For better or worse, we’re living in an online world right now. Nowhere is this more apparent than the cultural sector. Every festival has cancelled most in-person programming and offered its shows and panels on the digital plane.
It’s far from ideal, especially for the performing arts, where attending a show is as much about the physical experience (the theatre, the other people, the outfits, the chatter) as it is about the stuff onstage.
And for many people the idea of paying good money to sit in your living room and watch something on your laptop isn’t thrilling. Personally, I’d like to be at the opera, marvelling at the things that people choose to wear, gulping intermission wine and getting the gossip. Online events offer greater access, sure, but it’s simply not the same as going to an actual performance.
Still, you have to give artists and creatives full props for trying to make the best of a bad situation. There are multiple ways to support artists in these strange and trying times — watch stuff, buy tickets, read books or simply pay attention.
Very few of the presentations at this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver are taking place in person. (Health and safety protocols are in place for those that are.)
Graveyards and Gardens, an online performance, looks particularly enticing because of the calibre of the artists involved.
The meeting and mingling of dance and music is just about the oldest creative partnership around, so how do you bring something new to the concept? In some sense, you don’t.
Caroline Shaw, the youngest recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for Music, was the composer-in-residence with Music on Main in 2016 when she first met and collaborated with dancer Vanessa Goodman. The pair’s first work, filled with the looping echoes of Shaw’s voice and Goodman’s lean, mean dance moves wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was a fluid and enjoyable watch.
The pair combine forces again with Graveyards and Gardens, a production of Music on Main taking place Jan. 28 and 29 at PuSh. In order to preserve the spark of a live show the performances will be livestreamed, allowing for a measure of improvisational fire. The artists will also offer a talkback on Jan. 28.
The binary nature of the work’s title, with its allusions to the cycles of birth, death and regeneration, seems appropriate to the moment. Things are born, grow and then die, only to give rise to other forms of life — in essence, the creative process writ both large and small. Described as “a visual and sonic album,” the work will feature the artists playing off each other to give rise to a synthesis of their respective disciplines.
What does that mean exactly? I’m not sure. There isn’t much to indicate what the performance will entail other than the mundane details of the set (some 400 feet of orange sound cable, some house plants, tape recorders and other odds and ends). In this humble dance space Goodman will bring her sinuous long-limbed moves, with Shaw wafting in from the ether.
Sometimes constraints bring about new ways of doing things, forcibly giving birth to new forms and new manifestations. So it may here as well.
Turning Point Ensemble has taken a distinctly different approach to the idea of online performance for its 2021 season, commissioning a series of short films that pair musicians with composers and filmmakers. Ergo the series title 1+1+1+...
The first three films will screen Saturday at 5 p.m., and subsequent films will roll out over the coming season. The idea is situated very much in the moment, but with an eye towards posterity.
Cone* features violinist Mary Sokol Brown performing composer Owen Underhill’s work. Director Sean Patrick Shaul captures the performance in crepuscular black and white in the empty Orpheum Annex theatre in Vancouver. The empty rows of seats, a silent witness to the music and the performer’s artistry, gives the work a distinctly mournful air. Fitting enough for a period marked by profound sadness and isolation.
The other two films in the program include Synapses, featuring oboist David Owen and dancer Emmalena Fredriksson, and Shared Solitude with Ingrid Chiang (bassoon/piano/footwork) performing the work of composer Réjean Marois.
A discussion and Q&A with the creators will follow the screenings.
More online offerings will roll out in the coming months, including a series of free winter concerts from the Jazz Festival. Mark your calendars for DanceHouse’s presentation of Body and Soul.
Let’s not pretend it’s super exciting to watch performances online. But there isn’t any other choice at the moment. It’s temporary.
And perhaps one day, in the dim and misty future, the films created by Turning Point or the documentation of PuSh performances will serve as curious reminders of this time out of time. A soap bubble period that floated forth, then popped when the real world started up once more.
*Story corrected Jan. 24 at 10 a.m. to reflect the correct name of a play.
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