Response to Paul Aguirre-Livingston's "Beyond Gay" in The Grid by Chris Dupuis

After much thought, I've finally written my response to Paul Aguirre-Livingston's article Beyond Gay from The Grid's June 9th issue. It's long, but there are so many important issues raised in the original piece and the subsequent dialogue in our community I felt it was necessary.

Will Munro, Photo by John Caffery

In 2000 when Will Munro started Vaseline, Toronto was given a different take on what queer could be. The event claimed queer space outside the Church and Wellesley Village (the Ghetto as it was often called) and made practical sense since most of us lived in the cheaper neighbourhoods west of Bathurst. It was a meeting place for gays who traced their lineage through Fifth Column and Leigh Bowery, rather than Madonna and Elton John. We were free to dance to The Scorpions in our Mötley Crüe t-shirts, show off the asymmetrical haircuts we got in a friends’ kitchens, and not feel the pressure to sport steroid-aided, over-developed gym bodies. Will always fought for inclusion, supported queers from all corners of the community, and argued through his life and work that each of us had the right to construct our own queer identity. He told us we shouldn’t feel the pressure to conform or assimilate and that each of us was entitled to be the loudest, proudest, most unconventional queer we wanted to be. 

But the move away from the Village meant more than having our own space to party with a shorter commute. It was also a rejection of a place we felt like we didn’t fit in. The Village was too white, too male, too conformist, too much about money, and too straight acting. We wanted an inclusive space where we could party with our dyke and trans friends. Truth be told, many of us berated The Village. We talked about how it was slowly dying, how we had no need for it, how we were “different” than “those gays” (ergo better). I’m not saying Will or the other great people that helped out with the early days of Vaseline were using that language, nor that everyone who attended those parties thought or felt that way. But nevertheless, that dialogue was very much present.

Fast forward twelve years and the Village is still very much alive, while the west end queer scene, less oriented to specific city blocks than a state of mind, is thriving. Barely a year after Will’s death, young writer Paul Aguirre-Livingston has announced to the world (in a cover story of newly re-christened magazine The Grid no less) that he and his generation are rejecting the values and ideals of those who came before and carving their own path. They had online boyfriends at thirteen, learned feminism from The Spice Girls and Buffy, and trace their queer history through Will and Grace. He and his friends are “Beyond Gay” in that they don’t define themselves by their sexuality exclusively or really at all. But they are also “Beyond Gay” as in “I’m so beyond that”. For those of us who are not “beyond” their sexual orientation, suggesting that “gay” is something we can or should get beyond is going to be upsetting.

I should out myself here and admit I’ve been attacked for things I’ve written. I’ve been called a racist and a misogynist, lost valued friendships and had drinks thrown at me (if not on me) because I’ve put things in print that people disagreed with. As a result, I may have a little more sympathy for Aguirre-Livingston than some. I’m not going to let him off the hook, but I have a sense of how he might be feeling right now, and I’m proceeding with that in mind.

The problems I had with this article had less to do with what Aguirre-Livingston had to say, than with the choices made by his editors. I don’t see him trying to speak for the entire queer community, nor do I think he was even intending to speak for his entire generation of gay men. Obviously his editors (since they’re editors, right?) should have seen the problems with his choice of language; that his “we-ing” of “I” would imply he was speaking for his entire demographic, rather than himself and his peers. But the fact his editors were sleeping on the job is no grounds for burning him at the stake.

I completely understand young gay men’s anger about this article; feeling like their struggle for safety and acceptance has been trivialized. But as for the rest of the queer community (women, older gays, trans people, people of colour, small town queers, and everyone who is not part of the narrow demographic the writer occupies), it’s quite clear that Aguirre-Livingston is not trying to speak for or about you.

Indeed, he is speaking exclusively about himself and his friends; a group of young, Toronto-raised, well-educated gay men from privileged families with well-paying jobs. He and his friends can pass for straight, are able-bodied, reasonably attractive, and (despite the suggestively tokenistic inclusion of a single person of colour in the group photo) white.

In understand where the queer community’s rage is coming from. But the fact his piece doesn’t represent the experiences of the entire queer community is no greater misstep than if he had attempted to speak about the entire queer community (which I’d be willing to bet my Buffy box set, he knows very little about). Since Aguirre-Livingston does know about being a young gay man who is privileged on numerous levels, I see nothing wrong with him choosing to write about that.

What bit him in the ass is the second editorial problem with this piece; when a non-queer magazine publishes a piece like this, it will invariably be read as a statement for and about the entire queer community, no matter how it’s contexualized. Given the number of queers the editorial team have within spitting distance, they might have run this by one or two of them, thereby realizing the problem fairly quickly.

But this points to a larger problem in the queer community. Why would we read a statement quite definitively about a small segment of us as purporting to be for or about all of us? Why does it matter that Aguirre-Livingston doesn’t recognize the experience of anyone outside his peer group? There are plenty of other queers writing and speaking about their experience. Why is Aguirre-Livingston not entitled to speak about his?

This is a good opportunity to reexamine what inclusiveness means to our community. While I’m obviously in favour of creating more inclusive spaces and events and being more thoughtful in our language and choices, the idea that every space or event should be for everyone, or that every piece of writing should speak for all of us is insulting to the diversity of queers. While I believe in queer solidarity, I don’t subscribe to the idea of a single “queer community”. Rather, I see a multiplicity of communities that occasionally overlap and intersect. We are not a monolithic group who all think and feel the same way. The only thing we all have in common is the fact that we are different.

On a personal level, I found some of the responses considerably more upsetting than the article. In the multitude of comments on the original piece, the follow-up statement, the responses from other media and writers, and postings on social media sites, people have taken rather personal stabs at the writer; insulting everything from his looks to his intellect, saying things like they wish he’d get gay-bashed so he knew what it felt like. They’ve called for a boycott of the magazine, a toilet papering of their offices, and organizers of Stonewall stated on Facebook they were going wheat-paste posters for their event over The Grid’s distribution boxes.

I don’t know if any of these things have actually happened, but the sentiment behind them is still troubling; that our version of queer is better and truer than Aguirre-Livingston’s. While my personal definition of queer is likely much closer to that of the good people proposing these actions, that doesn’t mean it’s the “right” definition. None of us has a unique ownership of the word queer. None of us has lived the one true queer experience. While I’m sure he would have been angered by the article just like the rest of us, one of the things I took away from Will’s life and work, it’s that each of us has the right to define queer for ourselves. If that version of queer is an apolitical, straight-acting, money-hungry type, who traces their history through Internet porn and a TV show with a straight actor playing a straight-acting gay man, that’s their choice. It’s not my choice, but that doesn’t make it invalid.

Many have been attacking not just what Aguirre-Livingston’s wrote, but the validity of his experience. Perhaps because of my status as a gay white man from an economically privileged family (albeit of a different generation) I can better identify with the things he is saying than others. I haven’t come to all the same conclusions he has, but I’ve certainly asked a lot of the same questions. As much as I embrace the ideals of individualism of my gay generation, I’ve still wondered at times about “the right way to be gay”. As much as my queer politic tells me I should be the proudest most effeminate gay man I want to be, in my loneliest moments a tiny voice inside me has wondered whether being more masculine would make it easier to find a boyfriend. While I don’t consider myself to be complacent about HIV, I meet young gay men who are all the time.

Over the weekend I was talking with a very intelligent friend whom I greatly respect (who also happens to be a gay white man), and one of the things that so angered him was Aguirre-Livingston’s unawareness of his privilege. I don’t want to make excuses for him, but one of the aspects of privilege is that it can be very difficult to realized you have it until it’s pointed out to you, largely I think because privilege is primarily made up of experiences that you don’t have to go through.

In my early thirties, I still feel like I am learning exactly what my privilege means. I always try to be thoughtful in my choices and language, but at the same time it’s constantly being revealed to me in new ways. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and with the way Aguirre-Livingston describes his community it makes total sense he would have very little awareness of his own privilege. If you’re a gay man who passes for straight, of course you don’t fear for your safety when you’re walking down the street. If you never hang out with women, trans people, people of colour, or effeminate gay men, how could you possibly know anything about their experiences? If you have no connection to the gays who came before you, why would you know anything about their struggle?

The one aspect of the article I haven’t heard much dialogue about is the one I personally found the most upsetting. In his final paragraph Aguirre-Livingston states: 

“I suffer from online dating fatigue already and haven’t held a guy’s hand in almost three years. I have all the sex I want, in my own apartment or his, but none of it means anything.”
If he’s a voice for even part of his generation, I find this truly sad. I was always a bit envious of the generation of gay men who came after me because they had access to queer community growing up through the Internet in a way I never did. But if the result has meant they have plenty of meaningless sex without any romance or true intimacy maybe they aren’t the lucky ones after all. No wonder Aguirre-Livingston is “beyond gay” when the very things that make us gay (sex and intimacy with other men) are completely missing from his life. Rather than berating him for his ignorance of his privilege and queer history, we should welcome him into our queer community. Maybe he’ll learn a few things about himself and the rest of us.  And maybe he’ll emerge at the end a very different kind of queer.
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Response to Sun News Interview with Margie Gillis by Chris Dupuis

On June 1, 2011 Sun New anchor Krista Erickson interviewed Canadian dance icon Margie Gillis, ostensibly as part of an “ongoing examination of funding to the arts”. What resulted was an unfortunately typical right-wing attack on the systems that fund arts and culture within our country. Much has already been written about the economic benefits of funding the arts, as well as the fact that it represents such a small part of our budgets that cutting it does not amount to any measurable savings in the greater scheme of things.

While many of the responses to this interview have deftly wielded statistics that decisively prove these things, I highly doubt Erickson is stupid or unprepared enough to have missed this information when conducting this interview. Her commentary here is not the result of ignorance or as Gillis says “a lack of compassion”. It stems from something much more sinister.

One of the things I found most surprising about this interview was the fact that Erickson so blatantly acknowledges her hatred of the arts. During the conversation she self-identifies as a “cultural philistine”, which says just as much about the organization she works for as it does about her. Would Sun News send someone who self-identifies as an anti-Semite to cover a story on the Jewish community? Would they send a White Nationalist to report on Caribana? We are living in an era where the notion of journalistic neutrality has all but disappeared and I understand that Erickson isn’t claiming to be unbiased. But for a reporter to so blatantly declare their prejudices on a particular subject during an interview reflects the unfortunate reality of how low journalistic standards are falling in this country.

Given her position, I don’t doubt that Erickson sees no value in funding the arts. And why should she? If you don’t make use of a particular service the government offers, you may very well think they shouldn’t offer it at all. If you believe women should be kept barefoot and pregnant, you probably won’t be supportive of funding for the Canadian Women’s Hockey team. If you are a life-long vegan, you are not going to see the value in government subsidies to the animal industry. If you were born and raised in an economically and socially privileged family in Canada, you might have a hard time understanding why the government provides funding for refugees who come from other countries and haven’t enjoyed all of the benefits you have.

What may have escaped Erickson in this interview is the fact that we live in a democracy and one of the principles of a democracy (particularly an extremely wealthy one like Canada) is that we commit to collectively pooling our financial resources through various forms of taxation and then rely on our elected officials and the agencies they oversee to use those funds for various programs and services. None of us are going to think everything our government spends money on is worthwhile.

But arts funding still amounts to such a small amount of money. So why do those on the right want so desperately to see it cut? After all, cultural funding is about patriotism and protecting our national identity. It is about telling our stories, remembering our histories, and presenting our culture to the rest of the world. Surely a proud Canadian like Erickson could see the value in those things, even if she dismisses the work of an artist like Gillis.

The real reason that the right-wing wants to see arts funding cut is not because of the minuscule amount of money it will save or even because they are unpatriotic. It’s because most art (and most artists) espouse left-wing values. Removing funding for arts and culture is about silencing the voices they most passionately disagree with. And you can hardly say you want to have a dialogue when you don’t want to hear what the other side has to say.

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The Monument: A Response by Peter Kingstone

World Stage Embassy members have been contributing writing to Time and Space about the programming in the 2010/2011 World Stage series at Harbourfront Centre. For the final show in the season, Embassy member Peter Kingstone made a video blog instead of a written post. Here's his response to Rwandan company Isoko Theatre's production of The Monument, written by Colleen Wagner and directed by Jen Capraru.

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Louise Lacavalier/Fou Glorieux: A Response by Krista Posyniak

As the house lights came up, I tried to turn and put my coat back on. Instead, I found myself slumped down in my seat with tears streaming down my face. I was sure I had just witnessed a miraculous event. This woman, and her partners, had just defied gravity. They created such energy and emotion without so much as a curl of their lips. These stories I experienced were told through the body; the extreme and exact movement Louise Lecavalier, her partners, and her collaborators create, to evoke curiosity without a verbal command or suggestive facial expression.

“At one point, I actually forced myself to stop watching her and watch her partner [Keir Knight]. He was working hard!” I overheard this comment from an audience member regarding the second piece in Louise Lacavalier/Fou Glorieux double bill Children &  A Few Minutes of Lock, presented by Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage.

Lecavalier is truly a mesmerizing performer, but not in the sense where your eyes glaze over and you just fall into a daze. You won’t; she doesn’t let you. Lacavalier dances with the recklessness of a French Canadian dancer and performs with the precision of a soldier. The moment she steps on stage, her energy blares like a fog horn; you can’t miss her. It is as though she sends out all of her energy into the audience, and then pulls it [her energy] back in, to spiral the audience into another captivating sequence of movement.

Known as the muse of Edouard Lock’s La La La Human Steps, Lecavalier is a Canadian contemporary dance icon. Spanning 19 years with Lock’s company, she defined the company’s dazzling physicality and technical precision, and performed in their every creation, including a tour and music video with David Bowie. Upon her departure from La La in 1999, Lacavalier began working as an independent artist, founding her company Fou Glorieux. Her recent collaborations and commissions include Canadian artists Benoît Lachambre, Crystal Pite, and Tedd Robinson.

The first piece Children, choreographed by Nigel Charnock, is an abstraction of two people “plunged into the agony and the ecstasy of trying to stay together for themselves and for their children”, as described by the choreographer. His ideas entertain between animal-like reactions and survival, to pillow talk, to exhaustion, to the feelings of loneliness, loss and holding on. This is all set to a soundtrack of popular songs, eerie operatic tones and a mish-mash of recordings evoking young children communicating. Charnock’s choreography is vibrant and animalistic at first, gestural and fun; it is also wandering, and occasionally, showy and presentational. 

I understand the significance of seeing two people struggle or enjoy their situation simultaneously; however, it doesn’t give much depth to the piece if they are looking out towards the audience at the same time. The use of props seems superficial and, while “entertaining” at times, I didn’t feel like the movement indicated enough support for their use, or at least how their uses were explored. 

The ending is a strikingly beautiful image, where physicality reigns over emotion. I watched as one dancer tried to hold onto, enliven and embrace the other only to be left with a lifeless, doll-like body in return. It wasn’t until the lights were fading and the couple was slow dancing that I realized what an effect the last physical relationship had on my emotional state. Both Lacavalier and her partner Patrick Lamothe embody such emotional depth, purely through their physicality, that I felt their struggle in that last moment twist up inside me like knots in my stomach.

Lacavalier dives and wrestles her way across the stage with such direction that I can only begin to imagine the map of choreography she had laid out in her head. And in that, her partners, both male, must also be commended, as they follow her and support her every move. This is particularly evident in A Few Minutes of Lock, where Lacavalier propels her body through space and her partner, Keir Knight, catches her... every time. The work is purely physical and absolutely exact. 

The lighting suggests that the audience is meant to see the body and dynamics of the limbs and torso, as opposed to the person inside of the dance, as the dancers’ are back lit for half of the piece. Even when the light shines onto their faces, their expressions are neutral, giving attention to the form, the technique and direction of bodies in space. Lacavalier is a master of these elements. Her decision to revisit these excerpts from Lock’s work is clearly defined in the program notes, as her “wish to discover what the body remembers or doesn’t remember, to know what memory has let go, flattened, or embellished”. 

Dance is a fleeting art, asking the body to experience a muscular movement in the exact same way each time, with the same emotional response. While a dancer trains to perform this way, the task is almost impossible. As the body ages, so does the method of the physicality in the work. Since the body is the tool, the work is ever-changing, even if the steps stay the same. This is what makes dance, and it’s performer, so precious and rare. In A Few Minutes of Lock Lacavalier is revisiting the work that ignited her career and defined her as a performer. Known for her quick, precise movement and flying-horizontal barrel rolls in Lock’s work, it is probably as satisfying to perform the work, again, as it is for her audience to watch Lacavalier in it.

Children & A Few Minutes of Lock runs April 13-16, 2011 at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage. Louise Lacavalier/Fou Glorieux will continue to tour across Canada and throughout Europe this year.

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The Complaints Choir: Response by Cole J. Alvis

On the day we all woke up to yet another beautiful but unwelcome blanket of snow Harbourfront Centre brought their Complaints Choir to the Art Gallery of Ontario. The weather was one of the many concerns in the list of complaints elicited from the Toronto community since last fall. Over 1000 were received and World Stage resident composer and lyricist, Bryce Kulak, whittled them down to 60-odd rhyming gripes set to a tune catchy enough for a novice singer to proclaim. While handing out the lyrics sheet to the patrons of the AGO, I overheard a parent predicting their child would be humming the song in the car the whole way home. And indeed, choir members confess to whistling the song at work leading up to tonight’s performance.

Originally conceived by Finnish artists Tallervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta- Kalleinen, this community art project has seen successful compositions in Birmingham, Chicagoland, Tokyo and Jerusalem.  Many of their performances have been documented and can be found online, as well as on the Harbourfront Centre website.

The pleasure of a good bellyache doesn’t discriminate as reflected by the diverse members of the Toronto Complaints Choir. Young and old, many communities were represented and while the group boasted more women then men, Bryce Kulak successfully maintains his duty as conductor while leading the vocal sections set aside for male voices.

Bringing the Complaints Choir into community spaces is at the heart of this project as it alters the way we encounter our city and the people in it. As the choir entered the Walker Court there was already an audience waiting but when they began singing people flooded the balconies to see what all the kvetching was about in the otherwise hushed gallery. The validation of hearing complaints experienced by many of the people in the audience set to a feel good tune is intoxicating and moved one excited listener to dance, clap and sing along. After it was all over, as I was waiting with the few crates needed to perform this show, an excited woman asked if I was involved with the choir. Thrilled this event was happening, she figured she had enough complaints she should run for Prime Minister. If the snow and the prospect of a spring election in Canada are getting you down there are two more chances to catch the Toronto Complaints Choir this week: Thursday from 6:30 – 8pm in the Distillery District and on Saturday from 3:15 - 3:45pm on the boardwalk just south of Harbourfront Centre. Read more!

La Voix Humaine: A Response by Hannah Cheesman

A Dutch company and performance, a French play, and English subtitles. This certainly is World Stage. And to fill in those blanks: Toneelgroep Amsterdam; under the direction of Ivo van Hove; performed by Halina Reijn; in the 1927 monologue La Voix Humaine written by Jean Cocteau.

Van Hove is a director of mostly classical texts. But he interprets them through the contemporary and thus, we are granted greater access to this still quite timeless piece. Timeless because that pain of being abandoned by a lover is decisively identifiable. It would appear that that ineffable despair marking the end of love does not actually lie in language, or Cocteau’s text necessarily, but rather in those moments where Reijn doubles over in pain, silently mouthing screams she won’t give voice to.

The immediate interest I took in this piece even prior to watching, was how close the 1920’s actually are. This is not an Ibsen or a Strindberg classic. We are much closer to the post-war, pre-depression, and pre-war 1920s than much of the high-brow theatre we deem as classics. But unlike watching a Brecht (as the closest comparison I might draw), the emotional access we are immediately given due to the nature of the subject matter makes this echo of the past that much closer. I felt like I was looking at a palimpsest, and that the beating heart of this early 20th century piece was still quite audible. If I may be so bold: one can easily hear the ‘voice’ of the writer, his time, and even the actress he initially wrote this for. Because the text is monologue, I was impressed by van Hove’s work in sculpting and shaping its body. The writing itself did have, of course, an arc, a plunging into deeper despair from her initial and self-named bravery. But van Hove expertly (and with a mostly light touch) utilized all theatrical elements to create what I think could easily be likened to a sculpture or dance piece. It felt organically realized, from the simplicity of prop choices (a sweater, a cigarette, a phone, a shoe, and of course, the beautiful dress Reijn ends up in), to the changing light that gave dynamism to an otherwise still piece, and the music that acted to carve out scenes or ‘movements’. This spareness allowed the room necessary for this actress to feel, experience, and thus permit us to witness.

It’s my opinion, however, that the music was heavy-handed. The piece did not require it to indicate what the audience should feel where, nor did we necessarily require such a pointed nod to the present as “Single Ladies” by Beyonce. The (literal) window into someone’s life was entirely effective with only Reijn flitting across, around, and ultimately outside of her space. No manipulation of this kind was necessary.

Yet one cannot speak of a one-woman show without speaking of the one woman. Halina Reijn was committed, amazingly natural, engaging, and like van Hove, performed with a light touch. Both van Hove and Reijn worked in counter to the piece at times, putting laughter and levity to the heavy words she spoke. Again, I can’t help but draw comparisons to say a piece of music: deep bass, but shrill trumpet. Well thought-out, exacted, and inspired. Truly worth the price of admission. The only incongruity within her performance, I felt, was how ‘in her body’ she was. For a piece that for me was like sculpture, dance, or music, Reijn felt at times unusually disembodied. As much as her keening and writhing should speak volumes, there were flashes of something ungrounded, unmotivated. I wonder whether this was first-night-in-Canada jitters, or my expectation of dancer-like agility, given my likening this piece to other art forms. Still, I must emphasize how very minor this is, how very much one must search for criticism here.

I had a strange experience though, of floating in and out of the piece. Granted, the immediacy of her words were lost in the reading of subtitles, so this could very well have been reason enough for that. But disengaging was rather easy to do. I’ll return to the timelessness of the end of a relationship here: the same feelings, clothed in different words, make their appearance as always. And so, watching Reijn and hearing the cadence of her voice felt more revealing than the text itself. It makes sense, then, that one can step away and then return, without missing much content. In many ways this was a welcome relief, given how demanding one-person shows can be on an audience.

My only major criticism other than the musical choices was a somewhat pushed comedic sense. The Beyonce, the dog-miming, these moments felt like a laugh was anticipated, hoped-for, but chosen in a way that was strangely out of context or at least outside of the piece’s otherwise airtight realization. With such a delicate piece it is no wonder that I was so sensitive to minor gestures, which become so grand against the lean palette upon which this plays.

All this said, I do wonder about the play’s ultimate message. A woman is generous to the very end, giving of herself and her life entirely. The conclusion seems a kind of antiquated moment of French melodrama or romanticism, and here I smell a sort of outdated sketch of the female. I wonder whether this would have been written differently by Cocteau had he been alive today, or if perhaps this was the most active ending he could find. In any case, it left us with a beautiful image: Reijn in her indigo dress and heels, arms raised, the final sound she utters a sharp intake of breath.
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Floating Critical Response by Alistair Newton

In his review of Peter Brook’s landmark multi-hour adaptation of The Mahabharata, American director/critic Charles Marowitz posited that if you want to avoid being criticized, create a work that exists beyond the rubric of criticism. This is the potential issue raised when one approaches the work of artists whose aesthetic challenges all of our preconceived notions about the theatrical experience. Welsh theatre maker Shon Dale-Jones‘ Floating presents such a case.

Currently making its third Canadian stop after being hosted by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre during the PuSh Festival and Intrepid Theatre in Victoria, Floating is performed by Dale-Jones and his co-creator Sioned Rowlands and has been, as we are told, years in the making. Prompted by the death of his beloved grandmother — portrayed in one of three charming performances by the admittedly untrained Rowlands — Dale-Jones’ theatrical alter-ego Hugh Hughes uses a tall tale about a Welsh island which separates from the mainland as a means to muse on community, family, and socio-cultural displacement. As the audience enters, Rowlands is seated onstage, quietly knitting, amidst a random assortment of projectors, miss-matched furniture and hand made charts and graphs. This folk-art aesthetic could be called ‘anti-theatre’ and it might be familiar to Toronto audiences from some of the work of companies Small Wooden Shoe and One Reed Theatre.

In this world, all of the pretenses of theatre are stripped away, the means of production are on display, and epic images are built from humble objects. Dale-Jones and Rowlands couldn’t be a more lovely pair and they wring a combination of pathos and bathos from Floating’s thin narrative frame which includes a crotchety school master’s scheme to sail an island, and a game of chicken with the Isle of White. The chatty nature of the performance and the childlike simplicity of the imagery conspires to breakdown the typical disconnect between performer and spectator; a sense of community or, as Hughes constantly reminds the us, ‘connection’ is the goal. The open heartedness of the performance is made even more impressive by the ease with which charming can mutate into smarmy when forced; there is none of that here.

For all of the high points of Floating’s breezy self-effacing charm, the problem of how to judge the images/choices/themes that don’t pay off remains. Kenneth Tynan, perhaps the twentieth century’s most astute theatre critic, turned to Schiller’s three point model for theatrical evaluation: what is the play trying to do, does it do it, and is it worth doing. If the goal is to create a sense of community by knocking down the fourth wall and breaking through audience expectations with tactics like passing props around the house as in an elementary school show-and-tell, appointing a front row patron as a kind of navigator, or encouraging patrons in the balcony to relocate to the main floor — leading to a hilarious interaction between the performers and three local indie theatre creators in attendance on opening night — then what is the value of picking apart the specific directorial choices? The third of Schiller’s three questions is easily answered in the affirmative but the second question, the question as to whether or not Floating fully satisfy its dramaturgical goals, is the more problematic of the triad.

In the slightly longwinded though often hysterical introduction, Dale-Jones outlines the themes he will explore in the piece. While Floating does contain some insights into the psychology of the Thatcher-era, the alienation from ideas of home and nationhood and the importance of the family, and in spite of the fact that the staged-lecture format allows for some interesting facts, ultimately I feel the piece lacks a fully satisfying emotional, political, or intellectual payoff. In spite of this fairly major quibble, in a cynical cultural moment ruled by banal hipster ‘authenticity’ by way of the warped equation of irony with nihilism, Floating’s earnestness and winsome passion are a welcomed antidote. As Ovid says in The Ars amatoria: ‘If you want to be loved, be lovable’.

Floating runs February 15-19, 2011 at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage.

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Tender is the Show: Un peu de tendresse, bordel de merde! (A Little Tenderness, For Crying Out Loud!) at World Stage. Response by Vikki Anderson

In a theatre season that has seen a lot of style over substance it was refreshing to attend last night’s opening of Dave St-Pierre’s Un peu de tendresse, bordel de merde! (A Little Tenderness, For Crying Out Loud!) and experience both; the emperor really is wearing new clothes, even if he’s still naked. 

Tendresse is part two of St-Pierre's Sociology trilogy – part one being La pornographie des âmes (Bare naked souls) seen here in 2008 at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage. His latest work, Over My Dead Body, which premiered in Montreal in 2009, he examines mortality, primarily his own. St-Pierre was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at seventeen, a multi-organ disease primarily affecting the lungs, which can cut life expectancy in half.

Often cited as the enfant terrible of contemporary dance, St-Pierre has enjoyed a somewhat meteoric rise to fame in the past decade with this triptych that examines contemporary utopias – self-worth, love and death – using transgressive imagery Part dance, part theatre, part happening, Tendresse unfolds from the minute you take your seat. Emerging from the crowd to take the stage, the dancers identify themselves then cause a humorous ruckus in the house. The onstage host, Sabrina, welcomes the audience and advises that there will be no fourth wall. When she asks, “Do you really want to see a show about tenderness?” the audience dutifully replies in the affirmative and she yells back at us, “Losers!” and follows up later with, “You would be so naïve to think you’re safe tonight”. 

What evolves is a montage of vignettes and tableaux questioning, rather fearlessly, our suppositions about love and the human form. Deploying highly entertaining and humorous techniques (you might be lucky enough to have a naked man in your lap) contrasted with moments of great pain (watching dancers slap themselves until you want to go up and stop them) St-Pierre takes hold of your emotional centre and doesn’t let you go for 100 minutes.  

The work is demanding of both the performers and the audience. It forces us to examine our innermost demons: lust, shame, weakness, regret and the gut-wrenching desire to be loved. It’s the kind of communal experience you can only have in the theatre. To be a part of it, to watch souls and bodies laid bare, to watch indignity and dignity run at each other, to bring your own catalogue of desires, base human needs and culpability along for the ride, is as exhilarating as it is life affirming. St-Pierre gives us hubris in it’s highest form; the gain without the pain. 

In the final, breathtaking moments, our host admonishes us: “You’ve all been sitting there doing nothing for the last two hours and we’ve been doing everything. Do something for us now.” She instructs the audience to perform a sports arena-like wave that sets off a tsunami onstage where the literal and figurative cost of drowning becomes beautiful, savage, joyous and tender

I can’t think of a more appropriate title for the work; tenderness is such a full word. It brings to mind everything from Otis Redding and General Public to the small, vulnerable moments of affection and devotion that fill our memories and consciousness. It evokes benevolence, kindness and generosity while also reminding us that once something becomes tender, it has the ability to torment and ache. St-Pierre’s affirmations are what we strive to find, in small measure, every day. To be offered a safe space, a temple of sorts, where we can observe, participate and above all, feel, is a genuine gift. 

Vikki Anderson, a Toronto-based director, designer and producer, is the founder of DVxT Theatre Company. DVxT brings artists together to work on demanding texts with a focus on longer rehearsal time and an organic design process.
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Questo Buio Feroce: A Response by Salvatore Antonio

When American writer Harold Brodkey was first diagnosed with AIDS he began to chronicle his journey with a series of essays. His first essay was printed in the New Yorker in Spring 1993, and he continued until his illness left him too feeble to write, as he detailed in his last entries in the late fall of 1995. A compilation of the essays entitled This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death was first published in 1996. The book made it’s way into the hands of Pippo Delbono, one of Italy’s most controversial theatre creators. Inspired by the book, Delbono went about staging his own confrontation/ conversation with his own mortality, resulting in a piece named after the book’s title translated into Italian; Questo Buio Feroce.

Compagnia Pippo Delbono, is by virtue of its company members unforgettable to behold. In addition to professional performers, the troupe includes individuals from the fringes of society; there is the deaf-mute Bobò (institutionalized in a Naples psychiatric hospital for over forty years before being made a central component of Delbono’s work), Gianluca (a former elementary-school student of Delbono’s mother, who has Down’s Syndrome), former homeless people (including a schizophrenic discovered begging), street performers and musicians. (Bobò and Gianluca play two Harlequins in a stilted game of hide-and-seek that both filled and broke my heart simultaneously). Delbono himself performs with his motley crew of pros, amateurs, denizens, and the compromised. Together they have developed a physical and emotional vocabulary that is refreshing, if not jarring in it’s magical reality; the feelings emoted are raw, the movement and gesture–– sincere and unrefined. The mere presence of this collection of bodies in space, on a stage, reflects the lives they have lived before the Theatre. With this company, the storytellers are those we might usually step over on our way to the theatre. Those on the expertly-lit stage are the battle-blind, scarred, the pathetic–– and beautiful in their bare humanity.

Pippo Delbono, the frontman for this outfit, is most definitely a man of the theatre having earned his creative stripes through an inspiring life of study and performance. He trained with the Odin Theatre, worked with the late choreographic genius Pina Bausch in the Wuppentaler Tanztheatre, also with Iben Nagel Rasmussen’s Farfa Group in Denmark, and continues working along-side Argentina’s famed actor Pepe Robledo. He also spent time in India, China, and Bali studying cultural movement and dance-theatre. His physical presence on stage is that of a bear (with his paunch and scruffy beard), but his movement is full of the gentle grace and precision of a dove.

Questo Buio Feroce is a fierce dance of life, swirling around the open grave of the inevitable end... or is it the beginning? I got the sense this is what Delbono is exploring; his own relationship to his own mortality. To attempt to see death as a part of life, rather than a circling wolf. He vacillates on the subject; fearing, challenging, hiding, protesting, embracing, defying, enjoying... he never presents a clear blueprint for dying, but rather presents an honest and personal exploration–– with all its winding alleys, and grand vistas. The piece plays out on a stark white set, and begins with an unclothed figure lying in a fetal position wearing a white tribal mask that is primitive and naive in nature; he moves about the space with unaffected child-like articulation. Just as soon as I became accustomed to the innocence and simplicity, the voyage took its first sharp turn with the entrance of a nurse, and two orderlies in white Hazmat suits whose presence instantly transformed the space into something clinical and sterile, and our original masked character into something diseased, or detained. 

Those in the audience looking for clear or congruent storytelling might find it easier to watch through squinting eyes, because this piece unfolds like a dream; images and sound only anchor the viewer in a ‘story’ for brief moments before any defined edges quickly disintegrate and morph. At certain points, a static figure on stage accompanied by a voiceover, conveys parts of a story. Other times several characters on stage moving in slow, deliberate choreography against a musical score reveals other parts, but even a character monologuing into a hand-held microphone, doesn’t necessarily point in any one direction. Over all I felt like I was witnessing a disjointed human experience suspended (sometimes literally) in an undefined reality. The one form of communication missing from the piece is dialogue between any characters on stage. 

But as soon as Pippo Delbono himself, appears on stage, I got the feeling he was already mid-conversation with us: the audience. Even though he doesn’t utter a live (non-recorded) word until the end of the piece, surtitles spell out the narrative of his thoughts, as he breathes in concert with what we’re reading. What he’s visibly experiencing in front of us is deeply personal and unsparing, and in his face you can see unlabeled raw emotion and undeniable need, pass like dark clouds through him. We are his witness; we can confirm, we can judge, or we can join him in his quest. What is clear is that he is seeking clarification. And I realized as in life, sometimes all you can do as the witness, is stay present through the seeker’s ramblings. Rambling might be too dismissive a word in this case, because the offerings on stage are steeped in symbolism and distilled through traditions as ancient and far-flung as Japanese theatre, Greek drama and Christian miracle plays. The construct and execution of the performance seems heavily inspired by a fresh mix of Bausch, Pasolini and Fellini; part confessional, funeral and parade. Images of simple beauty and the grotesque intermingle as if fraternal twins. 

Delbono’s exploration, although exhaustive, seems bridled–– there is no yelling, screaming, keening, no violence, or explosions in the piece. He has directed the piece in a manner that is quiet, suspended and sustained: lending a deliberately portentous, ceremonial tone to both the banal and the momentous vignettes that make up Questo Buio Feroce. I must be honest in saying that the spectacle tested my patience at certain junctures, as I struggled to find meaning in what I was watching, or searching for clear plot-points, or conversely, whenever I quickly figured out what the point of a scene was and wished for it the piece to move on. I recognize this battle between logic and surrender, was my own to wage as part of my experience. I then realized the piece was asking nothing of me, but only suggesting options and possibilities. Perhaps the battle between logic and surrender wasn’t too far from what I was witnessing on the stage? 

In the end the show won me, as the funereal carnival (bookended by both ancient and innocent Harlequins) made it’s way back on stage, circling a stripped Delbono, who in his repetitive physical incantation, smiles a smile so real and warm for the first time in the piece, that we see an ecstatic peace we can only hope for. The whole experience ended up feeling like an invitation to face my own death, and find my own peace perhaps. I left the theatre feeling like I was slowly stepping out from a hallucination, not quite sure whether it was a dream or a nightmare. And more importantly, I wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to shake it off... completely.

Questo Buio Feroce is a bold and brave piece executed with an unapologetic voice. The company succeeds in effectively blurring the line between dance and theatre; the pedestrian bodies of these performers can sometimes communicate emotion and evoke real response, in a way that beautiful, chiseled dancer-physiques can sometimes obscure, or distract the viewer from.

There were moments and images that were captivating and haunting and exhilarating, but as I left the theatre, I wasn’t entirely sure the piece worked as a whole; maybe that’s because I felt stranded in someone else’s internal dreamscape of monsters-- both mythical and real. The piece itself offers this final bit of comfort and warning, “Parting, is all we can know of Heaven. Parting, is all we need to know of Hell.” If asked what the piece is ‘about’, my answer would be the same as if I were asked what death ‘is’; I’m not sure. In both cases however, the experience of questing for an answer can be rewarding in and of itself.

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