Ghostkeeping With DegasWednesday, May 20, 2015
|Vancouver Playhouse May 20 2015|
My friend and mentor, former Vancouver Magazine Editor and presently the Vancouver Magazine gossip columnist, Malcolm Parry drummed into me many years ago his concept of the privileged position.
If you photograph a famous rock band at a concert or as a writer you interview their lead singer on the phone, this is commonplace. If you photograph that rock band in their hotel room or backstage or interview the lead singer or an actor over a hamburger, that’s privileged.
Anybody can get expensive tickets for a dance performance and see it all from the middle of the middle (Canadians seem to think this is the best seat of the house). Or they can get, usually at a reduced rates seats up on the front row, centre, and be able to listen to the dancers breathe (that’s for me!). In the case of festival seating as in today’s (and Friday and Saturday) Arts Umbrella Dance Company’s Season Finale, I show up an hour early so I can be up front in the waiting line and when the doors open I can run to get that centre first row seat.
But the truly privileged position is not there. It’s back stage. There, Malcolm Parry would say, “You see what few see.”
Today Wednesday I attended the Season Finale dress rehearsal at the Playhouse and spent one third of the night’s performance back stage.
Unfortunately my privileged position was a chair in the last wing, stage right and my view was blocked by a lighting pipe.
Any photographer who has ever ventured back stage in any presentation of dance or theatre has to deal with the most important person there. In a symphony concert it is never the Musical Director. In a play it is never the director. In both those cases and especially in dance the most important person (almost always a woman) is the stage manager. You cannot do anything backstage without the express permission of this martinet.
They do this for a good reason. Marijka Asbeek Brusse, the excellent stage manager tonight told me that many dancers would be running into the wings. She was absolutely right. At a few moments during the evening I stretched my arm or stood up and moved a bit. But my line of sight was not good. The pictures you see here are the best I could manage. After the first part I moved out into the theatre to the more conventional but far better vantage point.
I do have to reveal here that Ms. Brusse did me one favour. I have a random accelerating heart. For about 15 minutes while I was sitting in my punishment chair I became short of breath and my elbows became numb. My heart began to pound. I calmly (I tried) sat for about ten minutes until it all passed. Had I been running around I might not have fared so well.
One of the subsequent performances that was rehearsed was Shawn Hounsell’s Ghostkeeper that not so coincidentally featured besides ghostly ballerinas, male dancer Tristan Ghostkeeper. I watched the performance (of which show photographs in a later blog) and thought of all the ghosts that inhabit that Vancouver Playhouse.
On June 3, 2000 I spent the whole day (backstage!) taking photographs of the rehearsals for that evening’s Dancers For Life. Some of the dancers featured were Evelyn Hart, Rex Harrington, Crystal Pite, Denise Clark, Susan Elliot and Ballet BC.
I went for lunch and when I returned (via the back entrance) I turned left instead of turning right. I was on the stage but something was different. A man looked at me and said, “Who are you and what are you doing?” It was Lou Reed and it was the Queen Elizabeth Stage.
That evening I could hear Sweet Jane (next door) as Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington danced.
One more thing about that privileged view that is connected with ghosts. For me being backstage surrounded by preening dancers makes me go back in time to the Paris Opera Ballet of Degas. With my Fuji X-E1 camera I am certainly no Degas, but that does not prevent me from pretending I am.
Lauri Stallings backstage