Jake's Gift - WhaT,? A Splendid Double BillThursday, November 13, 2008
On the early hours of June 6, 1944 (0007 minutes after the invasion of Normandy had started) Staff Sargeant James Wallwork (left), glider pilot, cast off his Horsa glider from the Halifax bomber that was towing him. At that instant, the invasion had really begun. There were 156,000 men prepared to go into France that day, by air and by sea, British, Canadian and American, organized into some 12,000 companies. D Company's 160 men under the commmand of Major John Howard in 6 gliders (Number 1 was Wallwork's) led the way. It was the only company attacking as a completely independent unit. When Wallwork cast off, D Company was alone.
At 0016 Wallwork's No 1 (Irene) landed (a controlled crash) very near the Bénouville Bridge (later renamed, most famously, the Pegasus) on the Caen Canal. The crash sent Wallwork and his co-pilot, Staff Sargeant Ainsworth out of the cockpit, through the perspex canopy and into the ground. Wallwork was the first allied soldier on occupied French soil.
This magnificent performance and that of the other 5 Horsa gliders was praised by Air Vice Marshal Leigh-Mallory, commanding the Allied air forces on D-Day, as the greatest feat of flying of World War II.
I remembered the above when Rosemary and I enjoyed a Vancouver East Cultural Centre double bill last night in one of its unofficial sites (in this case The Firehall Arts Centre) while the new Cultch is being finished. The double bill with its military theme, one specifically about the Normandy landings featured Julia Mackey in her play Jake's Gift directed by Dirk Van Stralen. One would have needed to be Charlie McCarthy to not have been affected by Mackey's performance as little French girl who tends the graves of Canadian soldiers who died in the Juno Beach (the Canadians) part of the Normandy invasion. Mackey also plays her grandmother and Jake. Jake is a crusty old veteran who finally makes it to France after 60 years with the purpose of looking for his elder brother's grave. Jake's Gift made me laugh and if had been a little bit less of a Charlie McCarthy I might have cried, too.
The folks at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre have taken an interesting (in my opinion) plunge in attempting to bring several art forms together under one roof. I go to dance, opera, symphony, baroque concerts and theatre. When I go to ballet I never see the crowd that attends modern dance. At the opera I rarely see the folks that cater to Vivaldi and Pandolfi. The scene is fractured.
But last night and until November 16, the double bill includes Jake's Gift and a collaboration by choreographer Jennifer Mascall and modern dancer Ron Stewart called WhaT,?. The latter is dance with the spoken word and video projections. Is it only dance? It is more.
In the past there have been attempts in Vancouver to add the spoken word to dance. In 1998 John Alleyne lauched his The Goldberg and received lots of criticism for the heavy burden of the narrative side of his ballet. I thought the work was beautiful and I did not care that the Ballet BC dancers could not project the voice of CBC radio announcers. If those same Ballet BC dancers tried to find work at the CBC today they would be rejected for not having speech impediments and or lisps. I don't mind when dancers talk.
Ron Stewart, an extremly fit and flexible redhead with a face that could make you lose all your clothes if you ever tried to play strip poker with him, danced four or five rolls. They featured himself and a man that was part his father and the partrooper father of choreographer Jennifer Mascall.
Having seen many Mascall productions I can ascertain here that they will test your mettle and you cannot sit back and relax. There is a lot of stuff thrown at you that is full of intelligence. Just as a José Saramago novel, you have to read one first for the rest to gradually become that much easier to understand, not that you need to understand modern dance at all to enjoy it. Watching Stewart dance is pleasure enough.
Julia Mackey's rapid fire transformation from one character to another with all the accompanying ticks was a tour de force to watch. In the case of Ron Stewart the long moments of silence as he takes his clothes off (a warning!) or puts them on was almost like watching a not so silent reverse strip. If Julia Mackey's tender story had serious moments the funny moments in Stewart's performance are a lot more serious and personal.
I had no new picture of Ron Stewart so I asked him to oblige me and come to my studio to pose for this blog. Since I am going with my granddaugther Rebecca to see the double bill tomorrow I wanted Stewart to bring the Scotish regalia he wears in parts of WhaT,! . The connection is that both Ron and my Rebecca are surnamed Stewart. I asked why the work is called What,? (that comma is part of the title). It seems that people when seeing this show would simply say, "What's..."
Just a few minutes before I sat down to write this I called James Wallwork at his home in Ladner. He is doing just fine and was wondering when he and his wife Genevieve could visit for tea. Wallwerk is 89. I told him how proud I was and how I remembered him last night when I was watching Jake's Gift and how I wanted to shout, "I know the man who was the first man to hit Normandy, head first through the windshield of his glider plane!"