Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Review - Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Royal Opera Ballet

There are certain companies you grow up in awe of. For the most part, this awe fades as you get older, learn more about your craft, and see more work. The Royal Ballet, home-base of two of my favourite dancers in history (Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn) was one of those companies I was in awe of, and finally this week I had the chance to see them live. The awe has not faded in the least. This production, a re-mount of their 2011 world premiere, was every bit of brilliant dancing, amazing costumes and clever set design that I had grown up expecting to see at the Royal Opera Ballet.

The choreography, unlike many new full-length ballets, uses a significant amount of classical ballet language, with the majority of female roles en pointe. This was refreshing, as we have come to see a lot of character-shoe or bare-footed ballerinas after the contemporary dance waves of the 70s and 80s. Wheeldon spins a beautiful story, hearkening back to the original Lewis Carrol book, one spinning through confusion, illogical associations, and silliness. Some specific choices stood out; Alice's free-spirited and youthful movement carried through the piece, while the Queen of Hearts is shaped as a prima-ballerina past per prime, in full egotistical glory. The most genius stroke, however, was to make the Mad Hatter a tap dancer; Wheeldon's choreography allows the Mad Hatter's tapping to underscore the emotion in each moment, his steps mirroring the ballet ones, but adding sounds throughout, all of which was beautifully executed.

Overall, an amazing night-of-a-lifetime.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review - The Master and Margarita - Complicite @ Barbican

Another company whose work I have admired for some time, and one which I had the immense pleasure of participating in a weekend lab with over the past two days (look for the blog on that too!). This piece, based on the Bulgakov pre-WW2 novel, was visually stunning, taking the audience through a mad and twisted fairy tale land of devils and talking cats, all with the assistance of 16 committed performers, minimal furniture, and amazing lighting design. True to their form, Complicite work from minimal props and sets, and will use physical theatre defamiliarization techniques to use these props to make all sorts of locations, objects, and feelings. In the hands of these capable performers, chairs become olive trees, weapons, stairs, you name it. The sheer imagination of the piece had me on edge, and completely wanting to invent work like this of my own.

That said, I did have some concern over the vocal work on the show; at times actors were not understandable (notably, the lead "The Master" was unintelligible from the upper stalls) while others' voices were strained and overworked. As well, I did find myself wondering how the show would be possible without the multi-million dollar lighting rig and amazing sound and lighting design they had. Obviously this is just my poor theatre student sensibility coming out, but there is something to be said; there were moments where I felt without the lighting or sound the energy of the piece would have been mute.

On the whole, I have immense respect for Complicite's work, and was fully inspired by the piece, despite a couple small queries or misgivings.

Review - Can We Talk About This? DV8 Physical Theatre @ Royal National Theatre

I have had a massive company-crush on DV8 for well over a year, since a friend first shared a clip of this show in its Australian incarnation. As a result, I went into this show with huge expectations and the desire to be tested intellectually and visually. The set as we first see it is a large, open space prepared for intricate physical movement with parquet floors. There is a wall close to the downstage side with mirrors on it, and doors lining the sides of the room on stage. Pulling no punches, creator Lloyd Newson begins by cracking in on the audience, largely visible in the mirror on stage, about moral superiority to the Taliban. This direct address sets the tone for the ensuing 120 minutes of questioning our stance (or lack thereof) when it comes to Western cultures interacting with other cultures, most specifically muslims. The show challenges us to look at our own beliefs, and to question why we have come to a place of moral relativism, where acts we view as completely heinous are okay for others, because of their "culture".

At its root is a deep belief in the univerality of human existence; that there are certain basic rights that all people deserve to have access to, and that for someone to remove those rights in the name of religion or culture is not acceptable. The intellectual debate is fiery, and is underscored by intense physical choreography which echoes in space and movement the essence of what a character is saying or doing, to great effect. When a politician is dancing around an issue, the actor is literally fancy-footing around the stage. When a woman is preaching from her high horse, she speaks the entire monologue from atop another actor, who moves her around as if he was her chair.

Oddly, despite the desecriptions I have stated above, it does not feel like it gives us an answer...rather it asks A LOT of questions and at least in my case, sparked some serious discussion about how we should handle these things and what is acceptable.

Overall, the effect was visually stunning, underscoring intense intellectual debate, and left me thinking. Isn't that what we want theatre to do?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Downfall - Death of the Vancouver Playhouse

For those outside the Canadian theatre bubble, this might require some explanation. March 9th, the Vancouver Playhouse, a regional Canadian theatre established in 1962, announced it would be closing. Plagued with debt, the company felt they were unable to overcome this and the board voted to shut things down. As one might imagine, this has caused outcry from the theatre community across Canada; anger at arts cuts from the current Conservative government that span back years, mountains of hypotheses on the cause of this downfall , and petitions circulating to try to save the company, soliciting donations. I do not disagree with a single one of these.

That said, I feel that the thing that is going unsaid (or at least not loudly enough) is that many professional regional companies in Canada are not creating work that gives people a reason to go. In an age where Hollywood and Television do what they do so well, and suck people in to paying upwards of $13 for a movie theatre ticket to see the latest blockbuster, theatre interest has waned, particularly among the aging middle-class bourgeois Canadian public. Now what has the Canadian Mainstream's response to this been, in the face of large commercial successes like those seen by DanCap and Mirvish in Toronto (the Canuck equivalent of the West End or Broadway)? It has been to try continually to produce the mega-budget, big-star blockbuster, but on the stage. This has meant season after season full of adaptations from films, or staging of plays that have been made to films, for maximum opportunity for success. Rather than engaging with what makes theatre essential, as well as what makes it fundamentally different from a moviegoing experience, theatre in Canada has attempted to be "just like the big kids".

I would like this to be a call to arms for my fellow young theatremakers in Canada; With our generation, lets fix things, not by going with formulae and safe but mediocre successes, but by really challenging why on earth we make this stuff in the first place. Lets make interesting and new work that challenges the audience and makes them want more. What stories must be told in the theatre? What makes our medium, one that has existed for 2000 years different and necessary? And why should people come see our work?

When we can begin to attempt to answer these questions in our work, we'll have begun to do something truly worthwhile. I know it is in there.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Well, the day is here! The play I dared write will have a scene performed at RADA this evening, in the lovely hands of a talented director and 2 talented performers. What a surreal experience, not only having my characters brought to life, but having my text interpreted by a director, seeing how she makes my words come alive.

I was just sitting in a rehearsal, listening to their final work before our workshop presentation, and it was like an out of body experience; I know I wrote these words, and yet performed, it sounds like words that came from someone else.

I look forward to tonight's performance! I will be recording it and will post it up for viewing enjoyment.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

More Questions

I just had my preliminary meeting with my tutor, Andrew Visnevski, in preparation for my dissertation work commencing in May. All I can say is that I had a lot of questions leading to this meeting, and now have even more, and even fewer answers and less focus. That said, I am extremely excited to have this project beginning, and cannot wait to see where it will take me intellectually, artistically, and personally.

Now to make a plan of attack, keep reading like a crazy person, and find some actor-collaborators.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Celebrating Women

It is International Womens' week, which means that there are a plethora of readings, exhibitions, meetings, and the like celebrating the work of women and how far we have come in the last century or so. Simultaneously, there are daily barrages of female image on television, film, advertising, music, quickly regressing this progress in the search for the 'girl' with the best legs, or who makes the most desirable (read: attractive) mate. Club culture is no exception; it is a place where women continue to be valued for the brevity of their skirt and the height of their heels, and go-go dancers have made a resurgence in their underwear-worn-as-outerwear attire. So it seemed to me these worlds collided when I received a facebook invite to an event titled "International Women's Week" at a weekly club night in a Canadian city which will remain unnamed. This night boasted "Free cover for the ladies" and a single "girl-dj special guest" among the male-filled lineup of five. In addition, the night boasted go-go dancers.

Now, take away the event title, and this is pretty standard club-fare; boys' club where the girl sometimes gets to come play, but for the most part is relegated to a status in a skimpy skirt and fur boots atop a speaker. But this event really took things to a new level by labelling itself for International Womens' Week, whilst continuing to offer these demeaning evidences. These people have missed the point to a degree beyond any rational explanation. Is our generation truly that out of touch that it feels something like this might actually empower women and challenge gender roles?

I sincerely hope things like this are isolated. I also sincerely hope that no self-respecting woman shows up.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Pushing Boundaries

I have mentioned in previous blogs that I am grappling with ideas of responsibility to the audience, how we position the audience as performer-creators, and what the limits might be of what we can demand from our audience. Last night's scene study class allowed another opportunity for me to give this consideration, as we were joined by Dominic Johnson, performance artist and lecturer at Queen Mary, University of London. []

It is very simple to see performance art, particularly that which contains self-mutilation of some kind as facile or sensationalist. I think this is selling it short, as there is something very engaging to be taken from these pieces, whether we feel we agree with them or not. Dominic's work is highly detailed, engaging very specifically with questions and challenges posed by theatre intellectuals, and in creating a language of images does not allow the viewer to sit back. His work engages specifically with questions of our comfort; why do we accept some things and not others, why is boxing okay, but piercing on stage crossing a line? In many ways, Dominic's talk with us raised more questions than it answered, however what I can say definitively is that is has pushed me into a further examination of where my limits are. I think (and this is rather tentative) that what causes me to step back is the potential for chaos, of unexpected danger. Contrary to social mores, I tend to accept performance art which is planned, rehearsed, safe in its execution and reject boxing for its chaotic and limitless nature. But then what of the things that lie in between? Physical theatre or dance, for example, are willing, consentual abuses of the body, which although practiced could go horribly wrong. Why is this still okay to me?

And in doing all of this, where does this position the audience? What is the difference between an audience who has purchased a ticket specifically to see a performance artist in a theatre space, and a clubber who sees a performance artist, perhaps unexpectedly? What considerations must the creator have, or is this difference, this subversion of expectation precisely the point?

It seems that I accept the aestheticization of pain. Time for more thinking.