The Pipeline Project staged reading – my impressions (July 25, The Cultch)

The pipeline, or more accurately, the pipelines. Americans are worried about Keystone XL, which may or may not be a done deal. In British Columbia, the Northern Gateway pipeline terrifies many. But although those are the two best-known ones, that’s not the full extent of it. But take a look on your own for that.

The Vancouver Observer has been reporting on the Northern Gateway Pipeline and other energy-related projects for several years. See More specifically, see, which serves as the basis for the Savage Society/Neworld Theatre/ITSAZOO play The Pipeline Project (currently in development, for a premiere in 2016).

I attended a staged reading of this play at The Cultch on July 25, followed by a fantastic salmon feast.

The play builds on verbatim excerpts from the Vancouver Observer’s Extract: The Pipeline Wars (mentioned above) to form a structure for the play, interspersed with personal anecdotes from and conversations with Sebastian Archibald (an actor and playwright who identifies as a heterosexual white guy), Kevin Loring (an Aboriginal actor and playwright born in Lytton, and a father of two), and Quelemia Sparrow (an actor and writer from a prominent Musqueam family). These identity “tags” are important in the play, so I am mentioning them even though it feels a bit weird to be that specific and limited in defining full-spectrum human beings. And a puppet appears too, in a very natural way, but I won’t give that part of the story away.

Sometimes novels are about writing a novel. Similarly, this play is somewhat meta too, as it is largely a play about developing a play. However, as this is still very much a workshopped production, I won’t get too specific about the details, as I’m sure everything is subject to change. However, I can say that I greatly enjoyed hearing about the family lives and traditions of the two First Nations actors, and why and how the pipelines have the potential to destroy a way of life thousands of years old. The production is multimedia, showing excerpts of the gorgeous Fraser Canyon, showing the struggling salmon in a very visceral way, all without sounding a continual drum of gloom and doom (which can be a hazard with some environmental productions, as that just results in complete hopelessness). Quelemia talked about thanking the water, about giving medicine to the water, about modes other than just fighting.

One of the strongest arguments for the pipelines is that train transport has the potential to be extremely dangerous, possibly more so than the pipeline. So just saying no to the pipelines may not be enough. The play explores how difficult it is to live without oil dependence, without any sense of snarky judgment (other than what the actors do to themselves).

I am interested in user interfaces to technology professionally, so it was particularly interesting to hear the excerpts from the disastrous Kalamazoo River spill (in Michigan), which happened in an Enbridge pipeline in 2010. We keep hearing the same stories over and over again, although the technology differs. Nuclear reactor accidents typically have a similar-sounding backstory, as do plane crashes, or the Titanic or the Exxon Valdez. Yes, there are always humans doing something stupid behind the scenes when these things happen, but we have to expect that. Is it fair to put the entire BC salmon fishery for decades to come in the hands of one or a few pipeline operators who might just happen to be tired, drunk, or stupid that day? This is a more general problem than for pipelines or nuclear reactors–we know, for example, that sheer luck has prevented the world from accidental nuclear war so far.

How about those who work on the pipelines, or fracking, or on the oilsands project? A strength of the play, as currently conceived, is that it does not demonize anyone, as easy as it would be to do so.

I am very excited and curious to see what happens to this play. If you support the pipelines, think about ways to ensure that we avoid a situation where the corporations (Enbridge, Kinder Morgan, etc.) get the profits, but somehow socialize the losses (the uncalculated damage that is sure to occur eventually, given the fallible nature of humans). The concept of “externalities” is what has allowed corporations to profit mightily while polluting their environs. There is nothing uncapitalistic about requiring that future externalities, which can be approximated with mathematical models, be paid for upfront by the party responsible. Of course, such a requirement would likely ensure that no such pipeline project happened.

Reviews from Dancing on the Edge Performances (concluded July 11)

Throughout the various performances I saw over several days, one constant stood out. The musical scores were always intriguing, varied, and unexpected. These types of performances are ephemeral, and it’s hard to capture in words why they gave these impressions. But if you have the chance, attend Dancing on the Edge (or other contemporary dance performances) for the sound as much as for the dance.

I have focused on a few pieces that left a strong impression, but all of the pieces were worth seeing and hearing.

Edge Up, Sunday, July 5


I have seen several of Hong Kong Exile’s performances. These works are typically multi-disciplinary, and NineEight is no exception. The company members mostly all have strong personal connections to Hong Kong. Intrinsic to such connections, is an undercurrent of fear and menace not just from mainland China, but also that Cantonese culture in general, including in Vancouver, is being lost. Their recent “Centre A” art gallery presentation, transgression/cantosphere, in Vancouver’s Chinatown focused on the Cantonese culture that is slipping away on a daily basis.

So my political and cultural expectations were set from my personal knowledge, which may influence my interpretation (as it always does). Not to mention I visited Hong Kong last year and saw the brave participants of the Umbrella Revolution up close. I struggle to describe the work, but I was left with impressions of media and manipulation, of tradition and modernity, of being pulled in numerous directions. I felt engaged with this piece, both in terms of movement and sound, throughout.

I was happy to read that this production of NineEight is just the beginning for this work. It will be staged in an open rehearsal at Gateway Theatre on September 11-12, 2015. So I recommend you attend that, even if you caught it this time around.

this hallow space has a corridor

For this piece, which was intriguing but difficult to recount, I was particularly struck by the initial sounds, which reminded me of a Van de Graaf generator in a rainstorm.

Edge 2, Tuesday, July 7


Analyzing a piece when you aren’t sure of its meaning is risky for the critic. But given how the dancers in this festival repeatedly pushed the boundaries, I will try to be slightly brave. Here’s what I saw and felt in this piece.

The actor engages with a large piece of patterned fabric indigenous to the Philippines. He is first entangled and almost strangled by it. He finally succeeds in removing it. He tries leaving it completely alone. He tries wrapping the rectangle up small and using it in different ways (for example, as a hat). Ultimately, he dons the fabric again, but this time in a dress form. He suggestively sashays in a stereotypically feminine way. Perhaps the dancer, Alvin Erasga Tolentino, can best incorporate his indigenous culture into his life when he recognizes the feminine aspects of himself.

Regardless of the accuracy of this interpretation, this was one of the most engaging solo pieces I saw at Dancing on the Edge.

Edge 3, Tuesday, July 7


What I took from this piece was a riff on Creation stories, particularly feeling the influence of Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, with a touch of Frankenstein. I do not see any of that in the official description, but that is what I got from it. The lighting (as was typical for DOTE) was excellent in focusing our attention. The dancer, Billy Marchenski, was nearly nude, giving the performance a primeval feel. I strongly felt the creativity and energy of the dancer.

Final note

Every time I attend a contemporary dance performance, I tell myself I have to learn more. Time is always precious, but I wonder if a free course like this might be useful to those of us who seek to improve our knowledge:

Creating Site-Specific Dance and Performance Works (from Coursera)

Review: 15X at Night (Dancing on the Edge Festival)

My first hurdle with any site-specific performance, particularly on Granville Island for some reason, is finding the spot. I’ve noticed a general tendency among people to not allow enough time to navigate Granville Island, and I’m guilty myself. I figured out the right place to be seconds before the dance started.

Walk to Edibles Canada, turn right along Johnson Street, and look for an empty courtyard right next to Ocean Concrete. If you see the colorful silos (which you should see anyway, for Vancouver Bienniale), you’re just a bit too far. But most importantly, leave plenty of time, and enjoy a nice stroll or have a drink before the show starts at 10 PM every night until the end of the festival.

You’ll be sitting in this courtyard, looking at the giftshop you can see in the photo.

I took this photo just after the show ended. SImon Courchel, the dancer, is at the left.

I took this photo just after the show ended. Simon Courchel, the dancer, is at the left.

Paul-André Fortier is the choreographer for this show, and for Misfit Blues. Although the two pieces vary a lot, both use spare, sharp, geometric angularity. There’s no fan in 15X at Night, as there is in Misfit Blues, but I wondered if Courchel might be evoking similar mechanical movement at times. Courchel’s lithe physicality is a joy to watch. There is no sound track, other than the natural sounds you hear on Granville Island at night. As you watch, you can look upward to see the steel trusses of the Granville Street Bridge.

As I watched, I was reminded once again how dance is really another language. How could Courchel remember this precise 30-minute sequence of movements if he does not see meaning and syntax in them? I have some half-formed ideas of the “meaning” of this piece, but I will instead focus on how I was entranced for the entire show, which passed so very quickly.

This is a free show, one of several that Dancing on the Edge puts on, along with various ticketed performances. Take a look:

Reviews: Misfit Blues and Weaver Woman (Dancing on the Edge Festival, until July 11)

Dancing on the Edge Festival focuses on varied and innovative dance performances. You are sure to see something challenging and different, no matter which of the many shows you pick.

Misfit Blues and Weaver Woman could not be more different, but they both demonstrated excellent performances.

Misfit Blues, developed by Paul-Andre Fortier, is minimalist. It includes theatrical elements that reminded me of a Samuel Beckett play. The movements are geometric, angular, and spare. The color palette is also minimal, solid colors in neutral tones. Often there is no soundtrack, but when there is, it’s an electronic drone. The man and woman dancers, enact various phases of a relationship, have a universal quality

Credit Xavier Curnillon

Weaver Woman, based on a traditional folktale found throughout Asia and presented with Chinese and Japanese and Korean elements, is a visual and aural extravaganza, combining traditional Chinese and Western instruments, beautiful costumes, and projected visuals. “A woman in a window, some stars, the rain and a man crossing a river…” The storyline is clearly spoken. An abstract sculpture hangs from the ceiling, and as the evening progresses, various colors and abstract Asian-language characters are projected on it. The music is soulful and evocative.

Credit Trevan Wong

These are just two of the many performances in this year’s festival. The programme is broad and exciting. Take a look!

Review: The School for Scandal (until July 5 at CBC 700)


With Bard on the Beach, Vancouverites are accustomed to seeing Shakespeare plays cast in a new place and time that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined. Why shouldn’t the same be done with other plays?

Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 play, The School for Scandal, has been adapted for a new time and place by playwright Matthew Willis, keeping the vast majority of the dialogue (lightly updated) and almost all of the storylines. The place is Vancouver, and the time is approximately now. The production is by NOW! Theatre and the Quimera Theatre Collective.

Miss Sneerwell is now the proprietor of a Yaletown yoga studio, which, at her encouragement, is filled with treacherous gossips. They, like many people today, are consumed with the pursuit of money and self-indulgence. I had read this play aeons ago in school, but you might like to read the Wikipedia synopsis in advance, despite the spoilers, so you can better follow the action.

These events are no less real than a “Real Housewives of Vancouver” episode (my guess, as I’ve never seen one).

In discussion with a fellow attendee, we talked about how current production standards oriented to a short attention span tend to work against any sort of elaborate setup. We want things to happen–now. Spending more than an hour introducing the characters and the basic intrigues may feel too laborious to some, although absolutely expected in 1777. But the action picks up in the second half, as the spun intrigues start to unravel.

The use of possibly feigned love (romantic or familial) as a means to obtain fortune is a long-enduring theme probably older than Homo sapiens. Gossip and backbiting are scarcely new either. In that sense, the juxtaposition of an 18th-century story with contemporary staging works. The part that did not feel quite at ease about this transition was that 18th-century upper-class English society involved significantly more formality than typical Vancouverites demonstrate.

Truthfully, few Vancouverites are as funny as this group, either. The portrayals of hipster poets transfer very well. The yoga and yoga instruction is done terrifically well, and is almost like a dance performance. There are some disguises that seem outlandish, but this play was never meant to be starkly realistic, even in 1777.

Perhaps we all have some anxiety about humor. As stated by Verjuice Sneerwell, “It is impossible to be witty without a little ill-nature.” There’s not a single character who can be seen as honorable in general, although there are a few honorable moments.

With simple sets, the different locales in the play are portrayed very well. The fashion choices are perfect. Come to this play prepared to enjoy a drink and allow the tale to unfold at its leisurely pace.