An iPhone 3G's View Of Mascall's White Spider
Saturday, November 26, 2011
|Technical rehearsal, White Spider, November 24 2011|
From left to right
Robert Halley & Jessie Kwan
Darcy McMurray & Thoenn Glover
Early in my photographic career in Vancouver I realized that the most important aspect to be learned was to develop a distinct personal style. It served me well in the magazine work that I did and for as long as magazines were paramount in Vancouver, Canada and abroad I did very well. It paid to stand out.
When I discovered dance about 15 years ago I knew that there was no way I could compete then (and now) with the paramount dance photographer David Cooper. I also realized that the style of taking pictures of dancers in peak movement in large photographic studio stages was not my forte or of my interest. It was difficult to insert a personal style into them. So whenever I had the opportunity to photograph dancers I insisted they come to my studio for portraits or I took portraits back stage with my own lights.
When I received an invitation from Jeniffer Mascall to attend a technical rehearsal of White Spider, a day before the double performances the next day (Friday), I had ambivalent thoughts. I did not want to take performance photographs. This sort of thing was the realm of excellence of the expensive digital single lens reflex camera. I don’t own one.
|Top from left to right|
Robert Halley, Marvin Vergara
Bottom from let to right
Darcy McMurray, Jessie Kwan, Thoenn Glover
So I showed up with a 35 mm Nikon FM-2 loaded with fast colour film with which I thought I could take a halfway decent group portrait shot. I was to be disappointed as I chose the wrong place and the wrong stage lighting to do this and my picture is full of bad shadows. It is not one of my best. I should have stuck to my guns and taken the picture with my own lights and with my big camera.
I was to be pleasantly surprised by the performance of my basic iPhone 3G. I did have vantage points (on stage and from the side) that are not ordinary ones. I also, while trying to stay out of the way, knew that I could not ruin the performance by showing my face because it was a tech rehearsal.
The real frustration, and it was a big one, was that my iPhone had a tremendous lag time between my pressing its shutter and it actually taking a picture. The lag time was not predictable and the usual importance of attempting to capture peak movement was thwarted at most times. But a few of the images, by luck, seemed to be fine and by further enlarging and cropping them I have selected a few of which I am happy to place here.
|Robert Halley & Jessie Kwan|
|Robert Halley & Thoenn Glover|
|Darcy McMurray & Robert Halley|
|Top Marvin Vergara & Thoenn Glover|
below Robert Halley
|Thoenn Glover & Robert Halley|
|Thoenn Glover & Darcy McMurray|
right, Marvin Vergara
Mascall's The White Spider - The Brutal Telling Retold
Friday, November 25, 2011
Beneath her gracious and elegant manners, beneath her beautifully cut gray hair Jennifer Mascall is not your usual choreographer or artistic director of a Vancouver dance company. Yes, she is a choreographer and yes she directs her Mascall Dance Company. But there all resemblance to any other of our city’s choreographers and dance company directors ceases and what you have is a much more complex woman who has steadily taken a different direction.
|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
But, all in all, it is Jennifer Mascall who has pushed the envelope (I will not deny that Crystal Pite has done so, also) of modern dance into the realm of a discipline that invigorates our concept of theatre. Her works are dance with theatre and if you read below, in her latest White Spider
(to me! as this work was inaugurated in BC’s Cultural Olympics in 2010) there is a little bit of Cirque du Soleil. Let me explain.
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.
Storey built a mountain, sheer ice mountain and ice field the Eiger which Mascall’s five dancers, Darcy McMurray, Robert Halley, Thoenn Glover, Jessie Kwan and Marvin Vergera could use as their base camp and then climbing challenge as they interpreted Henrich Harrer’s book White Spider
which is a chronicle of the many failed attempts to scale the North Face of the Eiger Mountain and it first successful ascent by Harrer’s party in 1938.
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.
Of the dancers I cannot write here much that would explain how they manage to dance for so long without stopping in which I knew (I have inside knowledge!) began as a “practice” performance that very day at 11 which was followed by a performance at one and subsequently the one at 5 that Walker and I attended. That they do all that and with grace and skill is a complete mystery to me.
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
|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.
The Two Of Me - Blood Brothers
Thursday, November 24, 2011
|Ghislaine & Justine Crawford|
Last night my granddaughter Rebecca, 14, and I went to the opening performance of the Arts Club production of Blood Brothers
at the Granville Island Stage. This musical is with book, lyrics and music by the near-Liverpool-born Willy Russell. It was co-directed by Bob Frazier and Sara-Jean Hosie. Musical accompaniment was by Sasha Niechoda and Ken Cormier on keyboards and Buff Allen, percussion.
I knew that the play had all to do with twins, separated at birth. It immediately sent me back to March, 1987. I had approached Vancouver Magazine
editor Malcolm Parry with an idea, “I would like to do a story on twins and hire my GP to write it. I would like it to be not about the hocus pocus of twins being separated at birth and then years later they are found to both own pink Cadillacs.” Mac, simply replied, “Do it.”
One of the least useful but most fascinating facts about twins was that in identical twins the hair whirl of one twin will be in clockwise and the other in a counterclockwise. I corroborated this when I photographed the Turner twins.
My fascination with the clinical relationship between twins had me predisposed to hate or at the very least dislike the play I was about to see last, night. As far as I was concerned there were two good things going for it. I had seen director Sarah-Jean Hosie
as Patsy Cline in last June’s A Closer Walk
with Patsy Cline
(an Arts Club Theatre production) and I had been smitten by her performance. I had been equally impressed by John Mann’s (the narrator, milkman, psychiatrist, gynecologist, etc! in Blood Brothers
) role in the Vancouver Opera production in 2004 of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera
But I should not have had any misgivings. The play had good songs, excellent music and both Rebecca and I were impressed with the singing and stage presence of Terra C, MacLeod who plays Mrs. Johnstone the mother of the twins. We were well entertained.
But what really pleased Rebecca were the adults playing boys and girls (with slingshots and cap guns) and in particular the twins Mickey ( Shane Snow) and Eddie (Adam Charles). The latter, raised in a privileged household, reminded me of either of the Turner twins (Terry and Tim) that I had photographed years back who lived on Angus Drive.
Rebecca at age 14 has to deal with boys that are not too swift in their relationship with girls. She is frustrated by them. Rebecca found much comfort in Shane Snow’s reluctance to express his feelings to Linda (nicely played by Lauren Bowler). She connected, sympathized and left very happy.
Sitting immediately behind us were lawyer Christophe Dafoe
and his daughter Madeleine (named after the song in Jacques Brel Alive and Well and Living in Paris). Madeleine is 15 and Rebecca told me, “Madeleine really liked the musical. She laughed a lot.”
|Terrence & Timothy Turner|
Which is not to hint that this musical is a very happy one. Its ending (I will not say more) is operatic and as I left I wondered if the entertainment of the masses that was opera in the 19th century and which became so highbrow in the 20th has now been superseded by a just as tragic but ever more accessible musical which is really opera for the 21st ?
Judging by the two teenagers in my close proximity I believe that Blood Brothers would be a perfect way of getting those teenagers to turn off their texting mobiles for a couple of hours while at the same time giving their parents a good time out at the theatre.
Addendum: When we approached the ticket booth a man said to the attendant, " The name is Chrisopher Dafoe. That's Dafoe with a D." The woman behind him, Pia Shandel
asked, "You are not the famous theatre critic by the same name, are you?" Christopher Dafoe answered, " I am his son."
I collaborated, as a photographer, for many years with Christopher Dafoe (the younger) who was the Globe& Mail's arts writer in Vancouver.
A Belated Goodbye To An Old Friend - Chandler Keeler
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
|Chandler Keeler in France|
A pleasant round faced man wearing glasses and a prominent gap between his front teeth said to me, in a working man’s English accent, before Blood Brothers, an Arts Club musical at the Granville Island stage began:
“Hello Alex, Chandler sends his regards from France.”
I answered, “I can place your face but I may have taken too many drugs in my past and I am an old man, too as I cannot remember your name. How is Chandler?”
“Chandler is dead.”
“How can it be that he sent his regards, then?”
“He sent them to you in my dreams.”
And without any further explanation, the mysterious man disappeared.
It was only until this morning (Thursday) that I called fellow photographer Hans Sipma who told me that indeed, Chandler Keeler
had died in France of cancer on March 4 of this year. We agreed that the gap-toothed man had worked with Chandler in Chandler’s excellent E-6 processing lab. Neither of us could remember his name.
E-6 processing was the Kodak method and chemicals that converted our Ektachromes’s latent images into images. Chandler's Quad was the best lab in Vancouver and all professional magazine and advertising photographers dropped off their film there. We knew our film was in safe hands. The entrance to Quad was via a back alley. We didn’t mind. It was a small, no nonsense but very tight operation. I remember that Chandler refused to process 220 film (twice as long as 120) as he said he could not gurantee even processing where the film had to be looped to fit in the processing tanks.
When digital made film processing an endangered business, Chandler managed to sell and settle in a small town in southern France where he could indulge in his favourite pursuits of culture, food and drink.
We saw Chandler a few years ago when he came to town to deal with his will and other business related to his dying. He knew he was going to die but somehow didn’t show anything but a happy face to all of us.
For reasons that escape me I did not find out about Chandler’s passing away until last night. This is my belated obituary for a man all of us loved and respected. In all the openings I had in local photo galleries they were never and absolute success until Chandler showed up and gave his opinion over a fine glass of wine. I toast to him to wherever he may be.
Addendum: Photographer colleague and Chandler friend Colin Goldie has informed me that the mysterious man with glasses at the theatre is Graham Walmsley. Goldie wrote: He worked for us and was a friend from the mid or late 70's. Came to us through Mike Abbot former owner of Abbot & Tincombe and the creator of Buy & Sell
Chandler Keeler video in France
|Chandler Keeler, left|
From: chandler keeler
Subject: May 8th
Date: 8 May, 2009 9:31:31 AM PDT
In France May 8th is Liberation Day, a national holiday. This is the fourth year in a row that I have been invited to take part in the ceremonies. There are only four other permanent residents of the village that represent the allied forces, as Scot, a Brit, a Norwegian and me, the lone Canadian. The assembly meets in the town square and following the local band we all parade down to the cemetery followed by the towns' folk where speeches are given, names of the fallen read and we take turns lowering our flags over the grave of the fallen French soldiers. Then it's a march back to the town square for another few words, yet another playing of The Marseillaise and then to the hall next the Marie for drinks.
As usual there were several hundred people from the village in attendance. They are honoured that we are there representing and carrying the flags of our various countries. We are honoured that we are invited and for what our fathers' contributed to the liberation of France.
a bientot a tous,
Vancouver Sun Obituary
KEELER, Chandler Melvin 1950 - 2011 On March 4th, 2011 Chandler quietly slipped away to savour once more his beloved french cuisine, rosewine and pastis. Born on March 14th, 1950 in Drumheller, Alberta, Chandler was an artist who had a knack for doing his 'own thing' and dreaming about living in France. Having moved to Cazouls-les-Beziers in the South of France in 2005, Chandler, an avid photographer, loved the surrounding countryside of his new home, sharing dinner with friends and strolling his village, stopping often for an espresso in the square. Chandler is predeceased by his mother Kathy Boehlke, and survived by his father Melvin, brother Chris, and sister Melisa. A bientot et beaucoup d'amour Chandler, we will miss you..
Pocket Wizards & Anosh Irani's Mumbai
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
On Tuesdays I teach my most popular class at Focal Point. I call it the Contemporary Portrait Nude but the folks at Focal Point just call it Alex’s nude class. This 300 hour class alternates three-hour lectures with three-hour in studio sessions with two models. The school has this neat set up of two separate shooting studios that are contiguous. I separate my class in two and I run back and forth as they go through their assignments for the day.
This sort of class is much different than any I might have taught some years ago. The students connect to the studio lights using a radio device called a Pocket Wizard. Some of their expensive digital cameras might be fried by the triggering voltage of the studio flash equipment if they were to connect directly by the now almost extinct flash cord.
But what is most different from what I might have taught years back is that there is much less emphasis on the technical side. My students are pretty good and they mostly know how to handle their complex little machines. It is the dealing
with a person (we use male and female models), without clothes in front of you that is the real challenge.
here is nothing more pointing in the direction of failure than having a seamless paper background in a studio, a beautiful model, a light, a camera and photographer behind it. Unless you have a plan or a them you are doomed. I tell my students not to fall for models that pose. I prefer the ones that are new so that they do not contribute and my students must direct (gently, I tell them).
Last night we had two interesting models. One was young and sported a heavy-duty Mohawk and lots of piercings. Paradoxically what was a tad difficult about her was that she was placid, warm and gentle in her manners. She looked edgy but was not so! The other model, from India, looked a lot younger than she was and was very tiny. There was something about her that nudged at my memory. I asked her if she knew author and playwright Anosh Irani
. She lit up immediately and was thrilled when I told her that I had photographed Irani and was in speaking terms with him.
I decided to carefully throw caution into the wind. I mentioned to her that Irani as a little boy had lived near or in Mumbai red light districts and that most of his wonderful plays dealt with the problem, usually in a most funny way. I told her that with a bad makeup job including running lipstick and heavy under the eye bags she could be converted into one of Irani’s characters who haunt his plays. She was not at all insulted that I had told her that she could act the part of a woman of ill repute
. In fact she said she could act this to perfection. I urged my student so hire her for a private session in the school’s studio and to dress it up to resemble one of “those places”. I am not sure they took me seriously.
Should I take the theme up for myself?
Monday, November 21, 2011
Every once in a while my Latin American relatives ask me what I find attractive about Canada and Vancouver. They know I miss them and that I especially miss the cafés, the pizza and the large family gatherings of the O’Reilly clan of which my first cousin and godmother Inesita presides. I tell them I miss the warmth of the summers and the warmth of the Latin.
As I continue telling them what I miss, they look at me perplexed. “Why do you stay in that cold place then?”
I tell them that compared to Argentina there is a tad more democracy and a tad less bureaucracy and corruption. I tell them we trust most of our police but have doubts on the ones that sometimes ride horses.
“But,” I tell them, “Vancouver, Canada is where my daughters and two granddaughters live. It is our home.” I tell them how Rosemary and I tend to our garden and how in most days of the year we have a steady stream of 120 volts at an unwavering 60 cycles and that if I lose my driver’s license I can get a new one in a matter of weeks, no sweat. Water flows from the taps aa pure and as quickly as my Telus internet.
From here I talk of the rain, the water, the clear skies, the mountains and then best of all the air and the space of Canada.
They cannot believe me when I point out that after a year I must change my windshield wipers. They wear out. “Does it rain that much?” they ask. I explain that except for a couple of months in late summer, when it doesn't rain, the city smells fresh. During those two months if you walk the downtown back alleys you get a whiff of the underside of human presence. The rain washes it all away come fall and the crisp wet air refreshes me as I prepare for the short days of November and the coming rains.
November is the worse month. Rosemary and I adapt to the “fall back” of daylight saving time and unless we are careful we find that we have our suppers earlier and earlier during the day.
I tell my relatives that as soon as December is around the corner there is the excitement of snow (a much more frequent occurrence these years) and Christmas lights and the sudden appearance (the days wiz by) of my family for Christmas Eve dinner makes us happy as we prepare for the bleak days of January which are not so bleak as Rosemary and I peruse plant catalogues and look out at the garden at rest with its promise of spring.
Yes I miss my other family and the warmth of warmer climes but the rain, as pure as it is, cleanses the soul and washes away some of my stress. That familiar lulling noise of my Malibu’s windshield wipers somehow comfortingly tell me I will soon be home to Rosemary, our garden and our home.
Simone Osborne - Juliette
Sunday, November 20, 2011
In 1888 the famous soprano Adelina Patti became sick and at the last moment she was replaced by Rumanian Hericlea Darclée as Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
at the Opéra. She became an overnight sensation because of her powerful voice.
In Sept 2008 I photographed the multi-ethnic soprano Simone Osborne in my studio and I found out that she had flipped hamburgers and served ice cream cones at a local Dairy Queen in order to pay for her singing lessons.
Soon, November 26 and until the 29th she will be Juliette at a Vancouver Opera production of Charles Gounod’s romantic opera.
Judging from what I remember of my session with Osborne I can predict that many in the audience will swoon at her performance, and who knows she just might pull a Rumanian and become and overnight sensation, too!
|A corner of the Paris Opera|