They Go - We Stay
Saturday, June 13, 2015
|Nina Davies - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward May 2009|
In my years of teaching language (Spanish and English) and
high school in Mexico or photography in Vancouver I eschewed the lesson plan. In
Mexico City in one of the high schools I was teaching I had that terrible
problem of having to hand in my lesson plan for the year at the end of the
school year. I felt that a lesson plan made the teacher stay in one
course that could become a rut. I remember having students tell me that I had already
given them a version of “important” information.
More recently in teaching photography I discovered that I
could give the same class twice without having my students notice. With open
laptops (the school in question did not prohibit this) while munching take-out
food and social networking or Photoshopping photographs for other classes they
mostly did not pay any attention.
I have seen quite the opposite at dance classes at Arts
Umbrella. The students seem to adore their instructors. They rarely misbehave
or talk during these sessions.
While chatting with Arts Umbrella Dance Company Artistic Director
Artemis (Arty) Gordon a couple of days ago we were discussing ex-alumnus Nina
Davies’s retrospective essay
of her days at Arts Umbrella. Arty said something
like this, “Nina mentioned a talk I gave to her class, perhaps ten years ago. I
think I gave the same talk to this class (the graduation students) just a few days
It is important in photography (at least I think it is
important) that the idea of a model, a studio, a backdrop wall, a camera, a
light and a photographer behind the camera is a formula for numbing failure.
This is invariably the case unless a plan is thought out ahead of time, perhaps
a theme of sorts. Important stuff has to be repeated and it will never go out
I believe that Arty understands this and she was simply marveling
with some sadness the march of time.
A few minutes after the chat with Arty I mentioned to the
grads that they should read Nina’s essay. The blank expression on some of their
faces was no surprise. Nina has been gone from Arts Umbrella since 2009. Who
would remember her? And who would remember that other favorite Arts Umbrella dancer Kiera Hill
I often run into perfect strangers who warmly greet me. My
excuse for not rememberin
g that they have been my students (when they tell me)
is the joking remark that I have had too many drugs and alcohol in my past (not
While I have never taught dance I do have a thread of
commonality with Arty. This is that as a teacher we watch students come and go. Sometimes they are youngsters who then leave when they are almost formed adults. They come and
they go while we, the teachers remain where we are while getting older.
But there is a bittersweet measure of gratification every
time one of those students returns with a smile or writes an essay like Nina’s.
Yes we might have been richer had we chosen to be plumbers, but the pleasure of
having helped to form a human being (perhaps for the better) is something that
is most satisfying.
Nuts & Bolts - It's A Hip Life
Friday, June 12, 2015
Nuts and Bolts - it's a hip life
|Kimiko Karpoff - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
Fifteen years ago I was lying in a hospital bed thinking
that I had just made the worst mistake of my life. At the age of 34 I had hip
replacement surgery. In that moment as I lay in recovery I felt sick, in pain
and, worst of all, couldn't move my leg at all. "You've done it now,"
I thought. I'd dreamed of being able to run with my three-year-old; here I was
not even able to turn myself over in bed.
One year after surgery I could run with my son. I took up
karate and earned my yellow belt. Ten years after surgery I travelled to west
Africa, to the the village of Adexor-Kpodzi in the Volta region of Ghana. I
travelled by airplane, trotro, taxi and boat. The final leg of the journey was
a two hour walk along a dirt path, carrying on my back all that I needed for
one month. The mere ability to do that walk was amazing to me.
Getting a joint replaced is an awesome thing. I know that I
am fortunate and privileged to have access to the kind of medical technology
and care that allowed me to walk again. As a story catcher, I also took it as
an opportunity to capture a particularly poignant moment in my life. I asked
local photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward if he would be willing to photograph
the event. He suggested that we do before and after studio portraits. As well,
he photographed part of the surgery. This is from my journal at the time.
Journal, June 11, day before surgery
Alex wanted me to come today for photos so I’d be nervous.
He’s right, I’m
nervous. About the photos, about tomorrow.
Finn’s gone with my dad this morning. He seems singularly
undisturbed by the closeness of surgery. “Bye Mom. See you when you get home
from the hospital.”
Last night I dreamed about having the surgery. I don’t know
what drug we used, but I want that one. No pain at all. I’ll tell the anesthesiologist.
Now that the time is here, I almost can’t believe it. I have
no second thoughts, yet I wonder about the oddity of getting a part replaced.
It’s almost like I’m, we’re, too laissez faire about this. There should be some
sort of ritual like birth, death and marriage. Some way to honour the joint
that has served me for 34 (nearly 35) years, as best as it could. Now it will
be summarily tossed aside. Quite literally thrown in the incinerator I believe.
Perhaps these photos can be my ritual. A way to honour and
immortalize this part of me that I’m saying good-bye to. I want them to be
beautiful. After all, this is the hip that carried my child, that made love to
my husband,that helped me win a track and field award when I was 14 even though
every indication is that it was already damaged.
I can’t believe I’m getting nostalgic about a joint that has
given me such grief. But, at least, I’ve cut through my confusion about what
I’m feeling. I love my hip. The bad it brought was only physical pain. The joy
it helped me carry was so much greater. I guess I just want to give it a proper
and fitting good-bye.
So here I am fighting
tears on the Skytrain, weepy, thinking about replacing my hip. Oh, my. I think
Alex wants to show my fear and trepidation. Now I want a joyful thank you to a
part of me that has been so important, although I’ve never even seen it.
friend, and thank you.
One of my ideas was that I would publish some magazine articles
about the experience, but I was ultimately unsuccessful in pitching the story.
Alex garnered some press with a triptych of the photos in a gallery show. Pete
McMartin wrote a column in the Vancouver Sun and quoted me saying, "After
they tell you what you'll go through you start thinking before the operation,
'This is terrifying; this is awful.' At the same time, there were all these
emotions I couldn't quite recognize, until one day when I was riding on
SkyTrain and I was writing in my 'hip' journal about how I felt about the
operation. And I'm realizing that a part of me was almost in mourning for --
and I know this sounds ridiculous -- losing a friend. . . [My hip] wasn't
perfect, but it did the best it could, and it seemed disrespectful not to recognize
|Vancouver Sun - Friday December 1 2000|
A hip is something that always travels with you, but
eventually I put the story of it away and went on to other things. An
anniversary, however, invites occasion for reflection.
When I first had the surgery I was told that an artificial
hip lasts 15, maybe 20 years before wear and tear requires another replacement.
About a month ago I saw a surgeon for the first time since having the staples
removed from the surgery site. I was prepared to consider that after 15 years I
would be looking at at least a revision to the surgery, which I thought
preferable to a full new hip replacement. I dug my old film x-ray out of the
closet and took it along for comparison to the new one. Before I even showed it
to him, the surgeon commented that the old and the new would probably look a
lot alike. The hip looks great, he said. Come back in 5 years.
This past year I took up hot power yoga. There are some
things this new hip doesn't do. No lotus potion. No pigeon or frog poses. It's
painful to do the kind of one leg balances where your body is not upright so
not so much on the dancer's pose on the one side. But I can do a lot and in the
year I've gained balance, strength and flexibility. Most people seeing me would
not know that I have an artificial hip. A friend once commented that I could be
the poster child for hip replacement surgery.
15 years ago I learned that sometimes situations that seem
devastating, can, given time and nurturing, become life affirming. I learned
that it's ok to need help. Following surgery I couldn't care for my son or
myself. My husband, parents and friends were invaluable. Learning to ask for
help was humbling, but a precious lesson. I have an understanding of living
with a disability which was my life before surgery, as well as some of the
trepidations that people feel as they are confronted by the possibility of
needing surgery. This has made me more compassionate and, probably, a better
Now I have three hips to thank for the ways in which they
have carried me through life. Thanks be to God.
|No I can do side crow! Photo Linda Hubbard|
I will not add to Kimiko's blog any of the pictures that I took of the surgery. This was one of the most awful moments I ever witnesed. Suffice to say that the noise of the miniature power saw cutting through bone and the smell of burning bone is enough. No photograph is necessary.
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward - June 12 2015
Flipping Burgers - Opportunity - At Arts Umbrella Dance
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Nina Davies - Dancer/Artist
|Nina Davies - May 2009 - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
I have recently been thinking about Arts Umbrella
and how it has shaped me as an artist and when Alex asked me to write about my
experiences as a student at Arts Umbrella I was excited to finally have an
opportunity to share these thoughts.
It is hard to know where to begin explaining
what a great program Arts Umbrella is as it is like trying to explain how your
parents made you into the person you are.
There are so many layers to Arts Umbrella’s practice and years after
leaving the program I am still trying to deconstruct the effects that their
method of teaching had on me. There has been a bit of press about the kind of
dancer they produce that can meet the high standards of the dance industry
today. But I feel as though there is a whole other side to this program, which
is equally as important and applies to both the students who pursue a career in
dance and those who do not.
“Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your
grandparents had a different word for burger flipping – they called it opportunity.”
- Bill Gates
During a lunchtime discussion with some of my
colleagues, we were talking about the value of humility and how it is an
essential part of being an easy person to work with. Due to social media my
generation has a false sense of self-importance and as a result makes us
unbearable to work with. Plenty of students think there is the perfect job
waiting for them after they graduate from high school or university, and for
most this is just not the case.
I thank Arts Umbrella for teaching me from
a young age to do anything that gets thrown at me to the best of my abilities
and that no job is negligible. When we were preparing for a school show or
coffee concert (both fairly small shows in comparison to the season finale at
the Vancouver Playhouse) rehearsal director Emily Molnar was disappointed with
our run-through in the morning. She told us that it did not make any difference
as to the size of the audience or who was in it, because if one person in the
audience enjoyed your performance then it was worth doing. We were probably 12
years old and no one had taught us these principles before. Those words still
resonate with me and I apply this theory to almost everything I do.
I started studying at the Arts Umbrella Dance
program in 2002 and left it in 2008 before I would have carried on into the
graduate program. In my first year in the professional training program and Arts
Umbrella Dance Company there was one thing that was made clear from the
beginning, and that was to never let your parents fight your battles for you. Director
Artemis Gordon told us that having our parents ask her why we were not given a
specific part would not help our chances of getting the desired part in a
performance. For the first time in my life I had to be reasonable for my own
failures and learn from them in a professional way. This taught me about
independence from an early age. For most, this kind independence is achieved in
their early twenties and I was lucky and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all my
peers that we were able to enter adulthood with a strong work ethic.
As well as attaining a professional work
ethic from my dance training I left with certain knowledge of dance and the
human body. My interest in dance has influenced the work I have been making on
a broad spectrum.
After I left Arts Umbrella I moved to
London to pursue a “career” in cabaret. I met a woman called Marisa Carnesky and
got a job in a few of her shows as a contortionist. I then began work as a
freelance performer, doing my acts around Europe. Fulfilling all my
desires to be a showgirl, I decided that my interests lay within the realm of
art after interning for artist Gavin Turk. With some encouragement from my colleagues
I submitted an application to study fine art at Central Saint Martins. To my
amazement I was accepted into the program without any fine art experience. The
program at Arts Umbrella was so vigorous; there was no time in our day to take extra
curricular classes like art in high school.
At the beginning of the course I felt
pressure to make politically charged work. As a result of this the work I made
was terribly cliché and I was not engaged with it on any level. One of my
tutors told me to have a think about what I was interested in and I would find criticality
within that. In a guest artist talk at the university the speaker mentioned
that there was no way of writing dance. This comment intrigued me and this
eventually formed the basis of my practice.
I have just graduated from my degree with
an assortment of work that questions how we think of human motion in spoken,
written, and notated language. Arts Umbrella (like many dance schools) did not
teach existing forms of movement notation so I am not very familiar with how
they work. Most schools do not teach these systems, as they are not widely used
by dancers and choreographers. I really wanted (and still do) to understand why
dance has difficulty existing in the written form. My first query was; how is
it that music is notated and explained on paper when it is so hard to put a
sound into words, while a series of body movements cannot? After making work
surrounding this query I started playing around with movement in everyday
language (written and spoken) and to my amazement people find the task of
explaining movements like walking and running very difficult.
Enabling people to understand dance, as an
art form is one of the many attributes of Arts Umbrella. My farther, knowing
very little about dance before I started studying dance now attends almost
every Ballet BC performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This power that
Arts Umbrella possesses is a quality I would like my work to have some day.
Nina Davies - a performance
Directing Bard's The Comedy Of Errors - How?
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
|Scott Bellis - Director - William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors|
My writer friend Les Wiseman
for years told me that you
write about that which you know. Just this once I feel that by not having any
idea about the subject it might help me to elucidate on something that most of
us are completely ignorant about. What does a theatrical director do?
The world is divided (not evenly) between people who can
read music and those that can’t. I would add the same applies to
those who can dance and those who cannot.
A couple of corollaries would be, “How do choreographers choreograph? How do actors remember their lines?" How do they act
Watching someone play a baroque violin with virtuosity amazes me
every time. Once, my granddaughter Lauren
, 12 who dances at Arts Umbrella
plays the violin asked me to look at the music during the interval of a baroque
concert. She looked at the music by Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665) and floored me
when she said,”If I read this as fast as Arthur Neele
was playing I would not
be able to read it.” That somehow someone from this century could read and
connect with someone from the 17th
century left me aghast.
I have a similar ignorance on the workings of Artistic
Musical Directors (we used to call them conductors). It was only a few years
ago that I discovered that in operas you not only had a Musical Director but
you also had an Artistic Director who was in charge of the gestures, acting and
the approach to the libretto.
When I saw a few close circuit projections at the Vogue (on
Granville) I was further amazed to suspect that the Artistic Director of the
live opera performance at the Met could not also direct the camera work (film like
closeups, etc). A third director would have to be
With film I was confused, too. I have seen photographs of
American director John Ford (with his tell-tale eye patch) looking through a huge
camera. He was not looking through those little cylinders that many directors
use. I asked my friend John Lekich (a writer who is an expert on movies and taught drama to a 16-year-old in Richmond, called Scott Bellis) if it
was Kosher for the director to look through the cameraman’s Arriflex. His
answer was short, “Certainly.” Then I asked him, “What’s the difference between
the director of photography, the cinematographer and the chief cameraman?” His
reply was almost as short, “All the same guy.”
All the above are a side board menu to prepare us to that
question, “What does a theatrical director do?”
My English friend Ian Bateson on Skype from a small town
near Manchester told me, “For a theatrical director the stage is his whole
frame not like for a film director who sees stuff bordered by the confines of
the film camera. What he sees and is in control of is precisely what the audience
That may sound self-evident but to me it opened my eyes a
Even though the director must steer (we hope in a friendly manner) the
choreographer, the fight director, the costume designer, the set designer, the
lighting director and the person in charge of the music, the vision of the
play, the interpretation of the play, the nuances of the play must all be the
territory of the theatrical director. I would want to know if a theatrical director has indeed
more on his/her plate than a film director.
Film directors have editors. Who
edits the director? I might guess here that the dramaturg
diplomat who tries to keep the playwright and the director from having conflicts)
would be the oil that keeps the director’s proceedings running smoothly. With Willie dead do you need a dramaturg? I would not know.
I would want to know how a director who has been and is an actor as Scott Bellis
does his job. I have one lovely quote about Bellis from fellow actor Colleen Wheeler.
She said,"Scott is a generous man."
My friend Malcolm Parry
has often told me of the Privileged View.
This is to see something that most people do not regularly see. I have
many privileged views under my belt:
I have been in the dressing room
(many times) of a strip
club, I have been backstage for classical, new music
and baroque concerts. I
have been backstage for modern dance (with Crystal Pite) and ballet (with
Evelyn Hart). I have been in film sets. I have been in the CBC trailer where the director of a Hockey Night in Canada directs (on multiple screens) a game. I have been in the locker room
of the Vancouver Canucks. And most recently I watched Pacific Baroque Orchestra Musical Director Alexander Weimann
, direct an unusual rehearsal of Handel's Water Music
.I have been alone and alive in the morgue
But I have never had the privilege of watching a theatrical
director direct. I hope the remedy to that one comes soon (hint, hint Mr.Gaze!) The closest I have ever been to that was watching director Peter Jorgensen deal with entries and exits for the 2111 Patrick Street Production of The Light in the Piazza
Before that ever happens I will attempt to see this coming Saturday (the official opening of The Comedy of Errors) little hints of the man's presence (director Scott Bellis) that I photographed a couple of weeks ago.