Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Hands of Time and the Positions of the Heart

I have been in Ottawa for a few days at Canada Dance, The National Gallery and The Ottawa Fringe.

The trip included perfect summer weather and a stay with my friends Barb Popel and Brian Carroll and their cat Zorro, who kindly shared his library sofa bed with me. I had morning coffee while fat pollen coated bees sated their industriousness in beds of lavender and bee balm.

After dinner and wine with my lovely friends ( planked coq au vin!)  I headed off to the National Arts Centre to watch Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers perform 97 POSITIONS OF THE HEART, a lyrical and poetic theatre/dance hybrid based on the life and work of writer and free spirit Elizabeth Smart.

Smart lavished her love and devotion on British poet George Barker and bore four children by him out of wedlock at a time when that was seen as disgraceful. Smart could not be disgraced. She gave the feckless and philandering Barker a dog's loyalty and lived a dog's life in return. She made extraordinary art out of this self-imposed turmoil and eventually came to realize you don't need a bad boyfriend to have decent material for a good poem.

Both dance and text were sensitively and passionately performed by the company who conveyed the emotional intensity and the lyricism of both Jaik Josephson's writing and artistic director Brent Lott's choreography.  Dean Cowieson's lovely lighting and simple but effective design supported the work without getting in the way. Rachel Brown who founded the company and died this past week would have been proud of Lott and the fine dancers who carried on the company's tradition of ground-breaking work in fine style despite her sad loss.

The next day, I went to the National Gallery of Canada. I have made a summer pilgrimage there most years since the new building opened with a Degas retrospective more than 2 decades ago.

This summer, the blockbuster show is VAN GOGH UP CLOSE, a look at his landscape and flower paintings and the influences of Japanese printmaking and the then-new medium of photography on his work. I had last seen Van Gogh in Paris at the Musee D'Orsay.  The Ottawa show is well-curated and the paintings were beautiful.  I enjoyed the Japanese prints and marvelled at the early nature photography. On the downside, for $25 there wasn't a ton of work on display and the exit through the gift shop was just disturbing when I thought for even a minute about Van Gogh's life and walked past nasty 3D postcards (Why 3D? why?) and $48 starry night t-shirts. I escaped the wave of nausea that always hits me when I see great art reduced to vulgar hucksterism and retreated to THE CLOCK.

I first heard about this work of art from a filmmaker friend who was in Venice during the Biennale this fall.  He gushed over it and he is not a gushy guy.

British modern artist Christian Marclay won the Golden Lion, awarded to the best artist  at the Venice Biennale for this piece and it is mesmerizing: extraordinarily, magically, incredibly wonderful.

Marclay and his team have created a 24 hour clock, run in real time, comprised of clips from hundreds of films and a few television programs. The soundtrack is not only that of the film clips but a carefully orchestrated use of other sound to pull you through the visual edits.  I saw half an hour in two 15 minute segments and I had to tear myself away.  Every human emotion passed before my eyes while the clock ticked on. Moments I had forgotten about in old movies I adore (Audrey Hepburn at the train station in SABRINA, Humphrey Bogart getting the letter in the rain from CASABLANCA, Michael Douglas as a psychiatrist) washed over me.  It make me think: about how time crawls and races in life, about those frozen moments where a few seconds can feel like an eternity, about how you get lost in a film in a way you get lost in few other experiences.

THE CLOCK is coming to Toronto to the Power Plant this fall.  I will be there to see as much of it as possible.  It was astonishingly fantastic.

I then headed over to the Ottawa Fringe Beer Tent, had my first beer tent dinner of the season, chatted with old friends and had moments where I was pulled back in time:  thinking about other years I had been in this place with these people and the many adventures, joys and sorrows we had shared. Even though I am taking this season off to research a new show, the Fringe still feels like my artistic home.  My fellow Fringers:  artists, administrators, technicians, staff, volunteers, billets, critics and dedicated audience members have become my family on the road.  It is a room in which I feel accepted, happy and safe. To work there had been a privilege and being part of that community always makes me feel richly blessed.

My first show of the year was Katherine Glover's DEAD WRONG.  I met the Minneapolis based Glover last year when she toured BURNING BROTHELS about a legal whore house in the state of Nevada.  In addition to performing, Glover is a professional journalist and her excellent research and story-telling skills were on display in her new show.  Based on several true stories, Glover focuses on a wrongful conviction case of rape. She takes no easy outs and offers no pat solutions.  It was a one-two punch of powerful and thought-provoking story-telling and absolutely worth seeing.

I then headed off to see a late-night cabaret.  POLLUX DANCE did a preview of HETROLLECTUAL ( love and other dumb ideas) that was wonderfully funny, well-performed and very accessible, magician Christopher Bange pulled out his audience engaging suitcase of tricks and LOST BEAR creator (and former G-MAN) Ray Besarah hosted the antics and did a great bit getting pointers from the audience on improving his fliering technique.

I then drove home with Barb and Brian who are both reviewing for FULLY FRINGED and stayed up burning the midnight oil to get their reviews done for the morning.

My Ottawa time ended with a lazy morning in the kitchen, discussing what we'd all seen the night before and then lunch and a walk around Dow's Lake before I went to catch my train.  My only regret was not adding one more night to my trip.

Earlier this week I lost a cousin: he died by a misadventure but he had struggled with mental illness for a very long time.  I thought about how time had been stolen from him by illness and then by accident. A week like this made me think hard about how much people lose when their time here is up.

In the end, time is really all we've got. My time this week was magical and God willing, it's not over yet.  Have a great rest of the week and if you're in Ottawa, check out the Fringe Festival and the National Gallery.  It's time well spent.

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