Review: The Art of Stealing (Firehall Arts Centre, until May 31)

Sneak preview:

Contemporary dance employs a language that I do not fully understand. But the ambiguity and the necessity to engage are part of what can make a contemporary dance production enthralling and thought-provoking.

The Art of Stealing is a technical marvel. The well-done lighting made figures seem to pop up out of nowhere. The dancers are lithe and acrobatic, and a joy to watch. The spare industrial character of the set reflects a post-apocalyptic world in an urban wasteland. The sound complemented the movement. The spare costumes accentuate the grimness of the dancers’ world. Keep your eyes open for the humour–it’s there.

Whatever you think of Lululemon, they have been influential in the world of fashion. This show has been done in collaboration with Lululemon Labs.

What is The Art of Stealing about? I have fragments of impressions. As I said, contemporary dance uses what is for me a non-native idiom. I’ll copy the description from Firehall:

A gang of six survivors work together and against each other, striving to manipulate, compete and endure in a mysterious, post-apocalyptic world. This exploration of transformation, survival and death from critically acclaimed contemporary dance company, the response, uses Amber Funk Barton’s  visceral, high-energy choreography to delve into the idea of stealing – what we take from each other, both physically and emotionally.  The gang struggle between conflict and cooperation, but the ultimate thief in life will outlast them all.

Watch a mini-documentary of The Art of Stealing.




EAT.DRINK.PLAY. at Firehall Arts Centre, June 19

Sounds like a fun, tasty, and cultural evening.

The Firehall Arts Centre presents


Proceeds go toward helping the Firehall bring cutting-edge theatre and dance to Vancouver

 Date: Thursday June 19th, 2014, 7-10pm

Venue: Firehall Arts Centre

Tickets: $31 regular/ $16 artists (includes food, drink tastings & drink on arrival)

Tickets & Information: 604.689.0926 or

Vancouver, BC – On June 19th, from 7-10pm, the Firehall Arts Centre present its annual fundraiser EAT.DRINK.PLAY, an unforgettable evening that celebrates locally produced food, drink and performance.

The event showcases a selection of food from Gastown and Railtown’s burgeoning food scene graciously provided by 11 local restaurants – Lily Mae’s, Peckinpah, Cadeaux Bakery, The Irish Heather, Salt Tasting Room, Bitter, Hogan’s Alley Cafe, Deacon’s Corner, Mahoney & Sons, Elephant and Castle, and Scent of a Sandwich. Tastings of micro brewery Parallel 49’s seasonal offerings will be available, plus vodka and crème de cassis from Odd Society Spirits, a newly opened small-batch craft distillery in the heart of East Vancouver.

 This celebration of all things local will also feature a ‘taster flight’ of live theatre, dance and music performed around the Firehall building including an acoustic performance by rising theatre star and three-time Jessie Award nominee Kayvon Kelly (Chelsea Hotel) and a performance by Proud star Emmelia Gordon.

 The excitement doesn’t end there. All evening you can place your bid on a fantastic range of items in a silent auction generously donated by local businesses, including; Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, TELUS World of Science, PuSH International Performing Arts Festival, Vancouver Fringe Festival, SPUD Urban Delivery and Modo Car Co-Op.

The Firehall would like to thank the evening’s sponsors: Lily Mae’s, Peckinpah, Cadeaux Bakery, The Irish Heather, Salt Tasting Room, Bitter, Hogan’s Alley Cafe, Deacon’s Corner, Mahoney & Sons, Elephant and Castle, Scent of a Sandwich, Odd Society Spirits, & Parallel 49 Brewing.

 About the Firehall Arts Centre

Located in a heritage fire station built in 1906, the Firehall Arts Centre produces a season of eclectic theatre, dance and interdisciplinary performances and acts as a host to visual arts exhibitions in its intimate gallery/lounge.  Each year the 31-year-old organisation hosts over two hundred performances for an audience of 30,000 people.


William and the Windmill at SFU Woodward, May 29 — a film about Malawi and energy


Thursday, May 29: Reel Causes – William and the Windmill

Time: 7pm
Place: Djavad Mowafaghian Cinema, Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, 149 West Hastings St. 
Cost: $10-12, 

This film is produced by {group theory}, a New York-based production studio that creates documentaries, short narratives, animations, and commercials, and Moving Windmills Project, Inc., a 501(c)3 that supports Malawian-run rural economic development and education projects in Malawi, with the goals of community economic independence and self-sustainability; food, water and health security; and educational success.  

A Skype interview with Director and Producer Ben Nabors will follow the screening.

Review of “Control: A Living Newspaper” (Seattle, May 18)

I made an impromptu visit to Seattle last weekend, and saw “Control: A Living Newspaper” by the innovative Strawberry Theatre Workshop. I had attended a play a couple years ago that they did using Woody Guthrie songs and human-size puppets, attired in Depression-era costumes, which I loved. 

The living newspaper genre is rarely seen nowadays, but I would like to see it more often. Wikipedia’s Living Newspaper has a good description. It’s hard to imagine nowadays, that in the depths of the Depression, that community theatre was seen as a worthwhile investment by those implementing the New Deal, but it was, in the form of the Federal Theatre Project. The genre favors social action, as you can see by some of the 1930s-era titles:  Triple-A Plowed UnderInjunction GrantedOne-Third of a NationPower, and Spirochete. And yes, Spirochete was about syphilis, a huge public health concern then. As the project continued, it did run into conflict with the government that funded it.

The propagandistic possibilities of the Living Newspaper genre were obvious to the Bolsheviks, who invented the form. 

“Control” is about gun control, and there is no shortage of articles, statistics, and opinions on that subject. The characters read snippets of articles to each other in semi-natural conversations. They even enacted a Jeopardy parody, which revealed that Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon spoke out in favor of gun control. The character of “man-that-Dick-Cheney-shot-in-the-face” did satire very well. The hardest article to hear, I think, was taken from an article by Veronique Pozner, mother of Noah, who was shot at Sandy Hill Elementary in 2013. 

But unbearably sad and poignant moments overlapped with ridiculous moments as well.  I was either surprised or not to find that Zombie Max bullets are a real thing. Check out the ad and video for yourself:

There was no resolution at the end of this play. The “Open Carry” movement was touched upon. President Madison returned to the stage to give his opinion about the Constitution, almost 240 years later. I enjoyed the novel presentation, learned a lot, but would have welcomed an audience discussion afterwards (and it may have happened on other performances). 




What I’ve been spending my time on

Not so many cultural performances lately, after my trip to New Orleans (which was wonderful). After that, I attended a technical conference, gave a presentation about API documentation, and started a Python (a programming language) course. And tonight, I attended the Data Science meetup, learning about Apache Spark and natural language processing research. I do not concur with the standard division people make between arts and sciences and mathematics and music. To me, they all relate together. Still, not many plays are written in computer code (but maybe that’s the next multilingual idea). 


Erato Ensemble combines early and contemporary music styles in AYRE – May 24, 8 PM, St. Andrew’s Wellesley

Did you know J. S. Bach loved coffee, and wrote the secular Coffee Cantata (Kaffeekantate) about it? Are you interested in hearing a faithful reproduction and a creative reimagining in one concert?

Catherine Laub will sing the soprano aria “Ei, wie schmeckt der Coffee süsse.” Then in the second half we will hear her own inventive re-imagination. This work is essentially a mini-opera, and Catherine keeps the dramatic aspect, adding her own creative twist. All the players get to have their own sort of fun! She writes:
This arrangement of J.S. Bach’s famous soprano aria from his “Coffee Cantata” plays with the idea of acceptable addictions. The aria begins before the soprano has had her first cup of morning coffee, so she grumbles down the octave while the pre-caffeinated flute player has wound himself up to piccolo. The oboist starts as a tee-totaler before being slowly corrupted by the alcoholic bass clarinetist. The out-of-place guitarist eventually gets a bit too into the piece, taking a hit of something and going off into his own world as the rest of the piece devolves, leaving the earnest and increasingly desperate piccolo to play through to the end.

Check out the Erato Ensemble Facebook page.

Review: On a First Name Basis (Kay Meek Centre, until May 9)


I am always glad to have an excuse to trek out to West Vancouver (and on timing the drive, it’s really not that much of a trek at all) to the beautifully situated and constructed Kay Meek Centre.

Wanting to know more about this play, I took a look at Canadian playwright and actor Norm Foster’s website: He is amazingly prolific and very popular. I recommend reading the play samples you can find on his site to get an idea about his writing.

Patricia Vanstone and Norm Foster have a long history of working together professionally, and their chemistry shines through in this play. Foster wrote it for Vanstone at her request, as discussed in the talkback, and it is a role that suits her completely. The play is charmingly witty, sometimes uproariously funny, and always thoughtful. Given Foster’s background in theatre, it’s not surprising that the play has excellent pacing and just feels very well-constructed.

My synopsis of the play: a wildly successful, but lonely writer happens, after 28 years of service, to notice his housekeeper and realizes he knows nothing about her. He wants to have a conversation with her, and they end up drinking and talking.

The play is set up so that there are no pop or technological references that would date it, and Foster confirmed this was his intention in the talkback. However, I felt that the rich Anglo man/decades-of-service European housekeeper dynamic does give the play a dated feel, perhaps (if I had to guess) 1970. I can’t envision a household like the one in the play today, but it’s easy to imagine it 50 years ago. The play is none the worse for that, and I am curious to hear how others feel about the implied time period of the play.

Unlike many comedies, this play is not a crazy caper or bedroom farce, but a play that ultimately tackles some heavy issues of love, mortality, and meaning. You have only one more chance to see it in West Vancouver–if you can, I recommend going.

On a First Name Basis at Kay Meek Centre, May 6-9 (with Norm Foster) with preview May 5

Buy tickets:

Norm Foster is an acclaimed Canadian playwright, whose works are produced frequently (in fact, he is said to be the most frequently produced playwright in Canada for the past 20 years). It will be doubly interesting to see him take on the role of lead actor as well in “On a First Name Basis”, about a man who gets to know his housekeeper, after 28 years without interaction. Expect both a love story and a mystery.

This two-act play is described on Foster’s website as follows:

This delightful play tells the story of a very successful, but cantankerous, novelist who suddenly discovers that he knows nothing about his maid of 28 years. She, on the other hand, knows absolutely everything about him! He makes it his mission to learn all he can about her in a most engaging conversation. With revelations that are surprising, funny, and extremely moving, this is a love story, a social commentary and a mystery wrapped in witty dialogue and vivid imagery.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler, so if you want to read a scene, look here.

I’m looking forward to it not least because how many plays feature a middle-aged female character of sturdy Norwegian stock with child-bearing hips? (Finally, a heroine I can relate to!)

I’m looking forward to seeing this play at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre, which is a lovely auditorium. But you’ll likely get a chance to see it before I do, as I’m attending the talkback session on May 8. Go and tell me about it.