“I learned about climate marches and I learned about dancing bubbies,” said my niece Fae, 9, when we were discussing Bonnie Sherr Klein’s new children’s book, Beep Beep Bubbie, over FaceTime. Among other things, my niece Charlotte, 7, learned “you can learn to ride a bike at 53 and anything is possible.… And I learned about grandmothers who can shush a crying boy.”
Amid much laughter, including talk about dogs pooping – Bubbie has a dog – and what my nieces recalled of Vancouver from their visit here last year, Beep Beep Bubbie offered more discussion than I had anticipated. But, before I get to that, I have to say, for the record, that my nieces have dancing bubbies in their lives, and bubbies who can shush crying children, so they more related to these aspects of Bubbie’s character than learned from them. With that qualification and butt covering, I continue with the review, starting with the basic story of the book.
It is Shabbat and Kate and her little brother Nate are going to visit their grandmother, who is going to take them to Granville Island to buy apples for Rosh Hashanah. The kids have been told there’ll be a surprise waiting for them at Bubbie’s. That surprise, though – Bubbie’s new scooter – isn’t a happy one initially for Kate, who “already missed the Bubbie she used to have. That Bubbie danced and took them to climate marches.” However, during the afternoon’s adventures, Bubbie’s scooter not only allows her to venture farther from home than she otherwise would have been able to manage, but has other advantages, as well.
After their trip to Granville Island, Kate shares a library book that she’s brought along for the visit. About American educator, activist and suffragist Frances Willard, Kate and Nate find out that Willard “fought for women to have the right to vote. When Frances was 53 years old, she learned to ride a bicycle to show that women could do anything.” A conversation ensues about why Willard wouldn’t have known how to ride a bike. “People were afraid women’s ankles would show under their petticoats,” explains Bubbie. “Can you believe it?”
Well, at my nieces’ house, this part of the book was met with disbelief and more laughter, as Charlotte was keen to show off her ankles, which were hard to see, given the placement of their computer and her being the height of a 7-year-old. But, before things deteriorated into mayhem, Fae said, “I also learned that girls are tough.” And, she “learned another reason why women weren’t treated fairly in the past.”
“And what was that reason?” I asked.
“Because women didn’t ride bikes because their ankles were going to show. And they couldn’t vote, [it was] like they didn’t have an opinion.”
“It’s definitely not fair,” said Charlotte about people thinking that girls showing their ankles was wrong.
All in all, Beep Beep Bubbie elicited much talk and not an insignificant amount of gymnastics. The illustrations by Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal are wonderfully colourful and fun; full of energy and movement. Both Fae and Charlotte gave a resounding “yes” when asked if they liked the pictures.
One the drawings is a two-page spread of Bubbie, Kate and Nate and the park, where they join in the fun of flying kites. One young person is in a wheelchair, and Charlotte asked why Bubbie had chosen a scooter instead. Not knowing the answer, I asked the author. Here is her response: “I chose a motorized scooter over a wheelchair, btw, because it felt more sportif,” wrote Klein in an email, “and I am lucky enough to be able to transfer, which keeps me a bit more mobile.”
I like knowing, but the reasons aren’t important, as far as the story goes. Art is to be interpreted and my nieces and I talked about a lot of ideas, from serious to silly, during our FaceTime book review session.
Published by Tradewind Books, Beep Beep Bubbie can be purchased from pretty much any online bookseller. Enjoy!
So much of what we do in life we do almost automatically. For better or worse, we anticipate what’s coming next and, often, we’re right. But a trio of children’s books just published by Tradewind Books will amuse young readers and refresh the perspectives of their adults. Crocs in a Box, written by Robert Heidbreder and illustrated by Jewish community member Rae Maté, contains three expectation-smashing little hardcovers: Crocodiles Say …, Crocodiles Play! and Crocs at Work!
In Crocodiles Say …, it’s the bright, cheerful and iconic crocodiles of Maté that are at odds with Heidbreder’s words. In one scene, for example, we see three restrained crocs, the epitome of manners, “never rude.” The crocs “chew and swallow, their mouths closed tight. Crocodiles say … [page turn] Always be polite!” Well, it has to be said that the crocs are doing anything but eating politely.
In Crocodiles Play!, the crocs get all dressed up for one type of sport, such as baseball, but then play … basketball?! And, in Crocs at Work!, we are treated to a healthy dose of silliness, as the crocs engage in doctoring, cooking, painting and other work, all with a small twist, lots of joy and no little mess.
This collection would make a great Chanukah gift, expected or not!
Ben Caplan opens this year’s Chutzpah! Festival Nov. 21. (photo from Chutzpah!)
In the last issue of the Jewish Independent, Chutzpah! Festival artistic managing director Jessica Mann Gutteridge, festival host and stand-up performer Iris Bahr and event comedy closers Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini, aka the El-Salomons, were featured. This week, the JI offers a glimpse into the rest of the lineup, by order of appearance.
Musician Ben Caplan opens the festival on Nov. 21 with a recorded performance. Before the recent COVID restrictions, the show was to be presented live from the Rothstein Theatre.
Caplan was on stage here back in January, bringing Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story – which is based on the true story of two Jewish Romanian refugees coming to Canada in 1908 – to the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival (jewishindependent.ca/searching-for-a-safe-harbour). This show, Caplan will be performing songs from his album Old Stock, which is adapted from this music-theatre work.
“The story of Chaim and Chaya, and, by extension, that of a great number of immigrants and refugees who have come to Canada, is full of a great many hardships and tribulations,” said Caplan when asked what lessons from their experience might be relevant in COVID times. “Their story is not free from conflict, both with the outer world, with each other and with themselves. What we see in their story is that, through perseverance, they are able to cross the narrow bridge of their precarity into a sweeter time. It is a nice reminder that no matter how dark things get, there are always brighter moments ahead.”
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Last Chutzpah! Festival, former Vancouverite Tamara Micner performed her one-woman show Holocaust Brunch here. On Nov. 22, she’s offering a first peek at a new work-in-progress from her current hometown, London, England.
“Old Friends is very much in the early days – I would say it’s in kindergarten,” admitted Micner. “I’ve been working on it this year and the Chutzpah! Festival streaming will be the first time I perform some of the piece with a public audience. I don’t know exactly what the performance will look like or exactly what will be in it. It’s ‘nervciting’! I look forward to sharing some of the work with Chutzpah! audiences and doing a Q&A afterwards to speak more about the show. I’m hoping and aiming to present the full show in 2021.”
A key inspiration for Old Friends is the music of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and their relationship.
“I find Simon and Garfunkel’s music comforting and uplifting…. The combination of Paul’s songwriting, Art’s voice and their harmonies are beautiful,” said Micner. “I also find the themes in their music resonant at this time – including loneliness, isolation, hope and a yearning for connection…. I’m also intrigued by the on-again, off-again nature of their relationship and the Jewishness in that – how we have a tendency to cling to each other, leave each other, not talk for years, but not be able to fully stay apart or let go. There’s a lot to mine in that, I think – where that comes from, what it’s about and how we can free ourselves from that cycle.”
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Also on Nov. 22, New York-based playwright Rokhl Kafrissen shares her new work-in-progress.
“Shtumer Shabes [Silent Shabbat] opens in the year 2000,” said Kafrissen. “A performance studies grad student named Jess is writing about the heyday of Yiddish theatre in Poland in the 1930s. Jess is studying what she calls the ‘hybrid potentialities of interwar Yiddish performance practices.’ How did Jews use their art to embody binaries like Yiddish and Polish, Jew and Catholic, urban and rural, capitalist and socialist? She argues that The Dybbuk is the ultimate expression of that hybridity.
“As the play opens, Jess stumbles into the chance to interview an honest-to-goodness Warsaw Yiddish diva. It turns out that Sonja, a 90-something veteran of the Polish-Yiddish stage, is living in her neighbourhood. Jess comes to believe that Sonja possesses a ‘lost’ play script: Shtumer Shabes. Her encounter with Sonja is also her opportunity to write history. But Jess is confronted by the elusiveness of ‘plain facts’ and the cost of writing history. For me, the encounter between Jess and Sonja represents two competing ways of understanding the past, through scholarship and through art.”
Imagining Sonja’s world wasn’t hard for Kafrissen, as she knows well Yiddish theatre, past and present, and the standard Yiddish reference sources. However, she did struggle with her protectiveness of the Yiddish past and her obligation as a journalist “to the people and productions I’ve been reading about, an obligation to tell their stories accurately and respectfully.”
“But, at some point, my inner journalist has to be thanked politely and shown the door,” she said. “If you’re going to write historically informed fiction (which is what I consider this piece), you have to be comfortable going beyond the facts. It gets even trickier because part of Sonja’s backstory … is flashback to the war, when she was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. I know enough about the Warsaw Ghetto to invent a plausible scenario. But depicting it feels daunting. The potential for kitsch or melodrama is high. My characters grapple with extremely sensitive issues, including allegations of collaboration with the Germans. It was important to me that if I was going to include such provocative topics, I had to stick closely to historical fact and stay within the realm of the possible. My characters would not be saints or holy martyrs, but real people, caught in the worst possible circumstances.”
Cast as Sonja is Shane Baker, who Kafrissen has known since she worked with him in 2009 on his one-man show The Big Bupkis: A Complete Gentile’s Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville.
“I quickly became a big admirer of Shane’s work,” she said. “He can go from the highest brow, as with his translation of Waiting for Godot into Yiddish, all the way to the lowest brow, as with his vaudeville show…. In the last few years, Shane had been working on a drag character called Miss Mitzi Manna. She was inspired in part by his close friendships with the last generation of Yiddish theatre grandes dames. So, when I got a 14th Street Y LABA Fellowship in 2019, I decided to write a play with a role for Shane in drag as my yearlong fellowship project. I knew from the beginning that the role wasn’t written for Mitzi Manna per se, but Shane’s development of the character was a huge inspiration. Writing the role of Sonja with a drag character in mind opened up a kind of playfulness and experimentation for me. Drag is such a dramatically rich device. It heightens our awareness of the artifice of theatre and interrogates the mimetic nature of theatre itself.”
A staged reading of Shtumer Shabes was supposed to have taken place last in April. “Unfortunately,” said Kafrissen, “that coincided with the world as we knew it collapsing. As I get ready to present excerpts from the play for the Chutzpah! Festival, I can see a tiny sliver of silver lining. Even with the pandemic, I’ve managed to sneak in some actor time in the last couple months, as well as getting thoughtful feedback on the script from folks both within my artistic circle and outside. The script is now so much better than the version I had in the spring, so I tell myself maybe it’s better that I didn’t present that earlier draft to the world.”
The Dybbuk by S. Ansky infuses Shtumer Shabes: Jess is obsessed with The Dybbuk and it’s why she went to grad school; and “Sonja’s career on the Warsaw Yiddish stage was tied up with the phenomenal, real world success of The Dybbuk,” said Kafrissen. “It was with a Dybbuk monologue that she auditioned for Yiddish drama school and the role of Leah (the young woman possessed by the dybbuk) was always her dream.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary both of Ansky’s death in November 1920 and the première of the Yiddish version of the play a month later. “I love the idea of having our Chutzpah! program serve as Sonja’s final tribute to Ansky and his creation,” said Kafrissen.
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Death … and life are at the centre of Israeli choreographer Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim, which is described as “a cultural narrative [that] unfolds against the backdrop of a meal at a long dining table where three characters suffer from unbearable loneliness and battle their way between life and death. Each character travels between their individual materialistic being and their consciousness, revealing their essential humanity in relation to existence and the quest for happiness.” A pre-recorded performance of the work will be shown at the Chutzpah! Festival on Nov. 23.
In the summer of 2019, Rothschild was selected as one of the first artists-in-residence at Suzanne Dellal Centre. She started Pigulim there and continued researching it in “other places in the world with different scenarios and different cast members.” This year, back at the centre, the piece premièred in its video version.
Pigul (pigulim, pl.) “describes a law from the Jewish tradition,” explained Rothschild. “It refers to a sacrifice that was prohibited to be eaten because of a forbidden thought that the priest (kohain) had in the moment he was making the sacrifice. It can mean abomination or loathsome, and it’s not a word used in everyday Hebrew. The idea that a thought can change reality has a direct connection to what I tried to present in Pigulim. If the thought one can have determines the reality of another entity, how much from our consciousness is being present in our reality and our society?
“Another aspect of choosing this particular name is another gap that unravels between the sound of the word and its meaning. Pigulim has a nice way of rolling in the mouth. The letters are round and when you pronounce it, it almost sounds like a name of a rare flower – but the meaning of it is the opposite. It contains strong emotions and gravity. Once more, it holds this gap between what we experience and the reality.”
This gap – “a certain detachment between our body and mind” – is something with which we must live, said Rothschild, and its loneliness is not changed by “how many people are surrounding you in the space.”
“As I see it and experience it, it is a state of being, not only of certain individuals but as a mass society,” she said. “I have learnt, through working with others, more about how this gap appears and how we perceive it. We behave inside these structures that are determined for us and, yes, it leaves a gap or an absence that we don’t really understand, or we will forever try to make sense of.”
However, there is more than just absence. “I did find out that we share more than we think,” she said. “We share beauty, laughter, sadness and grief. We cry from the same things and we worry and we fear. But we also love. And that is an overwhelming thing to share.”
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Israeli pianist and composer Guy Mintus – whose solo concert will be live-streamed on Nov. 24 – is about to release his third album with the Guy Mintus Trio: A Gershwin Playground.
Mintus’s study of piano didn’t follow a traditional path. “I didn’t start with classical piano,” he said. “I started on a little keyboard my parents got me, not an acoustic piano even, and I was studying a very mixed repertoire of adapted arrangements for beginning keyboard players. Among that repertoire were the Beatles, Israeli pop songs, Fiddler on the Roof and … two [George] Gershwin tunes: ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’ and ‘Summertime.’ When I started playing those, my father handed me the Porgy and Bess album of Ella [Fitzgerald] and Louis [Armstrong]. That totally blew my mind and I started trying to emulate the arrangements on my keyboard (which had the ability to switch between different sound samples).
“To me, these songs are timeless – musically and lyrically. They’re very rich and have a strong musical character but yet they remain very open and flexible to let you in and bring yourself into them. The lyrics also mostly speak of things that will always be relevant. It’s not by accident that generations and generations of jazz musicians have been interpreting Gershwin.”
One aspect of the music’s continued importance is that, “unfortunately, we’re constantly reminded by these horrific events that keep happening that racism is still very much around; that the colour of your skin can easily become a disadvantage right off the bat,” said Mintus. “When I’m thinking of Gershwin, I’m also considering his background as a Jewish-American composer coming from a family of immigrants. Of all things he could be fascinated by, he was fascinated by Black American music and ended up writing the first jazz opera bringing this marginalized music to the heart of the consensus. More than that, he wouldn’t allow Porgy and Bess to be premièred at the Met Opera because, at the time, they wouldn’t allow Black performers. He made it mandatory that, if Porgy and Bess is ever performed, main roles have to be performed by Black people. Now, Porgy and Bess has its controversies in regards to race and representation but I believe in the essence of its coming from a place of great respect to the incredible culture its getting inspiration from.
“I think that the Jewish and African-American communities actually share quite a lot in common,” he continued. “There’s certainly a collective trauma we’re each dealing with. To me, Gershwin was standing right in the middle of that – in ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ (which is on the album, as well, in a solo version) you literally have a meeting point between klezmer and the blues. I want to echo that connection, which is still very relevant to me, through my own lens as an Israeli who lived, studied and worked in New York. It’s important to give back, acknowledge and show respect where it’s due. Last July, the trio and I did an online fundraiser concert called Gershwin Global. It was in order to raise funds for the Jazz Foundation, who takes care of elderly musicians and emergency cases. This music comes from people who gave their lives to it – if we benefit from it, we’ve got to find a way to also give back to its source.”
The new album will be launched on Nov. 27 and, given COVID, touring it is not an option. Nonetheless, Mintus said it is worthwhile to put it out anyway. “Life goes on, music goes on and, in my opinion, it’s as relevant, if not more, to release new music in this period,” he said.
With the internet, there are many ways to connect with people all over the world, he added. “This poses a creative challenge how to find interesting, experiential ways to share this music with the world; how to share the story behind the album. Each single has a unique artwork, there are videos, a bunch of online live events that are planned – all of this is going to be available through my Facebook page (facebook.com/guymintusmusic). The fact that I’m not switching countries so often as normal allows me a different kind of focus and attention on how to turn this release process into the most fun, meaningful and creative process it can be.”
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Chutzpah! artist-in-residence this year is choreographer Idan Cohen (Ne. Sans opera and dance). The world première of his Hourglass, which is presented by RBC, will be performed and live-streamed from the Rothstein Theatre on Nov. 25.
“Both the residency and this opportunity to present at Chutzpah! are the best things that could have happened to me during a time when artists are facing difficult challenges,” Cohen told the Independent. “I believe with all my heart in the strength and importance of the arts for a healthy society. It is not a luxury but a necessity, especially within a specific culture. Judaism is not just a common history or a set of beliefs, but a diverse culture that needs to be ever-evolving, reinterpreted and recreated, respecting and learning from our common past while creating a shared future. Having Jessica [Mann Gutteridge] share some of the same core values, and acknowledge the importance of going forward with the festival this year, has been such an empowering force for me and my collaborators during these past few months.”
Hourglass is an exploration of aging set to music by Philip Glass. It is a duet with former Ballet BC company dancer Racheal Prince and returning Ballet BC company dancer Brandon Lee Alley.
“As dance artists,” said Cohen, “our focus is on our most intimate tool and instrument: the human body. When that body is extremely intelligent and qualified, as Racheal’s and Brandon’s bodies are, true magic happens on stage. It’s like an ancient fairytale told to you as a child: it represents both the past and the future, it’s exciting and haunting, and it teaches you something valuable through the most basic elements of storytelling. No need for fireworks or special effects.
“For this edition of the festival, we are presenting 30 minutes of dance to four out of 20 études composed by Glass played by the conductor and celebrated pianist Leslie Dala (Vancouver Opera, Bach Choir). Leslie was actually the one who first presented the idea of this project to me, and dancing and working with him has been a most gratifying experience. There are linear elements in the piece, but Glass’s music marries the abstract and the linear, the romantic and the intellectual, in a way that not many composers are able to do, and that’s what makes it so unique.
“Racheal and Brandon, who are young yet mature and highly experienced dancers, can embody different physical states in such a fascinating way,” said Cohen. “They had a significant role in our exploration of the theme of aging and time.”
Being a real-life couple means that Prince and Alley have been able to rehearse together safely during COVID, and the Rothstein Theatre is large enough for them to work with Cohen at a safe distance. “Since Leslie is also dancing (!) in the piece,” added Cohen, “we had to adapt in order to keep everyone safe, which is, of course, the priority. This has definitely been a great learning experience, and an immensely gratifying one.”
The Chutzpah! Festival runs Nov. 21-28. For tickets, which start at $18, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
Livona Ellis rehearses for the DanceCentre performance of Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present. (photo by Sylvain Senez)
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present at the Dance Centre Nov. 19-21 features Livona Ellis, Vanessa Goodman and Rebecca Margolick performing works that were created for Mary-Louise Albert. Albert herself returns to the stage, at age 65, after a 19-year hiatus, to perform the first phase of a solo work commissioned from Serge Bennathan.
The three solos being reimagined were created during the last six years of Albert’s 20-year professional dance career (see jewishindependent.ca/generations-combine). They have not been performed since.
“When Mary-Louise first approached me to share her ideas about this project, I was transitioning out of a company,” said Ellis, who is performing Woman Walking (away) by Peter Bingham. “It seemed like the perfect work to describe the state of transition I was about to enter. I was leaving something behind and going towards the unknown. For me, the piece deals with a lot of questions and conversations we have with ourselves; reflecting on memories and being curious about the future.”
Ellis is a dancer with Ballet BC. She is on the faculty at Arts Umbrella and is the programming advisor for BC Movement Arts Society, which was founded and is directed by Albert. The rehearsal process for Woman Walking (away) started with Albert teaching Ellis the solo before COVID hit.
“It was great to have her insight and point of reference,” said Ellis. “I then worked with Peter Bingham where, in particular, he talked a lot about the intent and physical and theatrical sensations. It was very much an open dialogue, my input with Peter was very welcome.”
Recently, Ellis started rehearsing again with Albert. “She is really interested in melding our two interpretations and finding more ways for me to fully embody the solo in my own way,” said Ellis, mentioning her excitement to be sharing “the evening with these other talented and strong women – Vanessa, Rebecca and Mary-Louise – and to experience again performing in front of a live audience.”
Making the dance her own has been something that Goodman also has been working on with Albert, and with choreographer Tedd Robinson, who created oLOS.
“The work is a journey and allows me, as an interpreter, to transport myself into an embodiment that is both full of form and deconstruction. This is a beautiful place to experience the work, which is both deeply intuitive and dichotomous,” said Goodman, who is a choreographer herself, as well as artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society. She first worked on the piece more than a year ago, in May 2019, spending time with Albert and Robinson reenvisioning it.
“We worked in Sointula, where Mary-Louise lives, visiting what the solo meant to all of us; examining the process physically and mentally of passing along a living archive,” explained Goodman. “Every time an artist embodies a work, it transforms with their system – this work continues to transform with, and for, me each time I inhabit it.
“oLOS has been a tremendous opportunity to be able to learn from both Tedd and Mary-Louise,” she continued. “They both have an incredible amount of information to share. Both of these artists have helped to shape dance on a national level, and it is a gift to be able to experience oLOS now with them.
“Both Tedd and Mary-Louise have been a part of my development for the last 18 years,” she added, “with Tedd teaching me in my last year of high school at CCDT [the School of Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, in Toronto] before moving out west and then providing me with great insight into my solo Container in Ottawa in 2015. And, Mary-Louise has supported me in so many ways as a creator over my professional career, allowing me to develop and share work…. These two artists have shared so much with me, and it is an exciting intersection to be able to work on this project all together.”
For Margolick, who is performing Allen Kaeja’s Trace Elements, the intersection is even more personal. The solo was created in 2000, she said, and she remembers watching her mother dance it at the Rothstein Theatre – Margolick was 9 years old at the time.
“Fortunately, Allen and I had our creation period prior to the pandemic,” said Margolick about the piece’s latest iteration. “We rehearsed without Mary-Louise during the remounting/creation process in Toronto. We had another week to finish the piece in Sointula, B.C., with Mary-Louise coming in to watch runs and sharing her thoughts and expertise on the work, past and present. As she is also my mom, she made sure to facilitate the space needed, with great sensitivity, for the work to become personal to me.
“Allen made space for me to experiment and try things out and his process can be summed up in three words – generous, kind and courageous. Every time I run the piece, it feels different emotionally and my reactions to the text vary day to day … it makes the work always feel alive. We say ‘reimagine,’ as we were all interested in how I can bring myself into the solo and give the tools needed to make it my own.”
Margolick is based in Brooklyn. A dancer and choreographer, she was a 2020 New Directions Choreography Lab Fellowship at the Ailey School and is a 2020 artist in residence at the Dance Deck here in Vancouver. As well, she is artistic associate of BC Movement Arts Society.
When Margolick worked with Kaeja in Toronto on the solo, she said, “We had many in-depth conversations around the subject of the piece, and Allen shared with me his experience around learning and researching his father’s story. Allen’s father was a Holocaust survivor, and creating work around the Holocaust became a way for Allen to process his dad’s experience. What came about from reimagining this solo was this merging of past and present with my movement and Mary-Louise’s movement, and a linking between different generations of the Jewish experience and family.”
Since Albert is her mother, Margolick said there is an “inherent natural connection I have to her movement and expression. It’s a beautiful way to explore this connection between us.
“This piece speaks to me on many levels,” Margolick added. “The text is a conversation between a young German man and woman, 22 years ago, referencing Nazi Germany propaganda and the apathetic, yet unfortunately relatable, responses from the young woman about her mother’s experiences during the war. It is eerily relevant to what is happening around the world, as we reckon with the ongoing oppression of systemic racism, colonialism, greed, antisemitism and the rise of fascism and the alt-right. This piece for me is an eerie reminder of how quickly things can change, and how easy it is to fall into apathetic thinking, which dangerously leads to losing one’s empathy.”
Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present is part of the Dance Centre’s Global Dance Connections. In addition to the Nov. 19-21 live-stream shows, a recorded performance will be available online Dec. 3-17. For tickets and more information about both offerings, visit thedancecentre.ca.
Madison Slobin wrote a guide on the Jewish ritual of mikvah because she wants to help people navigate and change our world.
Madison Slobin appeared in the pages of the Jewish Independent a few months ago for two projects she helped create: YVR Yenta and Shivah Delivers. These initiatives take Jewish rituals, such as matchmaking, in the first instance, and how we comfort mourners, in the second, and put a modern twist on them. Her latest project is another such endeavour: the writing and compiling of Rebirthing Ourselves to Rebuild Our World: A Feminist Mikvah Guide.
The guide begins by answering the question, what is a mikvah? “Mikvah is an ancient Jewish cleansing ritual performed in a sacred bath or in a natural body of water,” she writes. “We can participate in a mikvah ceremony to mark moments of transition, to make our souls and bodies feel holy, and to metaphorically rebirth ourselves and start anew.”
The Jewish Independent spoke to her about the project.
JI: What motivated you to write this guide?
MS: I was motivated to write this guide for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I saw a lot of friends and loved ones struggling to go through the transition from summer to fall due to COVID-19. It seemed like everyone’s plans for school, for work and in their lives generally had been altered or put on hold. I wanted to create a ritual space for people to process their grief, feelings of being stuck and lack of transition. To me, mikvah is a Jewish technology, which means it is an ancient tradition that is relevant to our context today and provides us with a useful blueprint for how to navigate our world. Mikvah can help us to create a forced transition in the absence of one, where we ask ourselves questions about where we have come from, where we are going and who we want to be when we get there.
The second reason I wanted to write this guide and title it Rebirthing Ourselves to Rebuild Our World is because we are collectively living in a moment of reckoning, where violent systems are being exposed and revolutionary change feels possible. I don’t want the world to “return to normal” after the pandemic has ended. I want us to create new systems, where our society is organized according to human value and dignity as opposed to being centred around capital. I wanted a forum to ask together: what work do we need to do internally to prepare ourselves to fight for the new world to come?
JI: Can you share a bit about your background, as it is relevant to your being able to write the guide and to guide others in the process?
MS: I had never guided a mikvah before this year but I am often engaged in thinking and learning about Jewish rituals, as I feel they keep me grounded and connect me to my history and ancestors. I was a Hebrew school teacher for quite a few years and grew up going to Camp Miriam, which led me down a path of working for Habonim Dror in a number of different capacities over the years. Through coordinating educational activities and building curricula, I saw firsthand the ways that Jewish ritual was a hugely helpful tool for young folks in guiding them to work towards social justice and liberation. Mikvah stood out to me as something that I wanted to learn more about, and the more I learned the different ways mikvah is being reclaimed and repurposed, the more I wanted to be a part of the movement of people doing so.
JI: How long have you practised the ritual? In what circumstances were you introduced to it?
MS: A couple of years ago, while working for Habonim Dror in New York City, my team and I went through a tough time. We were all feeling the weight of leading a Jewish organization through some very complicated situations and, ultimately, were feeling collectively burnt out. We drove to upstate New York and one of our team members led a beautiful mikvah for us. That experience helped me to understand the myriad ways that Jewish ritual can be repurposed to fit our daily needs and struggles. It was my first mikvah and it successfully allowed us to let go of experiences that had been weighing heavily on us.
I always thought mikvah was something that was reserved for Orthodox women and that it was to be strictly used for niddah, weddings or conversion. Experiencing a mikvah that was being led for me outside of these confines really opened my eyes to the ways that mikvah could be used as a modern technology, as opposed to an unchanging tradition.
JI: What are some of the benefits you’ve personally gained from participating in a mikvah? Do you do it regularly?
MS: Throughout the end of summer into fall, in preparation for the Jewish New Year, I was leading mikvah about once a week. I felt strongly that I didn’t want to be paid for this work, as I am one of the few people among my peers who has a steady job and income right now. That being said, I benefited greatly in other ways from leading this ritual for folks. It allowed me to meet amazing people who are also passionate about their Judaism or Jewishly curious folks who wanted to learn more. It allowed me to build community, the kind of Jewish community that I want to exist in Vancouver, centred around young Jews passionate about social justice. It allowed me space to continually ask myself how I want to be reborn and who I want to be, as I facilitated others asking themselves these questions.
I also led a couple special mikva’ot that included Indigenous folks, who brought and shared their own ceremonies and teachings around water and cleansing. I learned a lot from those individuals and am thankful for spaces where we can come together and share traditions and teachings with one another.
Lastly, leading all of these mikva’ot meant that I got to go swimming more often!
JI: There are three kosher (indoor) mikva’ot in Metro Vancouver, I think. It’s easier to see, perhaps, how a religious person would find meaning in the ritual. In what ways do you see the experience being meaningful for less religious women?
MS: Before every mikvah we would sit down and participate in a circle. Together, we would do some learning around mikvah, its ancient uses and how it is being reclaimed today. We would share and reflect together what purpose we wanted the mikvah to serve each one of us personally. We asked ourselves the question: what am I trying to work through that today’s ritual could help me with?
I found that, when the ritual becomes personalized and the individual chooses exactly how they want mikvah to be used, it is more likely to have a positive and lasting effect. Ultimately, mikvah gave people the opportunity to meet and connect with other like-minded people safely, so, if anything, it can just be an opportunity to do some learning, then have fun and go swimming with new friends.
JI: In what ways is your approach feminist, or different from more traditional approaches?
MS: I think the way I approach mikvah (and all Jewish ritual) is that traditions have to change and work for us in our contemporary context. It doesn’t make sense to practise Judaism in exactly the same ways that our ancestors did 2,000 years ago because our reality and our society does not look the same. I want my ancestors to recognize the rituals I am doing, but I also want to make sure that the rituals serve a function for me and the people around me, and that may mean expanding what they look like and who can participate. Jewish people continue to change and evolve, so I want our rituals and practices adapt and reflect that. I want to cultivate a living and ever-changing tradition.
JI: As winter approaches, how do you see your guiding working?
MS: I would be excited to lead a polar mikvah or two but my guess is that most likely folks will want to participate in the ritual when things warm up a little bit come spring.
JI: If there is anything else you’d like to add, please do.
MS: I was super-excited to see the guide being picked up and used across North America. There were people writing to me that I had never met, saying that they used the guide and found the ritual to be extremely meaningful.
I wrote the guide to be general enough so that Jews of any gender/race/sexuality in any location could use it to lead themselves through the ritual. I found the positive responses overwhelming and they helped me to feel connected to Jewry outside of Vancouver, who were going through many of the same hardships we were also experiencing. In writing the guide, I wanted to position myself in community with a wider movement of young Jews, demonstrating how Jewish ritual can be expanded to work for us and provide deep meaning throughout our lives.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah begins, appropriately enough, on the first night of the holiday…. Dad has brought pizza for dinner and Max and Rachel and their parents eat it among unopened and partially opened boxes in their new apartment. (image from book)
Change is a constant in our lives and things don’t always go as planned. Learning how to deal with the unexpected and to be able to ask for help and to be appreciative of it are all valuable lessons. And when such concepts can be literally illustrated and told in story form, they tend to stick better.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, written by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Shahar Kober, is about home and helping, and takes its inspiration from the ninth candle on the chanukiyah, the shamash (Hebrew) or shammes (Yiddish), the helper candle. At the darkest time of the year, family, friends and community are the main lights that get us through and, especially amid the pandemic, a reminder of the love and support we have around us is particularly important.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah begins, appropriately enough, on the first night of the holiday. But something is different. Dad has brought pizza for dinner and Max and Rachel and their parents eat it among unopened and partially opened boxes in their new apartment. Their cat looks on. “No menorah? No latkes?” the kids wonder. Mom assures them that, tomorrow, they’ll find the Chanukah supplies amid all their things.
On the second night, Max and Rachel make a menorah with some wood, nuts and bolts, paint and glue. Not only is their real menorah still missing but the candles can’t be found either, so the kids – with Mom’s permission – go off to borrow some candles from a neighbour, and Mrs. Mendez in 2C happily obliges.
Each night, the family makes do with the help of a different neighbour. Each night is nice, “but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”
Spoiler alert … eventually, the box with the family’s holiday stuff arrives – but too late. The delivery comes on Day 9. But Max and Rachel are not so easily deterred. They concoct a plan to celebrate the holiday and their neighbours. “And, best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”
Perl’s text has a rhythm. The repetition each night of how “it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” accents how hard it is to accept new situations. Yet the fact that the family makes each night special, shows that, despite what we might be thinking or feeling, we can act in ways that still celebrate life and all for which we are grateful.
The illustrations by Kober are colourful, with a retro feel, and have a lot of energy. Creative use of white space helps direct the action. And the two-page spreads have an expansive feel to them, like the reader is right there in the apartment with Max, Rachel and their family and new friends.
The book ends with a nice note from Perl about Chanukah and her family’s tradition, followed by a list of nine ideas of how to make your own “Shamash Night.”
A PJ Library book, which is also available from most any bookseller, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah lights all the right candles and would make a great holiday gift.
The new artistic managing director of Chutzpah!, Jessica Mann Gutteridge, faced unique challenges in presenting the festival. (photo from Chutzpah!)
“This has been a challenging time for all communities. I hope that this year’s Chutzpah! Festival can bring a sense of joy, and the communal spirit that comes from sharing performing arts experiences with others, whether at the theatre or from the comfort of home,” said artistic managing director Jessica Mann Gutteridge in a recent interview with the Jewish Independent.
This will be the first-ever Chutzpah! The Lisa Nemetz International Jewish Performing Arts Festival that people will be able to watch at home. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, all of the performances will be available online, Nov. 21-28, with a few opportunities to attend small-audience shows that are being live-streamed from the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre. Not only will this be the first Chutzpah! presented digitally in the festival’s 20-year history, but it will be the first directed by Gutteridge.
“I knew that I had an exciting and challenging year ahead of me when I took the helm of Chutzpah! from Mary-Louise Albert, who was artistic director before me for 15 years,” said Gutteridge. “I really could not have anticipated how much the world would change just three weeks later, when the pandemic shuttered the Rothstein Theatre and the entire performing arts sector. The first month or so was spent focusing on our staff’s well-being and helping the many users of our theatre to reschedule and replan all the events that had to be canceled.
“The first thing I did for the Chutzpah! Festival was to take some time to think,” she said. “My board was wonderfully supportive from Day 1 and assured me that whatever scale I felt was right would be all right with them – even if I wanted to postpone for a year. I spent a great deal of time just thinking about the purposes of the festival, how it serves the community and the relationships we have with our audiences and community of artists. Even before COVID, when I was thinking about what my first festival might look like in a transition time, I felt inspired to bring together artists who had performed in the festival in the past with new artists who I hoped would join us in the future. So, I began by reaching out to artists from both groups so that we could just start to get to know each other, and find out how everyone was responding to this unprecedented situation.”
By early summer, said Gutteridge, it became clear that the health-related restrictions with respect to the pandemic would still be in place in November, “so I began to think about how we might incorporate digital presentations into the festival, and to talk to artists who were exploring this form of performance in their work.
“I was thrilled to learn that Iris Bahr, who was in the 2019 festival, is not only a brilliant actor and stand-up comic, but is also a podcaster who interviews other artists and public intellectuals with much wit and insight. I invited her to perform her solo stand-up, but also to function as our festival host and conduct live interviews with all the festival artists,” said Gutteridge. “Because Iris divides her time between Israel, New York and Los Angeles, we knew she would have to appear digitally and, though this adds another layer of technical complexity, I think it’s such a special opportunity that the present moment brings us – to join artists from across the world and have a chance to learn more about how the pandemic is changing and shaping their creative work.”
The festival’s online-only shows will include Bahr’s stand-up comedy performance (click here for story); New York-based playwright Rokhl Kafrissen’s Shtumer Shabes (Silent Sabbath) and former Vancouverite-current Londoner (England) Tamara Micner’s Old Friends, both of which are works-in-progress; a concert by Israeli pianist and composer Guy Mintus; and Israeli choreographer Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim.
There will be two shows live-streamed from the Rothstein, where limited audiences will be permitted. Ben Caplan will perform music from Old Stock, which is adapted from his music-theatre piece Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story (see jewishindependent.ca/searching-for-a-safe-harbour). And Chutzpah! artist-in-residence Idan Cohen (Ne. Sans opera and dance) presents the world première of Hourglass. Closing out the festival are Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini (click here for story), who will be live-streaming from Brooklyn, joined by yet-to-be-announced local comedians performing at the Rothstein.
The lineup is a fraction of what it would have been if not for COVID, but Gutteridge thought it important to proceed with the event.
“Well, for starters, I’m stubborn and I like a challenge!” she said of the decision. “I also knew that we were well-positioned with staff and support to execute a creative and fulfilling festival, even though it would not look much like past festivals. In talking to colleagues inside and outside the JCC, and hearing from our community via a survey in July, I understood that there was a lot of enthusiasm to keep experiencing the kind of performing arts presentations that Chutzpah! has offered for 20 years now. And, looking ahead to dark November nights, I think we can offer a communal experience that will bring some much-needed joy.”
In addition to focusing on quality entertainment, health and safety has been at the forefront of the planning.
“We have worked carefully with health and performing arts sector experts to make sure that we are providing the safest possible experiences for audiences, staff and artists, including at our physically distanced, intimate live events at the Rothstein Theatre,” said Gutteridge. “I’m also very impressed by how our artists have risen to the challenge. Rokhl Kafrissen, the playwright of Shtumer Shabes, has been working with her cast via Zoom since April, when they presented a workshop of the play in lieu of the debut performance they were scheduled to have at LABA in New York. Our audiences will have a chance to meet the artists and see excerpts from the play, with context about the work’s meaning and creation, all performed from the artists’ individual locations. It’s a special opportunity for our audiences to peek inside the creative process.
“Idan Cohen’s Hourglass, a new dance piece with live piano accompaniment, is being created this fall at the Rothstein Theatre as part of our creative residency program. With 318 seats and a large stage, the theatre is large enough for physical distancing, and Idan is working with a skeleton crew – often just himself and the two dancers at work. The dancers, Brandon Lee Alley and Racheal Prince, are partners offstage as well as on, so they are already in a household bubble. The other dance piece, Ella Rothschild’s Pigulim, comes to us from the Suzanne Dellal Centre in Tel Aviv, where the performance was previously recorded in a studio theatre, so that health and safety protocols could be observed and the dancers could form their own bubble.”
Tickets for the festival start at $18 and are available online at chutzpahfestival.com or by phone at 604-257-5145.
Iris Bahr pulls double duty at the 2020 Chutzpah! Festival, as host and performer. (photo from Chutzpah!)
Comedien, writer, actor, director, producer and podcaster Iris Bahr will both host this year’s Chutzpah! Festival, Nov. 21-28, and perform her stand-up live Nov. 26.
Known for her eclectic characters, Bahr will call on many of them as she converses with the other festival artists as part of her hosting duties.
“I’ll be conducting these conversations either as myself or as some of my characters, depending on the artist I’m speaking to,” Bahr told the Independent. “My alter egos include Shosh, the salty Israeli who has become popular on Instagram, Rae Lynn Caspar White, my ‘Southern redneck intellectual,’ and Shuli, my Orthodox character who is beyond excited to ‘dive into the arts’ for the first time.”
Many JI readers will know Bahr’s stand-up from having seen her perform at last year’s Chutzpah! The show will be somewhat different this time around.
“My stand-up will involve more crowd work and storytelling versus just straight-on stand-up to camera,” she said. “I have found that to be a more captivating and enjoyable experience for everyone involved when the audience can also engage and experience each other’s presence, it’s the closest we can get to a communal live theatrical experience in these challenging times.”
Eman El-Husseini, left, and Jess Salomon with furry family member Esther Honey El-Husseini. (photo by Mike Bryck)
Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini, aka the El-Salomons, close out this year’s Chutzpah! Festival on Nov. 28. They will live-stream from Brooklyn, and local comedians will join the event from the Rothstein Theatre.
In performance, the married Jewish-Palestinian lesbian comedy duo leans into the things that make them unique. Their chemistry is not only evident on stage, but even comes out in an email interview, where the pair play off one another like, well, a couple who knows and loves each other well.
JI: You met when you were each performing solo routines and continued in that vein, I think, even after you were married. When and why did you team up professionally as well?
Jess: It didn’t really come from us. We weren’t out in comedy until we got engaged so it was only after that, that we started making jokes about our relationship. Sometimes, we’d follow each other on a show and it became obvious who we were talking about. Like how many Jewish-Muslim-Palestinian Canadian couples that moved to America from Canada are there? Another comedy couple might be able to be on a show together and say my boyfriend did this or my girlfriend did that, and no one would connect that they were referring to one another. So, we built in this reveal and, eventually, people started asking if we were going to share the stage together. We didn’t want to, but it’s a sacrifice we make for the fans!
Eman: The first time we shared the stage was at a gig in an old synagogue turned community centre in L.A. I went on first and introduced Jess for her performance. We bantered, unprepared, on stage for about 10 minutes. We had no idea a reviewer from Tablet was in the audience and, although we individually performed for about 30 minutes separately, that 10 minutes of banter stole the show…. We didn’t think much of it but, a year later, 2018, we were in our hometown of Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival. The BBC World Service was in town to put on a comedy show. They called us and asked if we’d want to record a set together and we said, ‘absolutely not.’ First of all, they have a huge listenership and we wouldn’t be able to polish an act under such short notice and, second, no one wants or should want to work with their spouse. But, the British have a way to persuade, it must be the accent.
At the same time, because we were back in our hometown, Just for Laughs offered us two shows to do whatever we wanted. We decided to perform individually for 20 minutes and then 20 minutes together. We almost got divorced but the audience loved it! We sold out both nights and added a third. Who would have thought a duo act would be so sought after? We’ve been working together ever since, and we are still married! I think, at this point, if we ever separated, we’d have to be closeted about getting divorced.
JI: From where do you get the strength and confidence to be a stand-up comedian?
Eman: I have no idea why and how I’ve stuck with this career after my first set. I bombed so hard and, until today, continue to bomb at times, but there is truly an addictive element to making someone laugh. Even if it’s a single person in a room. Laughter is so genuine and isn’t easily had. I mean, even in our day-to-day life Jess and I will share with each other how we made a stranger laugh shopping for groceries or walking the dog. It’s so rewarding.
Jess: Making strangers laugh and then talking about it is 100% an Eman thing. Right now, we’re in an argument over a speech therapist I’m convinced she hired just to entertain while she insists she has a speech impediment that must be fixed.
Eman: I feel like my strength and confidence comes from my parents. Although my sister and I have a brother, I managed to be the favourite.
Jess: You do have a masculine energy they might be responding to.
Eman: A big reason I wanted to be a stand-up comic is because of how misrepresented and underrepresented Arabs, Muslims and particularly Palestinians are in the media. More often than not, I am the first Palestinian someone meets in real life. I feel like an ambassador of sorts, dispelling stereotypes about my people. Exposure is such a powerful tool in getting through to people and if you can make them laugh that’s a big bonus. Even if people are immediately turned off by what I represent, they are still curious to hear what I have to say. I remember headlining a show in Niagara Falls once. I had to be on stage for 45 minutes. Twenty minutes in, I realized I haven’t made a single person laugh….
Jess: I love that it took you 20 minutes! That’s confidence.
Eman: They were conservative-leaning so, I called them out, ‘Guys! I know you don’t like what I’m saying but I can tell you like me.’ That eviscerated the room! From that moment forward I knew I could never quit comedy even if I wanted to.
Jess: I tried to do a joke about the no smoking sign on the plane and quickly realized there were at least a few comics who had done the same joke. That’s when I realized it’s better when I pull from personal experience. Even if I’m not an ambassador like Eman. I’m not the first Jewish comedian people have seen.
JI: How and when did your new Crave Canada special, Marriage of Convenience, come about?
Jess: After performing in Montreal for Just for Laughs and the BBC in 2018, we kept working on our duo act and growing our audience on Instagram for our comics (@theelsalomons). We sent a tape of what grew into an hour-long show to Just for Laughs and that’s how we got booked for the Crave special.
Eman: We realized people preferred us together than individually, which is insulting considering we had about a decade each of solo experience. It’s understandable, there are so many stand-up comics but rarely any duo acts.
Jess: There’s no one I’d rather lose my individual identity for.
JI: What is the origin of the cartoons?
Eman: Jess came up with the idea. We would get such a huge response on social media when we’d write these back-and-forth status updates about each other.
Jess: Huge is relative.
Eman: People asking when the sitcom was coming out.
Jess: And, knowing that it would take awhile for us to find the time to write a pilot that was pitch-ready and be in a place where we could sell a series, a weekly cartoon on Instagram seemed like a manageable place to start to develop the character version of ourselves and, hopefully, an audience. We also have a close family friend, Jesse Brown, who just happens to be an incredible illustrator that wanted to work on this with us. So that’s how it was born.
Eman: The El-Salomons was the hashtag for our wedding, and Jesse drew us for our invitations … my mother-in-law saw them and said, “He made you look thin.”
Jess: Actually, yes, that is how it was born.
* * *
Chutzpah! starts Nov. 21. For the full lineup and tickets, visit chutzpahfestival.com or call 604-257-5145.
Mary-Louise Albert returns to the stage Nov. 19-21 in a new work by choreographer Serge Bennathan. (photo by Maxx Berkowitz)
The Dance Centre presents Mary-Louise Albert: Solo Dances/Past into Present Nov. 19-21. Jewish Independent readers will be very familiar with Mary-Louise Albert, whose resumé includes a two-decade career as a solo dance artist and dance company member, as well as 15 years directing the Chutzpah! Festival.
The JI last spoke to Albert as she was moving on from Chutzpah! to other endeavours (jewishindependent.ca/bidding-adieu-to-chutzpah). In that interview last year, Albert said, “At 64, I still have a bit of ‘oomph’ left to pursue.”
“The ‘oomph’ related to centring work and artistry, in this next journey of mine, on dance and having the energy and focus to do it well,” Albert said when the JI caught up with her in anticipation of the upcoming show. “This next phase of my working life includes not only personal dance creation and performance projects like this one, but, as well, developing new Canadian and international professional contemporary dance through the B.C. Movement Arts Society, which I co-founded and direct, that will take place in remote and rural areas of B.C. We have received the very good news of confirmed provincial and federal funding and our first series starts late spring to December 2021.
“The Solo Dances/Past into Present project was developed over the past two years. The three solos being presented were created and performed during the last six years of my 20-year professional dance career, when I was between 39 and 45 years old. Because they were created during this latter period of my dancing career, when I stopped dancing, they stopped with me. I was never really interested in choreographing so, when I stopped dancing, I didn’t look back. I was ready and wanted to head into the next chapter of my working life, which involved business school and ended with directing the Chutzpah! Festival and Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre for 15 years. We, the choreographers and myself, were all in our 40s and older and everyone moved on.
“But,” she added, “in the back of my mind, over these past years, I knew it was not right to let these beautiful dances end with me. I felt like there was ‘a little something’ still missing from this very enjoyable period of my career as a solo-commissioning dancer. A sense that something was not quite complete. It became clear that I needed to pass on the solos to this generation of outstanding female dancers and support their growth with performing options by way of building their solo repertoire. I received personal financial support from the Canada Council and BC Arts Council and this multilayered project of artistic sharing that brings two generations of dance artists together in the reconstruction of Canadian contemporary choreography began!”
Solo Dances/Past into Present features Peter Bingham’s Woman Walking (away), danced by Livona Ellis; Tedd Robinson’s oLOS, featuring Vanessa Goodman; and Allen Kaeja’s Trace Elements, performed by Rebecca Margolick. (More to come in the Nov. 13 JI.)
“The solos have not been performed since 2001 and have never been remounted and reworked,” said Albert. “As a dance professional, I feel strongly that it is important to revisit these eclectic and beautifully crafted solos and put them back in repertoire with Canadian (B.C.-based/-born/-raised) dancers who have the versatility and desire to further develop the works, enjoy and share.
“Working so intimately with Allen Kaeja, Tedd Robinson and Peter Bingham many years ago brought a level of understanding as a solo performer that I had not experienced before in such depth,” she said. “As people, they all had/have a wonderful down-to-earth approach to themselves and their work and this led to a generosity and nonjudgmental approach to their creative process with me.”
Albert said the three solos “are all very different and timeless.” She described oLOS as “a deeply intuitive and somewhat mysterious work that transports performer and audience on an inquisitive journey, via the nature-walking and naïve love of [Gustav] Mahler’s Songs of a Wayfarer”; Woman Walking (away) as “a journey of one, arriving or leaving, listening to memory that is gently propelling what is next for her in an exploration of a complex yet personal quest”; and Trace Elements “wishes that this work of memory of persecution was just a source of history uncovered, but the dance is as relevant today with the growth of fascism and antisemitism as it was 21 years ago when it was created.”
In addition to remounting these works with other soloists, Albert herself will be performing the première of the first phase of a new solo work, Empreintes (which means fingerprints), commissioned from Serge Bennathan.
“At the age of 65, I’m going back on stage after a 19-year hiatus. I am still a bit dumbstruck by this,” said Albert, “and will be honest that I still often find myself mentally whispering WTF? But it is part of this new dance journey of mine as a senior citizen. I’ve never shied away from challenges and listening to my soul. There are many dance artists still performing at this age but most have never stopped. This is certainly a special experience, with its range of physical and emotional exploration, to be coming back to it at the age of 65.”
Bennathan, she said, “is a profound dance artist and is a beautiful painter and poet, as well. This new work explores the layers of artistry, physical trust and depth of reflection that a new stage in life, which I am embarking on, opens up. Serge is interested in the artist in me that is now, and the work reflects this…. The simplicity, strength and internal depth of the work, and the trust we have in each other, is quite simply a gift.”
In creating a commissioned work, Bennathan said, “The process always starts by trying to feel the energy of the dancer, then trying to discover what is just behind, what is the essence of why the artist desires to do such a work. Then, once together in the studio, if I can reduce the process to one word it would be ‘listening.’ That is the most important, to be listening to the inner self of each other to create a dynamic.”
He said “the idea of Albert passing on works created for her by powerful creators to magnificent dancers is fantastic. What a beautiful and creative way to feed the texture of a community in all its dimensions.”
“I feel that Mary-Louise’s foresight and inspiration to reenvision her past solos with the original choreographers and giving them, if wanted, the freedom to also reimagine the solos on these three mid-career dancers, was brilliant,” agreed Kaeja. “Her project intrinsically melds past with present in a generational sharing for all of us involved.”
For Trace Elements, which “deals with present and past antisemitism and cultural intolerance,” Kaeja said Margolick brings “not only her natural Jewish genealogy, but her depth of self, range of talent and profound and thoughtful life experience into this creative process…. I love that Mary-Louise has also invited Serge to choreograph a new solo for her – created specifically for who she is now as an individual, dancer, creator, innovator, curator and powerhouse – is profound.”
For Kaeja, creating a commissioned work centres around the person commissioning it. “My process is called ‘structured innovations,’ whereas I create a series of parameters that are clearly defined in physicality, intent and quality and texture of the movement,” he said. “With these boundaries, the dancer begins to create movement vocabularies and physical ideas. I then invite variations to the movement suggestions, redefine these in many ways and finally create the final choreography. I have always credited the dancers as ‘created with and performed by.’”
The creative process “is different with each solo,” said Bingham. “It depends partially on what the dancer is used to. I would say that it is always collaborative and research-oriented. The search is to find a language, both verbal and physical, that becomes our focus. I stress that the search must be mutually creative, an exchange. We try physical ideas and curiosities until the piece begins to reveal itself. In short, it becomes a product of our relationship.”
Similarly, Robinson works closely with the dancers involved. “When commissioned,” he said, “I assess the room (the space) and performer (who will move in the space). I start with basic concepts that I have developed, steps that sort of help us to get to know one another. As I see how the performer(s) interpret what I show or say, then I am better able to assess the space we will cover, the space of the creation and the space that the performer will need to inhabit. From there, we work together to create.”
With regards to the piece he created with Albert, Robinson said, “It was a more technical solo than I might normally do, because Mary-Louise likes to move and move big, so that is what we incorporated, plus the small and detailed work that I often use. I also worked on some bigger dramatics and that attracted me. I liked to lip sync when I was younger, so I feel that we lip synced with our total body for this work of Mahler.”
The planning and creation process of Solo Dances/Past into Present began and was completed before COVID-19, except for her solo with Bennathan, said Albert. “There have been challenges,” she said, “as the dancers have gone back to the solos, needing studio space to rehearse for this show during the pandemic. Serge and I worked mainly in Sointula, which has an inherently blissful feel to it (and lots of humpback whales!) so it made creating during COVID easier. We also are working at the Dance Centre, as are the other dancers, which has been excellent.”
The Dance Centre has COVD-19 protocols in place. “Executive director Mirna Zagar and the entire Dance Centre staff are working tirelessly, making it possible on so many levels for artists to be able to get back into the studio and on stage and be safe,” said Albert, who also gave “a big shout out” to technical and lighting director Mimi Abrahams. “We have worked together now for over 10 years and she is truly the unsung hero that makes it all happen,” said Albert. “Her calmness and clear head gives us a grounded base as we gear up to perform in the middle of a pandemic.”