Saturday, March 27, 2010

"On the side of the road" a Theatre Performance in Toronto

Curious production by Theatre Junction (Calgary), "On the side of the road" at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto.

A Happening-like style production but with a common American way of saying things: storytelling (monologues of the characters addressed to the public telling their views about the story and their views about anything) with some dramatized scenes.

A very open style of directing theatre where anything can happen: live music, singing, dancing, sculpture and acting in French or English are all mixed, almost with success.

What it seems very interesting, from my point of view, is the Canadian roots inside the play: it is a Canadian story with Canadian characters (well, one of them is French) in a very Canadian atmosphere, where deers and lakes and trees are symbols, are ways of understanding life and are more than subjects of interest.

It happened that I saw it, happened I liked it.

So, now I can keep my self repeating the last song:

"I am a deer, deer, I am a deer!..."

Theatre Junction page:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ancient Scroll Images of a Bugaku Performance

Just sharing a group of photographs (and one video) taken during my visit to Japan National Museum in Tokyo, in 2008: an ancient scroll with Bugaku performance images. There is also one more video (this is not mine) with an example of a modern performance of this court Japanese dance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Box, a Dance Performance by InDance at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto

They are dancers with Asian and Western background, leading by and Indian-Canadian choreographer; they dance with old and new styles, with old and new stories, using a traditional Indian technique of dance in contemporary, modern, funny, queer, gay, and kitsch subjects, and they most of the time are successful in it.

Last Saturday night enjoyed (because it was a pleasure) Box, a dance performance by InDance, directed by Hari Krishnan, at Fleck Dance Theatre. Seven surprising choreographies full of energy, good humour and beauty. You will see in the videos I've posted (from InDance's Yotube page) that mix and energy I'm talking about.

InDance is doing what many (many) dance companies around the world: taking their ancient techniques of movement and folk stories and transporting them to our times talking about our times. Many are successful and many simply are not. But the most interesting thing in InDance is that they are trying to talk about queer contemporary culture in a fresh and funny way with a very powerful theatrical weapon as ancient Indian dance technique is (and a little part of classical dance and ballet from Western culture), and you don't see anything like this in other part of the world... And they are doing it well.

In the end of Box you have not changed your way of seeing the world (even the world of the dance), not, but you leave the theatre with a big smile after have had a very new, powerful and different experience as a dance spectator, a surprising combination between the seriousness of an ancient performative culture and a new approach to our current bizarre way of living.

Different ways of saying things are the first big step of the big changes and I appreciate that InDance has shared it with us. We'll see how it goes through the time.

As usual, no videos or photographs allowed inside Harbourfront, so here a slideshow of photographs of the program and of some decoration at the theatre's hall, then three promotional videos from InDance's Youtube page.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baris Gede Dance and Baris Bedil Dancers During a Religious Ceremony in Bangli Village, Bali

In 1930's Miguel Covarrubias wrote about the warrior dance called Baris Gede:

"An indispensable part of the ritual feast of the old villages is the baris gedé, a stately war dance in which ten or twelve middle-aged warriors with their heads covered with flowers, wearing magic scarves, and carrying long spears tipped with peacock feathers, dance in double line, grimacing and striking heroic poses until the music becomes violent, when they enact a sham battle with their black and silver spears.
The music for the baris, played by a gamelan gong, consist of striking standard melodies with contrasting interludes that indicate the steps and the moods portrayed by the dancer. Every part of his body, from his toes to the tips of his fingers, is in action during the dance. Every muscle of his face is controlled at will to render the storm of passions expressed by the quick tempered warrior;expression of admiration and wonder at an invisible magic world all around him, surprise and rage at imaginary enemies, pleasure, tenderness, and love. But as the music grows more violent, the dancer becomes more and more tense, raising himself on his toes until he gives the impression of growing in height; his eyes seem ready to jump from their sockets, his whole body trembles, making the flowers of his head shake violently. So raised on his toes and with his whole body at high nervous tension, he slaps his tight and points an accusing finger at his enemy, as with wild yells of "Wah!" "Adoh, adoh!" he draws his kris and struts aggressively towards his foe, who comes forward at the same moment; before they meet, the dancer stop defiantly, cursing each other, and when the clash comes, with tiger-like grace they perform a stylized duel of music, in which the routing of one of the characters indicates the end of the dance." (1)

With the same intention but in the different way he tried to depict in drawings each of the main movements of the dance (click on the image to see it in a big size). Notice the attention he had to show those tensions of the dancer's shoulders and fingers and the singular physical posture of the body during the dance:

The next video is what Covarrubias filmed of a Baris Gede performance (the footage is without sound, music was added in 2004 and the narrator is reading words from Covarrubias's book, Island of Bali):

During my travel to Bali in July 2009 I missed the opportunity to see a performance of Baris Bedil (a variation of Gede); we arrived late to a religious festivity (a Market Ceremony) at Malangting Temple, in Bangli Village, and I only could take video and photographs of the dancers and musicians at the end of the festivity (when the final procession was starting); at least you can see a big part of the procession with our dancers in costumes (interesting and beautifully coloured) and compare them with what you saw in Covarrubias's film. Notice that in Baris Bedil in bangli Village wooden riffles are used instead of spears (2):

Now you can see a video (recorded just one month before my visit to Bali) of a Baris Gede performance in Klungkung Village; after 80 years it is pretty much the same choreography:

Video: Baris Gede Dance performance. Klungkung, Bali. June, 2009.

Covarrubias in his book mentions 4 kinds of Baris Warrior Dance: Baris Gede (ritual), Baris Pendét (secular), Baris Tumbak (ritual) and Baris Tekok (ritual). Today in Bali we can find around 30 different kinds of this dance, most of them ritual dances, but one variation of Baris Pandét, the secular style, has become very known around the world; it is a solo dance called Baris Tunggal, and that is what I saw at Ubud Royal Palace.

In my next post I'll show a video of the Baris Tunggal performance in Ubud and I'll try to find why Baris Tunggal is the most known and why is the most technically detailed of all of them.

(1) "Island of Bali" by Miguel Covarrubias.
(2) In this photo by Garrett Kam (Balinese Dance, Drama and Music. A Guide to the Performing Arts of Bali) you can see very well how the Baris Bedil dancers work with a wooden riffle:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Odin Teatret Archives channel in Youtube

I dreamed with the day Jerzy Grotowski and Eugenio Barba open their archives to the Internet. Grotowski died and we don't know exactly what his heirs (as closed as Grotowski was with social contact) think about it, but Eugenio and the Odin Teatret have opened (since Septmeber 2009) their visual archives and built a Youtube channel. Fantastic!

Now we can go to Youtube and watch historic images of their performances, researches and friends, videos of their different trainings, of their evolution through 35 years, videos about the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA) and so on. They upload videos almost every day (till now the channel has 73 videos), so you can subscribe to the channel and be up to the day on Odin archives.

Here some videos from the Odin Theatre Archives channel:

I, as theatre practitioner and follower of new kinds of theatre, appreciate this tremendous gesture of kindness and partnership with all the art world.

So, go and visit this channel, it will be a good idea to expand the news.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"Loin", a dance performance by Rachid Ouramdane in Toronto

I witnessed a strange travel as a spectacle.

A spectacle with an installation as a scenography but also as a structure, almost a dramatic structure.

Imagine an audiovisual installation, where you can listen to music and poems, where you can watch images through video, and see and listen to people who are interviewed about their past, a terrible one.

Imagine a dancer as a poet who sometimes dances, but most of the time he moves his body in slow motion, pushing buttons which turn on music, video or a microphone. The poet recites his poems in a quickly and monotonous way, poems with hard images of his past and images from his last travel to Indochina.

Imagine this poet as a dancer who dance beautifully, in some moments doing it only with his hands with a dark background, then you can only see his hands in movement, like in a photographs with lines of light of a city by night.

Rachid Ouramdane dances very little his poetry, exposes his past through words, through images, in a travel to his father's destiny in Indochina; he exposes all about this travel and its origins as in an art gallery, exhibiting it.

Imagine that we can not feel any identification with him because he never opens the door to it. Even without identification there is no place for a Brechtian theory, this spectacle is only an exhibition, far from theatre and drama, but it is an installation in movement, an installation on stage which speaks and dances.

This is the first time I got this experience from a dance spectacle and I'm interested in what will happen with this strange structure.

Should I say I liked it?

No video allowed inside Enwave Theatre but you can see a video from Youtube with some images of this dance (Loin) and other works:

Marlon Barrios from gave me the address of other video with Rachid and images of Loin:

Watch live streaming video from dancetechtv at

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Legend of the red lantern" an Opera from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

红灯记 "The Legend of the Red Lantern" is one of the 8 model pieces of China's Cultural Revolution, and perhaps one of the most famous; its songs are still sung in Chinese households and its images have traveled the world and remain as icons of the Maoist cultural revolution itself. (1)

As part of the events that commemorated in 2009 the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, dozens of operas that had to do with the history of this last stage of Chinese government were staged, so the operas of the Cultural Revolution could not be absent. For me it was a real opportunity to compare this productions with those who I had seen the previous 4 years, the so-called traditional operas, as well as to increase my experience as a spectator to several films and ballets I have seen in relation to the 1960's and 1970 in China .

Regardless of the topic (the emergence of a common Chinese communist revolutionary as heir to the struggles of parents), the play is a clear example of the progress (or changes) that occurred in the structure of the iron tradition of Peking Opera until the moment of its creation.

In this post I would like to simply present briefly those changes and characteristic elements that the Chinese consider essential in "The Legend of the Red Lantern" and try to exemplify them with some scenes that I could record during the performance of July 11th 2009 at the Chang'An Theatre:

- The absorption of realism on stage and in the structure of the story. First, the use of a contemporary history of China in the 1960s, referring to the past (just 20 years ago), the time of the Japanese invasion in the 1940s, to explain the existence of the revolutionary and nationalist spirit of the sons of the new republic in China in the 1960s. Costumes, makeup, scenography, everything had to be transformed; that was a huge change in the eyes of the Chinese, as they had always seen their operas with an elaborate traditional coding in both makeup and costumes (2), while the scenography was almost nonexistent. A change that somehow had taken place in the cinema and that, when operas were transported to film, they suffered a "realist" transformation, but not yet in the case of a theatrical scene.

In the following video, the main character Li Yuhua enters a Restaurant where noodles are prepared; the guests act in a way similar to reality, there are no exchanges in declamation form among themselves, nor exagerated ways to communicate, all of them do their actions in a realistic style, listening, eating, or serving food and taking orders, as in the case of the woman. It reminds me common theatrical productions in Russian socialist realist theater.

- Keeping the use of acrobatics as a theatrical way to express a battle on stage and the use of new weapons (rifles, pistols, etc) and uniforms (no large and heavy costumes, nor high heels) also prompted a transformation in acrobatic choreography: some had much more action and, in my opinion, in the case of this play, some of the best I've seen.

- The actor maintains his traditional choreography of movements, but it is adapted to the contemporary scene. A wonderful example is the scene where the hero Yuhua Li faces the Japanese villain and, at all times, his rage and his chanting feed on the traditional way of working in traditional opera.

- There is a change that is difficult to show: the use of contemporary music. Now using a large orchestra (in this performance the orchestral parts were prerecorded, while a smaller group also played, using traditional Chinese instruments and modern ones). The video I've published shows a small moment when the orchestra was playing in that performance of July 11th at the Chang'An Theatre; you will see that it is not the traditional classical Peking Opera orchestra, and on the other hand you will hear there is an instrumental music that they are not playing, because the parts of the large orchestra were pre-recorded. That would be unthinkable in any previous traditional opera.

- The use of different accessories in the costumes. For example, in the case of this opera, more than evolved, they were transformed. While in traditional opera heroes wear "water sleeves" (extensions of the sleeves on their costumes, which allow making figures, movements and other actions with them), in this case the main character, Li Yuhua, without that kind of sleeves due to his realistic costume, handles the chains that bind him in what I consider a very interesting transposition. (3)

- The addition of music outside the musical libretto. In this and virtually all cases of the model plays of the Cultural Revolution, the inclusion of "L'Internationale", the communist anthem, in the moments of greatest dramatic power. In "The Red lantern..." the anthem comes when the characters stoically decide to go to their death.

- The end with a dance or ballet, as in many traditional operas, is maintained, but obviously all the modernization of the objects and set design gives the possibility of a huge new projection covered of Chinese communist nationalism and, ultimately, show the opera as what it was, a product of propaganda of the highest artistic level. That night after the final ballet, the ballet of the victory, the audience was in an apotheosis and full of strength and joy; watching at their faces I thought I could see the memory of years of famine, of international isolation, of political fear and of the only sustenance of life and strength that theatre gave them: communist revolutionary nationalism .

红灯记 "The Legend of the Red Lantern" at times seems naive and of dubious quality in its acting style, but within the context of its creation and use during the years of the Chinese Cultural Revolution it is a real gem and, from my my point of view, one of the clearest examples of a successful attempt to break with a tradition that had turned a performing expression into an anthropological oddity.

(1) A Chinese opera, in contrast to Western opera, is never watched just for the singing or for the music (the score), but for the staging it entails. The stagings of a Peking opera vary little between, when you watch one today you are virtually watching the same production with which it premiered. Thus the iconic images of the model operas of the Cultural Revolution.

(2) Even with some attempts at realist modernism in the 1920's and 1930's, which were viewed as eccentric or snob actions.

(3) You can see an example of the movement of water sleeves on a video of the most famous Kunqu Opera, Mudanting:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Blind Date at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto

Last Saturday (March 5th, 2009) I went to see "Blind Date" by Rebecca Northan at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. After the show I wrote in Twitter:

"Just seen the Cabaret show Blind Date by Rebecca Northan and one improvised actor from her public. Very funny and nothing else. World Stage?"

As usual 140 words are not enough for covering a whole personal appreciation, but that's why I got a Blog and we're here.

Blind Date was a very funny cabaret show, a nice commercial and practical product, but not better than any other good cabaret show anywhere using people from the audience. The actress knows her job (comic improvisation) and it works well.

The premise is very simple: An actress, with her character constructed on a very simple personality basis and all her improvisation skills, plays with a very practical performance structure, a blind date with one person from the public (yes, exactly as many showmen do everywhere); so, during 90 minutes on stage she manages to be in different places and times with her scene-partner, a new one each night. It sounds delicious, full of comic potential, and of course practical, ingredients for a great success, as Blind Date has been for two years.

Then, my next personal appreciation, "but nothing else. World Stage?"

I don't think this is a theatrical production which deserves to be programmed into a festival as World Stage 2009-2010 has been till now: a group of very compromised and interesting theatrical productions with very high technical and artistic goals. Especially when a big part of Blind Date relies in an improvised actor from the public and the final result is only a simple comic effect, nothing else.

Sorry but I didn't learn anything else than the usual final sentences in any episode of comedy central's series, some wisdom words, in this case about the "real guy" the actress was working with.

Wherever you see Blind Date, its argument, its development of the story, its technical work, or the final result are no more than what you would expect from a nice and good cabaret show, entertainment, but not from a world quality theatrical production in the frame of an intended world theatrical festival.

It is the first time in my life I heard that in this kind of festival a "successful" production repeats in two years, not with the same director in a new production, not with the same cast with a new production, only the same work with extra time. That sounds weird.

My question is, in 2009-2010 Canadian Theatre (or theatre in Toronto) didn't have any new production (besides Necessary Angel's Hamlet) which deserved to be in a festival like World Stage? The rules of this festival are only based on "if the performance is very successful then you should program it again"?

I loved to be last Saturday night at the Bergantin Room inside the Harbourfront Centre, I enjoyed Rebecca Northan's performance a lot and how she worked her night partner, but I'm still thinking I payed for a world quality festival performance I didn't get.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Legendary Wilbur Theatre in Boston

Wilbur Theatre, a legendary theatre in Boston

"Ye Wilbur Theatre" was its first name when opened in 1914 (Today only called Wilbur Theatre). Situated in the middle of Boston Historic Center on Tremor street, it was designed by famous theatre architect Clarence Blackhal at the top of the Bostonian Theatrical Age. Its architecture is inspired by American styles, specially by Federal Revival style and not by European style as was usual in that epoch.

You will be surprised to know the plays which have had their world premieres in this theatre: "Our Town" by Thornton Wilder, "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by Eugene O'Neill, among others.

Today works as a comedy and music venue.

Here the photographs I took during my visit to Boston in January 2010.

Slideshow: Photographs of Wilbur Theatre (Boston, January 2010)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"Do Animals Cry", a Dance Theatre Performance at Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto

Do Animals Cry
by Meg Stuart/Damaged Goods
with Joris camelin, Alexander Jenkins, Adam Linder, Anja Müller, Kotomi Nishiwaki, Frank Willens.

I wrote in twitter:

"unbearable long and tedious dance about a single crazy-unhappy family exposed in chaotic movements and common actions. Hate it or love it."

Two hours watching dance performed in a monotonous contemporary movement style, kind of mini physical actions interconnected by a internal story (I guess) without any link to harmony or musical rhythm, accompanied by some musical extracts that only remarked the monotony of the style and with a very poor lighting work.

At the beginning I was there fresh, watching, laughing, living their movements even with reflexes in my own body provoked by those movements (True!), but after several scenes and time passed my mind started to be tired, my easy-biginnig relation with the performance gone away and what happened after it was almost unbearable, the worst thing a spectator can experiment watching any performance, tediousness.

I really was there! I was watching fascinated those strange but concrete movements of our common life, movements recalling my family as they asked spectators to do before the performance; watching and feeling that kind of stress, of violence only because those movement were chosen among thousand and then joined edited with unbearable cruelty... But too much it is too much, not talking about that cruelty, not about that violence, not about recalling my life as a family child, not, it was too much of the style, of the music, of the continuous and long process of living a family in this tiring way during two hours.

In one moment I was seeing an approach to Pina Bausch, telling those things like she used to do it, but everything broke up when scene by scene my patience as spectator became tiredness.

The work was amazing, as a dance itself; loved the dancers's work as a group and their individuality on stage, creating characters, speaking, feeling, but simply a could not love the whole work when a general stage direction provoked that more of one half of the spectators were yawing every two minutes and looking their watches.

I didn't learn much watching a family who looked crazy and unhappy (as usually British depict any of their families in art), however I enjoyed several moments, images and movements: I loved how one of the children ran in circles during 5 minutes; another son seated on a chair over one small dog-family house; a crazy party were some spoke singing sentences of sociability while others dancing were dying of sociability (actually getting drunk and being rebellious); and I won't forget that girl becoming adult showing her impudence to her parents.

As I finished my twitter-140-word-sentence you can love this amazing dance theatre production, but I can not, I hated it.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Face of Victory (Ice Hockey Gold Medal Celebration in Toronto)

After Canada won the final Winter Olympics Ice Hockey match and defeated the US team, I went to walk at Dundas square to see how Torontonians celebrated their victory, and I found among thousands of people this girl full of pride.

Face of Victory (Ice Hockey Gold Medal Celebration in Toronto)

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