Mascall's The White Spider - The Brutal Telling RetoldFriday, November 25, 2011
|Jennifer Mascall with Alan Storey's Lurch & stage at the Norman Rothstein Theatre|
She has experimented with combining movement, text and music with her 1998 story of Emily Carr in her The Brutal Telling where she used two dancers who alternated playing our iconic West Coast landscape painter. Through the years Mascall has choreographed something that she now calls Garden Dances in which audiences follow dancers to different locations including, one year where dancer Don Stewart swam (most elegantly)in a West Vancouver swimming pool.
Perhaps one of her most interesting pieces was Housewerk – At Hycroft in 2003, where her dancers performed at the stately mansion in different rooms simultaneously. They all appeared together in the initial section and in the end with the full audience present. But in between, the audience and dancers were sectioned into rooms so that we the audience (re-grouped into smaller groups) saw each work (each group) in different order. I would have called it dance/hypertext.
|Jennifer Mascall - 1998|
While many, including my wife, may see modern dance as a remote art form that needs an explanation and a dance form that in many cases uses “scary” contemporary music and a difficult if non existing plot, Mascall’s works have always been approachable, pleasant even though they always smack as pure avant-garde.
In my years of attending dance in Vancouver I have seen many brilliant works. John Alleyne at Ballet BC introduced me to the works of William Forsythe and I learned to like and enjoy Peter Bingham’s brand of contact improvisational dance. I also learned to understand and then appreciate Kokoro’s post atomic apocalypse-like Butoh. I have watched the thrilling Evelyn Hart’s Juliette and been scared off our seats (with my granddaughter) with the sounds and sights of the National Ballet of Canada’s version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Nobody who has ever seen Karen Jamieson’s Sisyphus can ever take breathing for granted. And it was through Jamieson that I first discovered Byron Chief Moon’s very particular brand of native Canadian dance.
I discovered that dance and humor could go hand in hand with the works of Crystal Pite and I was blown away by her pairing with that other hyper talented dancer Cori Caulfield,
And I have not forgotten the dances of choreographer gone like Cornelius Fischer-Credo’s The Beauty Machine where I first noticed that dance, good dance was within walking distance of where I lived, by the Jewish Community Centre on 41st (not its correct name but wherein lies the Norman Rothstein Theatre).
And anybody who has ever watched Emily Molnar dance knows how lucky we may be to now have her direct Ballet BC.
|The Brutal Telling|
Olivia Thorvaldson, Marthe Léonard
Emily Carr & Jennifer Mascall
White Spider was a work in which my friend Graham Walker and I, were brutally thrilled from our perch on the front row on Friday at the Norman Rothstein Theatre (so conveniently close to my home). It was performed in what really was not a stage with a backdrop or a set. It was much more than that as it involved the metal stuff, projections and machines that are extruded (much like the aluminum he seems to love so) from the brain of artist/sculptor/set designer, etc. Alan Storey.
The work is in two parts. The first part involves strenuous and continuous movement that is not always on the dance floor. The dancers swing back and forth and are pushed by each other in what must be dangerous procedures that would seem are not so, or are so brilliantly executed that there have been no falls or collisions. It escapes me how Mascall has choreographed stuff that only Johnny Weismmuller in his dreams could have replicated.
The second half involves the use of a huge pipe structure (designed by Alan Storey) that is securely held to the ground by two thousand pounds of water in two water tanks at its base. The structure was (not so fondly?) nicknamed Lurch by the dancers. Lurch becomes the North Face of the Eiger and a couple of dancers do stuff on it in which their very life might depend on the steady hold of two other dancers that control the slack of climbing ropes.
While all this planned chaos was going on we were challenged by the music of composer Jeff Corness (Turning Point co-artistic director and principal trombonist, Jeremy Berkman was there to listen to the music but stayed, he told me because of the dance), which seemed to gallop inexorably, without any hint of alienation, towards the final conquest of the peak.
There must be a tremendous sense of trust between dancers when your life and the possibility of you plummeting down to a hard floor from many feet above depend on the quickness of mind and strength of a fellow dancer. The men were such stalwart examples but so was Darcy McMurray who the day before, during a tech rehearsal, in what could have been a worse mishap, suffered a rope burn on her armpit. She calmly told me, “It’s par for the course around here.” During the second half of White Spider McMurray wore with her 1930 circa mountain climbing plus fours a pair of most interesting high heeled shoes that looked like they might have come from the house of Fluevog. Credit must be given to costume designer Catherine Han for that bit of whimsey and for the beautiful white costumes of the first half.
Of the other two dancers, Jessie Kwan and Thoenn Glover I would like to add that here is an example of the passing of the baton of dance which is a curious example of how knowledge of the past is transferred, passed on and renewed.
Consider that Simon Fraser University’s Judith Garay, Associate Dance Professor learned from Martha Graham. These skills she has passed to her pupil, a recent graduate, Jessie Kwan, who told me, “I absolutely love Judith.”
Thoenn Glover is a product, of the Arts Umbrella Graduate Program which is headed by Artemis Gordon. Consider that the original rehearsal director for White Spider happened to be Lina Fitzner another graduate from that program who was inspired for many years Ballet BC’s Emily Molnar. And the stalwart Robert Halley also passed through Artemis Gordon’s directions.
Katy Harris-McLeod & Keely Remillard (with broom)
Ziyian Kwan, Dean Makarnko
bottom row, Sophie Allison & Jen Murray
Far right Don Stewart
I am not a dance critic and I am not able to analyze for you what I saw and why I enjoyed it. That the performance had a good crowd but not a 100% full one is perhaps explained by the fact that so many in Vancouver think that modern dance is hard to watch. I saw both Byron Chief Moon and Karen Jamieson at the performance (ample proof that what I was going to see was going to be good). I asked Jamieson about modern dance and its funding. She was short in her explanation, “It is difficult.”
Reflecting on all those performances of dance past that I will perhaps never see again I was comforted by a little talk given to us by Mascall after the intermission. She explained of good music and good musical works it is not enough to say that once you have heard it, once is enough. That can never be. One must hear it again and again under different interpretations. Those of us that listen grow with those interpretations and our points of reference change, too. It is the same for dance she told us. I noticed that The Brutal Telling became Traces of Emily Carr in 2008.
|Byron Chief Moon & Karen Jamieson|
Besides sophisticated and challenging modern dance Mascall is committed to bringing back her works of the past as fresh re-interpretations. I cannot wait to see what White Spider will become in a near future. Suffice to say; Mascall’s works will not suffer the fate of so many of our city’s dance works, oblivion in which our memory is the only proof fine moments experienced.