Pina, Thinking & Dreaming Big In DanceWednesday, February 29, 2012
Rosemary and I saw the Wim Wenders’s documentary Pina about the dance and choreography career of Pina Bausch today at our favourite and almost local Park Theatre on Cambie. Rosemary enjoyed the film very much even though usually Rosemary will give me the standard response to any modern dance I might take her which is, “I don’t understand modern dance.”
While I did like the film lots, too, I felt frustrated because of an inability to speak with anybody about it and compare notes. My friend Max Wyman eventually got back to me after I left a message with him and we talked about Pina on the phone.
Wyman did say something that only compounded my frustration, “It is a bad time in Vancouver for anything to do with dance discussions.”
I asked him if he had thought about any local choreographer, as I had, during his viewing of the film. “Yes,” he answered, “I was thinking of Lola McLaughlin who had a similar sensibility to Pina and actually studied under her.”
As I watched the film I thought of photo seminars I had attended in the late 80s sponsored by Derrik Murray at the Four Seasons Hotel. Murray brought elite American photographers who showed us studios with many assistants and full of equipment beyond the means of anybody in Vancouver. These photographers told us about their $4000 day rates. These seminars depressed me as I could not identify it all to my own meager reality.
Domenic Point & Karen Jamieson
As I watched Pina I thought of local choreographers and how they might take watching a dance company with so many dancers and of works that could use lakes and buckets of waters on a stage which included a huge boulder. I thought of the production values of Pina Bausch’s choreography and I wondered if these local choreographers felt as frustrated as I had after attending a Murray seminar.
In particular I thought of three local dancer/choreographers who in the past and quite recently not only pushed the envelope of the avant-garde but had also staged ambitious works that were either grueling (Karen Jamieson’s Sisyphus) complex and dangerous in movement (Jennifer Mascall’s White Spider) or Crystal Pite's cross platform experimentation with the Electric Theatre Company (the fully choreographed stage play, Studies in Motion – the Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge).
That made me think further into the career of John Alleyne who since his beginnings at Ballet BC in 1992 brought not too slow but certainly sure change to a company that seemed to be mired in 19th century ballet chestnuts. If it were not for Alleyne I would have never been exposed to the choreography of William Forsythe nor would I have ever enjoyed the likes of Crystal Pite and Emily Molnar who were both lured by him back to Vancouver and Ballet BC from Forsythe’s Frankfurt Ballet.
It was Alleyne who first brought artists Tiko Kerr and Alan Storey to collaborate with him. It was Alleyne who with Boy Wonder hired local composer Owen Underhill to compose new music for his ballet. In large works like The Goldberg Suite he employed dancer Wen Wei Wang in a novel use of a huge metal dipper and made his dancers speak to the shock of local dance critics! Perhaps his even larger works like Carmina Burana with an equally large orchestra and choir may have broken the bank and precipitated his company’s undoing in 2009. But John Alleyne dreamt and thought big in a town that rarely goes beyond provincial thinking.
I have learned that during a recent memorial program for one of the founders of Ballet BC David Y. H. Lui, Alleyne’s name was not uttered once. This seems astounding. It reminds me of Soviet airbrush artists removing fallen Russian heroes from photographs. If they weren’t there they never existed.
It seems to me that our city needs some really good dance preview and criticism and more effort by us all to bring the dance community into a sort of protective umbrella where we can give praise where praise is due and perhaps find a way of funding choreographers so that more of them like Jamieson, Pite and Mascall can, like Alleyne think and dream big.
Addendum: Tomorrow Thursday The Lola McLaughlin Dance Society and Tony Glacinti will award Crystal Pite The Lola Award which is worth $10,000. I am sure that the mony will help realize some of Pite's ambitious dreams.