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 na├»ve 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