Articles written for various community newspapers in the Lower Mainland, B.C. and special interest print and online magazines

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

HIVE 3: Sweet Shows with Buzz

The Vancouver independent theatre scene is bringing back HIVE 3, the queen bee of contemporary theatre experiences, with a sweet mix of independent companies offering a taste test of creative work to suit all cultural palettes.

The third collaboration of its kind, HIVE borrowed the idea of a gallery of short live performances intended for intimate audiences from a similar concept in the visual art world called Swarm. The theatre version of a movie trailer or the musical equivalent of chamber pieces, the premise of HIVE is that each piece is resented in under 10 minutes for audiences of less than 10 people.

It started at Chapel Arts in 2007 as a one-off event, but the buzz from the consistently sold out shows was enough to get the Magnetic North Theatre festival to pick it up and include it in their circuit. The HIVE consortium of twelve companies put the idea to bed until the Cultural Olympiad, the Olympic-sponsored arts body, asked them to return to the honeycomb with performances scheduled to coincide with the Paralympic Games.

The idea is a clever way for artists to dodge the sting of further funding cuts to the profession as governments attempt to recover from the swollen budget the Olympic infestation will leave in its wake.

For many, HIVE is a way to prevent their companies from going the way of the bumble bee. It is cheap to produce and there is safety in numbers with a broad audience drawn in from their combined demographic of dedicated theatre-goers. But what is new for the companies is that the shows pull in people from outside mainstream theatre crowd in the visual arts, fashion and music communities who weren’t going to their individual shows.

“It’s kind of a great introduction into theatre in general. It makes people feel like if I hate it, it’ll be over in ten minutes and then I get to move onto the next thing and I think people really like that. I think there is a kind of adventurous quality to it. It added a bit of hip to a form that a lot of people see as a bit sterile. Actually feel like they’re a part of what’s happening,” said Craig Hall, artistic producer of Rumble Productions.

But perhaps the greatest reason for being involved in this new theatre genre is that the artists have a more freedom to take risks and explore in an environment where if no one likes their stuff there isn’t as much on the line. And as the ideas crystallize they stay fresh with short rehearsal periods and a workshop feel to performances. Short works that gel with the public are seed pieces for longer works later on. What often results is a cross-pollination different companies who decide they want to create something together.

Of course since the Cultural Olympiad is the sponsor it is a given that many companies will address the controversy of the Olympics.

“It will come up. It almost has to,” said Hall, “I would be surprised if a number of different groups didn’t go after it directly. Everyone sort of has a different bee in their bonnet about separate issues.”

One issue is the clause included in HIVE’s contract with the Olympic organizers that limited artistic freedom of expression around issues pertaining to the Olympics itself which caused some companies to consider canceling the deal.

“There was a real possibility that this wouldn’t happen, that a number of the groups would have pulled out,” Hall said.

They challenged the language and it was changed to accommodate HIVE’s demands to be free to comment on what Leaky Heaven Circus co-artistic director Steven Hill called a pivotal moment in Vancouver’s history.

“The feeling prior to the Olympics was that anything was on the block that anything could be negotiated with. If you’re not allowing freedom of artists then what are we becoming?” Hill asked.
Hill was one such participant who was firm that his company wouldn’t participate if it was to be used as a marketing tool under a code of silence.

“The fool keeps people hopeful in the presence of tyranny. In some way I was feeling that we were a bunch of fools if we went into it with that contract but we didn’t want to be a fool in that way, not the official fool,” Hill said.

The contentious issue of artistic expression informed Leaky Heaven’s piece starring Lesley Ewen which will include video images of local suspenseful horrors as well as footage from the current Iranian revolution.

“We weren’t interested in doing something topically political but then one felt that one was obliged to. We come from traditional clown and the clown has got to break the rule or they’re just bad clown and it’s got to be a dangerous rule. It’s got to be a rule that’s worth breaking,” said Hill.

HIVE 3 is presented March 11-14 and March 17-20 at the Digital Centre for Media at 577 Great Northern Way in Vancouver.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Control Alt Delete: sexual tech support for the emotionally stunted

If you have asked the question “what's next” for North American culture, Cameron Labine's Control Alt Delete seals the deal that anything goes. The take home question from this movie is: is it post-modern Freud that a man wants to have sex with the motherboard of his computer?

Aptly named by writer and director Cameron Labine, the movie is a technological satire set during Y2K that looks at the way the current generation tends to balk when sex stops being “just sex” and crosses the threshold into the emotional complexity of a “relationship.”

Contol Alt Delete centres around Lewis, a fleshy computer programmer battling with the stress of his promotion as project manager tasked with solving the impending Y2K crisis. On the home front, Lewis is losing hold on his girlfriend Sarah who is put out that Lewis has all but shut down their sex life in favour of internet porn. Lewis turns to porn to beat the heat of the mounting pressure to outperform adult entertainment stars in the bedroom and, at the same time, live up to the expectations of his job.

When Sarah leaves him, Lewis falls into a depressed stupor, letting dishes pile up in the sink as he delves deeper into his obsession which degenerates into a sick fetish for the machine itself when he can no longer reach climax while surfing for sex. Lewis has a tryst with a sleek new model (of computer, that is) while he is working late at the office, drilling a hole into the side of the tower large enough to do the deed. When the office goes on a manhunt for the “computer rapist” Lewis creates a front by asking out Jane, the office assistant. What unfolds is a discovery about the world beyond his own sexual perversions.

First screened at the Toronto and Vancouver International Film Festivals in 2008, the movie was picked up by E1 Entertainment Canada and opens in Vancouver on April 23.

Labine thought it would be fun to make a social satire about a guy who “goes all the way” and makes his computer his actual partner. With the light touch of a power button, a person has easy access to a functional, one-way, low-maintenance relationship, he explained. Culturally, it has become too easy to turn to a computer rather than dealing with the messy task of trying to be with a real person who doesn't come with tech support.

The crux of Labine's message is Lewis' insecurity in accepting the love of a beautiful woman. What's more, he isn't sure who he is supposed to be for her or what she wants from him.

“Because he watches pornography and sees all these men performing in certain ways, he feels like his body doesn't match that and his performance doesn't match that and he's so caught up in what other people do that he has trouble believing he is sexy or desirable for his girlfriend so he builds up this thing in his head that he isn't good enough for her and so therefore he kind of isn't.”

Cracking the code of womanhood is too much for him and he becomes the nerdy version of a renegade lover. That his computer is a means of escape is something Labine thinks a lot of people can relate to.

For Labine, Lewis stands in as a poster boy for the current generation's Peter Pan syndrome where sex is concerned.

“In sex, and in other areas, we're immature in a lot of ways and allowed to remain that way. Which is a luxury and gives us a chance to explore but eventually we need to become adults and own our sexuality and deal with them and share them,” he said.

This point is further amplified in that the names of all characters share the suffix “son”.

“I liked the esoteric idea that they're all sort of sons, kids in grown up bodies. They're sons and not men. I feel like my generation was allowed to remain children in a lot of ways.”

Hungry to access the power of the machine itself, Labine doesn't lust after the monitor where the scandalous images flash at lightening speed but rather wants to penetrate the deep cavern of the hardware.

“Lewis is a computer guy so he knows that that's where it all happens. That's where the exciting stuff is. What he'd be doing now is sort of interesting because now of course there are fewer and fewer towers now it's all skinny little laptops I don't really know what he'd do, I don't really want to think about it,” he said.

The inspiration for the story was based on Labine's discussions with his brother—Tyler Labine is cast in the role of Lewis—about insecurity around sex and attraction and how they both deal with “those things” but he clammed up about what sort of research he conducted when writing the film and whether it was based on a true story.

He did offer assurance that neither he nor his brother, to his knowledge, have ever had sex with a computer. When asked what he would change about the film, Labine didn't shy away from saying that were he to shoot it again, he would have let people in on Lewis' emotional hardwiring.

“I think in retrospect I would have tried to let people into Lewis' mind a little bit more. I was sort of interested in keeping them outside and have them guessing at why he was doing things.”

The moment that reveals the greatest insight into Lewis' character is when he fights the urge to manhandle his first computer, a Commodore 64, partially as a form of self-punishment for messing things up when things get intimate with Jane and also because he wants to return to something virginal and retrieve the spark that ignited his first wet dream.

“I think he's feeling like the good part of him is gone but he stops and he's not able to have sex with it because there's still something there. There's still something pure in him and then he throws it away because I think he's afraid but then he goes back to get it and he's found that innocence again and I think he realizes 'it's okay, this computer thing is a big part of me this is who I am. I don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.'”

Whether you're interested in probing into the perverse psyche of a broken man who is terrified of love or you simply want to find how much RAM Lewis' PC can take, you'll have to catch the film when it comes. Viewer be warned, it just might go viral.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Chutzpah! Festival Review - Donald and Lenore

On stage at this year’s 2010 Chutzpah! Festival, Donald and Lenore peels back the glossy cover of holiday package brochures to reveal the stark struth about Western society’s evasion of global issues.

In a brightly lit, vacation-themed airport lounge Donald and Lenore are an unlikely pair of down-on-their- luck entertainers contemplating their future in a pre-apocalyptic landscape of cancelled flights and dwindling audiences.

Lenore is a buxom, trashy fifty-year-old woman with a penchant for hunky young convicts. Her latest is Donald, an earnest and sweet twenty-five-year-old thief in a sarong who she has hired as her seventh jail bait replacement for her act. They practice for the night’s musical performance that never manifests, creating a Waiting for Godot atmosphere staged with a gaudy cast of would-be Club Med characters. Set against a kitschy tropical backdrop in the “Tahitian room,” Donald plunks away at the Casio keyboard and Lenore bangs on the bongos. They sing upbeat tunes about bomb threats, suicide, ethnic cleansing, Afghanistan and the overpopulation of India.

Vancouver-based playwright Tom Cone makes a profound statement with overtly and unabashedly racist characters. Actors Billy Marchenski and Linda Quibell accomplish the difficult task of infusing humour and charm into touchy politically incorrect themes and, at times, roving text.

The play heats up when they come to the realization that there is no one in the audience. With nothing else to occupy them, they reflect on their past lives. Lenore’s glory days of making love against a vending machine that spews out coins during the act. Donald discloses his prison rape by a man he grew to love.

Hearing more announcements of grounded flights, they suspect their days of hula are numbered and opt to make pornography. During a daringly raw moment where Lenore feigns climax, they break into song. The scene is made more absurd considering the dinner theatre seating arrangement. The hilarity hits a pinnacle when Lenore entertains a lone aroused customer with an erotic invocation on the drums while Donald lashes out in a jealous tirade.

As the airport evacuate, they consider their uncertain future. Lenore lives in the dressing room and has no home and Donald could go back to jail. At Lenore’s prompting Donald leaves, returning to tell her his escape plan. Lenore can’t face the music of the real world and, like a washed up Laura in The Glass Menagerie, refuses to leave. The ending requires more work and feels as if Cone didn’t quite know where to leave off, opting for a disappointing bound and gagged routine.

Donald and Lenore
is produced by Felix Culpa for the Chutzpah! Festival. It runs from March 7 to 20 at the Wosk cabaret theatre of the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.

Chutzpah! Festival Review - Gallim Dance & Sidra Bell Dance New York

Sidra Bell Dance New York and Gallim Dance companies are definite “must sees” in the 2010 Chutzpah! Festival line-up.

The show opens with Bell’s four-part Anthology set with a low-lit stage and two powerfully robust dancers perched on chairs. Futuristic music accompanies staccato movements performed in tandem call-and-response sequences in Entropy. The duet morphs seamlessly into your hands which captures the magnetic essence of turbulent relationships in beautiful choreographic entanglements. Two women in gorgeous black tutus usurp the stage in Savage Birds, building the tension to a strong finish with Troy Ogilvie's solo Overtures, a heart-wrenching portrayal of a woman in the midst of an emotional breakdown. Ogilvie vacillates between chaos and control with frantic hummingbird-like gestures that become more tender as a result of the character's exhaustion.

Gallim Dance’s I Can See Myself In Your Pupil is a Rubik’s Cube of barely contained frenzy with movement so complex it physically outwits the audience. Dancers burst in and out of the wings and the visual story is so captivating that watching is like flipping the page of a gripping book. Choreographer Andrea Miller's dancers embody impulse with impeccable timing while using the full repertoire of their bodies. The eclectic music ranges from after-hours club tracks to a spinning silent record player to classical opera. It is a wild smogasbord of physicality.

A solo performer in neon pink tights dances in spotlight to Puccini. Dancers gyrate with seizure-like movements in a line that progresses like a conveyor belt to backdrop of Middle Eastern gypsy music. Dancers in peasant-inspired garb push the envelope of expression to a song in which a Latin woman hoarsely screams about the urgency of democracy. A woman moves as if made of rubber, attempting to gain control of her limbs and makes herself sit up after shunting across the floor on her elbows.

Miller delivers a jungle gym for your mind. The dexterity of her ideas combined with the limitless and malleable energy of very accomplished dancers makes for an ovation-worthy experience. A lithe combination of outrageous and soft, grotesque and demure, Miller has earned her title as last year’s Dance Magazine’s “25 to watch”.