I've got A.D.S.!

A few weeks back I decided to cave to the God's of Google and allow targeted advertising on my blog. My thought was that readers logging on to catch-up with my latest writings, might be inclined to click some the ads posted along the side of the blog and in so doing earn me a few cents here and there for my writings. Given that I'm covering mostly performance-related matters, I figured that the bulk of the ads would be for such delightful things are Mysteriously Yours Dinner Theatre and Sheridan's Musical Theatre Program. I should have known that Google was smarted than that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google actually targets advertising based on the words in specific posts, not just the overall content of the blog. I recently posted a review of a performance called God exists, the Mother is present, but they no longer care, and the next day logged on to find a whack of God-related advertising lining the edges of my page. While I'm happy to take their money, I'm curious to know what these Jesus loving folks would think if they knew they were getting hits directed to their site from the blog of some pot-smoking atheist faggot.

A couple of my favourites include: Bible Truths, Piece of Mind, and It's His Story.

So not only does checking out the ads help me out, it's also good for a laugh, and may even save your soul from eternal damnation! Who knew?
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Dispatches: Springdance, Utrecht, NL, The Making of Doubt (work in progress)

One might forgive audiences for initially interpreting Colette Sadler's The Making of Doubt as a meditation on high school detention. As we entered the theatre we were greeted with six figures, clad in hoodies, jeans and runners, lounging in various positions of dejected boredom, all facing upstage. As the piece begins we realize that only four of the six figures are in fact alive--the other two being dummies clothed in the same costumes as the dancers.

As the dancers slowly come to life, they manipulate each other's bodies as if they were dolls, moving from chairs to the floor, climbing into giant heaps, and bending their limbs at strange angles. Sadler has specified in the program that the piece is a work in progress, and through the performance she is sitting in the front row of the audience, occasionally yelling out commands to the dancers. It's a bit confusing here that the dancers don't seem to be reacting to what she's saying. If the intention is for us to see them reacting, they'll need to come up with slightly more concrete ways of doing it, as it currently seems like they're just ignoring her.

As the piece progresses, the line between live dancer and dummy starts to blur. The dancers strip the dummies of their costumes, revealing flesh-toned cloth beneath, and then proceed to strip out of their own costumes, revealing body suits of the same fabric. Donning different clothes, they then sprout extra and inappropriate limbs; feet become hands, a third leg or arm appears.

The piece is chock full of these moments, which toy with our sense of the body, with engaging and frequently hilarious results. I would have never thought I'd be engaged watching someone dance with a piece of cardboard for ten minutes, but Sadler pulls it off, as she reels us deeper and deeper into this strange world of twisted bodies and logic. As fast as she makes the rules, she breaks them, leaving us constantly wondering what will be next.

One of Sadler's objectives with the piece, was to question the notion of "human" itself, and whether that can be extended to objects which take on a human form. She's definitely succeeded on that level; By the end of the piece, we start to loose track of which objects on stage are the actual humans and which are the copies. By pairing quasi-human forms with the real thing, Sadler succeeds in questioning not just the possibilities that a choreographer can explore, but the medium of the human body itself as a site for art making.
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Happy: A Very Gay Little Musical at Buddies

Caught Sky Gilbert's new musical Happy at Buddies last week. Check it out if you like musicals. And gay stuff. Here's the link to my review of the piece published in Xtra. Read more!

Dispatches: Springdance, Utrecht, NL, God exists, the Mother is present, but they no longer care

I caught Iran-born Norway-based choreographer Hooman Sharifi's new full length work God exists, the Mother is present, but they no longer care tonight. Using texts from philosophers including Nietzsche, Barthes, and Handke, as a starting point, Sharifi has created a performance which he calls "a scream about the violence separating us from a world to which we would love to belong".

Admittedly, Sharifi is in dangerous territory (no pun intended) with this work. Violence is a very commonly used themes in dance creation and so a choreographer deciding to take it on needs to be absolutely sure that they have something new to contribute to the dialogue, lest their work just end up being another pile of clich

The group of four dancers clad in black perform a blend of choreography that's reminiscent of a theatre school movement class; Mostly very literal depictions of the theme of violence (i.e. swinging swords, throwing spears, launching arrows) as well as the obligatory faces frozen in silent screams. A video camera pointed at a square on the floor of the space projects images of text placed in front of it onto the screen. These include quotes from his source material about violence and power, (i.e. "Violence can take away power, but it cannot create power").

This might have been forgivable if Sharifi wasn't taking himself so damn seriously here, but the utter lack of humour about the clich
és that he's putting on stage in front of us is a serious pitfall of the work. The one thing that his seriousness does betray is that he honestly believed that in creating this work he had something new and incredibly important to say. Given his biographic details as a refugee who fled the state of Iran under persecution, I think he would definitely have a perspective on violence far different from Western born choreographers tackling the subject whose experiences are limited to what they've read about or seen in films. With that in mind, I would have hoped Sharifi could have offered me a perspective that was totally new and enlightened, but unfortunately, this work is neither.

Though his use of video is moderately interesting, there was a whole world of potential with the camera that he didn't explore. Similarly, the lighting design which leaves one of the rigs suspended by cables mere inches above the floor, could have been incredibly interesting if the dancers had done anything with it, other than knock into it once or twice.

Overall the work made for a disappointing evening, not so much because it was conceived from subject matter used so frequently but because the choreographer, who no doubt had an incredible amount to say about the subject, chose to say so little.
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Dispatches: Springdance, Utrecht, NL, Double Bill Can You Repeat? and Les Sylphides

The first night of attending the festival I caught the double bill of Can You Repeat? by Turkish dance artist Ayşe Orhon and Les Sylphides by German choreographer Nicole Beutler. The evening itself, functioned more like a triple bill, as Beutler's piece was bookended with two different versions of Orhon's. Why exactly the two pieces were paired together is a bit of mystery, except that both address the choreographic process in certain ways, albeit indirectly in Beutler's case.

I was a bit surprised when I got to the theatre to find that the show was sold out, which is uncommon at this festival with it's largish spaces. Waiting patiently at the door, until just before curtain, I was able to snag a spare ticket from a couple who had a third for their friend who didn't turn up. Once I got inside the space, I understood why there was a shortage of seating. Rather than have the audience in the regular configuration the choreographers had placed them in a ring of chairs on the stage itself, making for fewer spaces than normal.

We sat in a circle, staring at each other in our creaky plastic chairs under the fluorescent lights until Orhon silently entered the space. Her piece was meant to retrace the choreographer's physical journey of discovery through the realization of the performance, though this didn't become entirely clear until the second half. She moved her body through a series of yoga-like postures, occasionally stopping and starting again. What was most interesting about the piece was watching, or rather listening to the audience react. At times she held us totally rapt and the room was completely silent, though you didn't actually notice this until she would break the moment, and the uncomfortable shuffling and creaking of chairs would ensue again. In that regard, the experience was very much like what a choreographer creating new material on a dancer experiences,
minus the interactivity; having moments of engagement when you're really into what's happening, and then losing interest and redirecting the dancer to try something else.

At the end of the piece, Orhon simply walks out of the space, leaving the audience to sit and wonder what exactly has just happened. No lighting change. No musical signal. Simply walking out. It was a bit remenisent of Stitch in that regard, as it forced the audience to look at each other an silently ponder what we'd witnessed together.

After a recorded orchestral overture, complete with audience noise, the dancers for Les Sylphides enter en pointe. Beutler's approach to examining the choreographic process was to challenge the concept of "new", something ballet choreographers don't do that often, by remaking the classic ballet of the same name (based on Mikhail Fokine's 1907 choreography and in the repetoire of just about every ballet company in the world). She uses three dancers who, according to the program notes have either left the world of classical ballet already or not yet joined it, though it isn't clear who's who based on watching the piece. The original work was considered by some to be a first, in that it was a ballet with no plot whatsoever; just a group of white clad sylphs (forest nymphs) dancing around the figure of a poet, and I feel like Beutler may be poking a bit of fun at this history with her reinterpretation.

Working silently the three women move through the classic choreography, though they take on not the role of prima ballerina, but that of the chorus girls. There are long moments were they are totally still, as they would have been in the original version of the piece while the star of the show got to strut her stuff. Beutler is also examining the heirarchical structures that have traditionally existed within dance companies giving us for perhaps the first time ever, an opportunity to focus on the dancers who would have traditionally formed the back drop for the main action.

The movements they are using themselves are nothing new, which is exactly Beutler's intention. What is new is the context in which they are presented. Moving the classical ballet vocabulary from a traditional large proscenium space, to a studio with the audience sitting in a circle, works to challenge the distance which usually separates dancers from audience. Indeed as the piece progresses the distance is further ruptured as the dancers back-bend into the laps of the audience's and ask for help to balance as they promenade.

Though the original choreography kept the chorus on stage for the bulk of the show, they did depart for a few of the movements, and Beutler holds to this tradition. During what would have been the solos and duets for the prima ballerina and danceur, the dancers take seats in the audience, stretching, removing their pointe shoes, and grabbing some water, leaving us to watch an empty stage where the stars would have been dancing.

Beutler and Orhon have played with concepts of beginning and ending in presenting these works in conjunction. After the dancers for Beutler's piece exit, we are again left in silence; no bows, no signal that the show is over, just silence. When it feels like the audience is just about ready to leave, Orhon re-enters in a differently coloured but virtually identical costume, this time with microphone in hand. She recreates the choreography of the eariler part of the evening, though this time she speaks in the voice of choreographer to herself as dancer. Spitting out commands like "That looks akward" and "Don't move your foot so much" Orhon gives us a window to the process of creation. As she's the dancer in her own choreography, she's playing with a split brained notion of creator/interpreter, moving as one and speaking as the other, and suddenly every gesture from before becomes clear, once we realize as dancer she is moving in reaction to the directions from her choreographer, who is actually herself.

Though there were occasionally moments of confusion, ultimately the two (or three) pieces in conjuction pay off, not so much by giving you answers, but by leaving you with questions. By examining the traditions of choreography, whether it's a work originally created over a hundred years ago and reimagined many times or watching the process of developing a brand new piece, these two choreographers have created an evening of work that will leave you thinking.
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Dispatches: Springdance, Utrecht, NL

I've arrived in the Netherlands, and after brief respites at the coffeeshop/sauna I'll be heading to the Springdance Festival to cover some of the shows. Based in Utrecht, a smallish town about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam, the festival hosts a mixture of Dutch and international choreographers each year, and present some pretty off the wall works. Last year there was a piece with a pregnant woman getting fucked on stage with a strap on. Oh Netherlands! I'll be making semi-daily posts while here about the work I'm seeing. Stay tuned. Read more!

As I See It: The Problem With Arts Journalism

I don't read the papers much, even though I should. I know it's both artistically and journalistically sound to keep up to date with what people are saying about art in the city, but I just never seem to get around to it. Maybe it's because the environmentalist in me can't stand having to deal with all that paper. Maybe it's that so much of the content isn't of interest to me and I have to wade through pages and pages of crap to get to the three or four pages in the arts section. Or maybe it's because every time I do read them, I end up getting mad. When I read Susan Walker's review of Dancemakers' Double Bill #1 in the Toronto Star last Friday, I realized that it's likely option number three that's the cause of my avoidance.

I think this review is a perfect example of the problem with arts journalism right now.
Walker talks about these two pieces in such an uneducated manner, it's an embarrassment to her publication. I won't take issue with Walker's taste, as it's pretty obvious we're on opposite ends of the spectrum, but I will say that I think her lack of understanding of this particular aesthetic of contemporary dance is upsetting, given the fact that she's a dance critic for one of the largest papers in the country. If Ame Henderson and Michael Trent were creating a kind of work completely unheard of before, I might be more inclined to ignore Walker's ignorance about the aesthetic in which they are working. However there are lots of other choreographers out there who are creating in this manner, though most of them are working in Europe at the moment. Part of your job as an arts writer is to keep up to date, not just with what's happening in your city, but with what's happening around the world, so that you can provide your reading audience with an enlightened and educated view point about the work you are writing about. In this particular instance, Walker has failed at her job.

Art is many things to many people and as a critic it is vital that you learn to understand the difference between a show that is not within your personal taste and that's just plain bad. In this case, Walker simply took the easy way out that so many journalists do; she didn't understand the show and rather than take the time to do some research and maybe even (gasp!) contact the artists to get a bit more information about what they were trying to do, she just gave the show a shit review and called it a day. This is irresponsible journalism.

To be fair, I don't think this type of scenario (which is all too common) is entirely the fault of the writers. When you're reviewing work for a daily publication, your copy is normally due the day after you see the show, meaning there is virtually no time to do any research between seeing the performance and submitting your review. Writing for a weekly may buy you an extra day or two, but it's still hardly any time to process the work you've seen, find out answers to the questions you have, and write an engaging and interesting piece that your editor will be satisfied with. That said, journalists who decide to work for those publications need to take responsibility for preparing themselves as much as possible before they see a show. In the case of these works in particular, just glancing over the program notes that Jacob Zimmer wrote would have answered some of the questions that Walker had. Based on the holes in what she had to say about the performance, I would have surmised she didn't get a copy of the program, except that she actually references Zimmer's notes in her review.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be bad reviews. God knows there's lots of bad work out there. What I am saying is that not understanding a piece of work because you lack the proper background and context, is absolutely no excuse for giving it a bad review. In an academic context, would it ever be acceptable to submit an essay to a professor about a piece of work saying that you fundamentally didn't understand it and it was therefore intrinsically bad? Of course not. And we need to start holding arts journalists (Critics as they like to call themselves) to the same standards.

I don't intend to harp on Walker endlessly. She and I have a very different aesthetic of work that we like, and it's not fair to blame her for simply not liking these pieces. I do think that this article is a good example of the larger systemic problems that exist within mainstream publications when it comes to arts writing. Most papers employ two or three writers at the most for their performing arts sections. People don't stop to question this, but when you compare performing arts to other art forms the problem becomes obvious.

Let's take NOW Magazine as an example. The performing arts section, has two principal writers and one or two others who occasionally pen things. In contrast, the music section has over a dozen writers, who regularly contribute. The suggestion here is that while music can fall into many different categories, performance falls into only two or three. Another great example it the music blog Pitchfork which employs upwards of forty different writers, even though they are actually very limited in what genres of music they cover. The simple lack of different voices in performing arts writing may be the biggest problem that publications and artists face today.

Most arts writers are trained as journalists, but have no formal training in the arts. As someone who works as both an artist and a journalist, I can say with absolute certainty that having credentials in one area, does not automatically make you an expert in the other. One would hope that over time, writers would take the time to learn about different forms of work, to travel, and to get a sense of the overall context in which the artists they are talking about are working. I don't think any of these writers are stupid. I think a lot of them are actually very good writers. However, I do think that in many cases they have become lazy, and don't bother to educate themselves or expose themselves to a wide range of different kinds of work, or to challenge themselves to expand their personal tastes.

None of this would actually matter except for one thing; artists working in performance rely on reviews as the primary means of marketing their work and selling tickets to their performances, because none of them have enough money for large scale advertising campaigns. Whether we like it or not, we must have our work reviewed, because it's the only way that people will hear about it. Can you imagine the shape that any other industry would be in if it's entire marketing campaign was based around things written about their product by a third party source that was in many ways totally uneducated about their product? The suggestion that companies selling cars or cell phones or big blockbuster films would use only these means to market their products sounds absurd, but as artists we've just decided to accept this. The spirit of the artist is used to being downtrodden, beaten-up, and abused, and I think in some ways that leaves us in the position of not feeling up to fighting against the systems that oppress us and prevent us from creating and showing our work.

I don't know the exact solution to this problem, though if I did, I'm sure I'd be a hugely successful artist by now. What I do know is that it's time for us as artists to start addressing the critical climate in which we work and to start challenging what people have to say about us. We've all had those occasions where we've presented work, gotten a bad review, but known full well that we deserved it. In those cases, the best bet is just to lick you wounds and try to do better the next time. But the next time you create a piece that gets a bad review you feel was undeserved and uninformed, write the publication. Take the time to challenge what the journalist had to say about it and point out the holes in their arguments. Similarly, if you see a piece of work that's great, but gets a bad review from an uninformed writer, challenge them on behalf of the artist getting the bad review.
And don't let a bad review scare you off. If a piece of work seems interesting to you, but got a bad review, don't let that one person's potentially uniformed perspective influence your decision to buy a ticket to the show.

Essentially what I'm saying with all this is that I believe we as artists must create our own critical system within our community. If you see a show you love, take the time to tell your friends and colleagues about it. If you are curious about an artist's work, but don't totally understand it, call them and ask them about what they're doing. Putting the responsibility for understanding each other's work into our own hands won't eliminate the review systems of the mainstream publications but it will allow us to challenge our own assumptions about what we do and how to make our work better. And no matter your perspective, you can't argue that's a bad thing.
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Ame Henderson is Talking to Chris Dupuis

One of the new features I'm planning to launch here is a series of dialogues with artists called Talking To Chris Dupuis. The first is a discussion with choreographer Ame Henderson of Public Recordings, who's new work It Was A Nice Party is premiering as part of Dancemakers Double Bill #1 along side Michael Trent's And The Rest.

Click on the "Read More!" link below for the full conversation.

The piece is showing April 9-11 at 8pm, and April 12 at 3pm, at Premiere Dance Theatre, as part of Harbourfront Centre's Next Steps series. Go see it!!!

When I was watching the preview of the piece, I was really excited, not just that this piece is happening, but that it's happening with Dancemakers at Premiere Dance Theatre, because it's so unlike anything I've ever seen produced by that company or at that space before. Is the idea of presenting work in a venue this large something new for you or something you've been thinking about for a while?

I've been interested for many years in the idea of presenting work in that kind of a traditional theatre space and how to both honour that tradition and to break it. That's been one of the core goals for Michael Trent (Dancemakers Artistic Director) and I in this process. We wanted to examine how we can present work in a space like that in a way that fits with tradition, but also talks about what it is as physical space.

We knew we wanted the dancers to be onstage as the public enters. We decided we wanted the audience to enter from backstage, down the hallways, through the dressing rooms, so that they actually understand the perspective of the performers in the experience before they have to claim their own perspective as audience.

One of the things I've been thinking about with my own work, as I move to creating in smaller and more specific spaces, is that when you want to try to translate that work to other places, you come across all these road blocks. However, if you're willing to work in a proscenium format, you can show your work anywhere in the world. Is having a piece that can travel part of the decision to work in this way?

That's more of a secondary thing because I already knew it was going to be presented at that space when I was invited to create it. The question of how to make work that can actually resonate in that kind of space is of great interest to me because those kinds of large proscenium theatres are in abundance around the world, even though they are less and less relevant to the kind of work that I'm making. I've actually seen a couple of pieces in the last little while that deal with that kind of space, that I've been really inspired by, and I guess my interest now is sort of a byproduct of that. It's also interesting to think about presenting to big audiences. I just reread your Canadian Stage piece, about the demise of large scale work in Canada. I think a lot of artists are questioning how realistic it is to make work for audiences that large these days.

And now for that awful question journalists always have to ask; What was your starting point or inspiration for deciding to create this piece?

One of my first impulses was to try to find a way to use what I consider to be traditional choreographic approaches to create the piece, specifically the idea of learning movement from an outside source. I almost always make work that is really created by the performers and then collaboratively restructured together. This was an impulse to embrace a traditional choreographic model of giving an outside source for the movement and getting dancers to copy it. I'm pretty obsessed right now with exploring themes of authorship, appropriation, and re-imagining work that already exists.

How did you decide on the film clip from Fellini's La Dolce Vita?

I wanted a social gathering that was pedestrian, but that had a lot of choreographic features. When we first started working in December 2007, we were using a bunch of different films. Initially I was using a lot of bank robbery scenes, but we found they were very charged and anxious, which was increased by the task the dancers had to perform of copying them.

I knew I wanted a film of that era because I wanted to use something that was made before any of us were born. I wanted to make sure we weren't trying to recreate something that any of us knew in some way. Also in that era of filmmaking, especially in Italian cinema, they were using a lot of really wide shots showing full bodies, so the ability to translate the images to a three dimensional stage environment was easier than with contemporary cinema, where there are more close-ups. As I focused on that era of work, I started to find Fellini a really interesting artist to try to have a conversation with; His views of character, how he questions identity and social placement, and also uses appropriation in a lot of ways, are similar to what I'm interested in exploring right now, so I was able to find a lot of common with him.

La Dolce Vita in particular, is the best example of how his work lacks narrative line, but instead is made up of an accumulation of events add up to something that may not be easily defined, but results in some sort of feeling. I really respond to that and understand it as something I try to do with my own work.

I want to talk about the general context in which you see your work. I wrote a piece about Feliz Klassen's piece Weathering Architecture a few weeks ago, in which I talked about the new aesthetic of performance that is emerging right now. Most of the artists I was referring to in that piece identify as theatre makers. Even though your identify as a choreographer, I feel your work has more in common with them, than with Toronto Dance Theatre, for example. How do you see your work in relation the context of "new performance"?

I see those artists as my contemporaries because I think we're asking similar questions. What is it to create an event where people are really doing something? How can you be unadorned in a performance state? What does that mean to be yourself on stage? Those artists are my colleagues and I talk with them a lot. I find it easier to relate to them on a theoretical level than many choreographers in the city, but my focus is in relation to the dance tradition. Even though the questions are the same, I have a very different way of approaching them. I'm totally convinced there is a conversation to be had with choreographers in Toronto and I feel like I'm starting to do that in really small ways.

Working with Dancemakers is a good start.

I try to view my work in a larger context outside Toronto and I feel really connected with choreographers in other places. In that larger context, I'm not really doing anything that new. There are other people out there who are working in similar ways and asking very similar questions, just not so much in Toronto. That said I do perceive an interest in my work here that is really surprising and heartening. The people that are interested in what I'm doing are interested on a really deep level and they're very committed to it.

There's something to be said for that feeling of loneliness that all artists feel at one point or another in their lives, and that some people would argue is both central and essential to the artistic process; The idea of the artist as the outsider, looking back at the world from a perspective different from everyone else.

There are also systemic problems with the way that work is supported and presented. If I'm going to gripe about anything, it's the lack of presentation and curatorial vision. I feel like if artists were being encouraged in different ways by presenters the work they are producing would be more relevant. Some of the theatre artists you're talking about are being given space by specific curators to explore those things and it's helping the work to develop.

I think that part of what's changing is that people are actually starting to travel outside the city to see work again. I remember when I was in first year theatre school, we had a lecture about how all successful artists know the history of their artistic discipline inside and out. What I've started to believe in my current practice, is that it's actually more important to know what is going on in the world right now, rather than what happened forty years ago.

I'm pretty convinced that those things have to be in parallel. For me, understanding how contemporary work comes out of a tradition and what we are responding to as artists is so vital. I'm always very surprised by how little the people trying to create new dance know about post-modern dance creation.

I'm wondering how you see yourself in the history of dance creation. Is there a stream of work you see yourself being part of or a tradition you are carrying on?

For me it's more relevant, to think about the tools of choreography and how I can not abandon, but reimagine them. My thesis project at The School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam next year is about unison, something that has been a signature of traditional dance for centuries. I'm interested in looking at how that form can be reimagined, and how it addresses issues of power, autonomy, and authority. How can something that's been a signifier of traditional hierarchical structure for so long be turned on its head, without devaluing the tradition? I don't want to work in reaction to work that's come before me. I want my work to be an extension of it.

I see a lot of work and I want to ask the people making it if they've seen the work of the specific artists whose tradition they are carrying on. It's a bad question to have to ask--to see a new work, and think that the creator has no sense of what they are in relation to. It's the difference between understanding that something is in relation to something else, and thinking of it in its own bubble. When you understand the connections, it's really satisfying.

Do you think that part of that is the fixation we have in Canada on "New Work" and how everyone has to do something that no one has done before?

Yes, definitely. And in relation to this piece, that's one of the things I'm challenging. Can we do something old? What is it to translate something old and make it sing in this time? How can we get rid of this worry about newness and just focus on being here and doing something that engages with the world right now?

I think a big part of it has to do with our granting bodies because they'll only fund the first time you do a show, and after that you're on your own. Certainly with theatre, a lot of times the first run of a show fails miserably and you have to do it a few times before you get it right. For whatever reason, they've decided that we should just churn out as much new work as possible, and hopefully, sooner or later we'll have a hit.

It's the philosophy that lateral growth is more important than deepening the work and giving it enough time and resources to be developed in a substantial way. Thinking about the Netherlands for example; they fund work in this way that demands you show the piece multiple times in its development in a public context, in order to be able to get the funding to do it in the first place.

Which makes so much sense!

It seems to a lot of people that working on a show for three months is extravagant, but to me it feels like just scratching the surface of what I need for my work to be fully formed.

Coming back to the show itself; I was really impressed with how the dancers allowed themselves to be imprecise, for lack of a better word, in certain moments which is so counter to all of the training that dancers normally have. In my experience it can be a really difficult habit to break people from, since they've been getting taught since age five that you have to move your body in certain way and always be beautiful.

The two things that I said to them at the start of the process were that I wanted to create a machine that would not behave and that I also want the audience to know exactly what they are doing from the start of the performance. Part of making that machine that won't behave is that the task they are given is impossible in a certain way. They are trying their damnedest to recreate the movement in the film and the imperfections are actually genuine. For me as an artist, it's about trying to clearly define the task at hand, because the only way I know to get the state I'm interested in working with is to create a structure of systems that creates those moments. They don't create the imperfections, as much as the imperfections happen to them.

When I first heard about this project my initial response was "Oh, God, I hope they can do it!" because those dancers are trained is for a very different type of choreography. I'm wondering what the process of creating this show on them was like.

I found the dancers incredibly game to tackle this work and I think it really speaks to how Michael has envisioned the company and the group of dancers he's brought together. There's a certain physical virtuosity that's always demanded of dancers and my job was to help them translate that physical virtuosity to their minds. I could always reference their training because they have so much of it, so it wasn't about doing something you've never done before, as much as it was about using what they already knew to make this piece work.

It took a long time, but my work always takes a long time. It's about repetition and trying to get to that thing we want. And I never felt like they turned off. Now they're having a good time doing it, which was both my hope from the beginning and the thing I was most worried about being able to achieve. The only reason you can justify doing a piece like this is if the people doing it are enjoying performing it.
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I've Got Balls (Apparently)

I was chatting with my friend Adam last night. We haven't been in touch in a while, but he's had a chance to read some of my writings online and called to congratulate me on the venture. "I like what you're doing," he said. "It's really ballsy." "Really? How so?" I wondered. "Well, the fact that you're writing about artists who you one day may work with... I could be risky depending on what you have to say." Hmmm....When I decided to embark on this process, the thought that it might be detrimental to my career as an artist in the future hadn't occurred to me. Even though I've been having my work published in newspapers and magazines for the last yen years, I'm always just a little bit surprised when I hear someone has actually read it. Writing is indeed one of the most isolating creative practices and I think all writers at one point or another have the feeling of being a castaway, pitching message filled bottles into an ocean in the hopes that someone, somewhere will find their words and connect with them.

Certainly one of the most rewarding things about this whole exercise has been creating some kind of connection with the people who are reading my work, be they friends and collaborators I see all the time, or random strangers who stumble across it online. The format of blog writing, which allows readers to respond immediately, not only to what I've written but to each other, has shown me that, whether or not they agree with me, people are genuinely interested in what I have to say. The thought that putting my opinions about the work of my contemporaries into a public forum could possibly jeopardize my future working relationships hadn't crossed my mind until now, but since someone brought it up, I decided it was worth thinking about.

The artist-as-critic model is nothing new. For years, Toronto has been subject to the scribblings of Richard Ouzounian, the famed theatre director-cum-critic, whose writings (many people have suggested) are more about ingratiating himself to specific companies he hopes to work for than they are about giving an enlightened opinion to the public. When I first started writing for NOW Magazine in 2003, the thought that I might become another figure like that (a sort of Ouzounian for the indie performance scene) crossed my mind. It was something I wrestled with and eventually overcame. The big difference between someone like Richard Ouzounian and I is that I'm not interested in working with some of the artists I write about in this forum. I'm interested in working with all of them.

One of the challenges of writing for a publication is that you don't always have the choice of what you cover and what you don't. Essentially, your editor will send you a press release for something, with a word length and a deadline, and that's the end of the discussion. If you're a free lancer, you always have the option to say no to a specific story, but the simple fact is that writers will do just about anything for money and declining an assignment can mean you're without grocery money next month.

Fortunately for all of us, this blog is different. Because I'm not beholden to an editorial team, I can pick and choose exactly what artists and which pieces I want to talk about and I have no plans to write about anything or anyone I'm not completely interested in. I won't say that I absolutely love every thing about every piece of work that I see, however if I'm writing about something it's because I believe it's worth seeing and engaging in dialogue about and that the artist producing it is someone I think is interesting and would potentially want to collaborate with in the future.

When I was working with bluemouth inc. one of our common practices was to engage in discussion with the members of the audience in the space where we had performed after the show. Occasionally, this discussion would instead take place at a bar nearby, depending on the amount of rat shit and dead birds that happened to be in the particular space where we were working. The purpose of this discussion was not just to hear how great we were, but to get suggestions on things that could be done differently. Indeed, in most cases right up to the very last night of a run, we were adjusting and changing things, depending on feedback we got from our audiences and each other. Coming from a very traditional theatre program where the show is set as of opening night and nothing is changed, the notion of a piece of performance as a living breathing thing that evolves and changes over the course of a run was both refreshing and revolutionary for me, and is something I've maintained as part of my personal artistic mandate throughout my career.

I think we as artists have become terrified of hearing people's opinions of what we do, though I do believe this is in large part due to a review system that caters to bad reviews. Journalists love writing them as much the artistic community (though we loathe to admit it) love reading them. A few years back there was a blog called Review The Reviewer. Essentially the purpose of that site was to allow members of the artistic community to discuss and dissect things that journalists were saying about us. Topics of conversation consisted of how all the critics (except Jon Kaplan) were self-serving assholes, that no one in the public went to see shows that got less than four stars (or N's), and that the whole system was fucked up and needed to be changed. At one point, I posed the question to that community of how many of us will go and see a show that's gotten a less than stellar review. The response was sort of an online equivalent to everyone staring and the ground and shuffling their feet, though one respondent did mention that they were "too busy making One N shows" to have time to go and see other work that got less than excellent notices.

I suppose this long and tangential diatribe has been a way for me to say this; I want to change the way work is written about in Toronto. I want create writing about work, not to tell you whether or not to see it, but to engage in a discussion after you've already seen it. I will only cover artists whose work I'm interested in, not for selfish reasons, but because I believe that there's a lot of work out there that I'm simply not qualified to talk about. I have a specific aesthetic that I'm interested in and knowledgeable about and I'm going to reserve my opinions for that work, rather than blathering on about things that are outside my oeuvre.

As for whether or not the whole venture is "Ballsy", FreeDictionary.com defines "Ballsy" as:

"Very tough and courageous, often recklessly or presumptuously so."

In the case of what I'm doing here, I'm not sure that definition completely applies. I've decided to think of the whole venture as "Ovarian" as in:

"Very tough and courageous, but done rationally with much forethought."

I also like that definition because it implies the power to give birth to something new, which is what I'm trying to do here. I want to create a new way of thinking and talking about art. A new way for our community to engage. Maybe even a way for us to sidestep the hostile critical climate which which are unfortunately beholden to and allow artists to decide for ourselves what work we are interested in seeing and supporting. It's a big challenge, given where we're starting from, but I feel like I'm up for it. And if that takes balls, then I guess I have them.
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