of the Growtowski Workcenter, and Daphne Brooks, from Princeton, on race, the body, and the dynamic range between sonic resonance and sonic dissidence. Though both had amazingly insightful things to say (particularly Brooks on Sarah Vaughn's interpretation of Summertime), this second "plenary dialogue" proved that the format is so far not working. Here's hoping tomorrow's conversation between Peggy Phelan and Una Chaudhuri is just that--a conversation.

4. Hearing Shannon Jackson put performance/art's post-medium condition(s) in disciplinary perspective.

5. Witnessing Guillermo Gomez-Pena play with, occupy, and generally reimagine multiple borders at the Pigott Theatre, including the one that perhaps remains the most pernicious for performance: that of the proscenium (are you listening Ron Athey?).

6. Catching the beginnings of a durational piece--Wreckage Upon Wreckage--conceived and executed by a group of talented artists from SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts, including project lead Nancy Tam, Daniel O'Shea, Sean Marshall Jr., and Finley Hyde.

SFU MFA candidate Didier Morelli (and my TA from this past spring semester) was also participating in a performance praxis session this evening, but I was too bagged to make it (sorry Didier!).

Oh, and I also contributed an account of 10 minutes of my time spent at PSi to Spatula and Barcode's collective and cumulative Record of the Time we've all spent here--though in hindsight I think I may have got my designated entry time wrong!


PSi 19 Day 2

Today at PSi (which will likely be yesterday by the time I post this), in between panels on global art objects, global art markets, and ethico-political aesthetics, I took in the following performance/praxis events:

1. Ron Athey's Incorruptible Flesh: Messianic Remains, the fourth instalment in a series of performances continuing the artist's exploration of the borders between pain and pleasure, life and death, the sacred and the profane, using his own body as canvas, was profoundly disappointing. One of only two ticketed performances as part of the conference, the piece lasted all of 30 minutes, 10 of which were taken up with a pre-show ogling and greasing up of Athey's prone and splayed body. The rest was a sometimes funny, mostly pretentious ode to finding the sublime core in the trashy life and filthy death of Divine.

2. Marcia Farquhar's Long Haul is a durational monologue in which the artist talks for 10 hours and 50 minutes, the length of time it takes to fly from London to Palo Alto. I dropped in on the conversation on two separate occasions, once at the beginning and once at the 7 hour mark, and while  Marcia was understandably more tired on the second occasion, I still found her utterly captivating. And although she made a point of saying near the beginning that critics never talk about her work in relation to her body, I found her frank incorporation of her fleshly being into her anecdotes about her family and the regimentation and repression and rebellion that accompanied growing up in the UK from the 1950s-70s to be far more compelling than Athey's exhibitionist star turn.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

PSi 19 at Stanford

In California for the annual Performance Studies International Conference, which opened last night at Stanford University's gorgeous new Bing Concert Hall (boy, does this campus ever have money!).

We were treated to two lead-off performances, which were both interestingly structured around dance/movement. First up was UK photographer/filmmaker Hugo Glendinning's Un Still Dance, a three-panel projection piece composed of images (and, at once point, counterpointed video) culled from the artist's 30 years of photographing dance, and set to music by John Avery. It was fascinating to take in some of the sculptural tableaux created by Glendinning's bodily juxtapositions, which, though they could only go so far in re-animating the stilled movement (see below), nevertheless created some breathless moments--especially when one recognized the dancers, or the dance (lots of Cunningham unitards, which had the added benefit of creating a point of reference for my own paper). Less successful were the interpolated vistas of landscapes, which when combined with Avery's somewhat limpid piano score distanced the stilled bodies  in the images even further, in an almost Romantic/sublime painterly way that was, I think, counter to Glendinning's intentions.

The second performance was choreographer and current Stanford Artist-in-Residence Ann Carlson's The Symphonic Body, an orchestral work featuring the human body as sole instrument, and with the score composed entirely of everyday gestures culled from the performers'--all connected to the university somehow--daily routines. Carlson served as conducter (it was as fascinating watching her bodily cues to her orchestra as it was their movements in response). When she announced at the outset that the piece, modelled conceptually in part on John Cage's 4'33", would be 33 minutes and 4 seconds long, my heart sank initially, pedestrian movement, especially when largely confined to a chair, being only so compelling for so long. But for the most part I was engaged throughout, and it was interesting to try to put a narrative to some of the players' gestures, wondering what precisely their roles were within the wider campus community.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the awarding of PSi's new ASA (Artist/Scholar/Activist) Award to the fabulous and truly legendary Annie Sprinkle, who in thanking her partner in life and art, Beth Stephens (see my discussion of their Love Art Lab project in World Stages), took the occasion of yesterday's historic US Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to ask Beth to marry her again--legally this time!

Looking forward to four packed days of papers and performance, and just generally catching up with fellow PSers, my favourite kind of artist/academics.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Double Launch

Last night at SFU Woodward's the incomparable Veda Hille hosted Festival LAUNCH!, a showcase of emerging local talent across the spectrum of performance disciplines.

Highlights for me included: Chelsea Laing (aka CHERSEA Music), a singer-songwriter and one-woman band who certainly knows how to work all the inputs on her loop station; the actress Stephanie Izsak, who was so good in Balm in Gilead and Attempts on Her Life at Studio 58 this past season, and who treated us to an excerpt from her one-woman musical-in-progress, which is about the secretary in charge of processing all the new souls through purgatory when God and the Devil suddenly strike up a detente; singer, musician and spoken word artist Gavin Kade Somers, whose "GirlBoy," about gender and sexual identity, was quietly modest in its delivery but packed a powerful emotional punch; and Lisa Simpson, a "sewing agent" whose live performance on her Singer had me enraptured at the reception in the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre that followed the presentations in Studio D.

The evening also served as the launch for 149 Arts Society, a new not-for-profit arts presenter with charitable status working out of SFU Woodward's, and overseen by Cultural Unit Director Michael Boucher. Able to fundraise independent of SFU's Advancement Office, 149 is dedicated to presenting cutting-edge multi-disciplinary work from local, national, and international artists, to commissioning new work, and to supporting under-serviced professional arts communities.

Needless to say, this can only benefit PuSh, at whose most recent Festival opening back in January Boucher first announced this initiative.


Monday, June 17, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Broadway Chorus' "Dunce Upon a Time"

A brief shout-out to Broadway Chorus's just-concluded Dunce Upon a Time, the local musical rep company's 26th hilarious show built around existing show tunes, and featuring the inestimable talents of Artistic Director Ashley Lambert-Maberly, musical director Sarah Jaysmith, and an ensemble of incredibly talented amateur performers who just love to sing.

As with the past BC show I saw, last year's There's Something About Fairy, I am amazed at how Lambert-Maberly is able to craft a story around songs from musicals as diverse as Once, Into the Woods, Sister Act, and The Book of Morman (the duet to "I Believe" by Gil Jaysmith and Theo Wiersma is a show-stopper). In this case, our plot at first glance seems to unfold like a Vancouver riff on The Stepford Wives, as formerly homeless couple Brandon and Jane find themselves as fish out of water in the leafy upscale neighbourhood of West Shaughnessy Dale. But eventually we discover there may be more than just Cold War political and gender ideologies in the water as the musical climaxes in a Wagneresque "Twilight of the Gods" moment atop the penthouse at the Shangri La Hotel.

In between we get BC's trademark potpourri of musical theatre hits, with virtually everyone in the 30+-member ensemble getting a chance to shine in the spotlight. A special mention, however, to PuSh Festival Development Manager Jocelyn MacDougall, who plays Jane. In addition to singing, dancing, and acting her pants off, Jocelyn also plays the viola (!), and sports a bad-ass black wig that makes her look like Frida Lyngstad (the brunette from ABBA).

Last night was a riotous good time that also had Richard and I looking forward to our annual trip to Theatre Under the Stars.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Yeah Beverley!

As Beverley McLachlin is set to become the longest serving Chief Justice in the history of Canada's Supreme Court, an interview in today's Globe and Mail reveals why we should applaud her announcement that she has no intention of retiring before the mandatory age of 75 (she is 66).

Among other things, it ensures a woman remains at the helm as Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempts to roll back gender parity on the country's highest bench. And, as McLachlin reveals in her carefully chosen words about the Tories' Bill C-54, which proposes to rewrite the Criminal Code regarding the rights of the accused with mental illnesses, her judicious presence on that bench is a welcome check against our government's increasing ideological imbalance.

Congratulations Beverley. We look forward to the next nine years.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tonys 2013

God bless Neil Patrick Harris. The producers of the Tony Awards should just hire him for life. Indeed, every awards show should do the same (he'll be hosting the Emmys again later this fall). Here he is in this year's amazing opening number, jumping through a hula hoop, dancing with drag queens, and shimmying with Mike Tyson, among other jaw-dropping theatrics.

As for the awards themselves, it was an interesting night. Kinky Boots bested Matilda, Tracy Letts "upset" Tom Hanks for best actor, women won both the best directing prizes (Diane Paulus for Pippin and Pam MacKinnon for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Cyndi Lauper showed her "true colors" as a musical theatre composer (winning best score), Judith Light won her second best featured actress award in a row, and four African Americans (Patina Miller, Billy Porter, Courtney Vance, and the legendary Cicely Tyson) took home acting prizes.

Oh yeah, and my favourite SCTV alumna, Andrea Martin, still spry at 66, won for best featured actress in a musical. You go girl!