In my relatively short time here in Calgary I’ve tried to dive head first into the theatre scene. That said, I have a shamefully short attendance record compared to some other local aficionados out there. One of my first outings here in Calgary was in October, 2012 during Fluid Festival. I won tickets whilst listening to CBCs Homestretch one day and that serendipitously brought me to Circle of Eleven’s performance of “Leo”. I heart one-man performances in a big way. But “Leo” brought that love to a whole new level. Imagine a stage. One half of that stage is a screen and the other half is a cross-sectioned cube. Berlin’s Julian Schultz, the one-man himself, performs inside the cube. Everything that Mr. Schultz does is projected onto the screen, BUT at a 45 degree angle. In order to make the images on the screen appear upright, “Leo” performs everything in the cube thusly at the counter 45 degree angle! His ability to play with space and illusory gravity was quite extraordinary. Oh the Germans!
Don’t tell my students but I had no idea what “The Tempest” was about until I saw Kidd Pivot’s interpretation of it in “The Tempest Replica“. Apparently, the choreographer behind this performance, Crystal Pite, is a big deal and I can see why. This dance piece combined whimsy with the dark influences of the human psyche. It started out with this random regular looking bearded dude playing with a paper boat. He was soon accompanied by brilliantly masked demon-esque aliens. And yet, unsettlingly, the bearded dude still showed up frequently in the dance sequences and even pirouetted as few times . In my humble opinion, the piece could have been a commentary on the confines of destiny and/or the struggle to free oneself from the slavery of love and its expectations. But then again, my dance friends tell me I try way to hard to find meaning in modern or contemporary dance performances.
We ventured out one cool fall evening to the Pumphouse Theatre to see “Ignorance”. Ignorance is a The Old Puppet Workshop production and it caught my eye because it’s poster was so enticing. Way to go marketing. As it so happened, an acquaintance was one of the puppeteers in this performance. What’s amazing about T.O.P.W is that the puppeteers hand-make all of the puppets that are used in the performance. But don’t be fooled, even though puppets are involved, this is no Sesame Street. “Ignorance” has extremely heavy themes woven throughout the text. To do the show an injustice and simplify, it’s basically the puppet depiction of a primordial man and wife who go through the motions of surviving in their cave until one day the woman is hit with the brainwave of an “idea”. “Ignorance” touches upon the existential angst of the animal while depicting the evolution of intelligence and feelings. Woven into the fabric of the archaic couple, the play shows the emotional instability of the modern day man via scenes of elderly people driving and young people attempting suicide. Overall, there are dark overtones to this play which makes the audience wonder what has our modern man achieved in terms of intelligence.
Since getting my eyes checked I can now actually read the subtitles at operas which opens up a whole new world of understanding. I put my new prescription to the test when “Otello” came to town in November. It was playing at Alberta’s southern Jubilee Auditorium, which was, to my surprise, the exact replica of the one in Edmonton. Otello is the operatic version of Shakespeare’s “Othello” and, as is the case with many operas, the storyline could have been carried out in 15 minutes rather than 3 hours. I’m sure art and Shakespeare would whole-heartedly disagree. I interpreted the opera as follows: a sailor, Iago, returns from a long voyage and laments the fact that his captain, Othello, has not promoted him to lieutenant. Meanwhile, Roderigo, another member of the fleet, reveals his love for Desdemona, Othello’s soon-to-be wife. Roderigo is disheartened after the marriage and he and Iago plot to frame Desdemona as having an affair with Cassio in order to cast demons on Othello’s true good nature. Through elaborate costumes and impressive vocal feats lust and desperation rear their heads. A lovely evening was had and may have had the audience asking themselves, can we go around calling people Moors? Methinks not.
In a more recent cultural outing, I attended Alberta Ballet’s “Up Close“, which was part of the High Performance Rodeo festival. I’m pretty sure H.P.R is held in January to veer people away from the post-Christmas doldrums, and it works! “Up Close” consisted of three ballet performances all at the Martha Cohen Theatre. The first piece, P.S. I Love You, was choreographed by Denise Clarke. Through contemporary movement, the dancers displayed the emotional fluctuations of love and post-love which was highlighted by the ethereal voice of Joanna Newsom.
The next piece Ruin Time was a passionate duet to the tune of epic heavy percussion. The delicate female dancer wore a stunning red costume which heightened the sense of lust between the two. Along with the music and the athleticism of the dancers, what was a striking addition to this piece was the beautiful ember-like petals that cascaded onto the performers as they danced. This was the piece that has stayed most vividly in my memory.
The last piece, to perhaps juxtapose the femininity of the first piece, was a masculine performance entitled Dump The Physical Memory by choreographer Yukichi Hattori. It started off with a confusing waltz with light boxes on wheels. The shirtless men in lycra skirts seemed to be multiplying with every intermezzo. There were themes of domination, conquest, and battle in this piece which at times had blatant sci-fi undertones. At some point a cell phone went off and was extremely awkward until on of the dancers answered it and proceeded to have a conversation with his mom…
“Up Close” was a wonderful reminder that there is great art happening in this city.