Arts Umbrella - Essentially - Pure Dance
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Lauren, Rebecca (both dressed to the teeth) and I attended the Arts Umbrella Dance Company Season Finale last night at the Vancouver Playhouse. I have gone to these before with Rebecca and it features the Senior Company Dancers
and the Apprentice Company Dancers
. As a special treat that happened because of an exchange program the evening also featured Joffrey Ballet School Dancers
(no less!) and a finale, Samsara
(choreographer Margo Sappington) that combined both dance companies and brought down the house with intensity, music and costumes to die for.
Rebecca and I go to a lot of dance and Lauren is becoming an aficionado, too. We know what we like. I find it curious that even if you compare this yearly Arts Umbrella tradition to any other dance performance by any company, be it Canadian or international, only the Arts Umbrella performance seems to be, essentially, intense and pure dance. Only La La La Human Steps
from Quebec leaves me as exhausted and satiated.
Last night was no exception. At a pre-performance reception were Rebecca chatted with Emily Molnar and Tiko Kerr, we were asked when we felt most alive. The question was immediately answered that dancers, the Arts Umbrella dancers, feel most alive when they dance. That made me think as I am too self-concious when I dance the Argentine tango to feel alive. I am much too worried if I am doing the right steps.
I would say that I feel most alive during a portrait session. There is that instance when I know I have my shot. And I know I can quit at that moment and not fret anymore. Attempting to take that photograph with fewer and fewer exposures (in an age of digital regurgitation) is specially satisfying.
In a number before the intermission, Grosse Fugue
(by dazzling Toronto choreographer Roberto Campanella) in a beginning with absolute silence (Beethoven was to be later) Alex Burton and Alyson Fretz danced together. Burton's profile would have launched a thousand ships of Amazon women. Burton and Fretz, for a few moments, were the ultimate Romeo and Juliet falling in love. The sexuality, intense as it felt to me, was romantic, classy, tender. I felt like running up to Ballet BC's John Alleyne (sitting in the back row) and saying, "Mr Alleyne, choreograph your version of Romeo and Juliet. You have your dancers here, and now."
I was alive.
There were some moments of retrospection for me. I wonder why Rebecca and her powers that be do not understand that women like dancer and choreographer Emily Molnar, and dance director Artemis Gordon (seen here with Alex Burton) instill in dancers a way of life that will make them better persons even if they ultimately do not become dancers. They learn unflinching commitment and a desire to do their best in a world that is bocoming more and more a world of mediocrity and incompetence.
Rebecca and I missed Nina Davies our most favourite and flexible dancer. She has back problems (at this moment unresolved). I have watched Davies dance for some four years and I have chatted with her and her mother Kitty. At age 16 she is the very model of the girl I would like Rebecca in some way to resemble. But let me end with a humorous note. Artist Tiko Kerr introduced a gentleman to her. "Rebecca, this is my husband Craig." A few moments later, a puzzled Rebecca asked me, "How can that be?" And then she immediately said, "Oh, yes I understand now."
I was alive.
Friday, May 09, 2008
I first met up with the "Three Musketeers" (my name for them), Kim Collier, Jonathan Young and Kevin Kerr, founding members (1996) of the Electric Theatre Company
in 2001. I was comissioned by them to take pictures of the actors involved in a play adapted by Vancouver's Carmen Aguirre from Jorge Amado's novel, Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands.
The project also involved Argentine artists Nora Patrich and Juan Manuel Sánchez. On opening night, in the reception area of the East Vancouver Cultural Centre, Patrich, Sánchez and I had photographs, paintings, sketches with photographs and other variations that showed the characters of the play in their roles. It was the Electric Theatre Company that probably innaugurated the East Vancouver Cultural Centre tradition of having at least one production per year (be it a play or a dance performance) featuring full nudity. In fact it was Donna Flor's first husband (Ty Olson) who made the Vancouver theatre audience receptive to having a man on stage nude and who dangled his parts for most of the performance. Carmen Aguirre
was Donna Flor. She shed her clothes for the last act.
I dealt with them in 2003 for The Fall
. It is hard to distinguish who acts, who directs and who writes the company's plays. I do believe that Kevin Kerr does not act. He is a playwright who won the Governor General's Literary Award in 2002 for his play Unity (1918)
but both Collier and Young (married to each other, photo above, left) write, act and Collier directs. All three happily co-write many of the company's plays.
In 2006 the company staged Studies in Motion
written by Kevin Kerr (right) that was based on the story of photographer Eadweard Muybridge. This wonderful play (nudity but this time at UBC's Frederic Wood Theatre) broke new grounds as all movement was choreographed by Kidd Pivot's Crystal Pite
. After seeing this play I thought that theatre would never be quite same again for me. And that has been so. The Electric Theatre Company keeps challenging this concept of what theatre should or can be.
Last night Rosemary and I were challenged but entertained in the company's performance of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit
. Both Rosemary and I had read the play many times but we have never seen it performed. No subsequent staging that we might see elsewhere will be able to match the bells, the whistles and the sheer technical wizardry of this production. And Kim Collier's direction was tight and to the point. Stuff had to be edited out. As an example when I spotted Crystal Pite I asked her, "How would you have choroegraphed this play? How would you have prevented the actors from ever blinking their eyes?" With a smile she answered, "I couldn't have." So any mention that the protagonists can never close their eyes was taken out from Paul Bowles' translation.
The three actors who are in "The Room", Laara Sadiq, Andy Thompson and Lucia Frangione show no redeeming qualities (terrific acting) and thus show why they are in hell. I never felt sorry for them and I now understand why my theology class before lunch in my Catholic boarding school in Texas seemed like hell. As we would say in Spanish, it was an antesala del infierno
or ante room to hell. The class seemed like it would never end.
But it was Jonathan Young's performance as the valet that I enjoyed the best. Last year I thought his Ruby Slippers paticipation in Trout Stanley
was the best performance by a male actor that I have seen in years. And Rosemary still talks about his acting in the company's 2004 play, Palace Grand (picture here of Young smoking a joint).
Young is a handsome actor. But he is slim and almost as small as Collier. He can (I am sure) almost make himself disappear so you won't notice him. And he rarely yells. You pay attention because you want to listen to him. In No Exit
, while I didn't give a damn what happened to the three in the room I felt anguish for Young's valet who it would seem will have to spend an eternity dealing with people of no consequence. A worse hell I cannot imagine.
By accident I saw the CBC film (2004) A Bear Named Winnie
on TV over the weekend. It is based on the true story of a Canadian soldier, enroute to World War I from Winnipeg, who adopts an orphaned bear cub at White River Ontario. It is named Winnie (for Winnipeg) and eventually ends up at the London Zoo where it became the inspiration for A.A.Milne's Winnie The Pooh stories. He is fussed over by two men. One of them is Jonathan Young who plays a veterinarian soldier called Macray. It was in this film (a film that shows that the CBC can deliver good Canadian goods when it wants to) that I noticed Young's chameleon qualities. But it was this line in the film that stopped me and made me notice, "I know everything, I have done nothing."
There is more. The three musketeers met while studying theatre at Langara's Studio 58. Carmen Aguirre studied there and has written plays for it including a most entertaining adaptation of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar's story The Rules of the Game.
A few weeks back I photographed Antony Holland
who was the founder of Studio 58. His latest project is minimalist theatre. He believes that strong plays don't need staging or props. He would perhaps not approve of the Electric Theatre Company's No Exit
. I would only say to this gentle man that more than anybody in Vancouver he is singly responsible for the machinations of his students. They will perhaps some day return to his minimalism. Meanwhile he should take some credit for the sheer brilliance of those whom he has inspired.
Luckily for the other theatre companies of our city, these three musketeers are only three. Were they four there would be no competition.
Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that I will be doing a public reading of Blue Box, my new play, during The New Play Festival, which takes place during Magnetic North, the national theatre festival being held in Vancouver this year.
Blue Box is a one-woman autobiographical dark comedy about sex and politics. Can there be sex without politics? Can there be politics without sex? The play takes place in the Third and First worlds, from the eighties into the new millenium, during revolutionary and post-revolutionary times.
Here's the info:
Blue Box, written and performed by Carmen Aguirre, directed by Brian Quirt.
A Nightswimming commission.
When: Wednesday, June 11th, at 9pm
Where: Playwrights Theatre Centre Studio at Festival House on Granville Island. 1398 Cartwright Street, a few doors down from The Waterfront Theatre.
Admission: $5 at the door.
Would love to see you all there! Please pass it on.... Carmen Aguirre:)
A Nostalgia For Women In Skirts & Dresses
Thursday, May 08, 2008
It is vivid and indelible in my memory. I was 7 or 8 years old and I was with my mother in a colectivo
(a Buenos Aires bus). So vivid is my memory that I remember that we were on the fashionable Calle Esmeralda. A woman got on the bus with a little creature in tow. He or she was wearing a dress but he or she had very short hair (a crew cut). I could not decide if this was a boy dressed as a girl or some kind of strange girl. When I was that age the difference between the sexes was obvious. Boys wore short pants and men wore long pants. Girls and women wore dresses or skirts. When my mother took me to see a film with Katherine Hepburn I was most confused. Here was a woman who almost had a man's voice. And she wore pants. Not long after a little American girl came to my house to play and asked me if I wanted to see it.
It was then that all my confusion about the sexes began.
Now that the 20th century has slipped into the 21st it seems obvious that skirts and dresses will go the way of Body by Fisher.
That is why I long for the nostalgia of my past in Argentina where in my imagination (perhaps) women were women and I was never confused (except for that little girl who must have had very thin hair). I can relive that nostalgia by glancing through the files of Linda Lorenzo.
This Argentine beauty posed for Juan Manuel Sanchez, Nora Patrich and me in my studio or in Nora's house for over a year. We drank mate, spoke Argentine Spanish and relived a life when everything was in its proper (for us) place.
Juan asked Linda to pose with a guitar. I was appalled at his cliché on how a guitar resembles a woman. But Linda posed and I snapped my picture and joked with Juan. Now that Juan and Nora are divorced and live in separate aparments in Buenos Aires with new partners I would be prepared to photograph whatever cliché Juan could cook up just to share the comfort and joy of gazing at a woman who is woman.
On Friday I am going to the the end of the school year performance of the Arts Umbrella senior and junior dance companies at the Vancouver Playhouse with Lauren and Rebecca. I have expressly asked them to wear dresses. Rebecca was reluctant but she agreed. What joy!
Some years back I spent lots of time at Juan Manuel Sánchez and Nora Patrich's house. My wife started suspecting something and asked me bluntly. I responded in a way she was not expecting and I wrote about it here
. Rosemary then accepted my daily mate
(Argentine gourd tea) journey to Nora's and our constant telephone communication. Rosemary knew it was good for my soul and for my artistic morale.
But these good things ended when Nora and Juan divorced and both moved to Buenos Aires. Juan has an younger mistress and Nora has found a man in politics who shares her leftist leanings of her "causa
". Nora and Juan don't see each other and rarely communicate.
When I have Rebecca in the car and I am taking her home the route passes by Nora and Juan's old house. One of Nora's daughters still lives there. Rebecca notices Juan and Nora's paintbrushes (in bottles) by the windows and a couple of little Argentine flags. Rebecca knows and doesn't ask. She knows how I miss them because she misses them, too. She also misses sipping the hot and bitter mate, the smell of paint and the "alegría
" of our conversations. Juan said he would not attempt to teach Rebecca to draw and paint until she were 11. Juan believed children should be allowed to paint with freedom and without adult restrictions until that age. It would be about now that Rebecca would have walked the two blocks for her lessons with Juan.
Nora was a different kettle of fish. She was impulsive yet calculating. I always made fun of her leftist philosophy while dependent on her Visa card to get Airmiles points. I called it "causa de tacita de thé
" or a leftist cause while holding the delicate tea cup.
As a young teenager on her way to school Nora would pass by the taller
(studio) of the famous Grupo Espartaco artist (Grupo Espartaco was a group of Argentine painters who protested the military juntas of Argentina with mural art) Juan Manuel Sánchez and she would spy at the paintings. In the mid 90s after marrying two previous men she finally married Juan Manuel Sánchez. She brought him to Vancouver where Juan, not able to speak the language became a penguin in the arctic.
He was out of his element. As he looked out of the window of his taller
on to Douglas Park he felt alienated in not being able to understand the game being played. I tried to explain but Juan never did understand or want to understand what baseball was. Juan is back in the city he loves but after having experienced some the benefits of Canada and Vancouver like our health system or the fact that electricity is constant and communication dependable he is now perhaps a polar bear in the antarctic. Nonetheless he is able to walk down from the taller to the nearby pizzería El Cuartito and savour a porción
with his beloved moscato
(a very cold and very sweet fortified wine that tastes like fine grape juice).
As time passes my disdain for of Nora's causa
and her constant praise for the Cuban health system and her criticism of Bush (Bush was singlehandedly the cause of global warming) is fading. I think it was all hot air. Nora had suffered terrible face cancers and our Canadian health system had been kind to her. She and Juan had a wonderful show of joint murals (painted in my studio on large rolls of canvas) that went from one town to another in all the major provinces of Argentina. The tab was picked up by "the culturally disadvantaged" (as Nora and Juan often complained) Canadians. It was the Canadian embassy in Buenos Aires that promoted their art. The Argentine economy was much too poor and in disarray to fund culture.
And so I miss Juan but I also miss Nora. My bitterness at their ruining of my artistic life by leaving me alone is fading a bit and I am beginning to seek out other outlets. But that does not prevent me from basking in the memory of those wonderful times.
Here you see Nora Patrich and Linda Lorenzo in Nora's living room. That smile! Nora had props. "I need a violin," I would tell her and she would fish one out from somewhere. She had a collection of fans and old dresses. Dresses that made Linda look fabulous. Being in Nora's living room was inspiration enough for anything. Nora had some original Goya engravings on her wall, a Picasso on another. A whole wall housed art books in Spanish. The other photograph shows Nora's painting in her paradoxical style. She had a causa yet her paintings never showed what was wrong with the world. Her women seemed to be ideal women who had no cause and just stared out of the canvas in wonder at the beauty of our world. The position of her woman's hands represents the female sexual organ. Nora was very frank in her discussion of sex and political correctness was not part of her causa. The photograph attempts to display a Borgesian obsession with the labyrinth.
Linda is wearing a Mexican rebozo that was given to my mother by her sister Dolly in 1951. It is made of raspy and rough cotton and the red dye is a brilliant vegetable dye. It smells of the Indian sandalwood chest I store it in.
And below is a photograph that combines all the paintings and the labyrinths we could muster.
Buddy Selfish & His Saviours - A Taco On The Barber Chair
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
I know very few people in Vancouver who have a memory for buildings that are gone or for buildings that have been modified. A pleasant exception is my friend architect Henry Hawthorn.
Few who might find themselves at the corner of Fir and West Broadway would suspect that the strange white building that is now the Filpino bakery Goldilocks (the largest bakery chain in the world), used to house est (Erhard Seminars Training). Encounter sessions would be far livelier with Magnolia macapunú
ice cream on the side.
In 1982 I photographed a revival rockabilly band Buddy Selfish & His Saviours in what for many years seemed to be a permanent fixture of our city. An Italian gentleman (an Italian version of Dorian Gray as he always looked the same) had a barbershop on the corner of Commercial Drive and 1st Avenue. Perhaps only two or three years ago it became a Mexican fast food restaurant (a very good one).
When I stop at this corner I think of the Ian Tiles (sitting on the barber chair) and the other members of the band. On the far right is Colin Griffiths (ex-UJ3RK5), then Bob Petterson, Nick Jones (ex-Pointed Sticks) and Andy Grafitti (ex-UJ3RK5).
Karethe Linnaae - Knife Out Of Water
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Some years ago I read a book of short stories by Milan Kundera. One of the stories has remained in my memory.
A young married couple living in the former Eastern Block country in Europe have to plan their vacation ahead. They finally get permission and they are driving to their resort destination. They are slightly bored so the woman suggests that they stop for gasoline and play a game. He is to gas up and then she will walk further on a pretend that she is thumbing a ride. He agrees. He picks her up and the game gets vicious when they say things to each other that they would otherwise have never said. He thinks she plays too easy, she thinks he is a sexist pig.
That story has remained in my memory because I associate it with a Polanski's classic 1962 film Knife in the Water
. I saw it in the Israeli Cultural Institute in Mexico City sometime in 1964. In this film a couple on their way to a weekend escape in their boat, pick up a male hitchhiker and invite him to their boat. A rivalry insues for the attentions of the woman.
There is something European about the story and the film. While I have seen every film Charlotte Rampling (the quintessential European woman) I thought she was a fish out of water in the 1982 American film The Verdict
with Paul Newman. Her "Europeaness" was diluted.
Norwegian film lighting technician Karethe Linnaae oozes European. Her accent is just right and her voice low enough to instantly alert you to her presence. She is the kind of woman that if you invite her to a bar/restaurant (the Railway Club on Dunsmuir, for example) men (and women) will ask me, "Who is she?" I can imagine a knife fight over her and Kundera would write a story about Karethe if he ever met her. He would write how she is a wrench in any mixture of men and how they will abandon all pretenses of fair play and gentlemanly behaviour to attract her attention.
While I have not seen her for a long while I remember her easy smile and her warmth. I am grateful to have met her.
Monday, May 05, 2008
It appreared in about 1941, raised by Colonel Stevenson Clark of Sussex, England, by crossing Camellia saluenensis
with Camellia japonica
I have written about camellias and this particular one here
. When I look at camellias I think of my boarding school days at St. Edwards
in Austin, Texas in the late 50s. The only woman on campus was an older and large black woman who worked in our cafeteria kitchen. Our only contact with members of the female sex where in the basketball and football games. The girls from the other side of the city, St Mary's attended and some of them were our cheerleaders. I was much too shy to talk to them (and Judy Reyes, below, in particular) and since I didn't know how to dance I rarely met any of them at our occasional sock hops in our basketball gym.
There was one woman (there were others, but I remember in particular this one) who knew the number of our pay phone at the end of our dormitory hall. Her name was Marion and she would call and we would talk to her for hours. She led us on (I would use a the term that was in vogue then, she was a p---- teaser ). She had a pleasant sexy voice and was never crude. She was a solace in those in-between days before they let us out for all day passes in town on Saturdays and Sundays.
I would first go to 6th Street where there was a pocket book store. After buying a Frank G. Slaughter pocket novel. The medical novels had lots of terrific sex in them. I did not feel guilty in reading them as my mother loved this author. And one title in particular, Dear And Glorious Physician
was about St Luke even though there were lots of sexual shenanigans in Bithynia!
Then I would walk to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel on Congress Avenue and I would gaze (while spooning my favourite ice cream, vanilla with real cherry bits) on the lovely soda jerk who worked behind the soda fountain counter. She was blonde and I imagined she was Eva Marie Saint. I had fallen for her (and ignored Elizabeth Taylor's violet eyes) when I had seen Raintree County
in the movie house, next door.
Camellias are like Marion and the soda jerk at the Stephen F. Austin. They dazzle, they promise but don't deliver. Camellias have all the promise of my roses that begin to bloom at the end of May. Some of my roses even resemble camellias. But they also deliver with scent. Many are remontant and don't just bloom and quickly fade away as camellias do.
But my camellias do offer me solace for those in-between days of May. Before my roses finally deliver.
Trampling Huns & Little Girl Hostesses
Sunday, May 04, 2008
One of the perils of opening one's garden to a tour is that even if I tell Rosemary that nobody is going to bother to look at the outside of the house she worries that people will do just that. Since we moved to our house on Athlone Street in 1986 we have only had our house painted once. And it was a nerve racking experience. The only way you can paint our house is to do so in the waning days of summer, after we simply say to ourselves, "Let the painters step on anything. The plants will come back next year." To paint our house or even approach a cosmetic "paint the flaws" approach now is at best a compromise. These cosmetic touches cannot be applied until the weather is warm enough and dry enough for the paint to stick. This means the plants (including delicate ferns and emerging hostas) will suffer the fearsome effects of our local Attilas who have no idea of their fragile nature.
Yesterday was one of the most stressful days in memory for us as our Bosnian Attila trampled back and forth while painting with finesse the peeling stucco that had been "gently" removed by his German Attila cohort with 2200psi. To be fair no painter that I know would have accepted such a job that involved placing ladders in almost dangerous angles when scaffolding should have been erected. Worst of all we could not spend much time with Rebecca who given no direction will end up dressing dolls on the computer or watching TV. Lauren, on the other hand stayed outside talking to our Bosnian Attila. He talks even when we are not nearby. Here he finally found his match and he warmed up to her. Considering that he is poised to be a grandfather by December this bodes well. He is gentle with children even if with us he complains of the working conditions, the cold , the rain and our impossible demands.
Lauren spent the day outside while asking me questions on absolutely everything. I kept thinking while showing much patience and restraint, "Go and talk to him."
But both Rosemary and I know that when the visitors from the home and gardens (one garden, ours!) Ballet BC tour come at the end of the month the garden will be as ready as it can possibly be. Both Rebecca and Lauren will be wearing dresses and, if weather permits, they will be barefoot. I will teach Lauren the names of some plants (Rebecca knows many already) and they will be our hostesses while se sit down and enjoy the hordes of visitors (anywhere between 1500 and 2000). Stressful times will be in the past and even though Rosemary said, "Never again," I am sure that if someone calls to ask us if we will open the garden next year...