Thursday, April 28, 2016

Looking for Paul: Inez Van Dam vs. The Buttplug Gnome*

NOTE: The Gnome kind of looks like Santa Claus and the buttplug kind of looks like a Christmas tree, so why not have an annual competition for local artists to design a condom that really looks like a Christmas tree and then everyone will be happy for a short period during the festive season - (well - maybe, maybe not, almost everyone - except for people who loathe, and/or don't celebrate Christmas). 

               Gnome? Santa Claus? Buttplug? Christmas Tree?

trigger warning: Do not, I repeat, do not go to The Old Spaghetti Factory before the show. If you do go, have salad with a light vinaigrette. Or just drink lots of Vodka...
                               sculpture by Paul McCarthy

fuck the pain away

with cheese whiz and a baggy 
I craft a little pouch 
then wrap it round my weenie
and fuck my brand new couch
    The Dildettes

All art is quite useless.
    Oscar Wilde

 images of work by Paul McCarthy
Speaking of buttplugs, coincidentally enough, i am a member of a little known comedy troupe called The Dildettes (find our page on Facebook!) Our brief gaggle of performances ranged from a late night showing at the Canadian Spoken Word Festival in Victoria (2014) to a sports bar patio tour of St. Catherine’s and surrounding environs in the summer of 2013. We each made $17 for the entire debacle. it was thrilling, if not a little anti-climactic. We devote each performance to poetry about dildos featuring rounds of anal inflected haiku to solo features where one of our three titillating troubadours delights the audience with a full length ode to the iconic phallic sex toy, and its cousins the buttplug, anal beads, vibrators, what have you. I only insert this self-serving bit of shameless penetrating promo in order to provide a wider context for anal entertainment, and as a segue into the current Harbourfront World Stage performances of Looking for Paul: Inez van Dam Vs. the Buttplug Gnome - running at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre April 26-30.

In all its symbolic, metaphoric, and epic proportions, the show is indeed an an anal-oriented tour de force of heteronormative dimensions. Segments in the second half could have balanced the gender defacement by placing the men in somewhat more abject positions, and yet it is relatively well-balanced as all the actors take part in a spectacle of, well, you have to see it to believe it, and I won’t spoil your appetite by giving any of this smorgasbord of truly grotesque (‘grotesque’ in the sense of the grotesque as a sublime art form) delight and disgust.

Unfortunately, one is never quite sure whether the primary aim of the project is ever met, being a scathing interrogation of the position of the artist in relation to public funding, public art, and what are an individual citizen’s rights when it comes to how art is chosen to be positioned right outside our dwelling place. Inez van Dam, as the instigator of the primary narrative, doesn’t appear to like giant sculptural buttplugs. Her distaste for this, in the form of Paul McCarthy’s buttlplug gnome, located in a square in Rotterdam, begins the action of the play (see batemanreviews preview for details on the premise of the show). 

The first half is beautifully performed and constructed by an ensemble of creators and actors. Walter Bart, Yannick Noomen, Matijs Jansen, Maartje Remmers, Marleen Scholten, Inez van Dam, and Daniel Frankl display degrees of performed cockiness, intellect, insecurity, and emotive excellence that keeps the pace moving merrily and rapidly along through a plethora of diverse email exchanges ranging form the businesslike to the erotically playful and the anxiously infuriating. In a kind of hybrid fact/fiction drama the overall program suggests the impossibility of fulfilling the aim of the residency in LA. The ensemble performs this tightly conceived staged reading with finesse and well crafted writing. An hour or so in, well, one may begin to long for a bit of variety onstage. And that is precisely what one gets, with a vengeance.

Initially funded by a $20,000 grant from an LA arts council and presented in cooperation with Harbourfront’s World Stage, Wunderbaum (Netherlands), Richard Jordan Productions (UK), Theatre Royal Plymouth, REDCAT, and Summerhall (Edinburgh), The Buttplug Gnome raises many questions for spectators to take with them long after the show, but the answers are as ephemeral and unformed as the second half of the show. And yet, this lack of structure and coherent narrative resolution, where threads are left hanging at the drop of a buttplug, is deceiving as the skill of the performers, and the technical prowess of onstage technicians, takes us deep inside, a variety absurdist, at times harrowing moments of theatrical boundary busting. A lack of any clear solution is at the very heart of the project. 

Again spoilers are not to my taste. Suffice it to say, be prepared for an evening of entertainment that is at times witty, clever, sobering, infuriating, and not what one might call, in the culinary sense of the word, appetizing U.less, well, you’ll get the drift when you see the show. But it is never dull, and it is, oF course, always penetrating…Oops, I said penetrating again…


As background material, the butt of this buttplug comic-drama is LA artist Paul McCarthy whose lascivious and iconic performances, sculptures etc etc etc of etc have been shaming the American Dream for several decades - turning it into the nightmare that it’s often inevitable flip side always withholds. When McCarthy’s work landed in a square in Rotterdam and pissed off a humble bookstore owner whose flat and working place shared a view of the buttplug gnome, well, all hell broke loose. She was chatted up by an actor from a local theatre troupe (Wunderbaum) and before she knew it they were all in LA on a lucrative artist residency attempting to seek revenge - among other more aesthetically inclined things - on the artist (McCarthy) who created the buttlpug gnome that landed in her back yard in the first place. 

Van dam might be considered a bit of a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) kind of character, and yet her sincerity and wide-eyed, parodic tone, found in here intonation and performance presence, belie a simple reading of her perspective, and the overall outlook of the theatre company that has taken up her story and turned it into a complex, unsettling, and provocative piece of performance.

In a nutshell, it all becomes a necessarily convoluted personal debate-cum-anti-deabte/spectacle regarding public art, public tax dollars, and all that jazz. It seems that some European countries, having enjoyed ample arts funding for quite some time now, are in danger of lapsing into late capitalist North American conservative models whereby the grants get smaller and the going gets tougher. Welcome to the New World! Well, the current World Stage performance may not change any of that, but in the meantime it is a glorious mess of theatrical expertise and stomach turning flight of fancy as one hour and forty five minutes of air time takes audiences though a complex and intensely citational show that unapologetically rips off - and pays homage to - one of the great American parodic 'ripoff' artists of the late 20th and early 21st century - in the spirit of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, among others.

And yet, if you don't believe in originality and the sickly sweet stench of assumed sincerity/aesthetic authenticity in art, then none of it is a ripoff as we see artists uniting globally to ask hard penetrating / un-penetrable questions - and giving no answers in the face of a corporate/politically run planet that continues to destroy art and replace it with consumerist thrill and conniving capitalist conviviality. It is with a great sense of poetic [IN] justice that the production has also been presented in conjunction with LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall (REDCAT - Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theatre). 

There are many intriguing online discussions of Paul McCarthy’s work that beg the question around originality and the true sense of radical art practice (see The Art of Soulless Ripoff by Kim Nicolini for one such discussion, running the gamut from profound insight to sentimental historical reductionism - ). 

The Buttplug Gnome is just the tip - of the aesthetic iceberg. Don’t miss  it, before it melts in a rank penetrating aura of scathing, pasta-invested, rapidly diminishing global funding proportions. 

I, kind of, loved it!!!

oh, and don't forget the CN Tower, it kind of looks like a buttplug too...


Sunday, April 24, 2016


A large public work 
by the L.A.-based artist Paul McCarthy 
stands in Rotterdam's town square. 

The piece, funded by the Dutch government, 
is intended as a holiday tribute, 
and its official title is "Santa Claus." 

Santa, or a gnome, holds a large, festive bell in one hand, 
and in the other what's (perhaps) intended to be a Christmas tree. 

But the resemblance of the Tanenbaum 
to a certain kind of sex toy 
has prompted a populist renaming of the piece as 

"The Buttplug Gnome."  LA WEEKLY



Wunderbaum, Red Cat, Richard Jordan Productions, Big in Belgium, Theatre Royal Plymouth in association with Summerhall - The Netherlands

With boldness and humour, Wunderbaum remind us that the only art worth making is that which disrupts, challenges and tests artists and audiences.
                                                            – THE GUARDIAN 

Looking for Paul is still messing with my mind.

                                                                       – FRINGEREVIEW

The question at the heart of [Wunderbaum’s] inquiry is the   purpose of art.
                                                             – LA WEEKLY




DB What was the initial inspiration for the piece and how does it relate to your own views on public art?  

MS When "Santa Claus", the work of art by Paul McCarthy was placed in Rotterdam, a huge discussion was provoked. A big number of citizens, politicians, shop owners were very negative about this controversial work in the city centre. Others loved it. All of a sudden everyone had an opinion about art in public space and whether we should pay for this with our own tax money.  This inspired us to create the project "Looking for Paul".  As we believe that artists should have the freedom to express themselves and surprise people in daily life in a good way. Not just please them.

DB What can spectators expect to experience in the area of entertainment and/or cultural issues regarding arts practice?

MS The show gives a good, humurous reflection on how we should deal with this discussion. We question ourselves as a company, our own position as artists. We talk about the Dutch funding system and our artistic mission.  In the end it is a funny, bloody mess. But that's all I can reveal!

DB Any thoughts on arts funding globally and/or in Canada and the U.S. 

MS We have been working in the US a few times now, but this is our first time in Canada.  We have seen the reality of professional American artists serving coffee during the day and rehearsing for free in the evening.  In The Netherlands, not in all European countries unfortunately, we still have a decent working arts funding system. We have long term subsidies, so you have time to fail as an artist. You can imagine our reaction when Dutch politicians cutting our art budgets, started to say: Look at the Americans! They can do it themselves! 

DB How do you feel about the term 'buttplug gnome'? Perhaps it unintentionally/coincidentally bears some connections to what might be considered particular 'uptight' elements of arts funding and practice?

 MS You mean art penetrating society, even if the society doesn't ask for this? My answer would be: Yes! If not, only fear will remain.




Inez van Dam lives and works in Rotterdam opposite the so-called “Buttplug Gnome,” a controversial public sculpture by contemporary American artist Paul McCarthy, whose work is known for satirizing mass media and consumerism. After receiving a US grant, Dutch theatre collective Wunderbaum brings Inez to LA to help her confront McCarthy and to develop her story as part of their residency.

The resulting work documents their journey and artistic process that explodes — sometimes very messily — into a debate on aesthetics and the politics and meaning of public art. Excessive, witty and rabidly unconcerned with decorum, Looking for Paul is a detailed and engrossing mixture of fact and fiction, parody and homage.

Advisory: nudity


Wunderbaum is based out of Rotterdam and has been making plays for over a decade. Formed in the aftermath of 9/11, their work largely focuses on crisis and social issues.

Wunderbaum is a Dutch-Flemish actors’ group that makes theatre about current issues, both on location and in the theatre. Usually, Wunderbaum writes its own texts collectively, based on its own research but every now and then it gives instructions to authors who will write a text. The group received the Mary Dresselhuys Award and VSCD Proscenium Award for their entire oeuvre, as well as a Total Theatre Award during the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
In 2013, Wunderbaum started building The New Forest, a four-year project and growing cooperation with numerous partners, volunteers and spectators. The New Forest depicts transition and casts an eye on tomorrow’s society, and consists of theatre performances, seminars, a film project, context programmes and online content.


Richard Jordan Productions is an Olivier and Tony Award-winning production company under the artistic leadership of British producer Richard Jordan. His London-based company was founded in 1998 and has been at the forefront of developing and presenting works by a diverse range of established and emerging writers and artists. The recipient of more than 30 major international theatre awards and enjoying associations with many of the world’s leading theatres and arts organizations, the company has produced more than 190 productions in the U.K. and 21 other countries, including 70 world premieres and 81 European, Australian or U.S. premieres. Described by the U.K.’s Stage newspaper as “one of the U.K.’s most prolific theatre producers” and named seven times in their top 100 theatre professionals, Richard was the first recipient of the TIF/Society of London Theatre Producers Award and in 2009 a finalist in the British Council’s first-ever Creative Entrepreneur Award. In 2010 for his services to the UK and international theatre industries, he was selected for life time inclusion in A & C Black’s Who’s Who. Richard’s other Canadian productions include: Dickens’ Women; Dylan Thomas: Return Journey; Cadre; Hamlet (solo); Hirsch; Goodness; Kafka and Son; Internal; Fight Night and BigMouth. He has also worked extensively with a number of Canada’s leading artists and companies producing their work internationally including: Volcano Theatre; Ross Manson; Rick Miller; Naomi Campbell; Raoul Bhaneja; Darren O’Donnell; Alon Nashman and Ravi Jain. Richard is pleased to return to World Stage at Harbourfront having previously produced with his long-term collaborators, Ontroerend Goed, the Dora nominated Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen.


The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) is an interdisciplinary contemporary arts center for innovative visual, performing and media arts located in downtown Los Angeles inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Each season REDCAT presents a far-reaching roster of work by globally renowned artists, inside one of the most versatile and technologically advanced presentation spaces in the world.
Through performances, exhibitions, screenings, and literary events, REDCAT introduces diverse audiences, students and artists to the most influential developments in the arts from around the world, and gives artists in this region the creative support they need to achieve national and international stature. REDCAT continues the tradition of the California Institute of the Arts, its parent organization, by encouraging experimentation, discovery and lively civic discourse.

Looking for Paul – Pre-show Tea

Wednesday, April 27, 2016 – 7pm
Join us for a series of Pre-show Teas with our World Stage Scholars-in-Residence. Admission is free with the purchase of a ticket to the opening performance of Looking for Paul.
Looking for Paul is many things at once: it is a performance about shocking works of art; it is a performance that stages a discussion about how art can shock; it is itself a shocking work of art. Join us in a challenging pre-show “Devil’s Advocate”-style discussion, facilitated by World Stage Scholars-in-Residence Denise Cruz and Matthew Sergi – who will take on, for argument’s sake, the opinion directly opposite from whatever has most recently been said – and who will playfully encourage you to do the same. Come out early and try out different and opposing opinions, just to see what fits, as we tackle tough questions about where and whether lines should be drawn – especially at publicly funded institutions like Harbourfront – between challenging art and harmful offense, between free speech and aggressive intrusion, between the private and the public.

Looking for Paul – Talkshow

Thursday, April 28, 2016 – After the show
Following this evening’s performance, connect with the artists as they field your questions and discuss the work you’ve just seen. It’s the most direct behind-the-scenes access you can get. Admission is free with the purchase of your ticket.




Friday, April 22, 2016

Esmeralda Enrique
Spanish Dance Company
' Epocas '

A contemporary expression rooted in tradition

Running until Sunday April 24th, the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company is presenting a spectacular program that pays tribute to the rich and complex history of music and dance that bears “the social relevance of…ground-breaking work that stretches far beyond Spain.” (program note) While flamenco dominates the overall texture of this choreographic tour-de-force, it is apparent, in every sequence, that the rhythms, gestures, powerful emotions, and musical excellence draws from an incredibly diverse global history.
Onstage musicians and singers become integral to the dancing ensemble as the program embraces, from start to finish, a fine sense of interconnectedness - singers moving seamlessly from the upstage area to deliver powerful solos, and then, at times, jousting delicately and energetically with a dancer in close proximity. 
Beginning with huge projections that represent the history of Spanish dance, one is drawn into the iconic narrative that each consecutive segment moves through. By displaying life size theatre interiors, a sense of absorption frames the dance with a powerful theatricality that gradually moves into subtle textured projections, moon fed nightscapes, and ancient urban scenes that keep the historical homage intact from beginning to end. 
With eight separate sets of choreographic brilliance, and two musical features where the musicians and singers command the stage, the overall evening is a plethora of diverse entertainment held together by the intense and intricate choreography of Esmeralda Enrique and dancer/choreography Rafael del Pino. 
Rafael del Pino's (aka Keko) solo (Mi Bailey Alegrias) in the second act, pays tribute to 1930’s artist Vicente Escudero, considered “one of the most natural dancers to ever grace the art of flamenco.” Rafael del Pino choreographs and dances with an abandon and unrelenting bravado that has the audience in raptures throughout. His soaring manner, engaging the audience with full facial flirtation, enhances bodily movement that creates a breakneck pacing that is breathtaking. When he shares a duet with Esmeralda Enrique in La Cana, his elegant and unshakeable masculinity reveals, with the magnificent aid of Enrique, a stunning display of how dance partners from the history of Spanish dance were able to bring “another dimension to the art where femininity and masculinity were distinctive and complimentary.” (program) 

A beautiful and sensual inter-generational quality is deepened by the presence of two brilliant dancers who bring equal parts passion and camaraderie to this evocative piece.
Grazalema (Zapateado), gracing the second to last portion of the program, features a three dancer ensemble that simultaneously follows and diverges through a complex arrangement of solos and group choreography. The startlingly beautiful black and white costumes, replete with whip like props for each dancer to hold and skilfully maneuver, heightens the tension with tense sexual overtones of the formidable kind. 

The mixture of masculine and feminine, created through a fine commingling of costuming and choreography, shows the power of subtle gender blurring. Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, and Paloma Cortes take on this theatrical dance piece with a kind of precise abandon in solo turns and tight ensemble work that instils both awe and a kind of mild, smouldering fearful quality.
Singers Tamar Ilana and Manuel Soto add immense vocal layers to the overall evening, with a range of exquisite accompaniment - from an opening accordion solo to powerful guitar features (musicians - Benjamin Barrile, Rosendo “Chendy” Leon, Jerry Caringi, Caroline Plante).
Perhaps the most intriguing piece, Un Rayo de Sol (Pasodoble/Tangos), features the five ensemble dancers. Enrique, Briz, Castro, Cortes, and Noelia La Morocha, in stunning red gowns, reveal the subtle  complex play of masculine and feminine as a historical resistance to imbedded stereotypes -

The distinctly Spanish pasodobe, with its festive nature,
meets the playful and sensual tangos. Amidst conflicting 
perceptions of Spanish national identity dancers such as
Carmen Amaya, Pastora Imperio, and Manuela Vargas rose
above social and political tensions perpetuating flamenco 
stereotypes in an ideological resistance towards deeply held
ideas of femininity. (program)
Epocas is a sensational evening of flawless historical drama-cum-choreography that brings the timeless strains of an iconic dance form into the impeccably intense world of contemporary flamenco music and choreography - as imagined and made material through the brilliance of the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. 

APRIL 22ND - 24TH 


Thursday, April 7, 2016


Jackie Burroughs is Dead 
& what are you going to do about it?
photos by Jeremy Mimnagh
As we were about to begin our first rehearsals, Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs died. For those of you who don’t know, Jackie Burroughs had a deep affinity for dance and was a constant presence in the Toronto dance scene. We all in some way or another had a connection with her. I reflected on the last time I had seen her as well as the times we had spoken throughout the years. Collectively, these encounters were relatively few, but each still registers. Jackie’s passing came at a fragile time. The title of our piece arose from that initial rehearsal where I was perplexed, angry and lost at the sheer amount existence was demanding I absorb. Jackie’s presence, and absence - even someone on the periphery of my own personal life - could not be dismissed. She came to represent to me a kind of collectiveness of the world, and the community in which I live.
                                                        DA Hoskins - programme notes
By creating such an engaging and performative title for a seventy minute piece of modern dance the artists involved have engaged the audience before the program even begins. How can choreography do justice to the work of a remarkable performer whose presence within Canadian theatre and television, over a long career, showcased the unique physical and vocal skills of a woman whose characterizations somehow spoke to both the fragility and the strength of human existence?

The title suggests a kind of void that must be filled by a collective unconscious that longs to celebrate and remember Jackie Burroughs. Perhaps the best thing to do in the face of such an iconic presence, and subsequent absence, is to not refer specifically to the title in any direct manner  throughout - and this is just what occurs. And yet, a moment never passes when the sense of Burrough's presence permeates the subtle, at times explosive movement of three dancers whose performances may be likened to a kind of channeling effect - “the collectiveness of the world, and the” (Hoskins) communities that we inhabit as artists, spectators, and the spirit of all that we leave behind. 
Danielle Baskerville, Luke Harwood, and Robert Kingsbury enact this seemingly spirit based environment within the lush, always evocative and ever changing soundscape of an onstage musician (Christopher Willes) as he provides a climate of immense textural scope for them to inhabit - all presented on a stark white floor that sends everything into shades of both high and low relief.

Intense eye contact that moves into and throough the dancers bodies, subtle gestural movements, and elastic, manic implosions that appear to both pivot and bounce upon the blanched ghostly floor, fill the seventy minutes with beautiful tones of presence, absence, and the all-consuming through-line of mortality that touches all of our lives, all through our lives - until the end.
When Hoskins speaks of “the call of mortality [as it] changes how you live…changes the sensations of life, of your awareness to the outside world” we are drawn into a textual world that utilizes the iconic presence of a beloved artist in order investigate the intense spirit of her life, our own lives, and the ways in which we navigate physicality in relation “to the temporary, the immediate, the tactile.”

Hoskins choreography is at once meditative, manic, implosive and explosive as three bodies show spectators what they are going to do about it - how to move, live, dance, and continue to journey through the maze of all the sadnesses and celebrations of mortality, and ultimately, our fleeting brushes with physical bodies as evocative and talents as magnificent as the life and the artistry of Jackie Burroughs. 
Harbourfront Centre Theatre April 7-9, 8PM