PuSh Festival Critical Ideas (2017)

in 2017, I was part of a group of five facilitators of post-show conversations at PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. As a challenge to myself, I wrote “60 second responses” of what I saw throughout the festival.

Wednesday, February 1st (on through February 3rd)
What is the dance of fingers on the piano every Saturday morning? Of sisters walking up a mountain backwards, holding hands? The dance of protest leading to a criminal record, the dance of not-quite that but almost, maybe, yes, it was like this, a spin and then we came together? Wallflower asks its cast, and by extension the audience, to be continuously available to the memories of every dance they’ve ever danced. Each memory gets added to an ongoing archive: to date, the company have remembered just over 1700 dances since they began making the work. It’s an invitation, it’s a roomful of ghosts, it’s a party, and it feels, as Sonia said last night, something like hope.

Wednesday, January 25th
Concord Floral is a tight, urgent chorus. This is play we made for you, a Greenhouse tells us. Where do you think your teenagers go at night? a Bobolink asks us. Ten teenagers stand upstage, in a row, hands tight by their sides. They clasp and unclasp their hands, barely lit. The cast, young actors from across the lower mainland, are earnest, awkward, arresting, heartbreaking. They are dedicated to the whiplash pace of the show and when its strict choreography breaks open: for Forever Irene to fall to the ground in a seizure she narrates while a single-noted choir erupts around her, or when a trapped Bobolink tears across the stage, begging the kids in the cafeteria to pick him up in their hands, I see their urgency as young people in the world. I see their bodies navigating it, and I feel moved.

Friday, January 21st and Saturday, January 22nd, 2017

The weekend of January 21st was one of too much-ness. Of the performative excess of Trump’s inauguration, of millions of women marching, of difficult, disappointing and unsurprising conversations about the failures of white feminism. This weekend felt like, when there couldn’t possibly be room for more, another fucked up thing slid into place. This weekend we learned about ‘alternative facts’, and in the stew of the already-unreal, it almost seemed unfair to ask performers and audience to show up to Club Push: to move the air around, to feel something. But; two nights in a row, the Fox was packed – dirty floors, folding chairs, and negronis on special.

On Friday, Dynasty Handbag starts her set by apologizing to us. A sad smiley on a piece of paper propped up against her laptop. Dynasty Handbag acknowledges the political events of Friday, January 21st. We are grieving, we are in shock, we clutch our drinks and look up. Maybe we’re at a funeral and this shiny, jangly, sordid person is going to lead us through the ceremony. I need to laugh or cry or hit something and this urge makes me tune out the first 20 minutes of the show, feeling preliminary disappointment, fearing putting such responsibility on it. Jibz Cameron smells it. And so Dynasty Handbag rips bawdy excess. She slides from one bit to the next fast and furious and on the brink of making me want to look away. She wields her body, wound tight and slunk low, liquifying around a chair, exploding her angular limbs. She’s mastering her craft as she goes, but on this day, I’m exhausted by all this life; I want a moment of silence to mourn the already, the future dead.

On Saturday, Bridget Moser captains a ship named Deadpan and sails us through, in just over an hour, what seems like her entire performative ouvre (it’s not, I spent time on her website, she’s prolific). Bridget Moser is at cool remove when she emerges from a toilet seat, dances furiously, drinks a rum punch out of a plunger, lays on the floor of her “thoroughly modern” glass and concrete condo, drowning in Hamlets. The dense poetry of her text “when avocados go bad, they taste like scented handcream/But when I go bad, there’s no indication/ The badness is imperceptible/ Still my brain is stewing somehwere bad in a bad cream all its own/stuck with all its worth thoughts” makes her commitment to the bizzare world she’s constructing and destroying, moment to moment, feel urgent. Bridget Moser is skating the surface of some other kind of grief, and sometimes I wish she’d acknowledge her vulnerability, how thin the ice is.

Both pieces felt long, and, between the weekend’s events and the back-to-back programming of solo psuedo stand-up shows, I needed a few drinks by 10pm on Saturday. After taking Jibz’s Persona workshop (part of the Push Assembly series) and spending some time on Bridget’s website, I had more space to consider each artist’s depth of practice, politics, and nuance. But on Friday and Saturday especially, my mind was on female-ness, and the failed intersectionality of the weekend’s women’s marches across North America, including the problematic lack of outreach of Vancouver’s organizers to Black Lives Matter Vancouver. I realized that the flat feeling came from two evenings in a row spent watching two white women: dedicated, dextrous in their distinct abilities, perform grief, perform nueroses, and their own privilege. There may be hope in making art during fascism, but I’ve yet to feel it.

January 19th, 2017
Caroline Horton wants you to know that in the real show, there will be a real audience (adults understand more about theatre, anyway) and a real stage. In the real play, there will be an ocean, a trapeze line, and an ice cream stand. But, for now, we’ll have to imagine. Mess is a story about a woman (Josephine, played by Horton)’s eating disorder – specifically, anorexia nervosa. (Don’t leave!). Mess, from its first minute, takes the discomfort of addressing something like mental health in a play for young people and layers it into the production itself: the characters address the audience of mostly schoolkids, point out metaphors, and interject with innapropriately timed narrative song. The choreography of the whole show is tight, from the quick-moving script to deft set changes to Seiriol Davies’ intelligent score. So – how does a show so airtight allow breathing space of a disorder like anorexia – for an audience of largely young women? The last ten minutes reveals a complexity that the pace of the rest of the show couldn’t; the lifelong recovery process from an eating disorder means the play can’t end. Of course, it does – leaving me aching to hear my fellow audience members turning the show over for themselves on their bus ride back to school.

January 18th, 2017
“I had to split myself in two. ” So begins the methodical attempt to cleave self from self, body from industry, sex from capital, in Oil Pressure Vibrator. A woman dedicates herself to the study of a piece of machinery to achieve autoerotic fulfillment. The premise, as the show-promo materials imply, might shock us. But just how shocking is the idea of a sexual relationship to a an agent of infrustructure? In a year when a fracking company rolled out pink drill bits “for the cure,” and PornHub subsidized a scholarship for women in science, what questions aren’t we asking? Oil-pressure drives the gorgeous, melancholy craning head of Jeong’s excavator lover, oil makes plastic makes devices, and porn makes the internet go around. How warm is the lap your laptop rests on right now? How fast did the condo complex your lover lives in go up? To split ourselves in two, to divorce ourselves from the cold machinery of development is to risk, as the final scene in Oil Pressure Vibrator Suggests, being steamrolled by a future constructed: with or without our dismay.