Rebecca Halls | Raqib Brian Burke at Tangente


Now we’re really on the ball! It’s a Monday morning and I’m writing about something I saw last Thursday. Almost timely… They had a double feature at the Monument National (where Tangente is camping for the most part this season) and due to a screw up on my part I got to see Rebecca Halls and Raqib Brian Burke perform.

I’m impressed that Ms. Halls agreed to be on the bill with Mr. Burke. Although she didn’t have to follow him, she was first. Still a potentially frightening situation. I’ve heard stories of how in the early 1970s the band Chicago had Bruce Springsteen open for them on a tour, and after something like four shows, Bruce Springsteen was politely asked not to perform anymore because his show was so much better than that of Chicago’s. While not quite as polarizing as Bruce Springsteen and Chicago. Ms. Halls definitely suffered in comparison.

While I missed the initial Hula-Hoop craze in the late fifties, I did have at least one as a youngster. Then when the neo-hippies started doing it at Burning Man and other festivals, I also missed it, but was aware that Hula Hoops had come back. Now, I’m not completely incompetent at hooping, but then again I never really saw much point in practicing enough to become like super duper good at it. When I was younger I always thought the pogo stick was a much cooler toy – and now that I think of it, I just might have to get myself a pogo-stick this summer. But I digress…

OK, maybe not.

As usual, I tried to go into the show with no to low expectations, so it was only after seeing it that I read in the program (again, no press kit) “As she uncovers her Icelandic Heritage, the dancer takes the audience on a nostalgic journey through cycles of time, planetary motion and the natural world.” And that I think is as good a place as any to try an explain the difficulties I found in the piece.

For the most part hooping is one movement with a bunch of variations. And those variations aren’t terribly major. Hoop on the foot, hoop on the arm, multiple hoops, hoops that are lit up, you get the picture. As a consequence it’s rather tough to impose any sort of narrative on a performance without either some other props, or a script.

Ms. Halls at one point did change her costume, but that was about it as far as props were concerned and it seemed to me that the show was about spinning hoops, and being spun (at one point a harness descends and she puts it on so that she can spin in the air). Unless I was blind (which is quite possible) I did not see any hoop labelled “Mars,” “Jupiter” or “Saturn.” That planetary motion thing really didn’t come through all that clear.

In my notes I do make reference to a video of a “cold and still north.” But given that we happen to live in an cold and still northern place, I was didn’t quite make a connection to Iceland until after I read it. Similarly I didn’t make any connections to a natural world nor the cycles of time.

That all being said, I’m certain that Ms. Halls’ hooping technique was impressive. However the tone was kind of set by the film that was played before her performance which got no applause whatsoever. Kind of surprising considering how polite Montreal crowds normally are. But after that there was no applause for any of the individual feats she performed, which given how hooping is a very physical activity must have been frustrating for her. I don’t know if it has to do with how small the theatre was at the Monument National or if there was some other reason. But at pretty much every other hooping performance I’ve seen, the audience does break into applause when a particularly impressive feat is accomplished.

All of which is a kind of long lead in to Raqib Brian Burke’s performance, which was the second part of the show. For the longest time I thought that Whirling Dervishes spun as fast as Tasmanian Devils did.

Probably something having to do with never really taking a comparative religion course and watching just a little bit too many Bugs Bunny cartoons when I was younger. Now that I’m older, I realize the errors of my youth. it also helps that I got to actually see someone do it live and in the flesh.

What can I say? Well, I’m not going to try and explain why or how he does it. It’s pretty gosh darn simple, spinning around and around. But what continues to amaze me even at this late date, is while everything I have read says that the folks doing the twirling around are the ones who get into the spiritual state. I actually found myself, as a viewer, in some kind of state of bliss. I can barely remember my walk home, but I can very clearly remember the sense of awestruck serenity that I had while watching the performance.

Something probably should also be written about Eric Powell who played the music that Mr. Burke preformed to. Although again to be brutally honest, I was so blown away by Mr. Burke that I have to refer to my notes to even conjure up a vague idea of what and how Mr. Powell played. At various times sounding like a Geiger counter or an electric ukelele or some kind of electronica throat singing or probably a bunch of other things that I didn’t write down, at the time it all sounded exactly and completely appropriate.

If I’m going to question anything, it would be whatever part Mira Hunter had. She’s Mr. Burke’s daughter and got the headliner status as choreographer and the person responsible for the video (I also imagine that she came up with the title). In my notes, I wrote “video comes on / But there is no need for video / he is riveting.” Which is not say that she did anything bad or that her participation lessens the performance. Just that I wasn’t capable of appreciating the nuances that she added.

This is actually a video of a whirling performance by Mr. Burke and his daughter (and some other folk as well) out in Vancouver. Whether it is the tilt of the head, the way the arms are held, or just that it is so gosh darn simple, I don’t know. But Mr. Burke was something completely awe inspiring on Thursday night. I’d draw the line at converting to Sufism, but you don’t know how close I got.

If you want more information about whirling, and all of that, try The Rumi Society (BC) and Mevlevi Order for a start. And then there are these dudes from Turkey.

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