Tag Archives: Tangente

Sliding and Acéphales presented by Tangente


Merely a month late… Apologies, better late than never. Back in March, I got to see Sliding by Lise Vachon with Marielle Morales and Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan and Magali Stoll by Tangente. Two short pieces that Dena Davida said in her introduction were “idea based dance.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that statement, as I find it hard to wrap my head around the concept of dance that is not based on an idea. As far as I can tell all dance is “idea based.” It’s the differences in the ideas (some obviously being better than others) that make individual dances, unique.

In the program Sliding was also referred to as a being perceived as a “series of postcards.” A postcard being a “condensed idea of the history of a particular moment in time” Ms. Vachon said. Given that nobody sends postcards anymore, I’m not quite sure what to make of that statement either. But it’s a good thing that the performance itself was made up of different types of statements. Statements that didn’t involve words, because I was fairly confident I knew what to make of that.

As the proverbial curtain lifted (because there wasn’t any curtain) there was some sort of screen above a low riser that was center stage but towards the back. At the front of the stage in either corner was an overhead projector (now that I think about it some, maybe Ms. Vachon just likes things that have become obsolete due to newer technology).

Ms. Vachon and Ms. Morales kind of peek their heads out from the bottom of the screen, not in a cute or coy way like Betty Boop. More in an experimental way of testing what’s out there, kind of how a new born (and blind) animal checks out the world. Eventually the rest of their bodies flop on stage and it becomes a proper dance performance.

Both Ms. Vachon and Ms. Morales were wearing what I at first thought were black unitards and black stockings, but as I was able to get a better look at things, I changed my mind and noted that they were wearing black socks but then realized it was in fact just the shadows, and what I had thought was a unitard was shorts and a top. So while Patricia Eggerickx costume design might not have been the most original, Marc Lhommel’s lighting design was particularly intriguing if it caused me to get confused about the costumes.

There’s nothing particularly striking about the movements both dancers did. But at the same time they weren’t banal either. More like they were movements well done, without any flash or glitz. At one point I wrote down that it looked like it was done in a “Concordia University” style. But I quickly wrote down after that “what is Concordia University style?” As if I would be able to identify and then explain how the dancers and choreographers trained at Concordia moved differently than those at say UQAM or elsewhere. That’s just me being pretentious while hte lights are down.

Although if I were to now make a calculated guess, instead of Concordia University I’d venture a guess that in fact Ms. Vachon’s style is closely related to that of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, seeing as how she studied with and worked for Ms. De Keersmaeker. But then again, that’s just me trying to be pretentious again, because I wouldn’t recognize a piece by ms. De Keersmaeker if it smacked me in the head.

Also, while doing research I discovered that Sliding had been originally performed by Lisbeth Gruwez and Lise Vachon and somewhere along the way lost 15 minutes. I don’t know if Ms. Gruwez was taken by Ms. Morales or if Ms. Vachon switched parts. But after having seen Ms Gruwez perform I am intrigued that she did it and wonder how different it would been and what it would have been like. Tant pis.

Also In the program (and elsewhere) it was written that Sliding was inspired by (or from) Edward Hopper. Now I’m no Hopper specialist, but like the rest of you I know what Nighthawks looks like,

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 ; Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in; The Art Institute of Chicago
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 ; Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in; The Art Institute of Chicago

And I’m also familiar with some other of his paintings, and the closest I can think of is his Rooms by the Sea and the second use of the overhead projector where there are some lines that transform the scene into a bare room and then a yellow gel is placed on to form the ceiling. But Rooms by the Sea has a yellowish floor. But then again, I haven’t seen all of his paintings, so I might be missing something as obvious as the nose on my face.

Rooms by the Sea by Edward Hopper, 1951; Oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Rooms by the Sea by Edward Hopper, 1951; Oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

However before you get the impression that I spent the entire performance scratching my head and questioning things that didn’t make sense to me and as a consequence didn’t like it. I should start to write some positive stuff as well. At the time I quite liked it (well, actually everything but the music, but you can’t win ’em all). The dancing was quite accomplished and well done, there were a bunch of different place in my notes where I wrote things like “really good,” “double checkmark” and “very nicely done.” It’s just that without the benefit of a script, I can’t tell you where. In certain parts they seemed to be moving like six year-old girls pretending to be models, and in other places I noted that they looked like “post-modern cheerleaders” with their arms out spinning and kicking. Then towards the end there’s a nice bit where their shadows kiss.

Although it sounded to me like it received tepid applause at the performance I attended, I thought it was quite accomplished, despite my difficulties making the same connections as Ms. Vachon would have wanted me to.

As you would expect, I had the same sort of opposing reaction to Acéphales. According to my notes, the applause it got was “much warmer.” I have no idea why. (Actually, I do, the dancers, Kelly Keenan and Magali Stoll, along with the choreographer Catherine Marcus-Lavoie are locals who are probably recent graduates from university, and as a consequence the audience was packed with their friends who would be naturally inclined to clap louder). But it still makes no sense to me.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Apparently I am much older than I thought, or dancing makes you look much younger than you are. I just met with Catherine Marcus-Lavoie, and neither she nor Kelly Keenan, nor Magali Stoll have been anywhere near a university in a long time. And Ms. Marcus-Lavoie also informed me that the show I saw didn’t have an awful lot of her friends in the audience.]

Acéphales somehow translates into “without a head” in English, although it isn’t half as poetic sounding. In retrospect it’s kind of easy to see how that idea made its way through the performance. But the performance – I hesitate to use the term “dance” – could have equally been called “Head,”

or “heady,” or “head’s up.” As most of the moving was based around and on the head. Plastic bubble wrap covering a head.

Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan, photo by Frédéric Chais courtesy http://dancenews-mtl.weebly.com
Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan, photo by Frédéric Chais courtesy http://dancenews-mtl.weebly.com

Or facepainting, but not like what you see during the Jazz Festival but more like what you would expect children to do if they did the facepainting themselves.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Ms. Lavoie-Marcus also asked me to remove a picture that was taken for a different performance and not Acéphales.]

The stage itself looked vaguely like a minimalist Thomas Hirschhorn installation (if that’s actually possible). A lot of bubble wrap and other plastic, some blenders, paint, you get the idea. Ms. Keenan and Ms. Stoll were both dressed in what could be called plastic smocks. Despite the precautions, everyone did get dirty.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Apparently I also need a stronger prescription for my glasses Ms. Lavoie-Marcus informed me in no uncertain terms that they were wearing regular street clothes street-like clothes.]

There was no real rhyme or reason to the action that I could see, but if I was going to get all technical on you, it looked to me like the two women were possibly in opposition. Why? I don’t know, it was never quite stated.

When the promo video for a performance concentrates on a microphone as much or more so than it does on the performers, and when a significant portion of it is deliberately out of focus, you can understand that the actual movement on stage isn’t exactly of the highest priority. And in this case it didn’t strike me that it was.

Whether it was intended as some sort of commentary on the practice of female mud-wrestling, or was intended as some sort of PoMo female mud-wrestling, or was intended just as a means to muck about with paint on stage, I have no clue. But whatever the intention was, it really didn’t come across as anything more than mucking around.

And if you’re going to muck around, it helps to be two years-old, blonde and outdoors instead of an adult in a block box theatre…

[Edit January 11, 2013: As you might guess Ms. Lavoie-Marcus did not like what I wrote about her piece. She has a view that there are certain things that a reviewer should always do. In conversation with her, I got a sense she wants critics try to keep some sense of objectivity, reporting facts of what happened, and then explaining whether these things that happened were done well or not. I’m probably not doing her point of view any justice for any number of reasons. But it was quite obvious that she really doesn’t like my attempts at new journalism reviews. As a consequence I have offered her a carte blanche to respond as she sees fit. As soon as I have it, I will post it.]

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.