Monday, October 18, 2010

Critical Perspective: The Ballad of Ricky and Ronny – A Pop Opera

Michael Thomas Taylor
October 14, 2010

For all its understated anomie, “The Ballad of Ricky and Ronny” is full of charm and surprises. Acerbic, surreal, post-modern, melancholic – all of these moods morph in and out of the duets, which are sung somewhere between Mozart’s recitative, Stephen Sondheim, and the sound of casual conversation over the radio. The music is minimalist, driving and suddenly delicate, the set a pristine kind of pop. And the poetry is deceptively capacious. Built out of the language of everyday love, it struck me at first as something like Ricky’s well-worn leather bag that can swallow anything you name it. But this morning when I woke up the words were hard and forefront in my mind, like ice-crystals on a window the morning after a snowstorm. In particular, I wondered about the obvious but unheard coarseness in so much of what we say to those we love and fuck, and about the inexplicable vulgarity we sometimes attach to our bodies. All the same, the overnight process of transpiration also starkly revealed some aspects of the show that I consider to be flaws. For these Belgian artists so conversant in a multilingual world, the supertitles were a lost opportunity. Why not make something of this additional dimension to language, rather than repeating the tired operatic convention of supertitles? And at times in the middle, I felt the construction became less taught. Twenty minutes of cuts might have done the piece some good. At some point I recall thinking: this ballad would make a memorable short film. Not to give anything away, but the film does come, though I think one could disagree about its merits. I’m still not sure of how to understand its – admittedly explicit – escape into a realm of visual fantasy, with its sudden translation into images (or projections?). But even if I don’t think it really fit as an ending to the ballad, I don’t regret the dislocation.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Critical Perspective: 'Architecting' by TEAM

Michael Thomas Taylor

September 23, 2010

Two things have stayed with me since TEAM’s performance of “Architecting.” The first is the team itself. The image of the Cathedral, built over centuries by teams of unnamed craftsmen, aptly captures this company’s foundation. Like the paper model and its builder we see on stage, the analogy is a little haphazard and hammed up, though not in the least bit tongue-in-cheek because it’s true of the way this company works. They inhabit each other’s imaginations. The result gives weight to the second thing that has stayed with me: their palpable commitment to the work’s ambition – to “architect” something new out of the American dream.

You can read more about this project’s raw materials in the many on-line reviews that have appeared since it opened two years ago: New Orleans, Margaret Mitchell, “Gone with the Wind,” and the red soil of the South, “the best soil for cotton in the world.” But for all the evening’s dramatic complexity, to my mind these monuments of American culture are left largely intact; I didn’t leave with the sense they were, like New Orleans, a site of catastrophe. The characters and their stories may have found themselves dislocated across history and highways, but the performance rarely moves beyond a basic impulse to tell a story. To me, this was a missed opportunity. The actors are so skilled, so fluid, and so compelling that it’s a pity the structure of the piece itself fails to gain any force of its own. This starts with the set. The video projections, the storm-induced blackouts, the thunderclaps, even the recorded voices – they never amount to much more than a cinematic backdrop to the drama on stage. Once during Scarlett’s monologue a video-link goes live and suddenly new dimensions open up. But moments like this remained isolated, even forgotten, as did the bar-singing welcome to the audience that receded into a collection of worlds more or less behind a fourth wall (or at the very least safely ensconced within a dramatic space). To me, the urgent need to “architect” the ruins and promises of these iconic myths called for more radical choices.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

You Left Your Heart at Theatre Junction GRAND!

But don't worry, it's here waiting for you...

Maybe you have seen a few shows at Theatre Junction GRAND before, or maybe you haven't experienced what we have to offer yet.

It's time to be more than 'just friends'...

Why not become a subscriber?

Early Bird Subscriptions for our 2010/11 season are now available!

Click Here to view our full program.

Save up to 25% off the single ticket price
$210 – Early Bird Season Pass until September 6, 2010
$245 – Regular Season Pass
$126 – with valid student ID

Season Subscribers also receive:

- 10% off additional tickets to all shows
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If you are hungry for a unique experience, we invite you to witness the artists of our 2010/11 season!

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Theatre Junction GRAND announces 2010/11 Anniversary Season!

The 2010/11 Season marks beginning of the Grand Theatre’s 100th Anniversary and Theatre Junction’s 20th Anniversary.

Theatre Junction GRAND – Calgary’s culturehouse of contemporary live art, will present new works from around the world including a new creation by artistic director Mark Lawes and the Resident Company of Artists, who recently embarked on their first tour as part of World Stage at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. The 2010/11 Season marks a major juncture in the organization’s and Calgary’s collective history where two great landmarks in art and culture will be celebrated and reflected upon.

The 2010/11 Season represents a multiplicity of viewpoints from leading artists in the fields of contemporary theatre, dance and music. Each one pushes the boundaries of their discipline, to move beyond the surface appearance and to ask: what is the potential of the artist to re-invent their medium? and, ultimately, what is the potential of the spectator to re-invent the world in which they are living?

Artistic Director Mark Lawes notes, “This Season represents an important crossroad and a ‘junction’ in our history with that of the city of Calgary and the historic Grand Theatre, our home since 2006, as we create conversations around art and culture in our city…… today, tomorrow and in the future.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

Critical Perspective of West by "Awesome" by Michael Taylor

For me, last nights show West by Awesome just failed to come together in any coherent way. Things I heard in the lobby: It had its moments These guys are certainly talented a lot of thought went into the set. One could add a number of elements to the list, all of which, taken in isolation, were extremely polished, sometimes witty, and occasionally conceptually innovative. But like all those glow-in-the dark bouncy balls that fell from the ceiling (spoiler alert), each aha-moment exploded up into the atmosphere without leaving much of a trace, only to end up scattered on the floor. Or rather, the parts seemed to slowly meander and drift away from each other like so much flotsam and jetsam on a very still lake. There were projections of mythic images and voices, slapstick play with costumes and seemingly bottomless containers, rituals of violence and cleansing, a few jokes, monologues dripping a bit sweetly with longing and gazes into the distance, and the music, which unfortunately was often upstaged by the recorded sound-track and the sound of waves. One friend summed up the possibilities and failures of the piece particularly trenchantly. The background is the foreground, she said, generously trying to articulate what was going on. But she also said the same thing earlier in a very different way: Its like a screen saver. Indeed, we did see several screen-savers projected onto the stage in the third act. I suppose some people found a meditative space in these empty evocations of mood. I wasn't one of them.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Critical Perspective of Meg Stuart's Do Animals Cry by Michael Taylor

One thing I overheard last night after Meg Stuart’s Do Animals Cry was: Why is this work in a theater? Or as a friend wrote to me today, if it’s supposed to be a kind of lived experience, why not stage it somewhere else where the audience can become part of the experience? But I think the theatrical frame was integral to the performance. Whether you agree with me or not, the point remains that the piece challenges the expectations we bring to the theater. These are not all the same, there is no reason why they should be, and it seems to me that’s the wager of the piece. It’s Tanztheater – emphasis on both of those words – in the most essential way we’ve seen this season.

I should say right away: I loved the work. So much so that I went twice. Obviously, many other people didn’t. We saw them get up and leave in waves, like migrating flocks of birds. That’s unfortunate. Hahn Rowe’s music was superb enough that the evening was worth two hours of anyone’s Friday night. But that’s just the point: there was something about the theatrical situation that made people feel like they had to leave, or maybe even escape. Of course I can’t know why. Was it frustration? Boredom? Or as one friend said, a sense of having been insulted at being asked to watch this? More discriminating reactions generally settled on this point: the work had its moments, but did it have to be so long? As a short warning, my reaction will be longer than usual, too.

The length seemed particularly unbearable, so I heard, because the work lacked range and development. We got it, so to speak, after sixty minutes. One friend who certainly knows something about dance sketched things out in a flash: there were three kinds of movement, sloppy, frantic, and slow motion. Of course there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. I’m sure she’d agree that with those three things you can do a lot. You can paint a picture with just one color, too. In this sense, the performance asks – expects – to be taken on its own terms, as a kind of repetition and variation that refuses to define its own development as a narrative or necessary structure. It is the kind of experience that refuses to necessarily last 90 minutes or 120 minutes or – why not? – even longer. So the question remains, why watch this in a theater?

One obvious answer, and one that I think matters, is that this makes the work a kind of moving image in a very traditional way, the tradition that treats the theatrical stage as a canvas for a tableau vivant. The choice to invoke this tradition also corresponds to another tradition that has used this canvas to project the harmonies and disharmonies within our domestic spaces and worlds – within spaces that are both places of retreat and places, like families, from which we can’t escape. For Meg Stuart’s piece, these spaces have been reduced down to the world of everyday movements as forms of shared communication. Our bodies speak and are being read everywhere we go; this is a communication we can’t escape or control. The piece trades on the analogy between this understanding of performance, which is so important to contemporary dance, and the forms of communication that build up, like shared substance, to make people familiar to each other.
The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has a word for this kind of communication, habitus. At the risk of sounding academic, and of outing myself as someone excited by these kinds of things (too late), I got a thrill and a shock to experience this kind of communication performed and deconstructed on stage. Or to make the point in a different way, in the performance’s own terms: the work translated everything captured in a family photo into movement. Imagine being at a family reunion and being forced to hold still for a snapshot that freezes interminably, while everything that makes up the family around you – all the secrets and loves and animosities and games and taunts and betrayals – are suddenly made vibrant and present, and excruciatingly so. (If you want a sense of what I’m seeing in my mind, google Thomas Struth and look at some of his family portraits, for example here: This unspoken ground of communication, of history and shared meaning, of familiarity, is what drew me in.

It thrilled me because it was so accessible and communicated to me in such a direct and powerful way. I felt myself become isolated into dissociated structures of communication, like seeing my mouth speak rather than just speaking. And I felt like I was sharing this experience with the performers: suddenly a form of communication had been made visible in which we always were and had been connected and communicating. This wasn’t entirely pleasurable: I also had the sensation of not being able to avoid this familiarity. I felt turned inside out and exposed, which can also mean misunderstood. That was a dilemma that the people who left faced, too. The moment we all sat down we faced the option of staying or going, and either way of making a statement that everyone present would understand, whatever our motives or whatever we meant or did not mean to say. This is one reason it mattered that this piece was in a theater. The performance made this dilemma obvious and palpable by making visible the structures of communication that immediately permeate a shared room.

The surreal quality of many of Meg Stuart’s choices reflected, for me, the simple idiosyncrasy that our experiences nevertheless preserve. The beauty of the performance arose out of the tension between these fundamental structures of bodily communication and the elegance and whimsy of the scenes. (Here I thought of the painter Neo Rauch, as if someone had managed to put his imagination on stage.) The piece was not about statements, but about structures that could be expanded and stretched this way and that, but which had a tension that pulls everything back inward as this operation makes the fabric of the connection more apparent. By this I mean the way that the movements dissociate from the performers, the way that the performers dissociated from each other and return, or not, like the way the surface of the body becomes a shirt and is stretched and pulled apart, or that underwear is torn apart but then ends back up on your head. The performance strained against limits and conventions (everyone ends up in the doghouse) and, ultimately, the situation of theater itself, but without any ambitions or need to break free or escape, or more importantly, any resentment that this might be impossible.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary

Friday, March 12, 2010

Critical Perspective of Meg Stuart's Do Animals Cry by Natalie Meisner

“Do Animals Cry” focuses on the various animalistic aspects that often lurk under the surface of the dynamic of the nuclear family. The terrain it excavates seems to be rooted in Freud’s famous theories on infantile sexuality that continue to be influential and yet can often feel dated if not supplemented with more contemporary notions about the formation of the subject. Father and son roughhouse in a duet that turns murderous. A mother fawns on her son with adoration that turns erotic. Violence and tenderness mix in nearly every interaction between the performers. One family member arrives back home and injects energy and enthusiasm into the otherwise moribund group using the breathing and bodily gesture of an excited dog. This energy infects everyone else. This same family member (perhaps a son/brother?) arrives from the top of the set and is placed into a familiar sacrificial pose upon the backdrop of the woven branches while the other family members prowl and fawn over him. This, of course, leaves us wondering how we use one another for emotional crutches. Why do we need unconditional love? Why do we need devotion of any type? Do we objectify one another when we extract or demand adoration? Outcast members of the family are, in one sequence, stuffed into the doghouse (which echoes the metaphoric notion of being “in the dog house”) and in another sequence a cozy family gathering takes place inside the doghouse while one member is left out in the cold. The dialogue deploys generalized clichés that serve to highlight the mundane nature of the “tragedies” endured by the average nuclear family. Dad left, Mom is on prescription drugs and we’ve lost the house. These events are paired with horrific stories from page one of the newspaper as if to offset the very different nature of these events and yet each are termed, in an ironic deadpan voice by one of the actors as “good news.”

The notion of the nuclear family as an abiding and necessary (even a useful) unit is put into question here through movement and dance. The movement is a deliberate departure from the convention of beautiful movement that, at one time, we might have expected from dance/theatre/performance. It seems to want to externalize emotional pain through the medium of the body. This, of course is not unbroken ground as the controversial work of artists such as Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist will attest to.

There are gestures toward absurd humour (a dead stuffed dog being made to fetch a stick) that echo the cyclical and futile struggles of Hamm and Clov in Beckett’s Endgame and there is much here that can be said to be derivative of the theatre of the absurd but it never reaches the provocative and murky depths that Beckett plunged theatre audiences into. The set is beautiful; an arresting piece of visual art, in itself. A tunnel composed of lashed together branches that is lit from the inside creates an eerie and evocative metaphor for the often disturbing emotional landscape of the family. The length of this piece, unfortunately, undermined its potential power. It was as if the audience were asked to sit through the improvisation that the team went through, as well as the finished product. Of course repetition can be deployed and the staging of work in progress can serve to challenge audiences’ inherently Arnoldian notions of high culture but this alone is not enough. The making of this piece seems to have been a complex journey, more engaging for the creative team than for audiences. There simply wasn’t enough complexity, in my opinion, to warrant the length.

Dr. Natalie Meisner
Department of English, Mount Royal University

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Masterclass with Meg Stuart

Theatre Junction GRAND welcomes Meg Stuart and her company Damaged Goods to Calgary with their new show 'Do Animals Cry' (running Mar.3-5). As part of our ongoing 09.10 Masterclass series, Meg Stuart will be teaching a workshop on contemporary dance in The Studio at Theatre Junction GRAND on Thursday, March 11th from 1pm-3pm.

This class is open to the professional community and senior dance students.

Cost: $40

To apply: Please send a brief letter of interest to Erin Jenkins, Education Coordinator for Theatre Junction GRAND, stating in less that 400 words, your dance background and your interest in attending this Masterclass. Enrollment is limited. Individuals selected for participation will be contacted by Monday, March 8.

Submissions may be sent to or dropped off in person at our Box Office between the hours of 11am-6pm Monday-Friday.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Critical Perspective of Splintergroup's roadkill by Michael Thomas Taylor

“It owes a lot to David Lynch … It’s very physical … you’ll really like it …” These were the things we heard from friends in the foyer before Wednesday night’s performance of Roadkill, choreographed by Splintergroup from Australia. Right on all counts. The dramaturgy of the work’s scenes and the characters certainly do owe a stylistic debt to Lynch. But if this performance is like a film, then it is a film that unfolds in ten dimensions. I mean “unfold” here in a literal sense, or as literal as one could be about dimensions: the performers carve out spaces as if from inside out. In the slow opening sequences, these are moods of boredom and frustration, emanating from Gavin Webber, that are wound so tightly you may not even notice that he and Gabrielle Nankivell are not speaking a word. As things get moving, these two start to carve space itself into insides and outsides, ups and downs, that reflect each other across the frame of the car like the two sides of a looking glass. When the third man, Grayson Millwood, appears ominously out of the darkness, this control of the stage gains a sudden, and suddenly powerful new function. It is the power to change the point of view from within a single space – to make our camera look this way or that, see inside or outside, to show multiple shots and frames at once, or to make time run forwards or backwards or nowhere at all. And this also means the power to destabilize the narrative and pull it off center. The shift and play and conflict between these dimensions becomes the narrative. As the performers rapidly expand their repertoire of tools and the number of dimensions increases, the performance becomes increasingly precise. Split personalities, explosions of athletic agility and controlled movement, flashbacks and jumpcuts, sidewise eruptions and downpours, and of course the sound and light – always the fourth and fifth performers, and sometimes more – on the stage. These too can unfold from within, or from a structured opposition of within and without, but they can also channel the vast void of the Outback, as does the blaring car radio when it jerks from country western to heavy metal to snippets of commentary on the murder case that was one inspiration for Roadkill. All together, these dislocations make a performance so supple and plastic it’s like nothing we’ve seen this year at Theatre Junction.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Critical Perspective of Splintergroup's roadkill by Natalie Meisner

This innovative piece of dance/theatre mines filmic conventions of suspense and horror. The whip pan, the tracking shot, aerials, and the low to high level lighting are all deconstructed and drawn out through the medium of dance to extract their maximum emotional impact upon the spectator. Throughout Roadkill, one can feel and yet also analyze the way that these tricks are routinely used to provoke our animal instincts of fight or flight in film. Exploring these filmic techniques in a live performance in slow motion serves to alienate them and demand that we probe beneath our first response of breathless fear. The beauty of the dance sequences lulls us into something of a hypnagogic state that is shattered suddenly when figures spring up without warning or melt away into darkness attended by visual and auditory markers of menace.

The dancers, as is evident in their exquisite lines and focused movement are highly trained and intensely focused physical performers. There are many sequences of dance that are strong enough and thematically complex enough to function as stand-alone solo or duo dance pieces and yet they are well woven into the thematic fabric of the larger piece. The paucity of dialogue --although Roadkill is admittedly a piece whose power is derived primarily from movement-- seems to be a moment of missed opportunity in a piece that is otherwise a very powerful piece of theatre. Not to say that dialogue should step to the front in this piece, rather that when it is used, it be used as creatively as some of the other elements have been. The sound scape is outstanding; ranging from evocative grinding engine that refuses to turn over, to the zany power metal “killer” music to the chirruping birds of spring to, finally, what sounds like vultures circling overhead. The sound design along with the inventive yet minimalist set of the beaten up Toyota and spastically dysfunctional telephone booth serve to further unify the piece. Roadkill does things with Johnny Cash that I wager you won’t easily forget.

This piece zooms in on a subgenre of horror, the slasher. In this genre a couple or a group of young people go into the forest or other isolated place and begin to explore their awakening sexuality when they are discovered by a psychopathic killer who terrorizes them. On one level, this can be read as retribution for extramarital or taboo sexual explorations. The victimization of the young woman at the hands of the stranger could be read as punishment for her beauty and/or for the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Critics such as Carol Clover (Men, Women and Chain Saws…) point out that the manipulation of audience point of view makes the matter more complex, however. We may start out seeing the movie through the eyes of victimizer, but as the piece progresses we begin to laminate ourselves onto other characters and thus begin the terrifying and murky oscillation between the hunter and the prey. There are also usually moments of communion or at least shared past trauma between the so called “final girl” in a slasher film and the killer. These overlaps are illustrated in the doubling and redoubling in movement and intention between the young woman’s boyfriend and the stranger. They are also evoked during a number where the young woman walks all over her boyfriend, from head to foot during an entire sequence. Who is the real aggressor is it the stranger in the dark night, is it the outback itself, or do we each harbour this darkness within? These are questions, it seems, that we are meant to be pondering throughout Roadkill.

Roadkill promiscuously exploits the B-movie conviction that the plot is merely an excuse for everything else: the “good stuff”: special effects, close encounters with human psychopathology, high or low speed chases, scantily clad women in postures of abject terror, zippy one liners, and some good old fashioned gore. Nearly all the plot we have is forecast by the setting: a dark and stormy night, the middle of nowhere. Add a couple whose car breaks down, a stranger with a flashlight and a mysterious phone call and you’re right in the thick of it.

Dr. Natalie Meisner, Department of English
Mount Royal University, Calgary AB

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Critical Perspective of William Yang's China by Natalie Meisner

William Yang’s multimedia performance is a nuanced and thoughtful meditation on the complicated notion of homeland. In fact he frames his multiple visits to the native country of his parents as a search for roots and belonging. His performance begins with the juxtaposition of his live presence with pictures of himself in 1989 on his first visit to China. In a way this engaging visual announces the theme of multiple identities that will be deployed throughout the piece. What is it, Yang’s piece asks us, that composes our notions of identity: Cultural practice, visible markers of ethnicity, clothing, food, music, notions of the sacred, language, or a combination of all of these combined?

The power of Yang’s performance is derived from the ability of photographs to both freeze time and serve as a capturing device for the odd and offbeat moments of intimacy that happen in everyday life. His long career as a photographer is evident in his eye for detail. From Bok choy stacked to the roof in an open market to a bright red blanket standing out in relief against weathered concrete, Yang highlights the way that photographs can function in the symbolic and magic realist modes. Intricate and memorable moments might pass by with little note in all of our lives, but under the gaze of Yang’s lens they become the fodder for a meditation of
the sacred within the mundane.

While there is much in this piece that could be said to function in the realm of simple homage to a lost homeland (the loving images of rich, teeming cityscapes, the misted vistas over various sacred mountains) Yang complicates matters by pointing out the disturbing echoes of the tragic slaughter of youth protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He goes on to discuss the subsequent censorship in journalism and the chilly atmosphere that configured foreigners in China as “persona non grata.” His awe inspiring pictures of the Imperial palace are tempered with his matter of fact historical notes which remind us that common people were not even permitted to gaze upon such sites for fear they would pollute them with their mere gaze. He is keenly aware that it is his outward appearance that often allowed him to “pass” and thus gave him special access to people and places in China. Yang was also doubly configured as a tourist and hence a source of income to nearly everyone he encountered. Despite the warm welcome he receives from a worker in one of the factories he visits who tells him that “the blood of China” runs in his veins, he is nonetheless aware that many people in his newfound/long long homeland view him as a mark. His main function in China, he begins to discover, is to provide a good excuse for a party. And herein lies the paradox in any romanticized return to a homeland: the cultural is always bound up with and can never extricate itself from the economic. Yang expressed disappointment that his guides and acquaintances could not view him without also seeing dollar signs. He expressed disillusionment with the way that many of the holy places he visited had been converted to tourist traps. In the end, however, it is precisely inside of these “tainted” places or at parties that he has been billed for that he seemed to gain the most profound connections with people in China.

He noted that the act of climbing the sacred mountains for the Chinese people did not require a sombre sense of worship or even perhaps the singular sense of interiority that he associated with the sacred. Climbing the sacred mountains was simply something that the Chinese people do. It was quite matter of fact and accomplished with less pomp and circumstance than he had assumed. One of the most haunting moments of the piece is reserved for the end, when Yang is given instruction on how to pray by a young boy. To his surprise, the young man approached the act of prayer with an unstudied and natural grace that someone who consciously embarks on an ocean-crossing and photographically documented search for roots can never hope to attain. Yang is uniquely positioned to give the audience a tour of a land that he both longs for and is critical of. In the process he also enlarges his message, prompting us to interrogate our own position within the complicated and interlocking webs of nationality, ethnicity, economics and culture.

Dr. Natalie Meisner, Department of English
Mount Royal University, Calgary AB

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Critical Perspective of William Yang's China by Michael Thomas Taylor

It may be impossible to present a slideshow of a trip abroad without coming off like a tourist. All the same, I can’t write about William Yang’s “China” without repeating the praise that has been voiced elsewhere. This is a slideshow you have to see.

The format is deceptively simple: two images projected side by side, a storyteller, and the boldly virtuosic, sparsely deployed music of Nicholas Ng, who plays several traditional Chinese instruments. Yang brings such warmth and wry wonder to the stage that the first reaction is to forget he is performing. He tells us a story of his journeys to China, which are also journeys into his family’s past, and these journeys seem to be windows offering insight into the man William Yang. But in fact these windows are more like frames that draw us in only to project us beyond him into the world he sees. Yang himself remains elusive: standing at the center of the stage, his voice bringing him palpably near, he becomes a lens that shows but does not show itself. To see Yang is to see his point of view as it refracts into memories, images, and faces. To me, this subtle feat is what makes Yang’s work so distinctive.

Yang does appear in the images we see, but this is the crux of the performance: we cannot see him without seeing the roles he becomes to those he encounters. Listing them here won’t spoil the performance because the rituals of each role acquire unique personalities with each encounter. Yang is the traveler on an inner journey. He is tour-guide, tourist, and journalist. He is the foreign visitor and honored guest, the displaced native son, the mentor and respected elder, and the eager young boy who must be taught to bow. He is also the gay man who forces generation conflicts into the open, and who finds a similar sense of pride in Sydney drag queens and his straight travel companion – a student at a military academy who has donned the robes of the Manchu Emperors. It is here that Yang also assumes the guise of the proud parent, which can be seen as figuring his role as the artist who has created and nurtured – rather than objectively recorded or captured – these characters. Each role constitutes a genre of performance, and these genres explode the even simplicity of Yang’s presence, voice, and camera.

This poise anchors a poem the same way that the Chinese script anchors one shared cultural heritage across time and China’s vast geography. Each role that Yang plays comes equipped with rituals of hospitality and friendship – scripts in their own way – that can also be the cause of conflict. Though Yang doesn’t invent these rituals anew, he does reveal them to be products of education, one of the work’s most prominent themes (another is feasting). Education figures as a way of rising up out of a common world, but it can also require leaving worlds behind. Perhaps this is the underlying metaphor for Yang’s view of China, its industrial power and its rising middle class? And for China’s view of its own ancient traditions and its encounter with Yang, the traveler from the “West” who has returned to ascend its holy mountains? But these images, too, are balanced by others. For me, this was the singing of the three boys who helped Yang during one of his ascents. This is – if I remember correctly – the only native Chinese we hear during the performance, the only recording of Chinese voices, and I understood this moment together with Nicholas Ng’s music as counterweights to Yang’s own narrative. Like the images, they also pull the center of gravity away from Yang himself, transforming his voice into another kind of lens by underscoring its subjectivity – and its limitations (Yang speaks hardly any Chinese). The work has an image for this transformation: the copy of the Chinese bell that Yang rings three times (though we only hear it twice?), unobserved, we are pointedly told, by any guards. Obviously this marks a seminal moment in Yang’s narrative, which I impulsively felt to be bordering on kitsch. On reflection, I think this is a judgment the work cannot help but provoke, but which also represents a mistake – a naïve framework for understanding Yang’s identity – that “China” vigorously attempts to forestall.

Michael Thomas Taylor
Assistant Professor of German
The University of Calgary

Monday, February 1, 2010

Post Show Movie Nights!

Immediately following Friday night presentations at Theatre Junction GRAND, the theatre is excited to announce that it will continue screening select films upstairs in its Studio space. The films will be hand picked by either a performing artist or director from the evening's theatre performance. Admission is FREE with your theatre ticket stub! Cheap drinks and popcorn will be served.

Upcoming Movie Nights include:

Friday, February 12th - MOVIE TBA, selected by William Yang
Friday, February 19th - MOVIE TBA, selected by Splintergroup's Gavin Webber
Friday, March 5th - MOVIE TBA, selected by Theatre Junction's Mark Lawes

Friday, January 29, 2010

CBC Presents Bands @ The Grand on March 30 and 31 at Theatre Junction GRAND

Pop. Jazz. Roots. And more. Be part of the crowd at the CBC radio and television recording of eight great Alberta Bands over two great nights of music. Come early, grab a drink, meet friends then sit back and enjoy the party including performances by Steve Pineo, Bomba, The Dudes, Asani, Kris Demeanor and his Crack Band, Karla Anderson, Tim Hus and Colleen Brown. Tickets $15 online starting Feb. 10 at

February Art Prize Winner Announced!

This month's winner of a Theatre Junction GRAND Art Prize is:
Greg Angevine, President and CEO of Cube Lease

Greg has won 2 tickets to the Opening Night performance of William Yang's China on Tuesday February 9th!

Next time you're at Theatre Junction GRAND for a show or dining at Velvet, don't forget to drop off your business card in our front foyer to be entered to win more great Art Prizes from Theatre Junction GRAND.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


From the land down under to sacred Chinese mountaintops, searching for meaning in your Motherland to getting lost in the harsh loneliness of the Australian bush - Welcome to Theatre Junction GRAND this February!

Theatre/Visual Arts/Dance/Music like you've never experienced before.

See them both as part of a "CHINAUSTRALIA TICKET PACK"

$75 regular, $40 students. Phone 403.205.2922 x1 to purchase.

Masterclass with Gavin Webber of Splintergroup

Theatre Junction GRAND welcomes Australia's Splintergroup to Calgary with their unbelieveable production of 'roadkill' (running Feb.17-20). As part of our ongoing 09.10 Masterclass series, Gavin Webber of Splintergroup will be teaching a workshop on contemporary dance in The Studio at Theatre Junction GRAND on Saturday, February 20th from 1pm-4pm.

Choreographer and performer Gavin Webber has been working professionally in dance theatre for over ten years. After completing his degree at the Centre For the Performing Arts in Adelaide, Australia, he joined Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre with whom he danced for 6 years, touring through Australia, Scandinavia, Europe, Israel and North America. After moving to Europe he studied with Maguy Marin in Lyon before joining the company Ultima Vez in Brussels. He continues to work extensively in both Europe and Australia, teaching and performing in his own work as well as for Wim Vandekybus.

During his time in Calgary, Gavin will bring a masterclass of contemporary technique which includes a technical class dealing with floorwork and release, and then will move on to ways to build choreography through the exploration of the themes of a work using his distinctive brand of aggressively physical dance and the company's work with roadkill as a reference. Gavin will be assisted by company members Grayson Millwood and Gabrielle Nankivell.

This class is open to the professional community and senior dance students.

Cost: $45

To apply: Please send a brief letter of interest to Erin Jenkins, Education Coordinator for Theatre Junction GRAND, stating in less that 400 words, your dance background and your interest in attending this Masterclass. Enrollment is limited. Individuals selected for participation will be contacted by Tuesday, February 16.

Submissions may be sent to or dropped off in person at our Box Office between the hours of 11am-6pm Monday-Friday.

Greetings from Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong

Lieutenant Governor’s Message

As the Queen’s representative in Alberta, it gives me great pleasure to welcome everyone to William Yang’s China. As Calgary’s Chinatown’s celebrates its’ 100th Anniversary, it is fitting to have this presentation shown. Mr. Yang uses his talents as a story-teller and photographer to provide us with a unique glimpse of Chinese culture.

I am proud of my Chinese heritage and look for opportunities to learn more about the rich and diverse land, people, culture and traditions which embody China. Canada’s strength is built upon our willingness to embrace the best aspects of all the world’s cultures. Chinese immigrants to Canada have had a strong influence in the fine arts, in many fields of science, in government, the media and even gardening. Presentations such us this help to build bridges between cultures. Thank you to Theatre Junction GRAND for bringing this production to Calgary.

Please accept my very best wishes for the future.

Norman L. Kwong, CM AOE
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

Monday, January 25, 2010


In response to the recent tragedies facing Haiti, Theatre Junction GRAND is contributing $1 from every ticket sold to its presentation of William Yang's China to the Calgary Emergency Relief Fund in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross.

Being a non-profit society limits our financial ability to do more during this tumultuous time for the nation of Haiti, but our long-standing partner, First Calgary Savings, has offered to match Theatre Junction GRAND's ticket sale donation to help increase our support.

We truly admire and thank First Calgary Savings for their contribution and for their continuous support of Theatre Junction GRAND. We encourage each and every one of you to do your part in helping Haiti during this time.

Click Here for more information on the Calgary Emergency Relief Fund.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Masterclass with Photographer/Story-teller William Yang at Theatre Junction GRAND

Theatre Junction GRAND is pleased to present William Yang’s China running February 9-13, 2010. As part of our ongoing 09/10 Masterclass Workshop Series, William Yang will be giving a workshop to the arts community on his unique blend of story-telling and photography.

William Yang began his career as a playwright based in Sydney, Australia. In 1974 he embarked on a career as a freelance photographer. In 1989, Yang began performing monologues alongside projections of his photographs, integrating his skills as a writer and visual artist. This unique performance style won Yang international acclaim and he has since become one of Australia’s most toured performance artists. In 1993 he was awarded International Photographer of the Year at the Higashigawa-cho International Photographic Festival.

This Masterclass is open to performers, writers, visual artists, and anyone interested in learning more about William Yang’s process. Participants will be asked to bring a minimum of two photographs, one which depicts their grandparents’ generation and one which depicts contemporary life, along with a short family story that accompanies the photograph. Two or three participants will then be chosen during the course of the workshop to develop their photographs and stories into a performance.

When: Saturday, February 13th from 1:00pm-4:00pm.
Where: The Studio at Theatre Junction GRAND, 608 1st Street SW, Calgary.
Cost: $45

To apply: Please send a brief letter of interest to Erin Jenkins, Education Coordinator for Theatre Junction GRAND, stating in less than 400 words, your performance or visual arts background and your interest in attending this Masterclass. Enrollment is limited. Individuals selected for participation will be contacted by Tuesday, February 9th, 2010.

Submissions can be sent to or dropped off in person to our Box Office between 11am-6pm Monday-Friday.