For this year’s Dancing on the Edge, Alexis Fletcher and Ted Littlemore perform together in a work created and directed by Vanessa Goodman. (photo by Sylvain Senez)
This year’s Dancing on the Edge contemporary dance festival features a lineup of online and onstage live performances, including Tuning, a new duet created and directed by Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman. And Tara Cheyenne Performance is among the artists who will be presenting films (details TBA).
During its July 8-17 run, the festival will present more than 30 shows, with artists from across Canada. On offer will be some specially curated digital programming with recorded performances, premières of dance films, dance discussions, outdoor live performances in the Firehall Arts Centre’s courtyard, for very limited audiences with safety precautions in place, and theatre performances with limited capacity, if permitted, in the centre.
Commissioned by dance artist Alexis Fletcher, Tuning will be performed by Fletcher, artist in residence at Ballet BC, and Ted Littlemore, aka Mila Dramatic in the drag community. The new work focuses on how people tune to one another. In Tuning, the performers create a live sonic and physical atmosphere using their voices to amplify the conversations of the body.
Festival producer Donna Spencer also announced seven DOTE-commissioned projects, which will première at this year’s festival. Companies/choreographers presenting commissioned works include Ouro Collective, Raven Spirit Dance, Billy Marchenski, Immigrant Lessons, Generous Mess, Rob Kitsos and Meredith Kalaman. “We were thrilled to have offered this incentive, knowing that these commissions have enabled artists to keep creating new work during this challenging time for all,” said Spencer.
Jenn Griffin and Paul Herbert in Firehall Arts Centre’s production, The Enemy, which runs to Dec. 1. (photo by Pedro Meza)
A doctor in a small B.C. town discovers that the main tourist draw, the springs, are polluted. As she tries to raise the alarm, she runs into harsh resistance – after all, the town’s economic well-being is completely dependent on the tourism the springs, spa and waterpark attract. Among other things, her findings are discredited, the truth is characterized as “fake news,” and she ends up regarded as a pariah instead of a saviour.
This very current-day scenario is actually based on Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People, the themes of which are as relevant as ever. Firehall Arts Centre artistic producer Donna Spencer has adapted Ibsen’s drama, not only bringing the spa to British Columbia, but making the character of Dr. Stockman a woman in her version, called The Enemy, which runs at the Firehall until Dec. 1.
Spencer, who also directs the production, said in a press release, “Recently, we witnessed a decision south of the border that many of that country’s constituents did not support for good reasons. But the majority of those who had the power to vote supported the choice, angering thousands and potentially impacting hard-earned freedoms and rights. With the Firehall’s presentation of The Enemy, I have adapted Henrik Ibsen’s drama – which asks the question, is the majority always right? – and applied it to a contemporary issue not unlike the one faced by Ibsen’s version of Dr. Stockman. In this contemporary context of The Enemy, the role of Dr. Stockman is written as a female and illustrates the challenges that women face when confronting and disputing the ‘powers-that-be’ or, as some would say, ‘the old boys’ club.’”
Jenn Griffin plays the role of Dr. Stockman in The Enemy. Jewish community member Michael Scholar Jr., is also part of the cast.
“I play the role of David Horseman (after Captain Horster in the Ibsen), who is a pilot who charters flights to remote fishing and hunting locations across B.C.,” Scholar told the Jewish Independent. “He’s someone who used to work for oil companies, but is now his own boss, trying to keep a low profile, and stay out of political frays. David is a friend of Dr. Stockman, who tries to help her when she is censored and vilified. Throughout the story, we find the otherwise complacent David find his political voice, when he sees a restriction on freedoms of expression come to his small town.”
The Enemy explores the role of the media, the mob mentality, political extremism, corruption, elitism, the environment.
“Theatre is a very powerful medium,” said Scholar, who is also the founding artistic producer of November Theatre. “The way in which ideas are communicated in theatre are through emotion, images and even moral ambiguities. There have been scientific studies done on what happens to theatre audiences when they experience a play live, showing that, when a play is effective, the mirror neurons are firing on all cylinders, creating an emotional, engaging experience that can lead to feelings of empathy and, therefore, understanding.
“The poetic form of theatre, with its use of imagery and physicality, allow for abstract thought and even an awakening of the mind and spirit that is unlike any other form,” he explained. “The ancient Greeks presented dramas to allow their people to wrestle with moral issues communally. It was an important form of public discourse. And The Enemy and other socially conscious theatre are carrying on that tradition.”
Scholar said he is excited to be working with Spencer.
“I’ve known Donna for years, and am thrilled to be working with her and this amazing cast,” he said. “Some great friends of mine are in this show, like my old U of A school chum Daniel Arnold, Green Lake cast mate Donna Soares, and clown extraordinaire Peter Anderson. And I’m getting to know some other incredible talents, like Sharon Crandall, who I saw at Bard [on the Beach] this summer; Paul Herbert, who I’ve seen act since living in Edmonton; Agnes Tong, who was great in Les Belles Soeurs; Braiden Houle, who just did Kill Me Now at the Firehall; and our leading lady, Jenn Griffin, who I know as a playwright and is doing incredible work as Dr. Stockman.”
One of the many intriguing aspects of the play – both Ibsen’s original and Spencer’s adaptation – is how the hero, Dr. Stockman, is portrayed. The doctor is not a sympathetic character, in ways that liberals and progressives especially should note. Dr. Stockman considers herself superior to her critics and those who believe them. A recent article in the New York Times – about why Ibsen’s play is seeing so many remounts in the United States these days – compares some of Stockman’s language to that of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” statement, “or other comments that people – perhaps audience members themselves – have made that imply that those they disagree with are inferior.”
There is an excellent article in a 2010 issue of Public Health Ethics that can be found online. In it, Terrance McConnell uses Ibsen’s play to examine the competing responsibilities of a physician: to their own ideals, to their family, to their fellow citizens and to public health.
“One message of the play is that those with vested interests will try to silence the idealist,” writes McConnell.
“A second message in the play concerns how the idealist is portrayed by others,” he adds, giving examples of how Dr. Stockman’s opponents succeed in branding the doctor as crazy.
“In this age of divisive rhetoric,” said Scholar, “this play wrestles with the concept of speaking truth to power even at great personal cost. Ibsen’s story is sadly still relevant today, and Donna’s adaptation puts it in the here and now. I think this production will elicit much discussion, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
The Enemy runs at various times Tuesdays through Sundays at the Firehall Arts Centre, with post-show talkbacks Nov. 22 and 29. Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased from firehallartscentre.ca or 604-689-0926.
Alexa Mardon is part of the creative team of Never Still, which is at the Firehall Sept. 26-29. (photo by Ben Didier)
It is fitting that Firehall Arts Centre is launching its 36th (double chai) season with a new work by Jewish community member Vanessa Goodman, artistic director of Action at a Distance Dance Society.
Never Still is described as “a highly physically piece that dives into the distinctions and overlap between three different systems of circulation: global water cycles, communication technology and fluids within the body.”
“The initial ideas for Never Still really began to emerge in 2013, when I made two separate works inspired by similar themes. Both dealt with our relationship to water, either in our environment or our bodies,” Goodman told the Independent. “On a very basic level, we are all between 50% to 70% water, depending on our age, and the earth’s surface is covered by roughly 70% water. There is some nice symmetry and, the deeper I dug into these themes, the more they revealed. Social, political, personal, environmental – no matter where I went with these themes, it checked all the boxes of what inspires my work.
“For me, it was just a matter of time before I began to focus on these ideas as a full-length. But it wasn’t until 2015, when I met Scott Morgan (Loscil) through Small Stage, where we first collaborated together, that I could imagine this work growing into what it is today. Each project requires the right collaborators to bring it to life.”
Goodman’s research began in 2016 during a creative residency in New Brunswick hosted by Connection Dance Works. “Loscil and I also made Floating Upstream that same year, a shorter piece that explored these ideas and worked out some staging concepts,” said Goodman. “In 2017, I continued the research through a local choreographic residency at EDAM.
“I always knew I wanted this to be a group piece and, in the spring of last year, I finally had the whole performing team together: Shion Skye Carter, Stéphanie Cyr, Bynh Ho, Alexa Mardon and Lexi Vadja. The work would also not be complete without my longtime collaborator, lighting designer James Proudfoot, who is a master of painting space with light.”
Sound and projection design for Never Still is by Loscil, with costumes by Lloyd clothing. EDAM’s Peter Bingham is listed as the piece’s creative mentor.
While the work has evolved since conception, Goodman said, “There’s not necessarily one element I can point to that’s different. When I began working on this piece, it was just me alone in the studio imagining all the elements, so being able to work with five incredible dance artists, lighting, sound and projections definitely pushes everything forward quite rapidly.
“It is always exciting how a work takes shape in each unique venue, too. Ideas that you may have thought would work sometimes don’t and other new elements reveal themselves, so it’s important to stay flexible. The work is constantly evolving, even through the final performances. That is one of the many exciting parts of live art: it is constantly being transformed by those who inhabit it.”
This idea ties in perfectly with the themes explored in Never Still.
“On a molecular level, liquid water is never truly still, which acts as a beautiful metaphor for dance. It offers myriad avenues to explore anatomically and thematically,” said Goodman.
About Never Still, she said, “I feel like it’s very easy in a developed urban setting to take water for granted and overlook its true value, so, if anything, parsing so many different aspects of water with this piece has helped me appreciate it that much more.”
The work also considers the “inherent conflict or dichotomy of water.” By way of explanation, Goodman said, “The most obvious textural example is water’s often-violent reaction to shifts in temperature, from the crack of ice to the vapour rising from a roiling boil. On a larger scale, the effects of flooding and drought, which, on one hand, represent polar opposites, often share conflict and devastation.”
Echoing these concepts, Firehall artistic producer Donna Spencer said in the release for Never Still, “We are living in an increasingly polarized culture. And it is our role as artistic creators to encourage audiences to consider, through what they are seeing on stage, how inextricably linked we all are in finding our way through these challenging times.”
Firehall’s programming this season, she added, “is about choices – the ones we make, the ones we think we should make but don’t, and the influences around us that colour that decision-making. Live performance allows us to experience a unique and powerful collective sharing of emotions and information that resonates through our day-to-day lives long after we have left the theatre, and indeed may influence the choices we make in the future.”
Never Still runs Sept. 26-29, 8 p.m., at the Firehall, with a talkback after the Sept. 27 show. For tickets (from $20), visit firehallartscentre.ca.
Martin Gotfrit co-created Real Time Composition Study, which is part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge. (photo by Paula Viitanen)
To celebrate its 30th year, this July’s Dancing on the Edge festival will feature more than 30 performances, including Real Time Composition Study by Rob Kitsos, Yves Candau and Jewish community member Martin Gotfrit.
“We are three artists with varying interests in dance, sound-making and music, etc., who are exploring creating abstract work spontaneously within the confines of a set space and time,” Gotfrit told the Independent in an email interview. “The work is entirely improvised but, since we’ve been rehearsing (i.e. meeting and exploring movement, sound and light) for 10 months, we have been building an awareness of each other in the space and of our collective efforts. We also work with large conceptual ideas, as well as simple structures, to make it all a little more coherent. The work is not intentionally narrative but words and themes can occasionally emerge.”
Gotfrit not only performs in Real Time, but is its composer. He has numerous recordings to his credit, and has received much recognition, via awards and grants, for his work. Among his affiliations, he is associate composer, Canadian Music Centre; founding member, Canadian Electronic Community; and member, Guild of Canadian Film Composers. He has served two terms as director of the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University and been associate dean and dean of SFU’s faculty of communication, art and technology.
“I’ve just retired after 37 years at SFU as a professor in music and administrator,” he said. “I’ve been performing for a very long time in a variety of ensembles and in many different contexts. As a composer, I’ve created music for film, as well as for new media, theatre and dance performances. I’ve also had the opportunity to move on stage occasionally in those contexts as well. If I had to summarize what I do, I’d say I’m an improviser who has worked in many different forms.”
Gotfrit is part of the Vancouver band Sulam (which means ladder in Hebrew), where he contributes his guitar, mandolin and vocal talents.
“I’m quite active in my synagogue (Or Shalom) and, for more than a decade, I’ve been a part of the band of the monthly Hebrew chanting event Chanting and Chocolate,” he said about his other community involvements. “I returned to be more actively involved in Jewish life as my kids approached bar mitzvah age. I found many like-minded souls at Or Shalom.”
Gotfrit met Kitsos when he started working at SFU, and Candau when he joined the school as a graduate student. About how and when Real Time Composition Study came into being, Gotifrit said, “Rob and I had worked together in the past and we share a love of improvisation and a similar esthetic. We both find Yves’ work very interesting and compatible with our interests. We three started meeting weekly in September of 2017. The work has evolved in many surprising ways since then. For example, when we began, I was sitting off stage playing the music live. As time went on, I began to move more into the centre of the movement space as Yves and Rob (a professional drummer himself) began to take on other roles as well.”
As to what he plans on doing now that he is retired, Gotfrit said, “In addition to playing a wide variety of music with a number of groups (and practising of course), I’m studying to be a pilates instructor. I’ve been a practitioner for almost 40 years. I’m currently interning at the Vancouver Pilates Centre.”
Real Time Composition Study is part of EDGE Seven, July 13, 7 p.m., and July 14, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre, as is Pathways, by Jewish community member Noam Gagnon (Vision Impure). Other community members involved in Dancing on the Edge this year include Amber Funk Barton (the response.), Gail Lotenberg (LINK Dance Foundation) and Vanessa Goodman (in MascallDance’s OW!). The festival runs July 5-14. For tickets and the full schedule, visit dancingontheedge.org.
Left to right, Andrew Cohen, Sara Vickruck, David Z. Cohen and Anna Kuman are among the cast of Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell. (photo by Tyler Branston)
Andrew Cohen and Anna Kuman, a Vancouver-based husband-and-wife team who are both composers and choreographers, will debut Circle Game: Reimagining the Music of Joni Mitchell this month at the Firehall Arts Centre.
The genesis was Mitchell’s 70th birthday in 2013, Cohen told the Jewish Independent.
“There was a lot of press that caught our attention,” said Cohen. “After that, it seemed like her music started following us around, popping up everywhere. We started researching her – her music, her lyrics, her impact on Canadian art and culture. We opened that can of worms and very much found a spark of something. We decided to see if we could take her poignant and meaningful and topical lyrics and reimagine them.”
The pieces Cohen and Kuman came up with are diverse re-arrangements of Mitchell’s material.
“We sat down on the piano to dissect and distil her songs,” said Cohen. “We threw in some harmony or a different drum beat. We came up with 20 different arrangements. Some are mash-ups, some are whole but more acoustic and unplugged, some are indie rock sounding or Latin.”
“We made a conscious effort to make the songs sound as if they were released today,” explained Kuman. “It’s the music of our parents’ generation, but we realized how poignant it still is for us. The social and political issues are repeating themselves. We wanted to change the sound so people could leave their preconceptions about the music of baby boomers behind.”
Kuman points to “Fiddle and the Drum” as a song that really resonates with today’s news cycle. “In that song, the line, ‘once again, America my friend,’ resonates powerfully,” she said.
The song lyrics include the following lines: “And so once again / America my friend / And so once again / You are fighting us all / And when we ask you why / You raise your sticks and cry and we fall / Oh, my friend / How did you come / To trade the fiddle for the drum? / But we can remember / All the good things you are / And so we ask you please / Can we help you find the peace and the star?”
While working on the project, both had songs they found personally meaningful. A song that sticks out for Cohen is “A Case of You.”
“The way we do it is very unique and will be unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before,” he said.
For Kuman, it was “Down to You,” which she described as “a story song.” In the lyrics, Mitchell “really painted a picture, a specific narrative. The way that we staged it in the workshop is that movement really evokes the emotion of the song. The arrangement that Andrew came up with is totally a cappella, yet really full.”
Cohen and Kuman are both in their 20s and are “proud East Vancouverites.” Cohen grew up going to Congregation Beth Tikvah in Richmond, and his parents were longtime members of the Beth Tikvah choir. Both he and his brother were in Perry Ehrlich’s ShowStoppers.
“We grew up at the JCC,” Cohen said, referring to the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver. “Anna taught tap at the Dena Wosk School [of Performing Arts], and we both taught there for years at Gotta Song! Gotta Dance!”
Both Cohen and Kuman are members of Temple Sholom, where they were married by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz.
When Cohen and Kuman started the process of composition, they were dating and not yet married. They did a workshop together, pitched it to Capilano University and were given a three-week residency and the time and space to experiment. This is their first foray as co-directors and co-collaborators.
“We got great feedback from the musicians and did a workshop presentation and invited people in the industry that we respect and we wanted to hear what they thought,” said Cohen. “The feedback was overwhelming and amazing. We knew we definitely had something – the spirit of our generation with the words of Joni Mitchell. There was some constructive criticism that we took and incorporated, too. It was great to have the roses and the thorns of a feedback session.”
“We will be the first to tell you how lucky we feel to be able to work with this calibre of talent,” said Kuman, referring to the musicians they are working with. “They are all multi-instruments who wail like nobody’s business and will sing to break your heart. We had a fairly extensive audition across the country, a ton of incredible talent came out for the show, but we settled for this six because they have the right skills and the right mix.”
The ensemble features Rowen Kahn (Superman: Man of Steel), Scott Perrie (Godspell), Adriana Ravalli (Rock of Ages), Kimmy Choi (Avenue Q), Sara Vickruck (Love Bomb) and David Z. Cohen (Heathers: The Musical). Together, they will play 18 instruments.
“We’d both like to encourage everyone to come out and see the show, whether you’re a Joni fan or not, or whether your mom is a Joni fan or not!” said Kuman. “We think it will be a great way to bridge the generation gap. What we hope we’ve accomplished is making the hits of 30 or 40 years ago sound like the hits that you’d hear on the radio.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Not one normally drawn to psychological thrillers, Little One intrigues me, in large part because its playwright, Hannah Moscovitch, has such an impressive track record. She has not only won multiple awards for her writing, but has done so while tackling an almost unbelievable breadth of heady topics, including, but not limited to gender politics, Stalinist Russia, the Holocaust, the Canadian military in Afghanistan, and the nature of time. In Moscovitch’s words, Little One “is an exploration of guilt, family, trauma and the limits of love.”
The synopsis for the play – which runs in New Westminster at Anvil Centre Theatre from Feb. 4-6 and in Vancouver at Firehall Arts Centre Feb. 9-13 – reads: “When 4-year-old Claire is adopted into the family, 6-year-old Aaron has to learn to ‘love’ his new monster of a sister. Told through the now-adult voices of its two main characters, Little One weaves stories of childhood horror and teenage humiliation into a twisted, wryly funny, and ultimately haunting narrative. One that asks how far you’d let a psychopath control your life, and what you’d do to regain it.”
In a 2011 blog, Moscovitch pondered why she wrote Little One. In contemplating humor and darkness, she noted that the humor allows “the audience to relax and go with me into the darkness.”
In an email interview earlier this month with the Independent, Moscovitch expanded on this topic. “There is humor in life,” she said, “even in the bleakest circumstances (we know, for instance, from diaries written in the Warsaw Ghetto, that starving Jews, imprisoned there, being terrorized by Nazis, told jokes) and so I tend to want to include humor in my work in order to accurately represent life.
“I don’t know why I write about dark topics. They attract me. I also tend to write historical plays for some reason. I write a lot of works set in the 20th century. I can’t altogether explain my voice and my story instincts as a writer. My guess is, in dark circumstances, human nature is exposed, so I head to dark circumstances (war, disaster) to understand the human psyche.”
Now based in Toronto, Moscovitch was raised in Ottawa, which is where Little One is set. Given the complexity and emotional depth of her work, the Independent wondered what the dinner table conversation was like at home when she was growing up.
“My father is an economics and history professor (he teaches in the social work department at Carleton and his specialty is social policy) and my mother was a social worker and a researcher on women in unions and women in the workplace, so conversations growing up were on the serious side,” she explained. “Conversations were generally abstract, about ideas. Not much small talk.”
She seems very comfortable with having a play that ends with some questions unanswered.
“Clarity opens up one possibility in the minds of the audience. Ambiguity opens up two or more possibilities in the minds of the audience,” she explained. “It’s a sophisticated form of storytelling. Makes the story more complex.”
Moscovitch’s own story is relatively complex, and her path to writing a little winding. As high school came to a close, she auditioned for National Theatre School in Montreal, and then spent time in Israel on a kibbutz and in England when she wasn’t accepted. When she returned to Canada, she got into NTS, graduating from its acting program in 2001, though also being introduced there to playwriting. One of the plays she wrote as a student was workshopped by the Great Canadian Theatre Company in Ottawa.
Moving to Toronto, it only took her a few years to find her niche as a playwright. Her short play Essay premièred at the 2005 SummerWorks Festival; The Russian Play, in 2006, won the festival’s prize for best new production. Her first full-length play, East of Berlin, premièring at Tarragon Theatre in 2007, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. She has won multiple awards for her writing over the years, and her plays have been mounted in several different countries. She also writes for other media, including radio, TV and film.
In a 2014 article on kickasscanadians.ca, she said, “For me, there’s a big question about whether I want to be a Canadian playwright or an American TV writer.” Her answer so far is that she’s “a Canadian TV writer as well as playwright,” though she told the Independent, “My husband and I talk about moving to London or New York for a year, to meet new collaborators and immerse ourselves in a different theatre culture.”
In her work, she added, “I try to show Canada to Canadians. We see tons of work by Brits and Americans. Canadian audiences like to see themselves represented (is my sense).”
Other aspects that enter her plays derive from her cultural background, which is both Jewish (her father) and Catholic (her mother). She told the Jewish Daily Forward in 2013 that Judaism was the core of her identity and that she “write[s] a hell of a lot less Irish plays.” Since then, she told the JI, “I’ve written a play called What a Young Wife Ought to Know that draws on my Irish heritage! It’s set in a working-class Irish immigrant district of Ottawa in the 1920s.
Probably because I was immersed in my Jewish heritage growing up – including Hebrew school, temple, Jewish holidays, bat mitzvah, trips to the concentration camps in Poland and to Israel to work on a kibbutz – my Jewish side has always loomed larger in my imagination.”
She most identifies with Judaism’s traditions and holidays, “especially Passover and Shabbat. I’ve named my son Elijah. The oldness of our culture compels me, our 5,000-year history. I spent a lot of time reading about the Holocaust when I was younger and that’s influenced me profoundly.”
With such a talent in writing, it’s hard to believe that Moscovitch initially tried her hand at acting. “When I was younger,” she shared, “I wanted to be a lawyer or a librarian or a war journalist. I wrote poems and stories my whole childhood though. My mother tells me she knew I’d be a writer because I was always reading and writing growing up.”
As to her current projects, Moscovitch is as busy as ever.
“I have a première in Edmonton at U of A in March (The Kaufman Kabaret) and at the Stratford Festival in August (Bunny), I’m working on an opera with a Philadelphia-based composer named Lembit Beecher. Along with a number of collaborators, I’m co-adapting Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald for the stage. I’m talking to a Japanese theatre company about writing a play about Hiroshima. I’m writing a project with Maev Beaty, Tova Smith and Ann-Marie Kerr about modern maternity (in development at the Theatre Centre). I’m talking to 2b theatre in Halifax about co-creating a project that would feature the lives of my Romanian great-grandparents, Chaim and Chaya (both of them arrived in Halifax when they immigrated to Canada).”
And dream projects? “There are a number of brilliant artists in Canada I’ve yet to work with,” she said. “I’m a big fan of Vancouver’s Electric Company!”
Tara Cheyenne Performance’s how to be, part of Dancing on the Edge. (photo by Wendy D Photography)
This year’s Dancing on the Edge festival, which runs July 2-11, once again features the talents of many Jewish community members. The Jewish Independent asked several of them to describe the work they are presenting in the festival and to explain what makes it “edgy.” Their responses appear in the order in which their work appears in the festival.
Container, choreographed and performed by Vanessa Goodman, with original sound composition by Loscil, is a new work “that explores heritage, culture and resilience.” (Part of Edge 1, July 3 and 4, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“What makes the work ‘edgy’? Well, I am not 100% sure that I would categorize the work as edgy,” said Goodman. “However, I would say that the physicality/embodiment shifts between different extreme states, taking the witness/audience on a journey of my experience within the work.”
Re:Play: a duet choreographed by Naomi Brand and performed by Hilary Maxwell and Walter Kubanek. (Part of Edge Up, July 5 and 6, 8 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“The piece is a playful exploration of the space between two bodies in dialogue,” said Brand. “It looks at what we choose to display and disclose and what gets hidden and smoothed over in conversation. The element of play is a theme that drives the duet as the dancers show and tell, watch and listen, repeat, respond and react to one another. The piece is set to a sound score that brings the process to light, with dancer Walter Kubanek practising Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 1 on piano, and sound clips of the dancers in rehearsal. Playing on the edge between cooperation and competition, the dancers engage in a dynamic negotiation of space.”
Feasting on Famine: choreographed by Shay Kuebler, Radical System Art. (Part of Edge 5, July 9 and 11, 7 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“This performance looks into the extremes of bodybuilding culture and how it references capitalism and the corporatization of the human body – growth edges out all other aspects of self. One man’s physically charged journey into the depths of extreme health and fitness will leave the audience on the edge of their seat.
“The work combines theatre, dance, and martial arts to construct an edgy and modern look at the extremes of society,” said Kuebler.
Duck Dances “promises to be a whimsical exploration of curious imagery, woven together with the color red to reveal a charming tableau of events within the framework of Dusk Dances,” reads the description on Dancing on the Edge’s website. (July 9, 10 and 11, 7 p.m., at Portside Park.)
“I am creating a piece in collaboration with Jennifer Mascall and Susan MacKenzie for Dusk Dances. We’re calling it Duck Dances,” Amber Funk Barton told the Independent. “For me, this work is ‘edgy’ because I have never created a site-specific work and our intention is that our performers will also be all ages and abilities. Using Crab Park as a studio instead of a studio is not only inspiring but challenging me to work outside of my comfort zones and creativity.
how to be is “the latest ensemble creation to emerge from the strange mind of Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg (Tara Cheyenne Performance). The piece examines how we think we should ‘be,’ how we think others should be and how impossible and futile it all is. Using ideas found in malignant social media, cultural restrictions, and the ceaseless voices in our heads, how to be traces five characters as they navigate how to be.” (Part of Edge 6, July 10, 7 p.m., and July 11, 9 p.m., at Firehall Arts Centre.)
“I consider this piece ‘edgy’ because it plays with text, audience relationship, what is ‘appropriate’ in life and in performance,” said Friedenberg. “This is not a typical dance piece, but it is a piece only highly trained dancers could do. I expect to tiptoe very near the edge of extremely uncomfortable and deliciously funny.”
Left to right: Andrew Wheeler, David Adams, Anton Lipovetsky and Chris Cochrane. (photo by David Cooper)
If Saturday night’s performance of Urinetown was any indication, the Jewish community has two rising stars in its midst.
Triple-threats Anton Lipovetsky and Andrew Cohen are actors to watch; and the latest production at the Firehall is a perfect opportunity to see them show off their singing, acting and dancing talent.
Despite its unfortunate name, which gives rise to equally unfortunate double-entendres in theatre reviews, Urinetown did live up to the hype that’s labeled it a Broadway hit. Not one for musicals, I’m happy to say this one kept me entertained throughout the performance, due in no small part to the fancy footwork directed by Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Tony Award-winning lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis.
Urinetown takes place in a “town like any town you might find in a musical,” according to the narrator (who jumps periodically out of his role as Police Officer Lockstock to educate the audience about the workings of a play). The year is some point in the middle of a long drought, water is scarce and free toilets have been overburdened in what have become known as the “stink years.”
Facilities are now owned by private companies who charge people for their use. Thus the request, “A penny for a pee?” becomes the begging mantra of street people looking to relieve themselves. If they can’t afford the few cents to get in the doors, their only recourse is to do their business in a public space, for which they will get arrested and sent to Urinetown. The audience doesn’t get to see Urinetown until the second act, so we’ll avoid the spoiler here. Suffice to say, it’s known as a really undesirable spot, and one to avoid at all costs. So paying a fee to pee is really the only option.
In the rather stale part of this “town like any town,” a group of homeless people around “Amenity #9” start to revolt against a new fee hike. The group is led by Bobby Strong (Lipovetsky), who happens to be in love with Hope (aptly named, of course), the daughter of Caldwell B. Cladwell (stage veteran Andrew Wheeler). Cladwell is CEO of Urine Good Co., which owns the private toilets. In this case, the love interest doesn’t get in the way of a good revolution, thankfully, and eventually the impoverished cast free themselves from the shackles of the tinkle toll. Is it a time for celebration? You’ll have to see the play to find out.
The role Lipovetsky has been given in this play serves to highlight his incredible singing talent, comedic flair and even his ability to direct the cast in a choir-like ensemble near the end.
The play only demonstrates a few of Lipovetsky’s skills, actually. The gifted 24-year-old has already won a Jessie Award for outstanding composition for the musical Broken Sex Doll (currently on its second run, playing until Nov. 22 at the Cultch’s York Theatre) and he shared the 2011 Mayor’s Arts Award in Theatre with Bard on the Beach artistic director Christopher Gaze. Lipovetsky won for best emerging actor and playwright.
For his part, Cohen has also been busy in the B.C. theatre scene, appearing in Chicago, Fiddler on the Roof and The Laramie Project, as well as becoming one of the finalists on CBC’s Triple Sensation TV show and performing in the 2010 Olympic Games Closing Ceremonies. He also does sound design and composes. (See “A next gen of theatre artists,” Nov. 7, jewishindependent.ca.)
Besides these fabulous contributors are Wheeler as the nasty, money-grubbing CEO, David Adams as the singing/dancing/narrating officer and Michelle Bardach as Hope. As well, numerous quirky directorial choices, such as having Strong freeze with an expression as though he’d been stung by a bee every time he has a flashback, and Little Sally (Tracey Power) jumping in and out of character to ask the narrator questions about the play, meld to create a surprisingly fun, witty and thoroughly enjoyable production.
Joel Bernbaum and Kayvon Kelly are good friends who’ve drifted apart in My Rabbi. (photo by Derek Ford)
Religion, family, even something as innocuous as a book club or a sports team – any group to which we belong creates an “us” and a “them.” Conversely, for most of us, not belonging anywhere, with anyone, leads to feelings of isolation, desperation. Finding space for “the other,” being secure in oneself, these basic building blocks of healthy relationships, are at the core of My Rabbi.
When interviewed last month by the Jewish Independent (jewishindependent.ca/at-foundation-of-my-rabbi-is-friendship) co-creators Kayvon Kelly and Joel Bernbaum expressed the hope that their two-man play would raise more questions than it answers. It certainly does.
The opening scene shows both men praying, Arya (played by Kelly) on his knees to Allah, Jacob (Bernbaum) adorned in tallit and tefillin to Hashem. Arya and Jacob are not religious extremists, however. Both have turned to religion in part because of the relationship they had with their respective fathers, they are both seeking meaning, but both still live in Canada, by choice – in Toronto no less, one of Canada’s most multicultural cities – Jacob a Conservative rabbi, Arya still searching. They have drifted apart by the time the play begins and, when they happen to bump into each other again, the timing could not be worse – a synagogue in Toronto has just been bombed.
This awkward reintroduction leads to a reunion over coffee and flashbacks to earlier, happier days of their friendship. Frat-boy humor offers breathing room in this intense 60-minute play, as, in addition to the current-day tensions, we see Arya and Jacob interacting with their fathers (each played by the other actor) in some emotional, identity-defining scenes. We witness how/why Jacob becomes a rabbi with a strong sense of religious affiliation and Arya becomes more of a lost soul, his sense of identity not as clear.
There is little female presence in this play. We find out that, while Arya’s father was Muslim, his mother was Catholic, but other than sexist jokes at the pub about bar conquests, and catching up on the latest girlfriend status, women don’t play a large role in these men’s lives.
The easiest assumption to make between this play and the larger world is that it is a commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the larger “clash of civilizations” between extremist Islam and the rest of Islam and the West. However, these characters could belong to any group (religious or not) that leans to the insular.
And, it’s not really about this group versus that group, but about human beings in general, how a question asked at the wrong moment can end a years-long friendship, how selfish we can be in our own fear. It’s about how we relate to each other, our susceptibility to outside forces, our evaluation of our self-worth.
While based on Kelly and Bernbaum’s own cultural backgrounds, it almost would have been nice if they had chosen characters that didn’t already come with so much baggage. As the discussion after a Victoria show proved, we come to the play – as we come to anything else – with our own preconceptions, and even though the play is intended to elicit openness, some will find it hard to empathize with Jacob (i.e. Jews) or Arya (i.e. Muslims). There is such a strong human tendency, it seems, to lay blame.
The title of the play doesn’t help in this regard, as it sets viewers’ expectations higher for the rabbi. And, it’s misleading, as the play is not more about Jacob than Arya, Judaism over Islam. It’s about two friends, any two friends, and it would be a shame if the play were considered relevant only to the Middle East conflict or how Jews and Muslims as groups may interact. Kelly and Bernbaum are asking us to consider our own personal motivations, actions and reactions, and are asking us to put ourselves not only in Jacob and Arya’s places and consider what we would have done, but what we – not someone else – should have done.
After a successful run in Edinburgh, Scotland, the play My Rabbi, from Sum Theatre, has arrived in Victoria. It comes to Vancouver next month.
The playwrights and performers are Kayvon Kelly from Vancouver and Joel Bernbaum from Saskatoon. Their co-creation is billed as a “comedic drama about faith, friendship and fathers” by taking “a look at old world politics through the eyes of two young guys in a pub.”
My Rabbi follows a pair of Canadian best friends that take on divergent spiritual journeys. Arya is a Muslim who searches for cultural identity in the Middle East, while Jacob is a Jew who goes on to become a rabbi.
“The play is about the connection between two boyhood friends but, at its heart, it is about Canadian identity and how that relates to the battle between old world politics and religious boundaries,” Kelly told the Jewish Independent in an email interview.
The friendship between Arya and Jacob is based on that shared by Kelly and Bernbaum.
“We used our friendship as a springboard for the story. The base of the friendship is ours,” Bernbaum explained.
“Our sense of humor with each other is strongly reflected in these characters,” added Kelly.
Kelly said the inspiration for My Rabbi came from his and Bernbaum’s cultural backgrounds – Kelly is half Irish and half Iranian, while Bernbaum is Jewish.
“We have always found these differences vibrant and positive,” said Kelly. “But, we also acknowledged that, for a great deal of the world, these differences cause the greatest conflict. We wanted to explore why it is this way with [so] many,” but not with others.
Both Bernbaum and Kelly have been involved in theatre since a young age, and Kelly explained the origins of their theatre company.
“After we graduated from the [Canadian Centre for Performing Arts],” he said, “we both took advice from our mentor to heart, which was to ‘make your own work.’ Both of us have always wanted to play a role in the shaping of the Canadian theatre community, and establishing our voices from within it. Forming Sum Theatre is one of the ways we have found to do that.”
About My Rabbi, Bernbaum said, “Politics, religion and family are all parts of this play, but they are not the focus; they are factors that impact the friendship. We see this play as an opportunity to challenge our audiences to work towards peace and understanding.”
Kelly added, “Whether this platform enables conversation into the Israeli conflict, so much the better, but we are not making any direct political comments with this play. We are only asking questions, and making an attempt to boil the immense and often immeasurable global situation into a conversation between friends.”
Bernbaum said that, after a performance of My Rabbi “at the Edinburgh Fringe, an audience member came up … and told us that the play made him ask more questions, as opposed to giving him answers. This was great to hear.”
He continued, “Art has the ability – and the responsibility – to take people a little further down their path of engaging with the world around them.”
Kelly explained that the play “reflects who we were six years ago, who we are today and what we think we ‘could’ look like in some version of the future.” He and Bernbaum share much of their personal lives in My Rabbi and hope that audiences will be encouraged to do so also. “The live theatre experience creates a community, a group of people who have agreed to gather in one place. They bear witness, and thereby are able to feel involved – and culpable,” said Kelly.
“From pub humor to the spiritual journeys to the guys’ relationships with their fathers, there is something for everyone,” said Bernbaum.