Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 Season Marks Two Major Anniversaries

Portraits in Motion - Volker Gerling 2 - Photo credit Franz Ritschel

Volker Gerling (pictured) shares his flip book portraits with the audience in Portraits in Motion, one of seven shows announced for Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 season. Photo Credit: Franz Ritschel.

This May, Theatre Junction announced its 2016/17 season. The company’s upcoming season marks two major anniversaries: Theatre Junction’s 25th anniversary and the 10th anniversary of Theatre Junction at the Grand Theatre.

Theatre Junction has undergone several changes in the years since Artistic Director Mark Lawes founded the company in 1991. After a successful campaign to save the historic building from demolition, Theatre Junction relocated to the Grand in 2006 from the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, where the company was based for 14 years. While the company could have continued with “a program that was really more along the lines of interpreting text,” Lawes felt that it was important for Theatre Junction to change its mandate when they took over the Grand.

“There was a lot of risk involved in that change,” said Lawes. “I saw the regional theatre model as coming of age and potentially declining. The audience was getting older. It wasn’t engaging for young people to go and see work. And that was really important for me to engage millennials in arts and culture.” 

Today, Theatre Junction presents local, national, and international creation-based artists from multiple disciplines. Theatre Junction GRAND has transformed into a “different kind of cultural space” that continues the Grand’s legacy of culturalizing Calgary, while also being contemporary.

“It’s a real junction,” said Lawes about the space, which is also home to the restaurant Workshop Kitchen + Culture. “A meeting place where people come together and not only see amazing works of art, but can meet new people and talk about arts and ideas.”

One of seven shows to be presented in Theatre Junction’s upcoming season is Volker Gerling’s Portraits in Motion. Gerling’s Portraits in Motion will be presented by Theatre Junction and One Yellow Rabbit as part of the 31st Annual High Performance Rodeo. After walking 3500 km throughout Germany, Gerling created flip book portraits of the people he met on his journey. Audiences will get to see these portraits and hear the stories behind them when Gerling comes to Theatre Junction in January 2017.

“He just decided to walk and meet people,” said Lawes. “For me, it’s a beautiful, simple act of humanity. It’s going back to something very basic about meeting someone. That’s something that we all crave and need.”

Lawes says that Gerling will walk around Calgary, meeting people when he arrives in the new year. This material will not be included in the production at Theatre Junction, he adds, since “the show is set” already.

In March, Theatre Junction will present Porte Parole and Crow’s Theatre’s The Watershed. Written by Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar, who travelled cross-country across Canada with her family, The Watershed is an investigation into the future of our natural resources that raises questions concerning the politics of water.

“[Soutar] has been making documentary theatre on subjects that are important to her and her family,” said Lawes about the theatre artist. “We presented Seeds two years ago, that was [about] the Monsanto versus Schmeiser trial…It really questioned who owns a seed, who owns life.”

Lawes says that Soutar was particularly concerned about the state of water in Canada under the Harper government. “She was really concerned with policy surrounding research: what was being researched, what wasn’t being published from scientists. Funds that were being cut for research.”

When asked what goes into programming a season, especially one that includes international work, Lawes confesses that “there’s really no secrets, but it is a very long, complicated process.”

“I go out to festivals every year and see a lot of work,” Lawes said. “I have a bunch of different partners across the country and in the United States that we also talk to see what’s touring and share ideas of work. So, some works come very quickly, you know I see something I really like and it happens to be touring.

He adds that it is also about “keeping [a] dialogue open with artists who have presented before,” like Japanese dancer and choreographer Hiroaki Umeda whose new work was seen by Lawes in Montreal.

“He happened to be touring in Mexico just before he’ll be presenting here, so he was on the continent, more or less, and on the same side of the continent. So, it made some sense for him to come up here. That’s one example of how that works.”

Umeda will return to Theatre Junction in October 2016 with two new solo performances, Intensional Particle/split flow.


For more information about Theatre Junction’s 2016/17 season, including how to purchase tickets, visit their website: www.theatrejunction.com

A Tale of Imaginary Cities: Ordinary Objects Come to Life in Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities

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Olivier Ducas in Theatre de la Pire Espece’s Cities. Photo Credit: Mathieu Doyon.

Normal everyday objects can and do say a lot about a person. Think about a bookshelf, sometimes people look at a someone’s bookshelf to gather an idea of that person. Or, consider what photos people take the time to frame and put on display in their homes. Objects carry meaning, and they form a larger narrative, curated by the individual.

Presented by Theatre Junction, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is a series of imaginary cities, as conceived by writer/director Olivier Ducas and scenographer Julie Vallée-Léger, dissected onstage. The cities are organized in seven categories, from Sand Cities to Pocket Cities to Dual Cities. Ducas presents each city’s story to the audience by using a camera to focus on particular aspects of a city, supposedly revealing its soul in the process.

The city of Myriam, for example, has plans to replicate into near-infinity, seemingly with no originality in its plans. The main concern is growth, governed by conformist policies. Ducas starts with two red blocks, embedded vertically in a box of sand, then begins to place mirrors around the blocks to create the illusion of infinity.

For the city of Maxine, which is labelled under Ghost Cities, Ducas takes out a large wooden block with tall, slim blocks compacted together. He uses semi-opaque dividers to transform the cities’ towers into different graphs of data, explaining what each set of data says about the people living in Maxine. However, the city, Ducas tells us, has chosen to present only positive data, keeping less-than-favorable statistics about its residents hidden – at this point, a light turns on at the block’s base to reveal a negative bar graph.

The objective is subjective.

An idea of interest given that the federal government is currently asking Canadians to complete the national census, or else face fines and/or jail time. Data can be manipulated to tell or support any number of narratives. Human bias cannot be separated from the equation.

Even Ducas’ presentation of these imaginary cities is corrupted by human bias. The audience is only ever given Ducas’ interpretation of what he considers the true nature of these cities. What reference does the audience have to confirm the truth any of what Ducas says? None, not only because the cities are imaginary to begin with, but also because the audience has never visited these cities. The show should be seen as a collection of tourist propaganda, so to speak, not inherent truth.

Setting aside the problematic notion of objective truth, Cities is interesting as there is no dramatic tension that develops. The show is a journey through one man’s collection of imaginary cities. And yet, the show is oddly compelling. One reason for that is the spectacle of assembling regular objects, like sugar cubes and coffee beans, to create an intimate portrait of a city, but another is the psychology behind collecting that Ducas discusses in monologues. Why do people collect? What happens when collections are completed, when the seeking ends? Ducas suggests that for some people, collecting is less of a hobby and more of an activity in purpose seeking and fulfillment.

Interestingly, the majority of Ducas’ cities have female names (Cassandra, Gloria, Scarlett, Sylvia, Cathy, and nearly a dozen more). What comes to mind are sailors who, lonely at sea, would name their ships after wives or girlfriends. Thinking about that, what assumptions can we make about Ducas and his mostly female cities? The very same we make when we enter someone’s apartment for the first time and analyze their walls and shelves for information.

Profoundly imaginative, Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities is an intimate journey through the alleys of human rationality and emotion.


Théâtre de la Pire Espèce’s Cities ran May 4 – 7 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/cities-2/

The Far, Far Edge of Theatre: Nadia Ross Talks What Happened to The Seeker

 

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STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker opens next Wednesday (Nov 25) at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Nadia Ross, STO Union is a multidisciplinary art and performance company that explores new methods of theatre creation and production by bringing together artists from a variety of mediums. For their latest show What Happened to The Seeker, the company has brought together exhibition, video, and live performance to stage an experience unlike any other.

“We are the far, far edge of theatre,” Ross says, “even to the point where we’re not even sure theatre critics can review it…[but] that’s what STO Union does is explore, what else can you do in a venue? What are other ways to communicate? It’s bringing up questions we want it to bring up.”

What Happened to The Seeker tells the story of a middle-class, North American woman who embarks on a personal journey to reclaim the ideals of her youth. The journey is based on vivid experiences from childhood, intertwined with the history of the Seekers – youth of the 1960s who travelled the world to find spiritual enlightenment. The performance triptych, encapsulating the era from 1965 to 2010, takes the audience on a journey of their own as they piece together the story of the character’s fragmented life.

“There’s an underlying franticness in her because of her search, her desire to find some sort of place where she feels okay in the world,” says Ross about the character. “There’s also this huge underlying – it’s subtle, but it’s there – level of disappointment because there was so much anticipation, so much hope, so much belief. I mean, they were talking about climate change in the sixties. They were talking about plastics. They were talking about all of this stuff.

“[The character] realizes that change is very, very slow. She did not expect that by the time she was in her fifties that women would be still be paid so much less than men. She thought they would be equals, that’s what she assumed was going to happen.”

Ross adds that part of the danger when talking about the sixties is the nostalgia surrounding the period. “A lot of people say, that was the highlight, and we’ve gone downhill since then.”

The internationally acclaimed artist explains that the show’s structure is inspired by changes currently developing in the communication revolution. “I think with the internet, Facebook, and all that, it’s changed how we look at things. We’ve become far more visual. It’s all about the image. Language is sort of deteriorating.”

“What I did with this show is I’m trying to imitate what happens when you go online,” says Ross about bringing together three mediums to tell a story. “One minute you have this; the next you have that. You have totally different formats that you are exposed to very quickly. We don’t do it as fast as online, but that’s why we give you very different experiences. So, one moment you feel like you are in an art gallery, then the next moment you are watching a puppet movie, eating popcorn.

“So, it’s sort of an experiment into, can you do that? Can you pile things on top of each other that are different forms and still, in some way, have communication with the audience? [Can you] still keep that red thread going through the whole thing?”

Even with all our progress, Ross believes that what will always remain true about human beings is our desire not to change what is there in order to feel better. “Our search [for spiritual enlightenment] is like, buy your lotto ticket and get your million dollars.”

“[The character] goes through hundreds of boyfriends,” she says. “She goes through different things at work. She’s just kind of tearing through life in hopes that she’s going to find it, find that sweet spot… that’s what we want to look at, that eternal desire for something else, for something more, for something that’s going to hit the spot, and how we never find it.”

Although the show may be far from traditional, the experiments that are being staged may one day affect the mainstream. Ross hopes that people who are curious about what is on the horizon will come see the show when it opens next Wednesday at Theatre Junction GRAND.


STO Union’s What Happened to The Seeker runs Nov 25 -28 at Theatre Junction GRAND.

For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/portfolio/what-happened-to-the-seeker/

STO Union’s website: http://stounion.com/

Usually Beauty Fails Lands With Mixed Results

Frederick Gravel & GAG's Usually Beauty Fails opened April 18th at Theatre Junction GRAND.

Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opened April 15th at Theatre Junction GRAND. Photo Credit: Denis Farley.

Loud and assertive, this is the way Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails opens. The music holds us down in our seats. The dancers, whose eyes were locked with ours just moments ago, escape into fervid movement.

Blending dance and live music, Usually Beauty Fails is a raw display of human emotion. Parts of it, anyway.

Gravel, the show’s creator, director, and choreographer, is the evening’s leading man. Taking the microphone between dance pieces, he shares his thoughts, which are largely self-deprecating, with the audience about the performance. Gravel’s charm is well received by the audience, albeit for a short while. Eventually, the audience’s laughter shifts from warm to tired and nervous as Gravel’s drawn out, wayward thoughts overstay their welcome.

Gravel’s band (Charles Lavoie, vocals/guitar; Vincent Legault, guitar; Gravel, vocals/guitar) perform a varied arrangement of music that sometimes rocks out loud, then other times goes for a soft, melodic sound. The rock pieces are not particularly interesting. The acoustic pieces, on the other hand, draw us in close with simple, tender lyrics that travel smoothly thanks to Lavoie’s clean vocals.

Likewise, the choreography resonates best in its quieter moments.

There is a moment where two of the dancers stand closely together, undress, and explore each other’s naked bodies. Soft pauses. Gentle touches. Nothing is said, and it does not feel like anything has to be said. In this moment that breathes and takes its time, we are witness to human affection in its purest form.

But then, in the show’s final piece, we are reminded of life as we share it together socially. The dancers change into fancy dress – cocktail dresses and suits. They open bottles of champagne and pour each other plenty (and then some). Besides quick whispers between the dancers, not too much is said. And not too much happens. It is as almost as if the dancers have slipped into disguises, masks; pretenses. The dancers look at each other from afar as though wanting to say something, but choosing not to. What keeps them from doing so? Whatever it is, the champagne eventually causes the dancers to throw caution to the wind.

These impactful moments are scarce, stuffed away in favor of presenting something big and loud. Something so big, in fact, that at one point the stage lights flash so hard that the audience has trouble keeping their eyes on the stage. It is then that point that one ask themselves whether this is a dance show, a rock show, or an uneven effort in trying to accomplish both at the same time.

The show’s main problem, though, is that Gravel seems more interested in speaking about the work than allowing the work to speak for itself. It is too bad considering that the work does at times succeed in stirring something intimately profound within us. Not to mention also that Gravel’s dancers, who move with vigor, feel terribly underused.

Presented by Theatre Junction, Usually Beauty Fails’ integration of live music and dance is mixed at best, resulting in a show that sometimes grabs our attention, but mainly pushes us away.


Frédérick Gravel & Groupe d’art Gravel Art Gravel Group’s Usually Beauty Fails ran at Theatre Junction, April 15 – 18.

For more information about the show, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/ubf/

Music and dance performers on stage
David Albert-Toth

Frédérick Gravel
Charles Lavoie
Vincent Legault
Brianna Lombardo
Peter Trosztmer
Lucie Vigneault
Jamie Wright

The Old Trouts Spare No Puppet in Famous Puppet Death Scenes

Pictured, The Beast of Muggditch Lane by August Stainbrook: Act 1, Scene 1. Image supplied by Theatre Junction GRAND.

The Beast of Muggditch Lane by August Stainbrook: Act 1, Scene 1. Image supplied by Theatre Junction GRAND.

Death.

A taboo subject in our society, and why not? ‘Not being here’ one day is an unpleasant idea that some would rather not think about, much less openly discuss. Others are more keen on the subject, like Nathanial Tweak, host and curator of Famous Puppet Death Scenes.

Created by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Famous Puppet Death Scenes recreates death scenes from history’s greatest (fictional) puppet shows. Tweak, a puppet himself, has amassed this grand collection in hopes that the scenes reveal something to us about the nature of life and death.

One of the first things we learn is that death is random. One minute, we may find ourselves enjoying some fresh air, then the next we are crushed under the weight of a giant fist (The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frot – Act 1, Scene 3). Or, powerful gusts of winds blow us apart, limb by limb (The Forgotten Dish by Sterling Lowry; “The Winds of Fate”). Sometimes though, it’s just a matter of picking the wrong door (Das Bipsy Und Mumu Puppensiel by Freuliecher Friedrich – Episode 43 “Bipsy’s Mistake”).

Other times too, our poor decisions invite death; poor decisions like dressing up as a deer in the middle of the forest (The Ballad of Edward Grue by Samuel Groanswallow: Act 4, Scene 6).

But perhaps the evening’s most resonant lesson is that death simply happens.

Taking a pause from the absurd, The Last Whale by Grover Bellick features a giant whale’s eye that opens, then closes very slowly. That’s it. Even the mightiest creature on Earth cannot outrun death’s grip.

Lucille Arabesque by Agathon Finley is no different. An old woman rests on her deathbed, taking what are perhaps her last breaths. There are no moving last words. Only an unsettling silence, a confrontation with our fragile mortality.

And yet, despite everything, Tweak insists there is such a thing as The Perfect Death Scene. In the play’s final moments, we wonder whether or not Tweak himself learned anything in the process.

The Old Trouts are at their finest in this spectacular display of grisly humour and puppetry. The depth of dramatic styles and periods explored is quite remarkable. Not to mention the inventive staging that takes us across such a variety of fictional works, which each feel distinct in both voice and aesthetic.

And the audience is right there for every moment of it. Joy, shock, pity, you can hear it all in the theatre. The reactions from the audience almost lend a ‘musical’ quality to the production. That is the strength of the work by
the puppeteers (Nick Di Gaetano, Pityu Kenderes, Viktor Lukawski) who really make us feel for the ill-fated puppets.

Dark and funny at one moment, then haunting the next, Famous Puppet Death Scenes is a brilliant show that will stay with audiences long after its finale. A standing ovation truly earned.


Co-presented by Theatre Junction GRAND and The International Festival of Animated Objects, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes runs at Theatre Junction GRAND, March 13 – 28, 2015.

For more information on the show and how to buy tickets, visit: http://www.theatrejunction.com/1415season/fpds/