Articles

Check out the Gilbert Bouchard book collection

Some of the books on display at Rutherford library. Photo by Suzette Chan.

Shout-out to the University of Alberta Library system for featuring selections from The Gilbert Bouchard Collection of Postmodernism, Visual Culture, and Pop Literature at their Rutherford, Cameron, and Bibliothèque Saint-Jean branches this month!

The display is a result of a librarian’s curiosity about the collection and the role that some of its comics played in her own life.

Please read Sonya Leung’s story in the University of Alberta’s Quad newsletter. I hope you can catch the displays this month and someday check out (literally!) the books in the collection.

Arts, Reviews

2019 Fall Dance Card

Autumn 2019 was a bit of a blur for me as I suffered two rounds of a viral cold while juggling a busy schedule. I did get out to some performances, but did not manage to write about them. I’ll say a few words now for prosperity, and also because I still think about these performances.

Work: Eve 2050
Artist: Van Grimde Corps Secrets
Date: Friday, October 18, 2019
Venue: Triffo Theatre, MacEwan University

Promo photo of “Eve 2050” (c) Van Grimde Corps Secrets

Last summer, I saw Isabelle van Grimde’s dance film Eve 2050 at DYSCORPIA: Future Intersections of the Body and Technology, a massive visual art exhibit at the University of Alberta’s Enterprise Gallery. The exhibit was curated by Marilène Oliver, whose sculptures can be seen in the film, and who wanted to further explore the themes of the film.

As the title implies, the film version of Eve 2050 is about humanity in the future. It was also the first part of a triptych of performances by van Grimde’s company, Van Grimde Corps Secrets. The second work was a Montreal performance installation in which dancers and audience members co-mingled. The last part of the triptych was a stage performance which debuted in Montreal, and was subsequently presented in Edmonton in October as part of the Brian Webb Dance Company’s current season.

I attended the first of two performances of Eve 2050 at Triffo Theatre. Walking into the auditorium, it was apparent to even those who had not seen the film that the evening was going to be about the interaction between humans and machines. A dancer was already on stage. A vertical beam of light from the stage was scanning the audience.

What followed was not merely an adaptation of the film, which was about cyborgs and human-machine hybridization. The stage performance focused on artificial intelligence and other technological inventions that have allowed humans to extend their presence beyond their bodies. Van Grimde carried over some of the dance vocabulary seen in the film and added a layer of interactive technology. Using infrared technology that was invisible to the audience, dancers triggered and interacted dynamically with seemingly 3D images, including Marilène Oliver’s full-body MRI (which Edmontonians would have seen in the Dyscorpia exhibt) and an architectural rendering which was like a mind palace come to life.

The nine-member dance company was far from overwhelmed by the technology, whether digital or analogue. (One of my favourite “special effects” was a scrim in a door frame with a dancer on either side, suggesting a full-length mirror or a portal to another possible existences or selves.) Fittingly, as they were performing in the the birth city of Marshall “the medium is the message” McLuhan, Van Grimde Corps Secrets’s symbiotic relationship with technology was both the means and the meaning of the work.

Work: Chapter One
Artist: Ballet Edmonton
Date: Friday, October 25, 2019
Venue: Triffo Theatre, MacEwan University

Promo photo of Ballet Edmonton performing “The Rite” (c) Ballet Edmonton

Ballet Edmonton’s first show of the season was also the first time I’d seen the company since it changed its name from Citie Ballet and hired dancer and choreographer Wen Wei Wang as its new artistic director in 2018.

For the 2019-20 season, Wang has put together three shows, each numbered as a chapter, rather than named. Chapter One was performed on October 25 to 27 (I attended the October 25 performance) and featured two ensemble pieces with themes of seasonal change.

The evening began with Forêts by Serge Bennathan with sound design featuring sounds of the forest by Karissa Barry and Wade Staples. All the dancers wore black outfits, but each one was a little different, so we could tell the trees from the forest. Forêts was a work of pure motion and sound that prompted me to reminisce about the way being in the forest can feel like a reassuring hug, and also a privilege to witness the dynamics within its environment.

The second piece was The Rite, choreographed by Shay Kuebler. Inspired by The Rite of Spring, the 1913 ballet by Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky, The Rite did not cause the audience to riot, but it did portray cycles of nature with choreography that rejects formal stuffiness and embraces organic movements. At first, the ensemble appeared and moved as a huddled mass. Gradually, they flew apart, like fall leaves in the wind, until one dancer portrayed a full life cycle. In the end, the other dancers huddled around her, as if taking her back into the ground, ending the piece as it began, and setting up for the next renewal.

Kuebler will be bringing his company, Shay Kuebler Radical System Art, back to Triffo Theatre on February 14 and 15, 2020, as part of the Brian Webb Dance Company’s season.

I should mention that Ballet Edmonton and Brian Webb Dance Company are collaborating, sharing flip sides of the season souvenir booklet and other resources. It’s a fantastic development, as the two companies perform in the same theatre and offer complementary takes on dance, with Ballet Edmonton presenting modern ballet and Brian Webb Dance Company presenting avant garde dance.

Work: Sara Does a Solo
Artist: Sara Porter
Date: Friday, December 13, 2019
Venue: Mile Zero Dance

Promo photo of Sara Porter performing “Sara Does a Dance” (c) Sara Porter

Mile Zero Dance has been doing interesting things with its new storefront space in Little Italy (10816 – 95 Street). It hosts daytime yoga and dance classes, evening dance performances, and all-day exhibits of art in its front lobby.

The evening performances vary from its Dirt City Cabaret series of experimental work to full-length work by the company and by guests. In December, I attended the opening night performance of Sara Does a Solo by Toronto’s Sara Porter, who had also spent the week conducting workshops at Mile Zero.

Porter walked in and welcomed us after we were seated in the intimate space (it’s a dance studio with folding chairs set out on the same level as the performance area). The house lights remained up as her greetings slid into an introduction, and then into the first monologue of the piece. There was no formal boundary between the three pieces of communication, and this was intentional.

Normally, I would introduce an artist with their area of practice. I might have written, “Porter is a dancer and writer”, or, “Porter is a writer and dancer”, but Porter’s piece questions the idea of occupational labels and identity. Porter, who has taken breaks from dancing, made a statement, then amended it, reviving the tenses, challenging the urge to pinpoint an artist’s activities on a static timeline. She said, “I was a dancer. I could have been a dancer. I will have been a dancer.”

The piece reflected the fluidity in her life. From the audience’s point of view, the program was delightfully unpredictable. Porter would follow a story with a movement piece. She would pull a seemingly endless stream of dresses out of a suitcase and wear them all. She would perform a dance to a silent soundtrack. But nothing felt out of place. Everything was about who she was as an artist.

Sara Does a Solo was a combination of memoir, theatre, and dance. She managed to keep you in the story while she deconstructed the story. At no point did being reminded that I was watching the construction of a story kick me out of the story emotionally. She had a way of keeping the audience reeled in. For example, in telling the story of how she met singer Mary Margaret O’Hara (a personal favourite of mine, so I appreciated the story and the MMOH music included in the piece), Porter repeated the beginning of Sara Does a Solo.

At the Q&A after the show, Porter said that she created Sara Does a Solo five years ago. She hasn’t revised it, so as an actor, she’s playing herself from five years ago. “You have to find a way to make [the work] come alive for now.” Sara Porter found the way.

Reviews

Western Themes and Baby Yoda Memes

The Mandalorian with no name. (Image: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

The Mandalorian is so fun to watch, you almost forget that it’s an excellent example of how a corporate entertainment behemoth can freshen up an IP and sell a whole new product along the way.

For this week’s issue of Sequential Tart, I wrote about The Mandalorian‘s ties to the genres that inspired George Lucas, and the secret to Baby Yoda’s success as a pop culture figure.

Excerpt:

Baby Yoda is an open signifier, practically invented for memes. Within the context of the show, Baby Yoda can mean a fresh start for the Star Wars franchise. It can symbolize a new generation that prompts older, jaded generations to act against the resurgence of fascism. It can represent renewed appreciation for artisan handicraft in a digital age (the enthusiasm for the mostly puppet creature is a marked contrast to fans’ refusal to warm up to the mostly CGI characters of the prequels).

Even the storytelling style of The Mandalorian seems designed to clear a path for this adorable new overlord.

Suzette Chan in the Sequential Tart Roundtable about The Mandalorian, Season 1

(This was for a roundtable. My piece is spoiler-free. My colleague, Wolfen Moondaughter, got into the spoilery details.)