Black Boys With Amazing Grace
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
|Taken before performance|
Rosemary and I went to the Cultch
to see the opening night play Black Boys
presented by the Vancouver East Cultural Centre and Zee Zee Theatre. It was
directed by Jonathan Seinen.
We sat down and Rosemary read me the introduction in the
A raw, intimate, and
timely exploration of queer male Blackness. Three individuals seek a deeper
understanding of themselves, of each other, and of how they encounter the
world, subverting the ways in which gender, sexuality, and race are performed.
We looked at each other and since we are in our 70s (and
human products coming from a world of whiteness, and heterosexuality of the
past 20th century) we became uneasy. Were we at the right place?
Would we understand and even enjoy the play?
We should not have been uneasy at all!
The play, a play with what seemed to be lots of autobiographical content and
which was created by one of the three performers, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, had
tight dialogue, mostly free of any clichés. Not only that I found Black Boys
elegant and even classy!
The three black men were all different from each other. Jackman-Torkoff (a tall
and wiry young man) was the most active and talkative. Thomas Olajide played a
less scary (almost straight) young man. He was a marvellous dancer. Tawiah
Ben-Eben M’Carthy, Ghanian-born, had that beautiful accent, diction and lovely
voice that many (am I generalizing here?) immigrants from Africa have.
In many ways M’Carthy was my favourite in that he taught me
how difficult it is to fit in Canada if you are not only a black man, but a
black man from Africa. While that alienation only resembles mine in a small way,
which is that I am a Latin American white man in a country of diminishing Anglo
Saxons, I could understand his unease.
As I watched I thought of my past relationship with black
men. I believe this is important as I experienced this from the moment I was 7
or 8. In Buenos Aires my mother had a live-in housekeeper Celia whose husband
Abelardo lived with us. They were both black. And in that mostly white city
(with darker-skinned Argentine aboriginals) black people were as rare as
I might have felt exactly as the three black men in the play
when Abelardo and Celia took me to an evening “candombe” which featured a sea of black people in an
African/Brazilian religious gathering. I remember the chanting and the many
fires. But most of all, since I was extremely blonde, I remember being stared
at as Abelardo and Celia showed me off to their friends.
The second black man in my life happened in my four year
Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s in Austin, Texas. In the whole school we
had one black day student called Richard Mosby.
Since we saw him every day,
after four years he was definitely part of our scenery. But of course, I never
asked him what it felt to be the only black man in school.
In my first and last semester at St. Edward’s University one
of my classmates was from Ghana and his name was Gabriel Burning Spear. We
played a game where we would ask him to wear his Roman-like toga. We would then
go to Austin restaurants. They invariably stopped us at the door. We would explain
that Burning Spear’s father was a delegate of the United Nations. And
invariably they would seat us.
My fourth black person was a woman. I was introduced to her
by a friend at Mexico City College in Mexico City in the early 60s. She was
(“call me Benji”) and she informed me that she had recently
converted to the Jewish faith. She was from Chicago. She became one of my first
girlfriends. I can point out here that walking hand in hand in Mexico City with
a black woman meant we were stared at wherever we went. When I told my mother,
who was teaching at an Alcoa American School in Veracruz that I was going
bring Benji with me she told me not
to as it would put her in a difficult position with the company. I am ashamed
to admit that I did not rock the boat.
|Alex Waterhouse-Hayward, Benji Jackson, Robert Hijar|
In the late 70s, soon after my wife Rosemary and two
Mexican-born daughters moved to Vancouver in 1975 I was a habitué of the
clothing-optional Wreck Beach. One of my friends was Black Jim. This is what we
all called him. None of us ever gave out our surnames. In those late 70s I was
working for a weekly gay publication called Bi-Line. I photographed many
handsome young black men (with nothing much on). But Jim, truly had a fantastic
body. It was a body that this very straight Latin American could not ignore. I
took a series of photographs of him of which this one I can safely place here.
I have often thought that Vancouver has a poor memory for
its past. It was in the late 80s that I photographed a young boxing star called
Michael Olajide who was called The Silk. My photograph of him made the cover of
|Michael Olajide & father|
When I read that one of the performers, Thomas Olajide had
the same surname I had to ask. This I did after the performance. Michael
Olajide is his uncle (he has a gym in New York City) and Thomas instantly introduced
me to Olive who was there and happens to be Michael Olajide’s mother. I kept pressing my memory and sure enough not some four
years ago I photographed a musical group whose bassist was David Olajide!
|The Blood Alley Quartet |
From left, Randy Bowman (drums), top left Dave Olajide (bass),
centre, Gus Vassos (vocals, guitar)
right, Anthony Walker (vocals, guitar)
I cannot finish this review of Black Boys without mentioning
a few things. One was that I enjoyed watching how my Rosemary smiled through
the whole performance.
The three did sing, including a rousing and very loud
rendition of Amazing Grace by Jackman- Torkoff. But the real standout for me
was the choreography of Virgilia Griffith and in particular the amazing moves
of Thomas Olajide. My guess is that he could teach his boxing uncle a few
dancing tricks. The sparse set by Rachel Forbes and the lighting design by Jareth Li, enhanced without overpowering the actors.
And lastly in this most careful 21st century as a
man I think I can get away with pointing out how I revelled and enjoyed the
three bodies that were there on the floor. In particular there must be some
inner recess of my mind that can appreciate a beautifully tight (as my
grandmother used to say) “Donde la espalda pierde su nombre.”
Kudos to the Cultch for helping Rosemary and this all-white
man appreciate some of the finer things that life can offer.
This old blog
of mine about the wonders of the Cultch through the years points out that beginning with 2001's Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (
a very early Electric Theatre Company production) the idea of seeing full frontal male nudity with corresponding dangling parts has been an almost yearly institution!
Sunday, January 14, 2018
|Photographs - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward|
My Rosemary and I are shortly going to New York City for a week and by
sheer coincidence I was reading Jorge Luís Borges’s Prólogo de prólogos
. In it
he has a forward for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
Astoundingly his forward
is to a translation of the work into Spanish by Borges himself. What this means
is that in our flight to Newark I will be reading a VPL copy of the work. Why
exactly? Because Whitman lived in Brooklyn and wrote extensively about the
island of Manhattan. And when we return I will be ordering the Borges edition from Abe Books.
Walt Whitman, 1819 - 1892
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and
island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron,
splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger
heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the
the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business,
business of the ship-merchants and money-
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the
along up or down with the flood-tide or
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d,
looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the
shops and shows,
A million people--manners free and superb--open voices--
most courageous and friendly young
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and
City nested in bays! my city!
A Squeeze of Class
Saturday, January 13, 2018
|Katheryn Petersen & her 13 accordions, January 2018|
Within the modern symphony orchestra there are a couple of maligned
instruments that are the butts of many jokes. One is the viola and the other is
the bassoon. Some of these jokes are all about the usefulness of burning violas
in order to light bassoons and convert them into ashes.
But the very musicians who might make viola or bassoon jokes
are aware that Antonio Vivaldi wrote beautiful stuff for the bassoon and the
viola is prominent in his Four Seasons
The accordion cannot play second fiddle to any instrument in
the modern symphony orchestra because, alas! it is not an instrument of the
orchestra. Thus the accordion has suffered in the acceptance of its status as a
modern instrument of note.
It is only recently that violin virtuoso Marc Destrubé has
revealed that he too, enjoyed playing the accordion.
My personal beef about this bellows instrument is that I
detest the polka in whatever manifestation it might occur. I hate the Mexican
polka of the northern states, too. Perhaps somewhere in my memory is a
lingering awareness of the role of the instrument in my youth of having watched
(no excuses!) the Lawrence Welk Show.
As an Argentine I paradoxically admire, love and enjoy the
music of the bandoneón in tango and especially when it is a composition by
Astor Piazzolla who was a master of this instrument which I am told is far more
difficult to play that the accordion. And, I despise the chamamé, the folkloric
music of the Argentine province of Corrientes because it does feature the
So I am have great difficulty in accepting that one of the
most beautiful of women that I have photographed, now for 32 years, Katheryn
Petersen happens to be a virtuoso of the accordion. Not only that, she has
produced a yearly Vancouver extravaganza called Accordion Noir.
Obviously I am the one with the problem and I will readily
accept that I am in a squeeze.
New Music For Old Instruments: After Bach
Friday, January 12, 2018
|Rodney Sharman - Composer New Music for Old Instruments|
|Jocelyn Morlock - VSO Composer in Residence - New Music for Old Instruments|
|Bramwell Tovey - Artistic Director VSO - Composer New Music for Old Instruments|
|Alexander Weimann & Bramwell Tovey will be playing some variations together|
This coming Friday my Rosemary and I are going to a concert
of New Music for Old Instruments After Bach
at Christ Church Cathedral.
Yesterday Tuesday we went to the Vancouver East Cultural
Centre to a play Black Boys. One of the three performers was called Thomas
Olajide. His surname rang a bell in my memory as sometime in the 80s I
photographed a handsome and young boxer called Michael Olajide nicknamed The
Silk. After the show I approached Thomas Olajide to enquire. And “Yes,” he
said, “Michael is my uncle and his mom Olive is right here.”
To me our fine city has a very poor memory. Was I the only
one present who connected the two men?
It is the same situation for this upcoming concert of New
Music for Old Instruments. In the 90s when the Pacific Baroque Orchestra was
under the musical direction of violinist Marc Destrubé I went to several
concerts in which the Pacific Baroque Orchestra had commissioned local new
music composers to write stuff for old instruments. This is the list that
Destrubé recently sent my way that confirmed that my aging memory is still
The pieces of new music PBO commissioned and premiered in my
‘Not a Single Stone'
- Peter Hannan (he’s the composer who used to play the recorder (he hasn’t in a
long time; and long before that he was a horn player in the VSO)
‘Bloom’ - Linda
Catlin Smith (Toronto)
[these were the two that we did as ’solstice’ pieces in the
Vivaldi 4 Seasons program]
- Bradshaw Pack (not a version of a Brandenburg, but for the same
instrumentation as Brandenburg III, which was played on the same program). It’s
on his CD compilation ‘Alogos’
‘Golden’ - Jocelyn
Morlock. It’s on her CD compilation ‘Cobalt’,
in a version with oboe instead of soprano.
‘Looking East’ -
Amir Koushkani (concerto for tar and orchestra).
‘Making Kingdom’ -
Of new music I have
Béatrice Larrivée - A Presence in Spades
Thursday, January 11, 2018
In the earlier part of the 19th century when photography
began to compete with other forms of graphic impression there was an emphasis
and interest in the idea that photography was accurate (alas! Photoshop took
care of that in the 20th century). There were some photographers who
thought if they parked their cameras in front of a dying person they would be
able to capture (a term used a lot in this 21st century but with far
more relevance in the 19th in this instance) that precise moment when the soul (life
force?) left the body. Of course they all failed. They should have known of the impossibility simply
by thinking and applying Zeno’s paradox in conjunction with Newton and Leibniz’s
In Spanish we have the term “de cuerpo presente” which means
a funeral service where the dead person is present, usually in an open coffin.
But there is a secondary meaning that I like. It is applied to the strong
presence of a real presence. Think of Marlon Brando de cuerpo presente and you
will know what I am citing here.
I saw many bullfights as a teenager in Mexico City and I had
the good fortune of seeing Spanish matador Paco Camino. There was something
about him that I could only call presencia. It perhaps had to do with his
movements similar to that of a very talented ballet dancer. I never saw Manolete but even in his photographs you knew he had it.
And yet you can watch two ballet dancers, equally good and
only stare and be moved by the one that has that so difficult to define
In my years of going to ballet and modern dance performances
I noticed this intangible talent in Evelyn Hart
, Lauri Stallings
and at the
Arts Umbrella Dance Company the French Canadian Béatrice Larrivée and also there, Albert Galindo
and Nicole Ward.
And I could not possibly forget my friend, dancer/choreographer Sandrine Cassini.
graduated a couple of years ago and is now dancing in Montreal. She posted,
recently, this video
which is a genuine selfie video. I don’t quite understand
it but I know enough about dance that there is that exciting intangible there
that is presencia. And she has it in spades.
This is her video selfie