The Mysteries

June 12, 2017

It’s been too long since I’ve seen Ann Mortifee on stage and last night, seeing her introduce her latest musical, The Mysteries at the Stanley Theater was simply joyful. Fascinated by the ancient myth of Persephone, Mortifee believes that its powerful impact on the thought leaders of western civilisation has continued through the centuries and that it continues to impact society today in a deeply problematic manner. She believes that if we can re-vision the myth the impact could change the world. Ann was recently interviewed on a local radio station where she said that, “…she was drawn to the abduction of Persephone into the underworld the goddess of spring. And her mother Demeter and how the two of them became victimized by the King of Heaven Zeus.” Ann has been interested for a long time in the history of our spiritual traditions and religions because they show how they really are a template for how we’re evolving as a species and what our capacity for thought is. In some mysterious way, the ancient myth of Demeter and her daughter Persephone foreshadowed the environmental crisis that we find our world in today. Altruistic perhaps, however as the story unfolds and Mortifee skillfully weaves ancient Greece into a modern day mosaic of song and story telling, it is difficult to miss the similarities.

Assisted by the virtuosity of Ed Henderson who assisted crafting this musical with an ensemble of five talented musicians and another fifteen perfectly tuned voices to fill the roles of Persephone (Laur Fugere) , Demeter (Susan Anderson), Hekate (Ann Mortifee), Zeus (Stephen Aberle), Hades (Warren Kimmel), Hermes (Scott Perrie) and the temple initiates who are the background singers and chorus. To have her unveil her latest work in progress with a curious audience, vulnerable to their comments and criticism, spoke volumes about art and music and how it connects us to the past, present and future. It is also a living example of how well Vancouver supports and nurturers our artists for which Mortifee acknowledges that without so many funding opportunities, creating a musical of this magnitude, “…would be close to impossible”.

As I sat spellbound I couldn’t help but feel that we were in the rehearsal of a major production not quite ready for Broadway, but close. The Mysteries has some rough edges yet as it goes through the evolution of shrinking, expanding and perhaps eliminating certain parts that will allow it to grow into all that it can become. Ann and the cast stayed on stage afterwards and took feedback from over six hundred people. She says that “…it was interesting to hear the feedback and see how our production was received.  A lot of people wrote to me after the show with tough criticism and wonderful feedback.” Congratulation’s to the Arts Club Theater for hosting this historic event and Ann and the cast who remained on stage after their two-hour performance to learn from the audience how they might make it better with heartfelt criticism.

I can’t wait to see this again!   AM

Statement of Intent for a Creative Project

Final Project Proposal – Essay

Art for Art’s Sake

Art is said to be an expression of the human heart. Art tells us stories about ourselves, a particular time in history, and it leaves an indelible record behind of humankind since we walked out of Africa to other continents over 100,000 years ago. During this course, we have been asked to consider what role the arts play in a city like Vancouver. With the help of many gifted experts like Peter Dickinson, Max Wyman, Susan Mertens, Charllotte Kwon, Tim McLaughlin, Michael Yahgulanaas and other talented artists, critics, scholars and performers, we have opened Pandora’s box and confronted the depth and richness of art and how it reflects life, no matter what city we are in. Art is a portrait of history, whether the current moment or an event in the past, or something buried in the imagination. Painting, dance, sculpture, music, literature, weaving, mosaics and other arts are thought to be the soul of society’s collective memory and very much alive over the centuries in Vancouver and cities around the world. Art in this sense is communication as it allows people from different tribes, cultures and different times to communicate with each other with ceremony and ritual, imagery, sounds and story telling of all kinds. Art is often credited for being a vehicle for social change.  Art can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. It can be a call to activism of all sorts. Art reflects life – past present and future.  Art can capture an event, clarifying a moment in time and giving witness to it. Does art make the world a better place? Has art had an impact upon society and if so what have we learned? Has it fashioned or molded us and taught us to look at each other, the world, and perhaps our city a little bit differently? Has it shaped our opinions and altered how we feel and think?  These are some of the questions that I hope to answer in this paper as we explore art for art’s sake with the help of a few historians, social geographers and various authors over the centuries.

Bibliographies

“Art’s Impact on Society.” Accessed May 20, 2017. http://earthfair.com/blog/arts-impact-on-society/

“À Une Passante (To a Passerby) by Charles Baudelaire.” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://fleursdumal.org/poem/224

“Baudelaire. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/architecture/ockman/pdfs/dossier_4/Baudelaire.pdf

“Benjamin. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/benjamin.pdf

“Book of Judith – New World Encyclopedia.” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Book_of_Judith

Brockman, John. Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Civilizations, Art, Networks, Reputation, and the Online Revolution. Harper Perennial, 2011.

Gannon, Megan. “Where Does Art Come from? Indonesian Cave Paintings Deepen Mystery.” Christian Science Monitor, October 9, 2014. http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2014/1009/Where-does-art-come-from-Indonesian-cave-paintings-deepen-mystery.

Langer, Susanne K. “The Cultural Importance of the Arts.” Journal of Aesthetic Education 1, no. 1 (1966): 5–12. doi:10.2307/3331349.

“Microsoft Word – Against Interpretation.Doc – Sontag-Against-Interpretation. Pdf.” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://shifter-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Sontag-Against-Interpretation.pdf

“No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear.” The Nation. Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.thenation.com/article/no-place-self-pity-no-room-fear/

Performance, Place, and Politics.” Accessed April 29, 2017. http://performanceplacepolitics.blogspot.com/.

“The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry – Conclusion (by Walter Pater).” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://www.authorama.com/renaissance-11.html

“The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (by Walter Pater).” Accessed April 16, 2017. http://www.authorama.com/renaissance-1.html

“Walter Benjamin.” Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/benjamin.htm

Walter, Chip. “The First Artists.” National Geographic. Accessed May 22, 2017. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/first-artists/walter-text

“William Morris – Art Under Plutocracy.” Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1883/pluto.htm

“William Morris, Art and Idealism (PDF Download Available).” Research Gate. Accessed April 16, 2017. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270218968_William_Morris_Art_and_Idealism

More Than Dance

Wen Wei Dance

Dialogue opens with just enough lighting to see six male dancers sitting at the back of the Scotiabank Dance Centre’s stage facing the audience. In the dimly lit theater they are sitting uncomfortably with each other, silent and postured in the masculinity and tension of young men unsure of themselves. Each from different cultural backgrounds, skin colour, and language, embodying Canada’s multiculturalism. They are dressed in black, ranging in size from slight to brutish, all in the beautiful bodies of dancers.

Communication and the human need to connect inspire Dialogue, by acclaimed Vancouver choreographer Wen Wei Wang. In this work he finds a masterful way to express individuality, cultural difference and sexual orientation as the tension of the first moments of the performance begin. I am reminded of my youth, my insecurities, and of a primal need to compete with the pack.

If what we normally see is dance through a western lens according to Peter Dickinson, Wen Wei Wang is careful to allow each dancer their individuality with themes of ancient classicism woven into modern dance and self-expression. Throughout the seventy-five minute production the dancers; Ralph Escamillian, Andrew Haydock, Arash Khakpour, Tyler Layton-Olson, Nicholas Lydiate and Alex Tam find their own rhythms, form, shape, and movement in their own unique way. There is a vulnerability in each, a tenderness and rage as they put words and feelings to their movement and expression in their moments of aloneness and togetherness.

There are some lighter moments in this production that helps to relieve the emotional tension felt throughout this production and while likely not what the dancers were trained to do, it allowed the audience to breathe. The complexities of the performance are tied together beautifully as Wen Wei Wang captures the heart and soul of the dancers and a very human story with careful attention to every detail and nuance including the music and environment. Dialogue is more than dance, and not to be missed.

The Reluctant Critic

Iphone 909We live in an age where 140 characters allow everyone to have an opinion. This barrage of criticism is offered instantly and it’s available on every device and platform to those of us still connected to the 21st Century. Like “fake news” it is often difficult to know who to trust as these terabytes of information are processed and occasionally informed by a genuine understanding of the facts or issues opposed to ideological presumption or narrow beliefs that offer even narrower views of the world and the issues that come with them.

Alfred Kazin offered over half a century ago in The Function of Criticism Today, that more people are indifferent to literature and art and he was certain that it had little or nothing to say about the age we live in.  He seemed struck that there were so many people who profess an interest in the arts and know very little about them and that they couldn’t make their minds up about them. At the same time he noted that so many people were in deep despair over the future of society and our world who rely on art to soften their way.

As a reluctant critic on a path to understanding the role of criticism, a few questions seem obvious — such as what influence does art and culture have on society and how we look at ourselves, each other and the world around us as a result of these “works”. The other and more immediate question at the moment is perhaps, what should the role of criticism play in our daily interaction and who should we believe? Kazin offered, “that the critic who has the equipment to be a force, the critic who can set up standards for his age, must be a partisan of one kind of art and a bitter critic of another.” T.S. Eliot, when asked by Paul Elmer More why his poetry and criticism were written in such different tones, replied, “that poetry deals with the world as it is, criticism with the world as it ought to be.”

As an infrequent patron of the arts, assuming that blues bands and bars don’t count, I am pleased to have stumbled into Peter Dickinson’s Long Division on its final performance. I found it a wonderfully moving play that stirred many personal emotions and memories that allowed a brief interlude from everyday life as I looked at the world from other perspectives. Colin Thomas wrote of the play, “that there should be laws—similar to child labour laws—that prevent the overworking of metaphors.” Or, “that the problem is with the well-intentioned but self-conscious script”. Then there is Jerry Wasserman’s review, that exclaimed that, “Long Division is a smart, fascinating mess”. Had I read either critique prior, I may not have gone to the play thinking the professional critics must know better.

Sonya Sontag writes about “the erotics of art” and the “sensuously involved critique”. In a note to Peter Dickinson, Ziyian Kwan writes about the play and “the silky cocoon of existential inquiry” and, “the help the play offered in connecting with humanity”. A lovely heartfelt emotional response that sparks curiosity and invites participation.

So, what then is the role of criticism? The Oxford Dictionary suggests that it is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.  Haida artist Michael Yahgulanaas believes, “that there is no primary horizon in art”. Therefore does this mean then that there is no judgement, and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder? That there is no right or wrong, good or bad and therefore this perspective renders criticism irrelevant allowing us to smell, taste, hear and feel the work in our heart without someone else to influence us?

I wonder…

The Piano Teacher

Arts Club Theater Company

Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theater Centre

April 20–May 14

It is sometimes difficult to see the forest from the trees and yet, some moments in time remain more memorable than others as it slows and provides a crystalline clarity as we recognise the frailties that come with being mortal or appreciate the beauty within each moment.

The Piano Teacher is a play by Dorothy Dittrich and touted as being about the lessons on life and love. It is!

From the very moment that Act I begins, Megan Leitch who plays Erin, Catriona Murphy playing Elaine and Kamyar Pazandeh who plays Tom, create a gentle tension of heartbreak and loss that is connected by the power of music and love, as they weave their way through this remarkable story of grief, compassion and joy.

For any of us who have experienced the paralyzing effect of loss and grief, it is difficult to not open our hearts to Erin (Megan Leitch), as she walks on stage and shares how she lost her husband and son in a tragic automobile accident with the hope that Elaine (Catriona Murphy) the music teacher who is gradually losing her hands to arthritis, might light the path back to her music and the concert hall.

David Robert’s has designed a simple and elegant set complete with a baby grand piano that becomes the central point in the homes of the two women as they remind us of the frailties that we all share. As for Tom, he was a welcomed metaphor for distraction and rebuilding, and he offers a playfulness and an interesting human touch to contrast the stories of Elaine and Erin.

In the May Edition of Vancouver Theater, arts critic Jerry Wasserman wrote, “ the play has a lot going for it—in particular, lovely classical music and a beautiful performance by Caitriona Murphy in the title role. It also features nice sentiment about the power of music to heal. But in other areas it needs significant work to develop it into something more than just a bromide about how things that are damaged will inevitably get better”.

As a reluctant critic I am struck by how different each of us sees, hears, smells and feels each moment in this world that shapes who we are. This doesn’t make any of us more right or wrong or something good or bad. Depending on how we enter this forest will determine how we see it, and how we are moved by the gentlest of movements, nuance, memories or sound. I applaud Dorothy Dittrich for a brilliant play and for having the courage to allow the cast and an extremely talented creative team to take it and breathe life into The Piano Player.

If you walk far enough into the forest, you can’t miss it!