Thursday, October 4, 2012


The powerful, brash, and magically sassy website for S.K. Dyment's novel Steel Animals (complete with comprehensive study guide) reflects the dynamic, surreal sense of  journey, abandonment, romantic discord, and hilarious entanglement that fills the pages of this remarkable first novel from a writer whose creative imagination never ceases to amaze. The sheer dexterity of phrasing and ideas from start to finish make this 270 page tour de force a thoroughly enjoyable, sexy, and consistently thrilling read. Corporate corruption, hijacked bank machines, and towering condos filter in and out of a complex web of scenes and relationships that culminate in violent arboreal splendour. Dyment skilfully blends a sense of unspoiled nature with a sharp sense of material complexity and potential doom -

"November. A skiff of snow has descended on Vancouver. The snow dusts the green      peaks that embrace it. They look like torn paper unwrapped by a careless child, abruptly crumple-pressed against a backdrop of glowing blue blending to bone."

Sexuality constantly re-invents itself as characters commingle with thoughts that simply and concisely define astute sensual bodies as mutable agents of desire and sincere human ingenuity -

"They lie in bed together and exchange touches and sounds that express things that are to equal degrees more unexpected and more fantastic than either lover can imagine. They are enamored with their invention of each other."

Reminiscent of Tom Robbins, Steel Animals, as a mighty serio-comic novel, utilizes a kind of magical surrealism that serves to punctuate the dire effects of certain corporate entities. Dyment gives readers an up close and personal 'queer' portrait of these truly memorable characters. Beautifully described sexual exploits, in all their fabulous gender-fuck mutations, subtly channel lithe sexy motorcycle play, black swans with a high rate of homosexual pair bonding, and sheer titillating flesh to flesh human contact. Ancient taboos are broken and alluring alliances are re-configured as chance encounters become lifelong fixations.

This is a novel not to to be missed. With a filmic, intellectually soap-opera 'ish flair, an ensemble of vibrant and distinct personalities come to life with literary precision and unique temperamental trumpets to blow - all the time exhibiting the virtuosic imagination of a writer hell bent on revealing as much as one novel possibly can regarding the obsessive, chaotic, and truly entertaining aspects of 21st century mayhem - simultaneously urban, bucolic and utterly other worldly.



L-R sitting: Louis Laberge-Cote, Johanna Bergfelt and Kristen Dennis perform in the world premiere of Expire, choreographed by ProArteDanza Artistic Director Roberto Campanella 
and Artistic Associate Robert Glumbek
proartedanza's current selection of dance programs, running until October 6th at the Fleck Dance Theatre (Harbourfront) is a diverse, thrilling, at times overly electic collection of intriguing choreographic sequences.

Roberto Campanella's Decorum, the first offering of the evening, provides a beautifully cloistered, balletic study in physical and emotional relationship-based values - originally created for Ballet Jorgen and re-worked for Rex Harrington and Evelyn Hart in 2005. Kristen Dennis and Tyler Gledhill take on this passionate, brief, and tightly conceived duet with great precision as they sustain a kind of concealed, smoldering emotion that acts as a perfect counterpoint to the intense musical selections (Tabula Rasa , 1. Ludus - Con Moto from Silencio; Part, Glass & Martynov by Avro Pärt)

Positioning Gledhill as a kind of 'straight' man who acts as secondary but crucial physical support for his paramour's skilfull and beautiful contortions, the piece leaves one with the all too fleeting sense of love gone terribly dramatic and passionately private. 

Gorgeous costuming by Melanie McNeill is in perfect sync with the emotion and the choreography as form fitting formal wear hugs Gledhill's powerful physique - while the soft translucent folds of Kristen Dennis's frock flails and flutters with delicate athletic prowess at every lift, flight of fancy, and romantic endowment.   

Robert Glumbeck and Roberto Campanella's co-conceived piece, Expire, dares to use what appears to be a large swath of tie-dyed fabric to gorgeous effect. Dancers skillfully weave in and out of what could have been a mere textile induced cliche 
in the hands of less skillful performers. Ultimately the vivacity, nuance, and sheer precision of the kinetically inclined draped forms, as they move in and out of the mind's eye with a powerful fabric-ated flair, renders the work a stunning visual study in "physiological and psychological well-being" affected profoundly by the "simple act of breathing." (program note) Filled with a myriad of somewhat disjointed moments that could use more succinct work on the transitions, Expire might have fared better at the beginning of the program (before the perfectly pitched length of the opening duet, Decorum) - and it could be shorter by at least a third. As it stands, the work manages to sustain even the most disconnected moments through choreographic diversity, skilled execution, and Melanie McNeill's evocative set & costume design.

L-R: Kristen Dennis and Johanna Bergfelt perform in the world premiere of Expire, choreographed by ProArteDanza Artistic Director Roberto Campanella and Artistic Associate Robert Glumbek

Kevin O'Day's We Will (2008) delights and skillfully estranges the ear and eye with brief, startling, at times disarming moments of spoken text that attempt to impose a kind of post-modern self-consciousness onto the dancers as they engage in a battle of "wills where two support, tease, and destroy and desire each other in mercurial fashion." (program note) This supposed mercuriality is incredibly effective, yet broken in a somewhat bewildering way by the unexpected moments that break the fourth wall with a surprising textual candor that doesn't quite gel. The repeated, spoken idea of 'starting over' - once the action has clearly begun to engage viewers - might have been handled with a more paradoxical blend of fluidity and disjointed stagecraft (i.e. - lighting, sound). Somewhat lengthy and repetitive at times, the intricate, challenging physical feats displayed by Robert Glumbeck and Mami Hata give the piece an exhilarating charm that overcomes the time-based & narrative concerns that the concept of 'expiration' evokes.

Campanella and Glumbeck end the evening with their mesmerizing Beethoven’s 9th - 1st Movement (2009). A row of chairs act as a simple starting point for a labyrinthine sequence of movements that take on a kind of Master Class effect as each dancer rises and takes their turn at paying homage to an “incomparable piece of music.” The thundering strength and familiarity of Beethoven’s masterpiece is matched by the dancers, providing a very satisfying finale to an evening that utilizes an incredible diversity of sight and sound.

Front: Delphine Leroux and Tyler Gledhill perform in Beethoven's 9th - 1st Movement, choreographed by ProArteDanza Artistic Director Roberto Campanella and Artistic Associate Robert Glumbek

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

performance as an act of intervention - part two

Victims suggest innocence. And innocence, by the inexorable logic that governs all relational terms, suggests guilt.
Susan Sontag (b. 1933), U.S. essayist. AIDS and Its Metaphors, ch. 1 (1989)... performance has participated in shaping ourunderstanding and experience of AIDS......theatrical practices as instances of various cultural moments - in all their multiplicity and even contradiciton...ACTS OF INTERVENTION; Performance, Gay Culture, and AIDS by David Román (Introduction, 1998)


an excerpt from WHAT'S IT LIKE? - EXCERPT ENTITLED; Does This Giacometti Make Me Look Fat or ART IMMUNO DEFICIENCY SYNDROME - written and performed by David Bateman

I get tired of the excessive minimalism cluttering the stark white walls of the post pre-middle modern wing, so I wander away form the posing as straight, poly amorous bisexual couple with the autistic grand daughter in the black and white room and then I see them again in the Giacometti gallery 

And I ask the woman if she would be so kind as to take my photo beside The Walking Man sculpture

She politely agrees to do so, and when she is finished I thank her and say,

“Does this Giacometti make me look fat?”

She smiles a quizzical smile and walks away

I wasted my best joke of the day on her.

But that was my aim.

I wanted to see how she would respond, so I said something peculiar to her to see what her reaction would be.

I can be such a rude, manipulative bastard sometimes.

It’s great fun.

But there are also times filled with great tenderness and serenity, mostly when I’m all alone.

For example, I daydream about having all of the drinking glasses in my white IKEA kitchen cupboards in perfect order.

I imagine them all standing in a row in a beautiful white cupboard.

And then I begin to imagine filling them all with water while they are still in the cupboard

And then setting up lighting in my kitchen with soft lighting on them.

And then photographing all of the gorgeous glasses

And the photo comes out this stunningly beautiful study in shades of grey and black and white

And I call the photo (pause) Whistler’s Cupboard,

and for those viewers unfamiliar with the original title of the iconic American painting Whistler’s Mother - Arrangement in grey and Black No. 1 - located in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (pause) France)

I subtitle the photograph (pause) Water! - and do a series of prints in color with a blue tint for a more (pause) ‘populist’ sensibility

And then one day I go to a gallery where my photograph is hanging

And the couples from (pause) Chicago, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Saskatchewan, Toronto are standing in front of my photograph

And they just stand there and stare at it

She is wearing a loud print skirt and a plain yellow blouse.

He is wearing a pastel sports shirt and plain brown trousers

They look like a modernist diptych tableau vivant come to life

I squint and their bodies in front of the photo begin to look like a collision between Jack Bush (slide) Peter Max (slide) Jules Olitski (slide) and a fabulous silk floral arrangement form the home décor section at Walmart

Through this haze of strained commodified modernism I hear the people begin to speak

(woman speaks first)
It’s just a picture of water glasses. Anyone could have taken that. I wonder how much he got paid for letting them hang it in here.

He should have paid them. Can you buy the art in this place?
No dear, I don’t think you can. But I’m sure there are some lovely postcards in the gift shop.

We should have gone to the gift shop first, then we would have known where the good stuff was.

But we would have missed a lot of interesting things.
What good is it just hanging here all the time? It should be for sale.
Well, if you could buy it, wouldn’t you think that one of the farmer and his wife would have sold by now. It’s very famous.

I read the brochure. That’s not his wife.
What are you saying?
That’s not the farmer and his wife. That’s his daughter.
That’s just stupid.
Well I read it in the brochure.
She looks old enough to be his wife and she’s very homely. And he’s no Rock Hudson himself. Very strange shaped head, but quite life like. I don’t like it.

It’s a good painting. I still find it hard to believe Rock was gay, even though he got the AIDS. I mean, anyone can get it now, right?

[American Gothic slide} I don’t like it so much.

It captures a real sense of those two people as hard working farmers.
I don’t see why you can’t be a hard working farmer and attractive at the same time.

That’s not a nice thing to say, and if you can’t say anything nice [interrupted]
I know, I know, and then don’t say anything at all.
They look like very pleasant down to earth people
They look boring as hell. And if that is his daughter then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
Well you really don’t know much about art do you.
And neither do you.
I know what I like.
I know what I don’t like, and I don’t like what you like.
You liked that one of the diner.
Yes, I did. I did like that one. The people in it are quite nice looking.
You can barely see their faces.
You can see enough to tell that they’re good looking.
I heard that the guy who took that photo of the glasses died of AIDS.
Where on earth did you hear that?
When you were in that room looking at all those flowers that look like vaginas I went into the next room and two very feminine gentlemen were standing in front of it and I overhead what they were saying. I think one of them might have been crying. He kept saying how beautiful the glasses were and how the water looked so clear and pure and how it was some kind of metaphor to illness.

Well what on earth was he crying about?
Feminine men get very worked up about AIDS sometimes.
Well I get thirsty looking at that photograph. It makes me thirsty. It certainly doesn’t make me cry, and if he died of AIDS, that photographer, well, it was his own damn fault.

'Global Projects' - performance as an act of intervention, part one

"... I oppose the global project and I believe in another kind of global eccentricism project that comes from within, from the bottom up, that is ‘cooked’ on the streets and that organically emerges out of it. You know, the migrations of people throughout the world; and that kind of global project is almost opposite to the one imposed by the master minds of globalization, right?" 

Guillermo Gomez Pena

"And what in the hell did Puccini know about the identity crisis of a Japanese Geisha in Nagasaki in 1904 anyway? What in the hell did he know about butterflies? What in the hell do I know about the identity of a Geisha in Nagasaki in 1904? I am a middle aged white Canadian faggot. I have the ethnicity of a loaf of Wonder Bread. My forefathers are the Man from Glad, Mr. Clean, and Jack Daniels. How on earth do I position myself within a fragmented postmodern narrative about an innocent Geisha and Popeye the American sailor man?"      

from Lotus Blossom Speical; Metamorphosis and misidentificaiton in Madama Butterfly by David Bateman

Add caption

Butterfly’s Borders: Gender, Geography, Fantasy and Experience in David
Bateman’s Lotus Blossom Special
Larissa Lai

Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly begins with a mock marriage.  This type of
marriage supposedly belongs to Japanese tradition, at least, in the imagination of the
librettist. The callous American sailor Pinkerton, eager for a temporary Japanese wife
marries the naïve, fifteen-year-old Butterfly in a contract that binds them for nine
hundred and ninety-nine years, “but with the option, at ev’ry month, to cancel the
contract.” Both are ecstatic at the union, but for Pinkerton, it is a frivolity, while for
Butterfly, in spite of her relatives’ admonitions, it is deadly serious. The opera’s tragedy
turns on the misunderstanding between play and reality. This is indicated in the very
opening of the opera, with Pinkerton and Goro observing the mobility of the walls of the
house in which Pinkerton and Butterfly are to be husband and wife. The walls and ceiling
“come and will go, just/ as it may suit your fancy.” Pinkerton calls the house a “fairy
dwelling,” which, Goro observes “Springs like a tow’r from nowhere.” Like the fairy
house, Butterfly, for Pinkerton, is a toy (“the age/ of playthings”)  to play with until he
marries “a real wife from America.” To Butterfly, who, in the logic of the opera, inhabits
only the world of play, the marriage is serious and solemn. Those who live in fairyland
experience it as “real.” Tellingly, while showing Pinkerton her treasures, she throws
away her pot of carmine (the stuff of artifice) but keeps the very real dagger her father
used to commit suicide at the Mikado’s command some years prior.

The opera draws a frame around Butterfly, her house, and indeed, Japan itself. It
is self-aware, but it is not self-reflexive in the sense of seeing it’s imperialist
misrecognition of Asian women. It lays the error of reading at Butterfly’s feet. She can
not see who she is. Pinkerton might be callous, but because he is American (and real) and
she is Japanese (and therefore of the imagination), he cannot be expected to stay with her.
In the logic of the opera, Butterfly’s tragedy lies in her own misrecognition of both
herself and her lover.

Of course we, as good postcolonial readers think we know better. We understand
that Madama Butterfly is a racist, imperialist imagining of Asian femininity. In the
context of American imperialism in Asia, if one thinks of its military bases in the
Phillipines, or more pointedly Vietnam (which is what makes the newer rendition of the
opera, Miss Saigon, so appalling) the international political context in which the opera
circulates is racist and offensive. The right-on stance of contemporary race politics is to
read the opera as a bad Western race fantasy, and move on to produce other, better
representations. However, in recent years, as myself and others have discussed elsewhere,
the difficulty of producing “better representations” that do not get consumed in a newly
Orientalist way, has shown itself to be difficult if not impossible.

David Bateman’s performance piece Lotus Blossom Special, then, takes on a
slightly different strategy. He re-engages the narrative of the opera to show us something
about whiteness, masculinity, camp and queer sexuality. In so doing, he reveals that these
may in fact be the real subjects of the original opera, and not Asian femininity at all.
Puccini may have been more conscious of this than his audiences, if the framing is any



"Times have changed,
And we've often rewound the clock,
Since the Puritans got a shock,
When they landed on Plymouth Rock."


"If today,
Any shock they should try to stem,
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them."


 "In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes." 

"...The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today..."

SNOW GLOBE the final purchase

lyrics from Anything Goes by Cole Porter



                  "If little else, the brain is an educational toy."
                                                               Tom Robbins

In P.J. Thomas’s second novel, Gert’s Book of Knowledge, there is a deceptively whimsical quality that draws one in at the outset and leaves you with a semi-hollow pang of paradoxical delight-cum-remorse for all of the antics you have been privy to over the course of this thoroughly engaging ninety-three page journey. You don’t want it to end.

The hollowness I speak of is not of the superficial kind. It is more akin to the kind of hollowness Eliot speaks of in his iconic ode The Hollow Men, a poem that moves through a simultaneously light/dark narrative, littered with scarecrows and columnal ruins, ending with the playful, conflicted image of the prickly pear and the iconic whimper - in lieu of the apocalyptic bang. The paralysis apparent in Eliot’s metaphoric description of men caught within in a decidedly bleak physical and emotional landscape is captured in Thomas’s fleet footed prose by an attention to both broad and intimate personal details. The very first line of the book sets the stage for an exploration of love and sexuality that, although it is not always at the forefront of the narrative, it is always a pleasingly teasing storyline that informs the adventures of the title character and her cohorts from start to finish.

Gert’s journey, both physical, spiritual and philosophical takes the reader to a variety of global sites that represent a cerebral longing for knowledge - as Tom Robbins has pointed out - as an enlightening and profoundly enriching toy. The writer tinkers wisely with the notion of playfulness as she creates scenes that may remind some of us of past escapades where recreational drugs, sex, rock and roll were at the forefront of a life changing learning process. The difference between Gert and the rest of us may lie in the fact that she never really loses her sense of whimsy, play and radical adventure, even during the most somber and tragic moments. She is a kind of grown up Pee Wee Herman with all her toys and her past ‘indiscretions’ intact  - and proud of it. Like Peewee she is always a child and always grownup.

"Gert . . . was renewing herself all the time. I try to define her but when I think I have pinned her she shifts, slips into something I cannot quite grasp. The paint on her portrait is never dry. . . [She] was wearing pink eyelashes and a Goldilocks wig. Her wedding dress consisted of ancient beaded Thai wedding garments sewn together into a “tribal wrap,” as her designer called it, which barely covered her unmentionables . . . Cameron crawled out of the tent reeking of good hashish and stood red-eyed and laughing with his great wide teeth. We all laughed and laughed with left-over high and giddiness from the days before, and then Gert bent over, then each of us, one after another, careful of our swimming heads, and we started to pick up the trash . . . I think I enjoyed the cleanup most of all the wedding favours." (pp 68-69)

The narrator, Gert’s former lover and constant student, continually reminds the reader of how down to earth this frequently flighty character really is. He opens with a personal detail about his own life and then embarks on a selfless journey of reminiscence and magical knowledge that Gert herself is largely responsible for.  She is one of those truly memorable characters from fiction, like the zany off the wall personalities that inhabit a Tom Robbins novel. They are made believable by an unflinchingly personable and lyrical writing style that Thomas has cultivated in her previous novel, Always Up and Down. In both pieces of thoroughly entertaining and engaging fiction she has shown us, that, as Robbins claims -

Gert’s Book of Knowledge is all of the above.