Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poetics: A Ballet Brut

Upon arriving, I was greeted with a sign that read the Roundhouse community centre was closed for construction that day. PANIC! Oh man, I’ve done it again. Somehow I’ve made a mistake and am at the wrong venue. I’ll never get to the right place in time for the show! Oh wait.... there’s the entrance over there by that crowd of people. Disaster averted. As I enter the performance space, crossing the front of the room I felt like I was in the spotlight. The stage lights were already on, as well as the house lights. Little did I know that it would stay this way for the entire performance. The audience was intimate and a little too involved with the performance (we will get to that part later). The show starts with a few performers staring up at the audience and looking intrigued. This caught my attention. Eight minutes more of this and I was beginning to get concerned that this would be the entire show. Although the performance had a slow start, this added to the build up of the show as a whole. I loved this show. Everyday gestures and human movements are synchronized into a major theatre production. It was hilarious. The highlight of the show was where they took out breath spray and began to do ungraceful ballet moves to attempt to catch it in their mouths. At one point, the performers took to the audience in repeating a variation of handshakes, hugs, and kisses on random spectators. My boyfriend was one of these lucky people. He sat there awkwardly as the woman with no shirt that stood over him made him a part of the performance. It was hilarious. For me, the most ironic point of the performance was when a curtain drew up and the audience sees that across the room is the place where the audience would traditionally be sitting: the stadium. Instead, we are sitting on make shift bleachers with fold out chairs. The show ends with dozens of eccentric performers dancing in the stadium seating across from the audience. The show closed with a roar of applause and a standing ovation. A good time was had by all.

Repetition Repetition Repetition

Granville Island. A place surrounded by a large amount of bird feces, as well as a beautiful waterfront, was the venue location for the Push Festival's, "Clark And I." Unlike "The Show Must Go on," I did not experience any feelings of anxiety or fear as this felt like a more comfortable location.

Frustration, Confusion, and Annoyance were just a few of the many different emotions that I went through initially during the night of the performance. At times I wanted to get up and leave since I did not understand the humor of the play, nor did I grasp its premise.

My feelings changed as I began to understand how the play was developing. I appreciated the use of visual affects: Lighting, Moving and Still Photos, Slide Show, Projection Screen, even the man in the bunny suit. Moreover, I enjoyed the bunny man's interaction with the crowd - this kept me awake throughout the show. I also thought the connection between "Old Photo's" with "New Technology," used throughout the development of the play was interesting.

However, I did not particularly like the way the Bunny Man developed his points since it seemed like he kept going and going...much like the Energizer Bunny. While I'm confident a majority of the audience enjoyed the show and the way it unfolded, it just wasn't my cup of tea.


Saturday night I attended a performance of poetics. In having already seen "The Show Must Go On" Poetics was sadly all too familiar. No words were spoken just a varying levels of movement which turned into dances performed by the two women and two men who took the stages at various times. Poetic had better dancers, better choreography,and overall i would say a better show than "The Show Must Go On" but it was too familiar to feel like I was being exposed to something new.

I didn't understand its relevance, true there were moments it engaged me with humor or funny quirks- like the two recycling depot mascots who picked up the dropped cups. The ballad of sleeping was also entertaining, it depicted our four dancers on the ground rotating in a variety of sleeping positions. At two points the dancers engaged certain members of the crowd in their routine. It was not the same sense of all inclusive performance that "The Show Must Go On" provided.

The finish was great. It had a clear escalation, our four performers were joined by a whole group who joined in the specific dances. A ballet dancer even came out and re-enacted our performers dance as if to give the show a professional validity. It had energy about it. It had a voice. It had a poetic sense about him but it's message that I felt that "The Show Must Go On had already addressed. While Poetics was by far a more engaging and visually appealing as a performance in my mind it shared the stage with "The Show Must Go On" and this isn't for the better.

Torch Relays

I know that we are still a few weeks away from the Olympics, but I had a pretty interesting Olympic experience yesterday. My girlfriend and I went to RBC to set up a new bank account. RBC of course is an official sponsor of the Olympics, so the lobby was littered with Olympic posters and not so catchy adverstising slogans. After sitting in the lobby for half an hour, we finally entered the manager's office and sat down. He proceeded to tell us all about the boxes behind his desk. These in fact were even more decorations to prepare for the torch relay that would proceed through Newport Village. He then, unsolicitated, explained the torch relay situation, including the route, time, and how many people were expected to attend. After this long introduction, he asked us, so are you excited about the Olympics? My girlfriend and I gave our stock answer of "yes." After all how can you say no to a guy that is so excited about the Olympics. He asked us what our favorite events are and what aspects we like about the games. I blurted out that I like the skiing, which I do, and my girlfriend muttered approval of my answer. But in truth, my girlfriend is Australian, hates the snow, and has not once even watched the Winter Olympics. They just aren't important to her and from her perspective, aren't remotely important to most Australians. Now, I like watching some of the games, but all the recent advertising and media hype has really put me off this year. So, no, we are not excited, but seem to perform the role of Vancouver resident, absolutely excited. And this left me wondering, as the bank manager of a huge Olympic sponsor, can this man possibly dislike the Olympics? Is he just performing the role of Olympic sponsor employee? Can he even give his own opinion about the Olympics, or is he contractually obligated to be excited?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

So Percussion

Monday night I attended the "So Percussion" performance at the Heritage Hall on Main St. not really knowing what to expect. The pamphlet claimed to create music "that is at turns raucous and touching, barbarous and heartfelt[;]" however, I could not legitimately say that I knew what the word "percussion" meant until I arrived and the quartet began their performance. I will discuss this further later on.
I arrived early in order to get a good seat. I was immediately captivated by the ambiance of the old building which used to be a post office. The shadowy entrance and dim lighting followed by the cascading dark drapes allowed for me to imagine a time long ago passed. As soon as I sat down, a gentleman, who I assumed to be one of the performers, came into the large, darkened hall gingerly carrying a taupe coloured, clay flower pot in the palm of his hand. I assumed that the flower pot was filled with water since he was carrying it with such care. Interestingly, he began to tune the flower pot by tapping on it and quickly comparing it to the sound of the other flower pots paintakingly positioned nearby. To satisfy my curiosity, I got up to look inside the flower pots and found them empty and not filled with water as I had assumed earlier. I continued to scrutinize the instruments and sat back down to wearily watch the audience members arrive.
Later, four middle-aged women arrived and sat down behind me putting an end to my boredom. In loud whispers, they eagerly discussed how attractive the men in the hall were while giggling like school girls.
Soon thereafter, the performance began with the quartet clapping in unison to the beat of 3, 1, 2, 3. To hear it is to believe it. I was in awe of their abilities. Their heads were bowed in concentration, nodding to each other once in a while. It was absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, my admiration did not extend to their next performance which entailed the playing of monotonous notes on a mini synthesizer accompanied by the constant shaking of a maraca. The constant shaking of the maraca was mind numbing and I felt like I was being put into a trance.
The marimba performance came next and was slightly more entertaining. I just sat back, closed my eyes and imagined that I was in the Caribbean.
Their final performance involved steel pipes and drums. I was fascinated by the quartet's ability to synchronize their movements. Each performer had two percussion sticks in one hand and one in the other while playing both instruments at the same time. The sound was not unpleasant; however, it left my ears ringing and I noticed that quite a few audience members moved to the perimeter of the hall. I think they were conveying the same feelings I was.
The night concluded with the quartet teaching the audience how to clap. Not surprisingly, I failed miserably. I simply could not keep up with the 3, 1, 2, 3 beat.
All in all, it was not a bad night. I did not feel that any of the music was either "heartfelt" or "touching[;]" however, "raucous" is the perfect descriptive word for a night filled with diverse sounds that I had never been exposed to before.

Vancouver City

Amazing Time Lapse Clip of Vancouver.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Green guys put on a performance

Fans of the Vancouver Canucks might have noticed an interesting phenomenon at home games recently. For those completely unfamiliar with hockey, when a player gets a penalty for rough play, he is sent to the penalty box for between two and five minutes. In the last few months, the visiting team's penalty box has two unusual characters sitting right beside it. A couple green spandex-clad guys who apparently have some pretty decent season tickets, as they are beginning to become a staple at GM Place.

When a player on the away team gets a penalty and is sent to the box, the two 'green men' come to life and start dancing, shaking and banging on the penalty box glass, anything to rile up the player. Here is a visual, courtesy of youtube and Sportsnet.

I've been thinking about these guys a lot in relation to the course, and how they might factor into the concept of performance in Vancouver. Who are they performing for? The opposing players seem to be their main targets, but at the same time they only do so while the jumbotron (the giant TV suspended from the ceiling) is showing them. So in another way, they really are performing for the TV and arena audience. They don't attempt to annoy them while they aren't being shown. Obviously they want to watch the game like everyone else, but it still seems worth noting that they only act out when on camera.

And they are on camera quite frequently. In fact, they have become celebrities in their own right. I was at the game versus Buffalo last night, and watched as they were waylaid with fans asking for autographs when they tried to leave their seats for popcorn or to use the washroom. Despite that, they happily took pictures and signed for anyone who approached them, and have clearly stepped into their roles with enthusiasm. They perform their antics not only for the players (and as seen on the video, obviously gets to them), but for everyone at the arena and watching at home. Speaking of performances, anyone see Henrik Sedin's breakaway goal? Mint!

Monday, January 25, 2010


It should probably be said that I grew up without television. My partner, who is in film, is constantly trying to adapt my sensitive delicate flower of a self to a "de-sensitization" process as most films or tv shows that come out I am unable to watch. (I made it exactly 11 minutes and 34 seconds into Sin city, on my third try ,before I was so overwhelmed I had to turn it off.) With all this in mind I was a little nervous to go see Nevermore. It was marketed as "Equal parts whimsical, beautiful and delightfully dark, the tale reveals the psychology of a man whose haunting comic writings continue to resonate in each of our tell-tale hearts." I tried to get my partner and a good friend to join me but its musical stature immediately denied any interest they may have had.

Knowing im a sensitive flower I decided to focus on something about the play aside from the plot. Thankfully Nevermore was a beautiful display of costumes! Its style reminded me of the opening of the recent rendition of Sweeney Todd, although this may not be a fair comparison because I left the theater about 15 minutes into this movie as well. The only colours in the show were black and a grayish-beige mostly used as highlights. The lighting was often dark just lighting enough to see the narrators or characters. Often the lighting shifted to red, bringing its dark symbolic connotations but also a sense of colour to the play. The costumes were delightful, the women sported over sized stylized hats, corsets and amazing wired skirts with beautiful accents. The men sported a variety of suit vests or large wired coats and eclectic Top hats. In someways the costumes made it more comical and less realistic, which i appreciated, and in other ways they accented the narrative aspect of the play. Each character, and narrator, had a specific costume which they remained in throughout the play. You can check out a few pictures of costumes and videos here if you are so inclined:

Another thing I rather appreciated about Nevermore was its use of space and movement. The stage itself was divided horizontally about half way by a giant screen running the width of the stage. This screen was a series of scree doors opening at three points, It was used to delineate physical and emotional space. It was wonderfully integrated into dance and song numbers or as a way of seeing Edgar's fears, nightmares or ghosts, sometimes it was also a demonstration of another room or a hallway which allowed us to be clear of the protagonists physical isolation from others. The actors also portrayed their isolation and artistic quirkiness in their movements. Many of Edgar's family were depicted as inspired but odd nonetheless, this is particularly true of Edgar who we see as a gentle hearted soul whose isolation darkens him. All the characters dance in a particularly angular manner much like they are wind up toys. I also noticed that all the female characters stood with their feet shoulder width apart while the male characters stood with their feet together. I'm not really too sure what this did but I felt it was intentional.

It was certainly a bit dark and dreary for me, in fact the story was downright depressing. Yet, i felt the visuals(costumes, space use and dance) were strong and enticing. Although at times it seemed the songs were highly repetitive the music was fitting and intense in its structure as well. The concept of dreaming and reality were deeply integrated into the play portrayed by the songs, the use of the screens to show Edgar's nightmares and the apparitions of his dead mother and other figures of death. The audience received it strongly with almost everyone on their feet at the end. It was a much more traditional approach to theater than The Show Must Go On would prove to have been later that evening, and one on an aesthetic level that i enjoyed much more.

Role Reversal at PuSH

It doesn't really matter WHO is the audience if the performance is unimpressive. The Show Must Go On plays with the idea of viewer and viewed, but in the end I could not really care less. One scene features the 'actors' watching us with the house lights shining brightly in our faces. They play music (hoping) that the audience will take on the mantle of performer and begin dancing, which a few brave souls did. The players on the stage responded with sarcastic smirks and disinterest. This was probably the best example of audience inversion, because they wore the same demeanor during this segment I had the entire show.

Still the show must go on. There even were a few humorous moments, but they were inconsistent and infrequent. The show ended abruptly, never quite suggesting anything tangible. Or maybe it did. Maybe The Show Must Go On went completely over my head, and did more than just play with the idea of crowd interaction and who the real performers are. As a concept, the idea is interesting; the actors force and draw off the performance (whether it be singing, clapping or cheering) of those watching them, creating a mood separate of the norm, where the players dictate a work to the watchers. This play seems to pull that off, but for the most part, it simply isn't very much fun to watch.

What hurt the play most was what it was trying to achieve; a lack of structure. I would think that the only way this sort of idea could work in practice would be a higher quality of performance. The audience showed up, singing happily when given the chance, clapping along to motivate a particular scene, laughing when required. The problem was that it all felt more for our own entertainment, rather than to improve the play. We sung John Lennon word for word because, well, if we didn't we would be sitting silently listening to Imagine for 5 minutes while the 'real' actors hung out in the green room. By the end, I felt as if I had paid performers to force myself to make my own fun. If that was their intention, mission accomplished.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Show Must Go On

Saturday I enjoyed two performances, the first Nevermore and the second the last showing of The Show Must Go On. I rarely get to the theater, all though I do like the performing arts . I decided to attend the events alone which was refreshing a different kind of perspective if you will.

The Show Must Go On was my second performance of the day. It was the last showing of this performance. As the performance started I was mixed with a sense that wanted to "figure out" the direction it would take and a more passive side that wanted to resist categorizing and just be open to the performance. The crowd was not full, and some seemed unable and unwilling to engage other were bobbing around to the music. Some people walked out midway through the show, one man shaking his head as he went. The following song to his exit was the John Lennon skit.

I am not an artist. I am not a dancer. I enjoying watching these events, but at times i have difficultly relating to them. Singing however is another story. I had already been mouthing along the words to all those songs we know. When all the lights went out and Imagine came on the audience ( who had taken an active role so far) went silent. As the song progressed the voices began to rise together. I/we began to sing louder, which echos the sense of community the songs speaks about. For me Imagine has always been a triggering song based on its message. It was overwhelming. The fact that I was alone also was insightful. Had i been there with my close friends i most likely would have censored myself less from the beginning. Being there alone with strangers on either side I kept my voice quiet, like others had, until i heard the other voices and we slowly louder and confident. I realized then that I had been quiet in the beginning for fear of intruding on someone else's experience only to realize that was the experience. The sound of a group of unique individuals coming together and creating something impermanent but meaningful in a space in a way that can never be re-created as not all the individuals will be in the same place at the next occurrence, each performance is unique, not just to the performance but due to the audience.

I only wish it had not been the last night, I would have liked to see the show again, purely to see the dynamics of another audience and its choice to engage. Would anyone get up and dance? or would only a few? would everyone? How many people would leave? What would it mean to other audience members? The show wasn't what I had expected but then I hadn't known what I was expecting. I believe the way I explained it to my partner was I didn't know if mostly triggered from the experience of being in the performance or if i was delighted at the refreshing perspective of something i didn't see coming. In the end it didn't matter how many people left or chose to engage or not engage with The Show went on anyways.

The Show Must NOT Go On....

The Push festival’s “The Show Must Go On” was a show unlike any other I have ever been to. I have a weird quark about me that I do not like to hear show reviews, or have any sort of preview before experiencing any performances. Therefore, the performance I was about to see Friday night would be one that would turn out to shock and awe me. Being involved in the dance and acting scene growing up, I have been to multiple plays and ballets. None of this would prepare me for what I was about to witness. The lights go down. Immediately I’m expecting them to go back up again and the show to start. Instead, the music begins to play. Okay, the show will start after an introduction song. (man its dark in here). After about another four minutes in the dark it dawned on me.... This IS the show! It was not for a couple of songs that actors on the stage actually began to make any sort of movement. Later would I find out from an inside source that, in fact, many of these people were more or less inexperienced members of the performing community. Their skills included things such as: ability to shake leg fat at amazing speed, boob jiggling skills, belly fat jiggling skills, terrible ballet skills, incredible tongue movement skills, staring contest skills, and rapping skills. This show was definitely a love it or hate it piece. I counted a total of five people that actually left mid-performance (never to return), and a standing ovation from approximately half of the remaining crowd. In the crowd, we laughed, we cried, we sang, and we waved lighters. The performance captivated the audience and challenged the conventions of art. Although I started out as a bit of a skeptic, the show ended up winning me over with its intriguing work of blending the lines between the audience and the performers. Keeping an open mind is a necessity, but all in all, I think this was a very powerful piece with very intense moments. It is a must see for all members involved in the performance community. However, there were times where songs could have been shortened to ensure the audience wouldn’t accidentally lull off to sleep in the pitch darkness and soothing sounds of John Lennon.

Last night I attended "The Show Must Go On" fully expecting to hear Queen, and not expecting much else. It took about 10 minutes to stand on Cordova and Cambie trying to figure out where the "back entrance" was, and then I decided to follow the crowd of well-dressed people. That seemed to be the theme of the night... following the crowd. As we were seated I was pleasantly surprised to see that I'm not the only one who still has a pile of CDs stacked on my desk. To keep this short and save writing material, I caught on to what the night had instore when the performers took the stage as the Beatles sang "Come together, right now, over me." The songs dictated what the performers were to do, and not just the performers, but the lighting, and the audience too. I appreciated the DJ/lighting man on stage because he is just as important to a stage performance as the actors, and sometimes the stage crew is overlooked. The lines between stage and audience were definitely blurred as the spectators became the spectacle. The audience was forced to "Imagine" and fill "The Sound of Silence." Also, several times the stage performers just stared at the audience, and some people took it upon themselves to perform.

Overall, I am glad we had to see this performance for class because it would not have been something I discovered by myself. I enjoyed what I saw and what I listened to; it was as though I was just chilling in my room listening to good music. I do not know if there was a theme between songs, or if there was an underlying reason why three Beatles songs were played. Perhaps it was a self-indulgent endeavor by the writer. I also believe the slow exchange between songs was deliberate, because if it was intended to be a smooth transition it would have been done on one CD. These are just more things for me to think about, and probably you too.
Yesterday afternoon, Saturday, I went to North Van to see the Edward Curtis Project. I had no idea what I was in for. I did not previously know about Edward Curtis or his work on the North American Indian nor did I know anything about this production. The entire 90 minutes of the production were intense. The emotional weight of the production did not allow the audience a single second to stop and breathe. I found the play to be effective in bringing to light the various social issues surrounding First Nations people today. Right now I am also taking an Introduction to First Nations class, so the play reminded me of the various conflicts and land claims between First Nations people and the Canadian government during the last two decades. The "Vanishing Indian" presented by Curtis and the production recalled the encroachment upon First Nations lands and fishing rights that I have learned about in class. The Edward Curtis Project also disntinctly reminded me of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Both pieces feature female protagonists confronting the decay and disillusion of their cultures. Overall, I liked the ECP, but the emotional intensity drained me completely.

The Show Must Go On...

I probably shouldn't be writing this yet. I'm torn between wanting to write on The Show Must Go On while it's still fresh in my mind, and needing more time to reflect and decide on what it was that I experienced on Saturday night. I think this is a show that's very important to 'get', to know the history behind experimental dance and to understand what the performers were doing, or more importantly in this case, who exactly the performers were. Last semester I took FPA 111 with Dorothy Barenscott and one of the art forms that we studied was the emergence Performance/Body art in the mid 1900s and the blurring of the line between performer and audience. Although I'm no expert in the field of performance art, I felt very grateful last night that I had some context for what I was witnessing and understood that it was not just some random experiment in making people uncomfortable, but rather a statement about the role of the audience in a performance.

Sitting in the dark for the first two songs, I immediately took an active role in my position as audience member and looked around to see the reactions of those around me, the theatre crowd was as diverse as the performers on stage and I saw a variety of reactions ranging from confusion to annoyance to enjoyment. When the performers appeared on stage for 'Come Together', simply watching us and slightly swaying to the music, I began to piece together what was going on. I was immediately reminded of John Cage's experiment with audience reaction/participation in 1962, titled 4'33", in which the pianist sits still at a piano in front of an audience for four minutes and thirty three seconds, only moving to flip the blank sheet music to the next page, then returning his hands to his lap. Cage's intent was to remove his own individual expression and have the sounds and reactions of audience fill in for the piano. The shuffling of feet, coughing, nervous laughter, sighing, all of it becomes the performance as the performer sits neutrally, staring at his piano.
I began to understand that the audience was just as much involved in the performance as the dancers on stage and found myself giving equal attention to those around me and those on stage. The charm of The Show Must Go On lies in the suspense factor as the audience sits, sometimes in the dark, sometimes watching the dancers be hilarious (i like to move it move it), sometimes watching the dancers be tender (see hugging picture above), and sometimes watching the performers stare right back at us. I almost felt like we should have bowed right back when they came out at the end of the show, because everything from the performers, to the audience, to the DJ, to the theatre space itself lended to the performance. This is definitely a show that some people would find entirely pointless, (such as the woman beside me who kept sighing loudly, saying 'my god', and checking her watch), and others could appreciate for it's artistic value, or maybe just for the music, though they seemed to know exactly which songs I hate the most and played them just for me. My favorite scene was the IPOD one, which seemed to be a direct commentary on the isolation of the 'bus-stop culture' that we've discussed in class. The way I can tell this I enjoyed this show is that I haven't been able to stop thinking about aspects of it and I feel like I have way more to say about what I got out of it, but I'll save that for class and my longer critical review.

You can find a recreation of Cage's 4'33" here:

Tonight's the Night

I parked my car at the corner of Cambie and Cordova. Walking towards the theatre I had a sense of fear and anxiety. Not because of the show, but because of the area I was in. As I made my way towards the theatre, there was a mix of homeless people and beggers, as well as a crowd of vibrant entertainment seekers. It was a weary feeling because while the surrounding area seemed like "one of those places you don't go alone," the venue location featured a brand new refinished complex. Perhaps this was apart of the city's attempt to revitalize the area.

On the night I went to see the show, there was a sold out crowd. I sat fairly close to the stage, only three rows up on the left side. Initially I was confused and lost. As the show started the entire stage and room was dark, and the song "Tonight," by West Side Street was playing. Followed by "Let the Sunshine," the audience did not see any actors on the stage until half way through the third song, "Come Together." At this point, I was actually angry because of the lack of action, in addition to the low tech "80's" CD player the DJ was using. The show featured about 20 songs - each time a different song was played the DJ would eject the previous CD from the CD player and then insert the next CD. I do not know if this was done on purpose, but I felt that a more efficient way of playing the songs would have been having all 20 songs on ONE CD. Again, I was not sure if this feature was meant to be a part of the show, but I did not particularly enjoy it.

On a brighter not, I did enjoy quite a few things. First and foremost, the music selection was excellent! Moreover, I really liked the variety of different actors on the stage. I felt that was a tribute to the multicultural mosaic of our growing city. In particular I loved the " 'My Love Will Go on,' 'Move It Move It,' and 'IPOD,' " segments of the play. I agree with Dr. Dickinson's message to the audience regarding the importance of the performing arts in Vancouver.

There is no doubt that the venue was placed in this particular part of the city for a specific purpose. In my opinion, having the venue @ this location is beneficial for the local community and the city as a whole because it adds value and worth to the area. It creates an environment and atmosphere that people want to be apart of. Although I was confused and lost during some parts of the play, "The Show Must Go On," was an amazing spectacle and experience that I enjoyed very much.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Wind Turbines as Performative Symbols

The newly placed Wind Turbine atop Grouse Mountain became operational today. The turbine is a powerful symbol of the increasingly dominate Vancouver eco-ethos. A windmill atop one of the city's most recognizable natural vistas has a performative value that extends much beyond its primary use. The description on Grouse's page - "Our commitment to embedding the principles of sustainability into every aspect of our lives includes the pursuit of smarter and better energy alternatives to meet our needs" - applies to more than just this windmill, it delineates an emerging sense of commercial responsibility in the city that is becoming unavoidable.

photo: devlin fenton

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Walk Around East Van Commercial Area

Before my walk, I met my sister at her studio on Parker and Clark and informed her that she was giving me a guided tour around East Van.

We started the walk by touring around her studio building. She took me through a hobbit sized door to the roof where you can view the city. Looking over East Van...I noticed how diverse and unique this part of the city is. After we ascended the stairs, we took a walk around the outside of the building. It is sort of an odd shape so that there are many little alcoves. The ground is gravel strewn and the building is old and shabby. Some of the walls are covered with colourful graffiti art and text.

We walked up to Commercial and saw a street artist doing chalk drawings on the sidewalk. His focus seemed to be the Virgin Mary. We dropped a couple coins in a hat next to the drawings.

One thing in particular I noticed about Commercial is the types of restaurants they have there: I have never seen so many places to eat that cater to vegetarians and vegans in one area before.

We walked by a random park on our way to get coffee. There were people sitting on the grass with their blankets spread out neatly in front of them. They were selling an assortment of books, jewlery and trinkets. Their wares were placed in neat lines on their blankets. We passed by without buying anything and wondered if any of it had been stolen.

We continued on to Turks, a mostly unremarkable coffee shop except that it has delicious coffee. My sister ordered an Americano, while I opted for tea. We sat awhile by the window people watching. There was an assortment of artists, bohemians, and contemporary hippies that strolled by.

We left Turks and realized we were hungry so we headed for Havana's. I've been here before and anticipated the freshly squeezed orange juice with my meal. They have really good food here. The atmosphere in the room is shabby and exotic. The walls are covered with years memories as seen by the layered engravings of names, dates and phrases on the walls. There is an art gallery in the back that we take a look at before we go. The paintings were of faces and were Cuban themed; there was even one of Fidel Castro. They seemed dark to me.

After lunch we returned to the studio. The loading bay was covered with random stuff and seemed to be used as a sort of share shed. A couple of artists were picking through the stuff as we walked back into the building. We returned to my sisters studio to finish off our walk with a Granville Island Winter Ale. That's when I remembered that I had a camera with me. I've always been horrible about taking pictures.

Cigar Store White Man???

As I walked downtown searching for something that may be 'performance', I couldn't help but struggle with the definition. While it is easy to categorize activities such as dance, theatre or concerts as performing, sometimes it can be a bit more tricky. We could say that people 'perform' for others with the way they dress; they are hoping to convey some sort of image and attitude to those who see them. Likewise, businesses dress themselves up to attract customers. Some try for a 50s diner feel, others go futuristic. Is this really performance? For the sake of my blog entry here, let's say yes. Now I'm not sure what sort of image a business is trying to project with the cigar store Indian, but I'm even less clear on the cigar store white man. I've never heard of a cigar store white man, but there he was, sitting in front of a tobacco shop. On his wooden hat rested a sign.

"The Cigar Store Indian 'Elijah' has been replaced by a Cigar Store White Man - 'General Custer'. 'It's payback time'. "

Below that was some fine print, reading "If you can't laugh at this, you must have lost your funny bone".

I don't know if I LAUGHED, but I raised an eyebrow and kind of chuckled. I wonder where they even found a cigar store white man. All in good fun, right? Obviously. It got me thinking though, where might this NOT be acceptable? Beyond being tacky, the cigar store Indian is a bit of a racist symbol that is probably better off gone, but it is a staple of tobacco stores and has endured over time. Still, I can't help but think that people in places such as Alberta (or deeper South in the USA) would have trouble finding the cigar store white man comeback amusing. In fact, they could even be offended. Then again, maybe not. Despite that, I think that the cigar store white man shows that Vancouverites are able to laugh and accept a rather fair rebuttal to the cigar store Indian. General Custer may not attract a whole lot of business, but he shows that the owners are at least with a sense of humour and forward-thinking on issues of race-relations. Hopefully, this is somewhat representative of the city as a whole.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Fleeting Performance - Merce Cunningham

Just a lovely quote from the late Merce Cunningham, that I randomly came across in Time last month.
It's more relevant to next week's discussion (Phelan and Reason). But there ya go.

"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive. It is not for unsteady souls."

Windsor St. Revitalization

When Professor Dickinson mentioned the East Van cross that is currently positioned on the corner of 6th Avenue and Clark, I attempted to envision any other works of art that may be present within East Vancouver, my area of residence. And then it came to me: the metal banners located on Windsor Street, just south of Kingsway between Knight and Fraser were very similar in design. These metal banners, which have been hung at the very top of a select few lamp standards, were part of a revitalization project within the Cedar Cottage area. Not very long ago, the area had been infiltrated with prostitution up and down Kingsway, leaving area residents very concerned for their personal safety and the safety of their own children since there are two elementary schools along Windsor Street. It took a while for the project to be executed; however, the pictures shown here are indicators of its culmination. Karen Kazmer, the artist of these banners, chose designs that really illustrate the area's diversity and dedication to the child. Currently, Windsor

Street is considered by most a public space where area residents are able to come together to garden, chat or just spend some quiet time studying a book or nature.
The area has seen many improvements and for the most part, the prostitution has dwindled away and moved elsewhere; then again, there is still evidence lurking around which indicates a failure to completely rid the area of graffiti and/or other signs of abuse. Personally, I am pleased with the outcome and look forward to seeing even more changes for the better. I wholeheartedly believe that this art project was not for the benefit of the Olympics but for the benefit of area residents who were worried about their future but now can sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour.

East Hastings featured by Godspeed You! Black Emporer

God Speed You! Black Emperor is a Canadian Band that does work with integrating stories of locals into their music as well as intentionally making long and fluid narratives out of their predominantly instrumental pieces.

East Hastings" is an instrumental track by Godspeed You! Black Emperor on F♯A♯∞ released on June 9, 1998. Arguably their most iconic track, It is just under 18 minutes long and comprises four distinct movements, each individually named. They are "'...Nothing's Alrite in Our Life...' / Dead Flag Blues (Reprise)", "The Sad Mafioso...", "Drugs in Tokyo" and "Black Helicopter". The track takes its name from a poor area in Vancouver, British Columbia and focuses on the settings in East Hastings.
I actually recommend that you listen to the music with out watching the cheesy pictures, because the song is re-creating the story of DTES for you.Sadly I can only find two of many clips regarding the dtes from this album, but if you listen to all the clips you get an interesting medley of instrumental story telling as well as recorded sound from people, stores and sermons from the dtes.

I am going to post a link to a you-tube video of a picture medley done to the first of these songs inspired by Vancouver's own east hasting street and downtown east side: (east hastings) flag blues)

This is another example of a narrative song by Godspeed You! Black Emperor that works in local stories and voices at the beginning: and part 2:
and another example of narrative song:

I know a lot of their songs are long but just listening to the first few minutes in most of the songs gives you a pretty good idea of their style of narrative. I just thought this was interesting in regards to how we were talking about how Cities perform and as a performance medium i feel its approach brings something unique and valuable that we as people can connect to. If you like this check out their song storm, its an amazing example of instrumental story building, and its my favorite.

A Cultural Blow...

While not directly relating to performance proper (as we conventionally use the term), I thought this bit of information I received today something to think about in relation to Peter's closing comment yesterday about the significance of performance to culture, and culture to a city, to Vancouver. After 53 years of operation, Duthie Books (its remaining store located on West 4th) announced its closing today. Here is the official statement from the Duthie family. The usual suspects are cited, market-cornering book chains, imminent ebooks, and a transitioning readership in general, but to me underlying all this is a cultural neglect. Independent bookstores in Berlin (factoring in these recessive times) are thriving. The same is true of London. It gives pause. The closing of Duthie's is not just the loss of the most discerning bookstore in Vancouver, it is a nudging reminder that when we do deservedly question the legitimacy of "Port Moody - City of the Arts," we need not at the same time vigorously pat our cultured Vancouver backs.


As per Jennifer's request in class yesterday, here is the text from my "Walking the City" movie.

Just to reiterate, I used a mini-DV camera to retrace last Wednesday two partial routes I took back in February 2009 and September 2008 as part of separate site-specific performance works in the DTES.

As de Certeau suggests, my attempts at capturing and recording a "nowhen" that has long since passed me by, was an interesting exercise in forgetting.

"It is true that the operations of walking on can be traced on city maps in such a way as to transcribe their paths (here, well-trodden, there very faint) and their trajectories (going this way and not that). But these thick or thin curves only refer, like words, to the absence of what has passed by. Surveys of routes miss what was: the act of passing by. The operation of walking, wandering, or 'window shopping,' that is, the activity of passers-by, is transformed into points that draw a totalizing and reversible line on the map. They allow us to grasp only a relic set in the nowhen of a surface of projection. Itself visible, it has the effect of making invisible the operation that made it possible. These fixations constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice. It exhibits the (voracious) property that the geographical system has of being able to transform action into legibility, but in doing so it causes a way of being in the world to be forgotten." (Michel de Certeau, "Walking the City," 97)

Main and Hastings—February 10, 2009/January 13, 2010
: Retracing part of the route Alana and I took when we went to see battery opera’s site-specific piece Lives Were Around Me in February 2009. We were part of an intimate audience of three that assembled at the Alibi Room at 8 pm (we arrived earlier for a dinner, which was discounted by 10%, a nice surprise). After signing a liability waiver, we began following battery opera’s dapperly dressed David McIntosh east on Alexander Street. McIntosh was a charming, if cryptic, guide (“You can’t believe everything you hear” was the one line he kept repeating); he led us to the Firehall, on Cordova, where we were eventually met by Adrienne Wong (we would also later encounter Paul Ternes), who was more talkative, although no more understandable. This was because the text of the walking tour we were taking of the Downtown Eastside was freely adapted from James Kelman’s Translated Accounts, an abstruse, Kafkaesque novel made up of monologues detailing instances of surveillance, arrest, detention, and torture carried out in an unnamed police state. The effect was deliberately disorienting, forcing us to reexamine a part of the city that has historically been overdetermined with meaning, not to mention over-policed by various state apparatuses invested in the interpretation of that meaning. However, I think in the end the text dominated too much, and that the piece was perhaps overconceptualized dramaturgically, to the point where external intrusions—that is, the very space and community where the event was taking place—seemed to flummox our guide. This was most evident at the bar we entered midway through the piece. Like any bar in that part of town, it was filled with a larger-than-life cast of characters, and while a table had been reserved at the back for us (complete with a complimentary beer each) we were sharing the space with Bobby and his friend. We soon learned both had just been released from jail and were interested in making conversation, and perhaps more (Bobby seemed to take a particular fancy to yours truly, displaying his tattoos, and offering up multiple hugs). But our guide, while polite with Bobby and tolerant of his interruptions to a point, kept telling him that she had to keep to her schedule, and consequently kept drawing us back to the tale she was telling. In other words, despite the piece being all about looking at/for/through evidence (we later had a tour of the Vancouver Police Museum, next to the Firehall, which was more than a little creepy), the material lives occupying the site in which the performance was taking place seemed ancillary to the abstract representation of various extreme scenarios of livability. To be sure, the juxtaposition of textual site and cited text necessarily prompted me to import other spaces as dramatic referents, some of which made me feel more, some less, vulnerable; none of which gave me any clearer sense of my bearings. But, overall, the performance seemed more interested in exploring the internal psychic excavation of various spatial archives (broadly and very sketchily defined) than it was in precipitating an external bodily encounter with the full repertoire of this particular place’s experiences (on the “archive” and the “repertoire,” see Diana Taylor). Nevertheless, in terms of the latter, the neighbourhood—and Bobby, who resurfaced, magically, at the end of the tour—did not disappoint. Lives were around us. We, too, had an audience. All we had to do was look.

Carrall to Cordova—September 30, 2008/January 13, 2010/August 7, 1971: Thinking, again, about the social groups left behind when host cities harness their particular urban aspirations to abstracted messages of Olympic inspiration: if human bodies can be engineered—via equipment vested or drugs ingested—to go “faster, higher, stronger,” then why can’t the places those bodies reside? This question was in part what informed my experience of local artist Althea Thauberger’s September 2008 site-specific performance event Carrall Street, in which she threw a one-night live art spotlight (quite literally) on a contact zone in the city that runs a scant six blocks—from the red brick buildings of historic Gastown, through the strewn hypodermics of Pigeon Park, to the gleaming real estate offices of Concord Pacific on the north side of False Creek—but that in that distance maps a fraught and polarising social history relating to the ethics of livability and the politics of development in Vancouver. Thauberger is known for performance based video and photographic works in which she collaborates closely with different social communities (Canadian soldiers and tree planters, US military wives, linguistic minorities in Northern Italy, conscientious objectors in Germany) to explore the dynamics of group consciousness and state control. For Carrall Street, Thauberger worked with community groups with varied interests in the area (housed and unhoused DTES residents, local service organisations, artists and theatre directors, politicians and city planners); together, they created both scripted and improvised scenes of social interaction in which the roles of performer and spectator, local denizen and curious passer-by would deliberately blur on a stretch of streetscape cordoned off and brightly illuminated like a film set. For me, the piece’s plainly visible fictional scaffolding, and the highly telegraphed orchestration of its “scenes” (I was “interviewed” by two very manic “real estate agents”) threw into relief the different performance publics (between business owners and low-income residents, artists and activists, tourists and addicts, security guards and the street homeless) that are daily negotiated at a very local street level. In the process, Thauberger brought out in ways often obscured by abstract policy discussions relating to the proposed revitalisation of the area, the historical connections between this particular street’s past (as a tavern-lined, working-class byway connecting Vancouver’s old port to Chinatown), present (as a thoroughfare traversed on one end by visiting tourists and local hipsters negotiating both the tack and trend of Gastown, and, on the other, by the homeless, addicted, and mentally ill citizens of the DTES), and future (as a showcase street targeted for a controversial clean-up and beautification in advance of the Olympics). Whether Carrall Street’s latest incarnation as a high-profile “Greenway Project” is designed to stimulate the economy of the area, as officials contend, or simply to provide more pleasant direct access from Gastown to the downtown portion of Vancouver’s famed pedestrian seawall for Olympic tourists and the affluent new residents that will hopefully follow in their wake, is open to debate. But along with the restoration of Pigeon Park’s concrete surface, the painting over of graffiti on adjacent walls, and the installation of new benches and tables, the erection of high-powered street lamps is probably a clue as to who is winning the contest between social engineering and the protection of civil liberties. And on view at the just-about-to-open SFU Woodward’s we have two new public art works that, like Thauberger’s piece, remind us there is a history to such contests: Stan Douglas’s photographic “Abbott and Cordova, 7 August 1971” (on permanent display in the interior courtyard of the building); and Ken Lum’s text-based “No Way” (on temporary display on the building’s new Audain Gallery Hastings Street fa├žade).

Victory Square, Hastings and Cambie—now/forever/never: “Cities of the dead are primarily for the living.” (Joseph Roach)


Monday, January 18, 2010


I was thinking about the discussion we had earlier this semester about memorials and thought I'd share this with you.

I live on Trinity Street in Vancouver, its just a few blocks from the Pacific Coliseum and the PNE.

Anyways, years ago an elderly couple was killed during a break and enter robbery. In response to this tragedy residents of Trinity Street decided to place lit candles in front of their homes in remembrance of the couple that was murdered. Since that year, the "Trinity Street Light Festival" has become somewhat of a spectacle in the local community. With 90% of home owners putting up Christmas Lights, Trinity Street Residents have taken back a sense of comfort, security, and safety that was once tarnished. We have been noted in both The Vancouver Sun, as well as The Province News Papers in recent years. Here is a glimpse..

one night in town.

This past saturday I took my friend to go see the Canucks play the defending Stanley Cup Champions (Pittsburgh Penguins) at gm place. I couldn't help but notice all the Go Canada Go advertisements. Upon entering and leaving just about all sky train terminals you are met with billboard after billboard of Olympic Advertisement. In particular, down town is really getting into olympic mode. Just an addition to Melissa's post earlier ..

Olympic Storage Program

In an effort to cut down on the amount of visible shopping carts in the Downtown East Side during the Olympic Games, a wonderful program was started between the City of Vancouver and the First United Church. This pilot program provides storage containers for homeless people so that they may secure their belonging (for free) and access them anytime throughout the day or night (they simply have to remember their number and provide their name). This program eliminates the problem of guarding their belongings, a problem for many people using shelters and a source of anxiety and violence in the community. The service is free and is located right beside the First United Church on Main St (shown above). This is an example of a program created to make the homeless population less visible to tourists during the games but if continually funded could greatly benefit them long term. I discovered it on my Downtown East Side walkabout.

Injecting Canadian Spirit...

Tonight I took a walk Downtown before and after a concert I attended at Venue. I was compelled to take a picture of this monstrous Canadian flag that I see everyday before and after work... it's hard to miss, and I find it injects a Canadian pride that was not there before in the city. Well, at least it lets tourists think we are THAT proud to be Canadian. Clever strategy, Olympic Committee. Go Canada Go.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Speak Walking/Transiting [“Cat Scratch Fever”]

Last Saturday a minor cat bite on my left hand resulted in five days of scheduled intravenous antibiotics sessions at Vancouver General Hospital’s Emergency. During my walking/transiting to and from each day, I tried to record the “speaking” I encountered, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I then intertwined it with a short description of my personal place in this city. What does de Certeau mean by "to walk is to lack a place" (103)? I have no definite conclusions.

I live in East Vancouver [“You seem the type.”] on East 10th[“That’s such a pretty street and no traffic.”] just around the corner from Commercial, not far from the Skytrain station [“Get’s a bit rough there at night? Little more ‘hobo’ than ‘boho’ on that end of the Drive. But East 10th is nice.”] with my partner, and an otherwise lethargic cat, who last Saturday bit my left hand [“Is it tracking? Cats have this bacteria called Pasteurella. You better come to emergency.”]. I live near the Skytrain station, and therefore the 99 B-line [“Lady! Lady! Don’t buy a ticket. This is the free bus. Just go to the backdoor. No one checks. I don’t want any money. Can you buy me a hot chocolate? With a large you get a free Nutri-Grain Bar at Macs.”], which stops at Willow, a few blocks from Vancouver General [“When did they start announcing ‘Willow/Vancouver General Hospital’? Fuckin’ Olympics. Find it yourself before. DRIVER, BACKDOOR.”]. I used to live in Kitsilano [“Kits? Really?"], nearer VGH [“Welcome to this heavenly hotel. Got a smoke?"], but I had neither a cat bite, nor even a cat then [“This is your first time here? Okay, can I see your Care Card? Just a second. Sir, she is going before you because she does not require a room. You need a room, sir. Please sit down. Sorry, this place.”]. Prior to Kits, I lived downtown on Haro, around the corner from Robson, closer to St. Paul’s than VGH [“Somebody help me. Somebody help me. Somebody help me. Can you help me? I was at St. Paul’s. They won’t help me. They wouldn’t help me. They took my clothes. The nurses did. It’s true. This is bullshit. The junkie nurses took my clothes. Somebody help me.”], but again I had no reason to visit [“Guess Ted Nugent was right. Cat Scratch Fever? Nugent? You’re too young. I’m going to put in the IV now. It’ll be easy. You have great veins. I mean the veins we usually see in here are collapsed.”]

FlagWalk: Walk the World

Those of you who’ve visited South Granville or Yaletown in the last couple of months may have already caught on to this.

While walking to Red Door on South Granville from West Broadway to 14th last night I noticed what appeared to be flags of different countries painted on the concrete pavement. My initial thought was that it was some kind of promotion for the Olympics. I also thought perhaps it was a creative attempt to celebrate Vancouver as a multicultural, multi-ethnic city. Whatever the reason, I was intrigued enough to take a photo of every single flag I walked by. It was kind of fun trying to guess the country of each flag (...I failed miserably) but I had to stop after about five blocks or I’d end up on the Granville Bridge to downtown. I decided to make a collage with the ones I did capture and this was the result:

(I realize there are a couple of duplicates but I wanted to make a complete square =P)

Well, my predictions were wrong. After some online research I discovered it is neither a City nor VANOC promotion for the Olympics but a $250,000 marketing concept called FlagWalk implemented by Yaletown and South Granville business groups. Hit hard by the recession, South Granville and Yaletown businesses took advantage of the Olympic hype and partnered up in hopes that the idea will attract more attention and business from locals before the games begin. There are more than 450 decals, as they are called, placed in alphabetical order representing 80 countries participating in the Winter Olympics. Spanning a distance of almost 4 kms, FlagWalk creates a walking route connecting Yaletown and South Granville for tourists and spectators coming to Vancouver. The expectation is that they will be curious and follow the flags, which will take them through some of the city’s most unique neighbourhoods and lure them to specific business districts. So while it is a way-finding tool, it is very much a marketing tool as well. I just discovered the FlagWalk blog and interestingly enough, their most recent post also claims that “FlagWalk is about peace and friendship – nothing more... nothing less.” Hmmm. I’m not sure about peace and friendship, but the flags definitely succeeded in getting my attention. In fact, I was so absorbed in studying them and taking photos that I was completely oblivious to the shops around me. As far as commercial branding goes, I’m not entirely sure if the idea was a good approach, but I definitely find the concept unique. The flags will be removed in Spring 2010.

For anyone who likes to enter contests, Flag Walk is hosting a "Walk the World" contest on their website in which the Grand Prize winner gets a trip around the world for two. And if you upload your flag pics on their Facebook page you can get a free set of 80 Flag Walk buttons! To learn more, you can visit their site, follow their blog, Facebook Page and of course, Twitter.