Tag: Play

It’s Not A Heel; It’s A Mountain

It was with a huge amount of sadness that I read about the death of designer Alexander McQueen last week.

The British designer was one of my early favourites in the high-falutin’ world of fashion. Amongst the pish-posh flaky fashion queens, McQueen redefined regal -and he knew it. Working-class royalty wrapped in bad boy drawl, he dared to try new things, while really, truly, “keeping it real.” To paraphrase playwright Joe Orton, he “came from the gutter, and don’t you forget it.” His work wasn’t merely ephemeral; it was probing, challenging, and frequently bizarre. Live presentations were deeply theatrical, taking inspiration from popular entertainment and relevant social issues (yes, fashion and social isues can mix) and fusing these ideas with a Biennale-esque sensibility that sought to blow open the doors of what fashion was and what it could be. He never lost touch with his roots, nor with his family. His deep connection with the women in his life -the twin muses of Isabella Blow and his mother -was apparent, and it’s that touch of touching earthiness I still find so endearing.

Part of what makes Alexander McQueen’s passing so tragic is the nature of his death. It wasn’t the wasting-away rot of cancer or the slow annilation of AIDS, but rather, the scalding horror of self-violence. Despite conjecture, we’ll never know the exact, true reason why he felt the need to leave us -nor should we. His death remains, like his life, his creation alone. It’s just sad that, at the end, he never saw the windows, only the walls; never felt the light, but scraped along in darkness; threw aside creation in favour of destruction. Why? Like so many other suicides, it’s not ours to know. He’s gone, and he’s left us his visions, in colours and textures; in dyes and dances of hems and heels and the height he reached as a one of the greatest visual artists our age has seen. From a fashion cynic to you, Dear McQueen, thank you for the passion, the play, the verve and the vision. I’d say “angels sing thee to thy rest” but frankly, the whir of sewing machines, the dry scrape of pencils against paper, and the click-clak of stiletto heels seem like an infinitely better symphony. Rest tight. The gutter won’t forget you.

 

Creature Discomfort

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence: that which we inflict upon each other, in large and small ways, and that which we direct upon ourselves. Every night the television news is filled with searing images of suffering and pain. reminders of the awful damage us humans are capable of, through snarky opportunism, willful malevolence, or some sad combination of both.

Canadian playwright Judith Thompson has never shied away from these issues. The award-winning playwright has spent her career exploring the myriad of ways we inflict violence on those we love, those we hate, and those we don’t even know. Her first play, 1980’s The Crackwalker, was a gritty examination of the lives of four disturbed people, all but forgotten by mainstream society; 1997’s Palace of the End was a triptych of haunting monologues delivered by damaged souls who’d been affected by the Iraq war. Thompson, who is a two-time recipient of a Governor-General’s Award for drama and has been awarded the Order of Canada, isn’t afraid to ask tough questions around morality and intolerance in her work, nor does she shy away from the depiction of hurts, physical, mental, spiritual and psychological, and their related conequences. Thompson’s latest work, Such Creatures, takes the simple premise of two women at two different points in history, recounting their tales; one is a Holocaust survivor, the other an Aboriginal street tough. I had the opportunity to speak with Thompson to exchange ideas around the inspiration for the work, the connection between the two women, and the real-life stories that fuel her creative world. Thompson’s responses are still so inspiring to me; I’ve highlighted my favourite bits.

Was there a specific event that inspired Such Creatures?

Many moments and stories inspired the play, (like) Reena Virk and others like her. I have realized that many young girls live in a kind of war zone almost as dangerous as the one so many young men live in, but they don’t make the news… I teach acting, and one of the exercises I assign is for the students to interview someone out of their normal social sphere, and then bring a monologue to present to the class; a student from outside of Ottawa brought a letter given to her by an elderly neighbour. The letter was written to her by her sister, from the prison within Auschwitz, where she was waiting to be hung for her part in the Auschwitz revolt in which Crematorium 4 was blown up. When I heard this letter, something inside me shifted. I knew I would revisit the letter. I was so inspired by the courage of these young girls.

Why did you choose two female protagonists?

Many male heroes have been celebrated in drama, but there are so many unsung female heroes and martyrs, and these girls… well, both are heroic, because they face violence with bravery, and one especially takes huge risks to benefit others. They have nerves of steel, sharp extraordinary intellects, and they are both only fifteen! I want to look at women who are leaders, and fighters, women who will never ever give up or surrender their beliefs.

What do you think binds these women together, ultimately?

We carry our history in our bodies, and deep in our psyches, we carry every woman’s experience. We stand on the shoulders of the women who lived before we were born, whatever race or religion we are. Preparing to fight a gang of girls to the death is facing death; it has come down to the very same thing that the girl at Auschwitz faced every day. We are always underestimated, valued mainly for our attractiveness to men. These girls are so so so much more than that -and so are we all!

Such Creatures runs at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille through February 7th.

Do Ya Love Me?

I never thought of Patrick Swayze as an actor. I never thought of him as a singer, either.

I always thought of him as, first and foremost, a dancer.

This is a big reason why.

Not a fan of Dirty Dancing, I nevertheless found his easy, clear, sinuous movement entrancing; he was so comfortable in his own body, and his sense of joy at his own movement was palpable. Yet he wasn’t afraid to poke fun at the beefcake status he gained after the release of Dirty Dancing, as this Saturday Night Live clip demonstrates.

There was a real sense of play when he moved; a play with air, with limbs, with range of motion -and between floor and body, gravity and air. Like the great Hollywood dancers of the past, Swayze understood the theatre of dance -and the necessity of incorporating play within that theatre.

Thank you, Patrick.

With The Greatest of Ease

I love the Chapiteau. Ce n’est pas une surprise. Cirque Du Soleil‘s latest joyous creation, OVO, is now on in Toronto. Though I had seen Cirque before in large arenas, I hadn’t experienced it in the “Grand Chapiteau.” And so a friend (who had never seen a Cirque show) and I toodled off to the Eastern Portlands at Toronto’s waterfront. It was an evening of enchantment, delight, and absolute, unabashed play.

Neither photos nor words really capture the magic of a Cirque show fully. Even though I’d been given the finger-wagging “No pictures, please!” notice from Chapiteau staff, I wanted to turn my camera not toward the performers, but onto my fellow attendees -eyes agog, mouths dropped open, in awe. Any way you cut it, the drama within a Cirque show is in-built by virtue of the fact that they are performing dangerous, heady feats and often rely on little to protect their falls. There is also a noticeably strong thread of community -family, really -between performers. One relies on the other, another on someone else, and so on -like a set of dominoes. Both in the limelight and behind-the-scenes, the Cirque is only as strong as its team.

There are a number of particularly affecting moments in OVO. I liked the couple doing the ‘rope/cloth’ (banquine) routine; they seem to share genuine chemistry, and the comparison I heard at intermission (to Zumanity, Cirque’s sexy Vegas show) is entirely apt. The way they swung around the performance area, his arms wrapped around hers, both of them supported only by two pieces of luxurious cloth, was a deeply entrancing visual. Such moments aren’t merely wondrous in a physical sense; they’re meditative in a spiritual one. Equally, the gold-clad trapeze men, looking like airborne centurions –but, with the insect theme of OVO, they were probably bees or maybe wasps -provided the same mix of wonder at physicality and awe at the abilities of the physical and artistic worlds colliding to produce something inspired by… insects. Wow. The trapezists flew back and forth between stations, landing on one another’ shoulders, and then disembarking and falling, arms aloft, into the netting below them, their swift graceful decent a sure dance with gravity, time and space. Breathtaking.

Equally affecting were the myriad of tumblers, who, dressed in ridged chartreuse costumes –again, looking like determined little bugs -bounced in a kind of organized chaos against a pseudo-rock-face, their timing at once rhythmic and chaotic. Brazilian director Deborah Colker smoothly blends these moments of inspired chaos with loud, pulsating electronica sounds, counterbalancing every frenetic routine with a slower, more contemplative one. The quiet poetry of a figure wrapped in a kind of nylon, placed vertically and stretching swaying and shimmying, before emerging from her cocoon to become a butterfly, was simple, classy, and deeply moving. OVO embraces the poetic marriage between the worlds of humans and insects, transferring the physical mechanics of each into a wider exploration about the nature of natural connection. Yes, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface (just as there is in the world of insects), but without being too heady, I can also tell you: OVO is a boatload of fun.

Just as dramatic (and fun) to behold as the other bugged-out creatures was the Spider character, who re-defines the idea of ‘high wire’ entirely. With his Mad Max-esque costume and dramatic makeup recalling Japanese kabuki, he retained an air of theatricality even as he stepped, balanced, and carefully picked his way across a very small, very loose wire (called a “slack wire” in circus terms). During the performance, I actually heard him let out a howl of triumph as his eyes widened like saucers, and his chest came puffing out upon completing his ride across the wire on nary but a tiny unicycle (successfully). Hands clapped together and he glared out at the assembled crow triumphantly; it was so dramatic, I wanted to vault out of my seat then and there with applause. That’s the fantastic thing about such acts within a Cirque show: performers don’t just go through the motions, and then bow politely. No way. They inhabit their roles -and the physical movements that go with those roles -utterly, to the letter, or in OVO‘s case, antenna. Limbs, faces, heads, feet and fingers -all are stretched, leaning, flicking, swirling in accordance with the performers’ buggy counterparts, elevating OVO to the realm of the theatrical. While audiences might be conscious of the show’s pretend-factor, they’re nevertheless moved by its execution.

But I have to say, on a personal note, I also loved -love -the clowning that happens in Cirque shows. OVO confirmed my adoration, using a cute story of thwarted-then-successful affection (Newcomer Boy Bug likes Neighbourhood Girl Bug; misunderstandings ensure before a happy communion). The clowns, as per the commedia dell’arte tradition that so influences Cirque’s work, gently and amusingly interacted with one another before mining the audience for inspiration. This, in turn, lead to inspiring play within the audience itself. The OVO clowns reminded me, in their pratfalls, voiced effects (which took the place of dialogue) and grand gesturing, of the importance of embracing the playful side of life, that play doesn’t just happen under the Grand Chapiteau.

And maybe that’s the point of OVO, and on a larger scale, the mission of Cirque Du Soleil itself. It’s as if the clowns, tumblers, and the entire cast are there to remind us, that for every piece of darkness we come across in life, there exists its equal, shining and rife with possibility –and it’s right inside us. We may not be able to do the tricks and tumbles of the performers, but we can allow ourselves to be transported to the world of OVO, and thus, engage our imaginations –and hearts –in the process. Outside the protective canvas walls of the Chapiteau, there’s certainly misery aplenty; inside, however, there is simply… play. Insect play, human play, musical play, physical play. Play takes you out of yourself, and to quote an old song, “take the world in a love embrace.” Sure it’s corny –but it’s needed more than ever for what’s bugging us. Play is there -here –if you want it. Merci, Cirque.

Cirque Du Soleil photos by Benoit Fontaine.

Random Acts of Play

1. Speaking to an unmanned camera; I was filming an introduction to my latest video interview piece (on Awake and Sing, currently on at the Young Centre) and kept flubbing it. Thinking his presence might be throwing me, my sweet/awesome/brilliant cameraman/editor walked away to look out the window, leaving me to speak one-on-one with the lens. It worked.

2. Going or ice cream at La Paloma, one of Toronto’s best places for yummy, homemade gelato. It was a hot day, and it was perfect for a cone. I walked down the street, me and my chocolate hazelnut, enjoying the sights and the sunshine. Oh, simple joys.

3. Overhearing my neighbours’ nephews playing in their swimming pool as birds chirped. Remember when pools were such a big deal as a kid? Like, a really big deal? Yeah, me too.

4. Going for a bike ride and calling out to a raccoon perched carefully on a wooden fence, only to be greeted by five little raccoon faces. Now, I know they aren’t necessarily the most wanted creatures (especially now that Toronto has a strike involving city workers -who collect trash among other duties -on its hands), but it was just a dear little moment to have five little heads come popping up from the fence at my Doctress Doolittle moment.

5. I’m going to the Shaw Festival tomorrow. Seeing lots of comedies, which I love. Laughter = good.

Also?

My Goran Bregovic interview is posted
.

Zivalo!

Tech Logic

Here’s a great example of play in its best video sense. If ever there were a definition of modern, 21st century creativity, this would be it. Wow.

Gardening = Playing

Gardening is work. Digging, planting, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and chasing various pesky creatures away (through sprays, gates, and other means) can be a pain. But the results can be so good.

As a kid, I remember having a huge, sprawling garden in the backyard. We lived in what was then country, and we had the luxury of having a huge yard with few neighbours and even less traffic. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, zuccini and squash, along with raspberries and strawberries, plus fruit trees in the front yard (apple, peach, pear and plum), meant that we didn’t need to go up the road to the farmer’s market too often (except, perhaps, for cherry and blueberry pies… mmm). My great uncle, who tended everything, was a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy who didn’t believe in commercial spraying or fertilizers, so everything was organic by default, and using compost was just the norm.

Living in a more urban environment now, surrounded by development sprawl, the idea of having a backyard garden hasn’t been much of a consideration, until recently. I’d wanted to plant a few things last year, but then I got busy with other projects. This year, I’m determined to try. Being a foodie and a closet gardener (okay, not anymore…), it just seems to make sense now. I know it’ll involve a lot of digging-up and roto-rooting, composting and aereating, but I have faith. There’s something deeply satisfying to me about getting hands (and feet, in my case) dirty with food you’re growing to eat yourself (and share). It’s good for everyone, and everything. Food, in itself, is part of culture; the symbiotic relationship it has in terms of care, process, tending and development, isn’t that dissimilar to other art forms.

I can’t wait for the performance to begin.

Playing With Dinos

There’s something about dinosaurs that stirs human imagination. Over at my Myspace blog, I explore the connection via running into three different dino-related sites online this past week.

It’s interesting, particularly in light of a conversation I had lastnight with a performer around ideas of so-called “low” art and “high” art -what constitutes each? And are these lines vanishing? I, for one, hope so. It’s all about play, after all.

Has Oprah Seen This?

Here’s a great example of what I meant by “play” a few posts back:

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