PuSh Blog

PuSh 2010 Curatorial Statement: Poetics: a ballet brut

January 16, 2010

by PuSh Festival Executive Director Norman Armour

Okay… I have a problem. I want to talk about a show, and I want to tell you a great thing about it, but…. It’s a secret. I mean it involves…. it’s got this… No, I can’t.

The show is Poetics: a ballet brut. Now I could talk about how the company is the hottest thing since sliced bread, but that would be a cliché. I could say that Nature Theater of Oklahoma are the hippest thing to come out of NYC, but that would be another cliché. And you’d also wonder why they’d call themselves that when they’re from New York. (It’s actually a great reason. Check out their website for the details.)

I could say that they are in the tradition of American vaudeville, what with their straight-faced performance style that hammers away and away at the same thing again and again from slightly different angles with hilarious results. But the allusion would be too obscure; you wouldn’t understand what it was I was getting at it until after you saw one of their infectious performances.

I could tell you that they are touring across Europe constantly, that they are on the road more than any other North American avant-garde theatre company. But so what? Who needs the interest of European presenters to validate one’s interest in a given artist. Senior curator Sherrie Johnson and I didn’t need it when we saw the show a couple of years back at NYC’s Under Radar Festival. Our invitation to present them here in Vancouver went out immediately.

I could describe them as “beyond irony”—they are. But what does that mean, you’d ask. I could suggest that you remember your teenage years, on a Friday night with a bunch of your friends, with nothing to do, down in the basement rec room, and the games you’d create to amuse yourself. (Possibly a few stimulants to help along the way.) The innocent delight you took in creating delicate and riotous moments of performance for each other’s amusement from nothing but your imagination and the music on the radio. But would I be conjuring a memory that means anything to you?

So, I am back to wanting to tell you about this fantastic thing in the piece…but I can’t. It’s a secret.

So, I’ll simply let you in on another secret. Poetics is what one calls in the business a “sleeper”. A few years back we had one: Small Metal Objects from Australia’s Back to Back Theatre. It was presented in the atrium of the Central Library. Now don’t get me wrong, Poetics and Small Metal Objects are worlds a part—nothing like each other. And nor do the company’s share really anything in common. But like with Small Metal Objects, people couldn’t really get a sense of what they might be in for from the description and the image in the Festival’s program. Yet, once audiences got to see and experience the show, word spread like wildfire and there wasn’t a ticket to be had.

So while there are certain things I can’t divulge, I can tell you that Poetics: a ballet brut is serious, serious, mischievous fun. You are guaranteed to come out of it with a grin on your face. I consider it child friendly. If you have kids who still remember the fun in figuring out what one can do with the simplest of materials, like say a cardboard shipping box, a ball of string, or say a tutu, then bring them along too. That’s assuming you can still get a ticket.

Poetics: a ballet brut is part of the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is presented with Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. January 27- 30, 2010 at 7pm (Jan 30 matinee at 2pm), The Roundhouse. Click here for full details.


  1. I have never read a performance festival blog before nor have I ever been to Vancouver. But once I started reading about PuSh I was hooked. The deliberate and unlikely presentation of the choreography of everyday life next to the devastation of Nazi Germany links the individual to history and history to the individual. Performance reminds us that we are only stories and actions, big and little. The festival makes clear the necessity of pushing back against those forces– all those little grey squares out there– that would quiet who we are and what we know.

  2. Emma and Carol,

    Thank you both.

    I tried to have a bit of fun with this statement—in the spirit of the work of course.

    These statements from Sherrie Johnson and I are a new addition this year, and something we'd like to expand upon in the future. Obviously, an attempt to move beyond the “press release”. which certainly has it's purpose in the performing arts, but which also rarely moves beyond “selling” the work. So here we wanted to give a sense in the background choices behind the program. And not to say that we still aren't wanting hook people, to get them curious and interested in attending, but in the case of the statements to to interest them slightly differently.

    My favourite festival, Kunstenfestivaldesarts (Brussels) includes statements or essays in both the festival program and house programs for each of the shows. The festival has a remarkable range of work, from very large ensembles and technically demanding scenography, to smaller chamber-sized work, all driven by ideas, new forms of storytelling and styles of performance. It remains a great inspirations and something PuSh continues to aspire to.

Comments are Closed.