Review: Berlin Waltz (Vancouver Fringe)

I loved Devon More’s preview to her one-woman show, Berlin Waltz, at the Fringe Opening Night, so I decided to see it.

I enjoyed many aspects of this work: the archival film playing in the background (particularly when I saw familiar frames), the xylophone, More’s energy, the sock puppets. Some parts were fascinating, like the conversations with Angelica, a native of the old East Germany, as reported and interpreted by More, who became a bartender when she went to Berlin a few years ago.

More conveys her fascination with the city, but most of the play is essentially a documentary about the Wall, and her bicycle trip along its old path. I’ve been to Berlin a couple times, have read lots about this subject, and was alive when the Wall came down, so not much of the documentary was new to me. On the other hand, speaking to a younger person, she was unaware of much of the history of the Wall, and she did learn from the play, but would have actually preferred a straight documentary rather than this impressionistic version.

Berlin itself as a decadent, dangerous, and intoxicating character is well-known from works like Cabaret, although that long precedes the Wall. More describes her fascination and intoxication with Berlin, which is what I would have liked to hear more about, rather than about the Wall itself.

It isn’t fair, but I couldn’t help but think about what wasn’t mentioned. For example, the Berlin airlifts when the Soviet Union blockaded the city, and David Bowie’s 1987 concert a the Wall. But there’s no way to mention everything about this complex subject. The attempts to link the Wall to contemporary current events were brief and facile; another play might be built with a more careful examination of that subject.

If you haven’t been to Berlin, maybe this play will encourage you to go.

Until September 18, at the Cultch Historic Theatre: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/berlin%20waltz/events

Review: Space Hippo (Vancouver Fringe)

I love the trend towards shadow puppetry. When combined with actual human actors, as is the case here, I like it all the more.

In Space Hippo, by the Mochinosha & The Wishes Mystical Puppet Company, the charming Daniel Wishes and Seri Yanai are narrators, characters, and puppet masters. Yanai speaks only in Japanese, but don’t worry–you’ll understand everything you need to know. I have a soft spot for multilingual theatre. Very few of us live in a monolingual world where we understand everything we hear around us, so it only makes sense that theatre might duplicate that experience.

The premise of the play is, as is par for the Fringe, whimsical and absurd, and I’ll let you learn it when you see it. But let’s assume for now that a hippo has been shot into space, and that the hippo has numerous adventures, and the hippo is highly significant and symbolic vis-a-vis life on earth.

This might be seen as a children’s production, but in fact is is 14+ due to violence.  The play has plenty to keep adults interested. The absurdity and cuteness might be too much for you, but I found it perfect for a Fringe production. Enjoying a 45-minute play that is radically different from any you have seen before is always worthwhile.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/space%20hippo/events

Review: The Ballad of Frank Allen

The Fringe, whatever city you are in, is exactly the place to bring theatre productions that are wacky, zany, and perhaps incomprehensible. If you can make them witty and funny, all the better.

The Ballad of Frank Allen, by Weeping Spoon Productions, features two Australians, and although I have not worked out the equation, I have found that the odds of a production being wacky rise exponentially when the performers originate from the Antipodes. If you have seen “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, or read about Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels, then you might see some parallels to the story of an unfortunately and involuntarily shrunk janitor who now spends his life entangled in the beard of an erratically employed young man who loves to drink. Lots of comedic dialogue, physical comedy, and musical performances enliven the action.

Some plays can start to seem all the same. This will never be the case with The Ballad of Frank Allen. Never will you confuse it with another play. I admit that in the last third or so of the play, I started to lose track of what was happening. There’s a viral video, some science gone wrong, some threats. Pay closer attention than I did.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/the%20ballad%20of%20frank%20allen/events

Review– Widow: A Comedy

Many Fringe productions, understandably hampered by a low budget as well as the need to have an easily packable traveling kit, often skimp on the sets. I noticed immediately that Widow: A Comedy, by Instant Theatre Productions, has a reasonably convincing bar set up, complete with neon sign (Owen’s), and this setup adds significantly to the ambiance of the play.

Have you ever told a really stupid lie, and not known how to get out of it? Have you done anything embarrassingly wrong, and gotten caught? Even if you haven’t, you undoubtedly know someone who has. This play really gets to the inherent awkwardness of human relationships, and how easily they can go wrong.

The play relies on the old standard of a neighborhood bar full of regulars, a watchful and observant owner who doubles as bartender, and an intriguing visit from a stranger. The characters have good chemistry, and you can both cheer for them and wince at the same time.

Describing the plot would be too much of a spoiler, so just see for yourself, at the Havana.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/widow-%20a%20comedy/events

Want a teaser? Watch this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-O7jcybcG3U

Review: Nerdf***er (Vancouver Fringe)

Cameryn Moore has a bold reputation as a Fringe artist. Five years ago, she brought Phone Whore to the Vancouver Fringe, and I’m still recovering from that.

Cameryn Moore is bold, large, and seems fearless. The other works I have seen from her, Phone Whore and Slut Revolution, seemed significantly autobiographical, so I was expecting Nerdf***er to be also. In the preview during Fringe opening night, she did an excerpt describing her love for nerdy or geeky boys which had started back in 7th grade, with a boy who enjoyed listening to Rush, reading Ayn Rand, and discussing that God was dead.

But Nerdf***er is not particularly a celebration of nerdy men, nor is it autobiographical in the same sense as Moore’s other works. When the play opens, her character is preparing to be a human chessboard, in anticipation of a game where two world-ranked players will move their pieces on a board painted on to her broad back.

Ultimately, this one-woman show is about how women are crushed both by the outside world and by their acquiescence to disrespectful and abusive behavior. Teenage girls have to give up on chess at the park when players start making crude sexual remarks. Women of a certain size are encouraged to be pathetically grateful for sexual attention, despite the unpleasant strings attached. Women are encouraged to support men who are creating, and doing, and orchestrating, but their abilities and talents are underrated and discarded.

I appreciate that Moore has moved into a vulnerable space with this work, compared to her others. I think women in particular will find it extremely relatable, and I hope others who attend will find it instructional and empathy-inducing.

Yes, there is nudity, so keep in mind the age limits.

At the Fringe until September 17:  https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/nerdfucker/events

Review: Charlatan! (at Vancouver Fringe until Sept. 18)

I heard one audience member say to another: “I’m going to attend this again as many times as I can”. She has the right idea.

This show plays with the idea of cold reading and mediumship. “I sense there’s someone in this room who has …” “I’m getting impressions of …”. Many intelligent, generally skeptical people are hooked by mediums and cold readers who claim to have psychic intuition or a direct connection to the dead. In this performance (it’s not a play), Travis Bernhardt leads the audience through a game. He is just as clever as any performer doing this “for real”, but even though he keeps the audience in on the game he’s playing, it’s still almost easy to start to fall for it. He uses techniques of suggestion and even hypnotism to make us susceptible.

Bernhardt has done many shows at the Fringe that rely on traditional magic techniques. He is also an accordionist (although I’ve never seen magic and accordion in the same show). This show is about neither. It’s a fascinating exploration into the mind of a potential charlatan, and into your own ability to fool yourself and respond to suggestions.

Until September 18: https://tickets.vancouverfringe.com/shows/charlatan!/events

Vancouver Fringe Festival is happening! (Sept. 8-18)

I will be reviewing the plays I’ve seen so far in a short while. But let me just encourage you to start attending.

On September 8, I attended the very fun opening evening where several dozen lucky winners get to provide the audience a 2-minute preview of their shows. The pressure is on to be entertaining, poignant, dynamic, and beautiful. These actors succeeded handily.

My reviews for the shows that I have seen so far:

Now for shows I have not seen ….

It should go without saying that you must see any show featuring Jacques Lalonde. This year, he is doing the clearly original Trump: the Musical! And when he’s not performing, you can see the always affable Jacques running around Fringe venues, wearing a very distinctive wig. Jacques often sells out, so consider booking ahead.

Are you overwhelmed by the choices? That’s understandable. Consider not making any choices at all, except by location. For example, go hang out on Commercial Drive, and decide to hit the plays that work out most conveniently, at The Cultch or Havana or the Portuguese Club. Or head to the Firehall Arts Centre. Or, of course, head to Granville Island for a stunning set of choices. Speaking of the Portuguese Club, Festa! allows you to partake of the club’s excellent food while you are watching the performance. Portuguese buns are delicious, as is the wine, the cheese, the … everything.
See http://portuguesebuns.wixsite.com/festa

You have many, many options. Be sure to peruse them at http://www.vancouverfringe.com/.

 

Deja Vous concert, June 18, at Gold Saucer Studio

Gold Saucer Studio is a wonderful venue for musical endeavors. Situated in the historic Dominion Building, it is a collective space for independent musicians across Vancouver to gather and give performances. The performance room had a quaint, classic feeling, much like being invited into a drawing room of an older apartment, the experience having moreso of a feel by us sitting back on a spacious sofa, almost in darkness but for a few spot lamps focusing our attention to the duo at the front.

Dominion Building - 1908

(Photo credit: Bob_2006, Flickr)

Said duo were Cathy Fern Lewis, a soprano, and Marina Hasselberg on cello. Cathy is a teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and a prolific musician, having produced and performed in shows across Canada for chamber music, dance, performance art and opera. Marina, hailing from Portugal, has played with a number of ensembles including being the Artistic Director of NOVO Ensemble. She is an avid enthusiast for new and baroque music.

The breadth of knowledge these performers brought to the performance was quite evident. Beginning with an adaptation Purcell’s Music For a While, the austere strains of cello rang out, in a solemn yet slightly melancholic manner, akin to the strains of a harpsichord. Such an approach was well-complimented by the ornamentation and slightly wistful, almost operatic intonation brought by voice.

Following this was Canto by Mark Hand, a Canadian composer living on Saltspring Island. Using a diminishing double echo loop for the cello, the quick passages played by the instrument gave the impression of reverberation around a cave, in an almost communicative manner. The voice, with its more straightforward delivery, was complimented and contrasted by the strings, giving at once a familiar feeling that was tempered by a strong natural sentiment.

The main feature of the evening’s offerings was Rudolf Komorous’ Cold Mountain Songs. Komorous, a Czech-born Canadian composer, was quite taken with the work of the Chinese poet Hanshan, a classicist who visited the eponymous mountains. Hanshan had three poetic periods, the most noteworthy being his transcendental, philosophical meditations composed during his sojourn at Cold Mountain. This expansive view of the world was captured in vignettes depicting small life events followed with self-reflection, which was captured in Komorous’ lyrics. Additionally, the cello takes on a number of quarter-tones and other unique uses of both the bow and of pizzicato, which adds a mystical quality to the music, almost like Scriabin at his most inscrutable. Such a set of pieces is very tricky to pull off, and Marina and Cathy performed this difficult portfolio with effortlessness, as well as the sensitivity to give a very private impression, almost as if the listener was the air travelling around the poet when he made his pilgrimage.

Another highlight of the evening was the premiere of Messages By Hand: A Collection of Postcards by Christopher Reiche. A suite of short pieces inspired by five vintage postcards he had acquired at a flea market, Cathy was to sing the messages on the postcards whilst Marina provided his musical interpretation of the setting. Short and sweet, the pieces conveyed drama, comedy, and even a locomotive feeling when it seemed that one had been writing her message from a train. Beautifully composed, it ended on a beautiful portrayal of Vancouver City Hall, which was of course, left blank on the back.

Sappho Fragments then followed. Composed of unused prose composed by Linda C. Smith, an arrangement was prepared by Marina and Cathy to suit cello and voice. The prose, initially intended to be set to music for a concert of contemporary pieces by women composers, combined beautifully with the musical setting. Rich and lush, voice and cello combined to invoke vivid imagery, giving an impression of the gardens that were originally intended to be construed in the performed concert.

From there followed a true garden piece, Garden Elegy by Jocelyn Pook. Perhaps best known for composing the soundtrack to Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut, Pook composed this piece during her earlier days. Inspired by The Kingis Quair, a poem written by James I of Scotland during his 18-year imprisonment, it is an intense reflection of the narrator who is trapped between philosophy and longing for a distant woman he spies outside his window. In this, Cathy and Marina bring the classical music strains to a united whole – with a more baroque bent, homage is paid to the early pieces of the concert. Vivid imagery is reflected upon in philosophical, somewhat distanced measure, much as it was through the main portion. And again, the performers bring the music and voice to life, drawing us in with a skillful, guiding hand, yet leaving us to reflect on the meaning each of us derived from such work.

The concert was brought to a close with a performance of Nature Boy arranged by Marina. Cathy’s rich voice, brought out in the long, meandering melodic passages, was well accented by the vitality of Marina’s playing. Almost with a mischievous feel, when the last strains played out, the thoughtfulness of the song seemed to fade, seemingly awakening us from the spell previously cast.

And to that, we sincerely hope to feel the magic another time!

Public Salon, May 4 (Global Civic Policy Society)

Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta continue to hold these public salons quarterly, and every time, they manage to find a new set of interesting British Columbians to feature.

The program for the May 4, 2016 one is listed here.

As I entered the auditorium, I was immediately drawn to the fusion music of Zimbabwean musician Kurai Blessing Mubaiwan and an Indian musician from the Bhangra Performers. The salons are always preceded by local musicians before the formal evening begins. It was an amazing combination of African and Indian music that worked terrifically well together.

Sam Sullivan introduced the program as always, pointing out that he does not ever set out to project a theme. But often themes emerge. He also mentioned his ongoing cause, revitalizing the trade language Chinook Jargon (also known as Chinook Wawa). British Columbia is a place with incredible linguistic diversity, but many Aboriginal languages face extinction. This is not just a BC problem, of course, as globalization is aimed straight at indigenous cultures. Write to chinookwawa@globalcivic.org to find out more. It’s always a pleasure to hear Sam talk about this linguistic passion–he truly cares about BC heritage and culture.

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PHOTO CREDIT JOHN GURCHARAN NIJJAR

Among the talks I particularly enjoyed was one by Jocelyn Morlock, an increasingly well-known composer. In Western music, we are taught to think in terms of octaves and the chromatic scale. But with the lumiphone, there are 32 tones to an octave. This is a concept well-known in Indian music (here’s the serendipitous theme emerging). The lumiphone is a beautiful instrument, and I enjoyed the performance by Brian Nesselroad and Colin Van de Reep, playing a composition by Benton Roark.

Mo Dhaliwal combines an accomplished career as a tech entrepreneur with a sideline in performing bhangra. He promotes culture and opposes homogeneity. The striking colors, rhythm, and music of bhangra are inspiring.

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PHOTO CREDIT JOHN GURCHARAN NIJJAR

Former nun Chris Morrissey left her religious vocation when she felt she could no longer deny her sexual orientation. But she has not given up her desire to serve others, as she has formed the Rainbow Refugee Committee to assist people who are living in oppressive environments who want the freedom to build a life with their same-gender partners, or who are simply suffering oppression due to their sexual orientation, their HIV status, or their gender identity.

As always at a Global Policy Civic Society salon, topics veered from humanitarian to cultural to scientific. Let’s hope Sam Sullivan and Lynn Zanatta continue this dinner party tradition writ large for a long time to come.

TEDx Stanley Park returns May 28

TedX events are not sponsored nor organized by the official TED Foundation, but in exchange for the use of the name, the events must follow strict rules as laid out by TED in order to ensure a high-quality event. In and around Vancouver, there are several TedX events every year—some examples are TEDx Gastown, TEDx SFU, Tedx Vancouver, and of particular significance to this post, TEDx Stanley Park.  Among the TED rules are to name the event after a known location.

TEDx allows chosen speakers the opportunity to disseminate their ideas, and allows the attendees a chance to spend a day in a great venue, meet other participants, and learn from the talks. Oh, and keep in mind that lunch and goodies are provided too.

When you watch a TED talk, you have noticed how practiced and polished the speakers are. Their words and gestures flow with ease. But although these speakers make it look easy, what you see is the result of many, many hours of practice. TEDx events are also expected to invest heavily in ensuring that their speakers manage all aspects of their talk with skill, organization, and fluidity. The speakers are assigned coaches, they submit multiple drafts of their talks, and they practice and practice and practice. I want to improve my public speaking ability, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking good speakers are that way effortlessly because they look so natural.

On February 13, members of YVR Bloggers, organized by Ricky Shetty, set out to meet the speakers and interview them in preparation for the May 28 TEDx Stanley Park event. We met up in the functional and pleasant co-working space Kickstart Community Ventures, which is focused on entrepreneurs. The founder and organizer of TEDx Stanley Park, Roger Killen, said he got all of the speakers from ToastMasters, and I noticed that one chapter of ToastMasters meets in this space.

View the list of speakers for TEDx Stanley Park (it looks incomplete at the moment, but should soon be updated). Here are some of the talks that particularly interest me:

  • Karn Manhas on bedbug control, and his natural, extremely effective solution
  • Jules Ku-Lea on slavery in the food chain. What’s really happening with that shrimp from Thailand or that produce from 100 miles away?
  • Maureen McGrath fearlessly discusses sex and how to make it better for people. She’s not embarrassed by anything.
  • Iman Aghay had two deathbed experiences and is still under 40. It was interesting to hear the changes he’s made as a result.

Although reading is an excellent way to learn, there’s a lot to be said for learning directly from the source in the company of your peers. Peruse the TEDx Stanley Park website, and consider going.

This is a first for me, but I am offering a promo code if you buy a ticket. Use the password “lois”. Have fun!