Saturday, February 16, 2013
Testing performance in Brazil, january (reviewing 2013 so far pt. 1)
Sunday, October 02, 2011
Went to the MAI (Montreal Arts Interculturels) gallery space today to see Juan Manuel Echavarria’s “Requiems”, the photo and video exhibit that had inspired much of our work on Nohayquiensepa. I had only seen it online - never in person - before. Seeing it now really makes me think about what a photo exhibit can say vs theatre.
Briefly: the exhibit is a visual recreation of a section of the mausoleum in Puerto Berrio, Colombia, a port town on the Magdalena river, where many unidentified body parts wash up (a sad result of the civil conflict) and are interred pending identification. On these graves the coroner marks a tracking number, and ’NN’, meaning ’no nombre’: no name. Seeing these as souls lost to the families who might pray for them, locals come in and ’adopt’ them: praying for them, tending their mausoleum plots, and offering them water because lost souls get thirsty. In return, the living ask the dead for favors.
The exhibit had a surreal quality to it for me. Bea and I went to Puerto Berrio ourselves in 2011 to visit the cemetery and interview the groundskeeper. He told us that NN’s were placed in various areas as space allowed, and that the ’NN section’ (of Echavarria's exhibit) was in fact the area dedicated to children. What often happens is that the parents of many children, either from grief or poverty, stop coming to do upkeep on their children’s graves, which, unpaid for, fall into disrepair. Many of these squares would be claimed in the night by people looking for good luck, who quickly paint over them, and adopt them as NNs.
So when I go back to the source material that gave us our start on a visual vocabulary for our show, I am deeply aware of what we tried to uncover and how we presented it to an audience. I don’t believe that Echavarria was hiding part of the story, but I do think there are gaps in what he knew. So do I. What intrigues me is where he stopped asking questions: at a point where the beauty of a kind of tribute brought the story to a satisfying close. He pointed out a terrible situation, and the consequent human reaction to it, which made me want to cry and make art. But he did not, for instance, introduce the sports fan who adopted an NN, in a kind of spiritual contract, to get supernatural blessings for his team.
His photography showed us a moment of human empathy, a tribute to the spirit of hope.
So in contrast, I ask myself: what did our play show?
We created situations. I know their limits: part of me wanted to shout raw condemnations at transnational firms implicated in a number of practices that would expose them to criminal penalties and lawsuits if they happened in Canada. But that kind of polemical politics was not the place, emotionally, that we wanted to occupy. So we held on to some ambiguity towards "who did what" in the tragedy of Puerto Berrio, and instead focused on the people affected by these violent events: locals, victims of violence, the displaced, and even the ’company men’ dealing with the aftermath. Through them we tried to recover a sense of how life and death are balanced out in Colombia and here at home in Canada.
So in some way I have done exactly what Echavarria did: I told only part of a story. I suppose that is what all of us do. The fact of telling a story, through any medium, requires a beginning and an end: these do not truly exist in our lived history, where tomorrow and yesterday always leave a mark. But hopefully I held to the truth of the situations as I found them, and did not alter that truth, in the midst of our abstract reportage, by omission.
Of course I know that ultimately I will fail at this, but that is a truth so common as to be nearly meaningless.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
He is a 74-year-old expat german who came to Canada in 1958 - he's been a Canadian longer than I've been alive. He has been a door-to-door Encyclopedia Salesman, a Furrier, a Rabbit Farmer, a Real Estate agent, and a Landlord. On this Eastern Ontario morning he wrapped a towel around his head to absorb sweat and protect against mosquitos.
He is my father.
Last week I spent some time with my parents, and each morning Dad and I would pull out the wheelbarrow and chainsaw and head out into the bush to chop up recently-fallen trees. I was the wheelbarrow man, carting logs along the deer path across streams, roots, and rocks like a chuckling hillbilly as he cut debris into lengths that fit a woodstove.
Friday, March 18, 2011
anger does not open the reluctant heart
(photo by Katherine Fleitas of Nohayquiensepa)
I was interviewed yesterday by Mary Ito from CBC's Saturday morning show, Fresh Air. She asked me about something I wrote on this blog, one or two entries ago, about what I meant when I said that we try to move towards beauty and not anger.
First thought: someone reads this blog?
Second thought: I was hesitant to respond - nerves probably. And the trick of the question is that it makes me talk about things that I get angry about when I start talking about them: the way big money moves around the world, influencing events in ways that are fundamentally autocratic. The way our country has slipped into a position where it supports firms that are doing really nasty things in communities across the globe.
(For more on that, check out www.miningwatch.ca )
So when I talk about it I get angry. Creating performance gives us the chance to look at it twice, to craft a response in movement and image that conveys things in a way that is open to the viewer's interpretation. And if it is beautiful, as we hope it is, it can possibly touch the heart of someone who would be unmoved by our anger. It is a catharsis. A return to life after seeing awful things.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Silenced voices. One of the recurring images in our show - Nohayquiensepa (No one knows) is the idea of telling someone else's story. Or telling a story about them. You like to think: for them.
But beside that there is the idea that some people cannot safely tell their stories - that they need someone else to be their voice. Whether it is distance from the place where decisions are made, or personal risk is speaking out - some things must be said, but by others.
I can't express some things with words - so I got some people to help me put this play / dance piece / video installation together. And I think the lovely outcome is that this piece says a lot without many words at all.
I've been told we aren't pushing the issues hard enough - that here in Toronto people won't get all the information about abuses by Canadian mining companies in Latin America, for instance, or by various armed factions in Colombia. Well, that's true - they won't get a lot of hard information in the show. But they get enough to feel the need to know more. This isn't - can't be - a documentary. The medium we are discovering doesn't do that as well as film. But to get people to care? -- I think we can do that, which is often harder than to give them a straight up, factual brief on a pressing issue...
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
loading into the theatre next week
It amazes me that I am exhausted, way behind on everything I need to do for anything that is mine to do, and yet feel myself compelled to put up this picture and say a few words about it. As if blogging were a primal instinct like eating or mating.
I am a lucky man. I have such cool people giving their all to this process - and it has been a weird, let's-invent-a-way-of-working-none-of-us-has-ever-done-before adventure. Because that's what this is: a collective discovery, no scripts, just design and action and movement coming together in a series of passes as something takes shape underneath us that we slowly recognize better, and bring that recognition back into the next go-round. We are evolving this show.
if you reading this I hope you get to see it: March 13-27, 2011 at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. (416 538-0988).
If you don't see it, oh well. more updates here soon.
The other challenge with this piece is the importance of the issues at stake here: that after 50 years people outside the major cities of Colombia (and even in them) are not safe from large-scale violence. And our country is taking advantage of that instability to promote our businesses, making it profitable for some to work to maintain the status quo there. The Canadian mining and petroleum industries are at the forefront of a modern gold rush in Latin America, and they don't take no for an answer when the local population has reservations. Furthermore, our government has actively supported this with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to encourage legislative reforms, loans, and insurance guarantees to these companies. And we feel lucky to get $15000 from the Canada Council to put on a play that tries to raise the human spirit.
Making a gorgeous performance piece feels like a ridiculous excercise sometimes, when you think about what 80% of the people in this world have to go through to make a modest living. But by going towards beauty, versus anger, and focusing our gaze on the human issues, versus polemics, I hope we can play a small role in a larger struggle against the ugly destructive side of our way of life in Canada.
and that's as close to a rant as I'll get in public. By me a beer for the personal version. or come to the show.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
rehearsing / inventing / re-inversing a show
getting shadows to dance didn't sound so hard when the idea first came up. But I think we've learned a thing or two about how to do it. Had a few days of tinkering with things now, and I'm beginning to get my head around a few scenes. Gotta find the line - well, the way the lines weave - to stitch everything together...
This (the show, I mean: Nohayquiensepa) began as an experiment in something, but I'm at the point where I just want it to work now... there are so many people involved in a piece of theatre, it gets exhausting just to keep everyone on track, let alone push the envelope a little further each day in what we can do. But I trust this group to live in the world we invented together.
Just gotta get some people to come see it now...
March 13 to 27th at the Theatre Centre in Toronto, people.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
cloudy skies in Vancouver
Running around with a company of 7 dancers has been glorious and exhausting. I spend 6 hours a day working on stuff for back home, and the rest of the time here on whatever it is we are doing (a show called 'relay'). I can't really see my way through to the end of anything right now, but that feels very Vancouver to me. Which is where I am, at least for another day.
My mind is constantly returning to our next show in Toronto, Nohayquiensepa. And to home, to my mom, to my lover, to my cat... I guess that's part of the gift of touring: appreciating everything that is beyond you but part of you.
I will miss the food, and how people just blurt out what's on their mind on the bus. Mind you, the #20 bus between the hotel and the theatre runs along East Hastings, right through some rough neighbourhoods, so that might be part of it. For instance: a guy starts telling me (after failing to sell me his wet gobby dube) about how well he's doing in business. I ask him what his business is. He shows me his fancy watch, and says he installs windows. Someone half way up the bus turns his head and says "I love windows!"