PuSh Blog

Two curators in conversation – A dual post by Joyce Rosario and Jordan Tannahill

February 10, 2016

Photo of two women
Frances Dobrzanski (left), PuSh Festival board member and Associate Curator Joyce Rosario (right) at the opening of Inked and Murmur. Photo by Sarah Race

Should we have a bit of an agenda for this? I thought we could talk about our experience of the festival so far, insider/outsider perspective of Vancouver/Toronto, curating performance…
January 26, 8:45 AM, Joyce Rosario 

Yes. Totally into this.
January 26, 6:45 PM, Jordan Tannahill

Okay, here goes… it’s January 27, 2016. PuSh Festival, day 9. Heavy rainfall warning in Vancouver. I was at Scotiabank Dance Centre for Le Temps scellé by Cie Nacera Belaza (France/Algeria), part of our Spotlight on France program. I was mesmerised, mainly by the movement, which was like deconstructed sufi dancing, and also by the layered score of clapping and gospel music. I was so focused on some invisible centre that held the two bodies constantly moving in relation to one another and yet not quite together; I forgot about time and space… Where were you for the evening?
January 27, 10:42 AM, Joyce Rosario

My boyfriend James flew in from London last night. Despite being majorly jet-lagged, he was game for being dragged straight to the theatre, God bless him. As we were sitting in the theatre, waiting for the lights to go down, we spoke about Vancouver. He knew it as a city of gleaming glass condos that routinely topped international quality of life indices. Before I could temper that impression, the lights lowered and the world premiere of Frank Theatre’s production of Miss Understood began. The piece stars Antonette Rea in an autobiographical show about her struggle as a drug-addicted trans sex worker in the Lower East Side. Needless to say, there was perhaps no better way for me to present the other side of Vancouver’s Janus face — a city that is at once home to some of Canada’s most upwardly mobile but also it’s most desperately invisible and dispossessed.

Tell me about a pre or post show conversation you’ve had with someone this week that has stayed with you.
February 1, 11:34 PM, Jordan Tannahill

I have not had a chance to open this shared document until this Monday morning, February 1. There have been many, many conversations since Thursday and most have been fleeting. Quick greetings and casual exchanges. Lots of “How are you doing?” and “OMG, you must be so tired!” and “What’s been your favourite show so far?”. I’d have to say that my quick conversations with my PuSh colleagues have stuck the most, finding moments in between things or at the end of the night and we do a shorthand debrief; how things are going (or not) according to what we had originally intended, things we want to remember for next year. Also, to practice actually being in the moment together, taking in the performances we work so hard together to program.

You’re seeing more shows than the average PuSh audience member, much of it as research and part of your gig as Club PuSh curator-in-residence. For me, as associate curator and someone who was born and bred in Vancouver, I love your presence here as an outside eye. You seem like you’re having a good time here too, which is great! I’m sure that you had some impressions or assumptions about the city, about the festival coming into this. What has surprised you the most? Do you have any outstanding questions?

Also, you’re probably read much of what’s been written about the festival through other blog posts, social media, previews and reviews, as well as the statements that Norman and I wrote. In terms of what we’ve put out as curatorial ‘statements’, does the programming make sense?

Are there threads that we missed?
February 1, 10:42 AM, Joyce Rosario

Jordan presenting and looking at a slide of himself
Jordan Tannahill at CreativeMornings Vancouver. Photo by Kristel Saan

I have just returned home from watching Gabriel Dharmoo’s Anthropologies Imaginaires; a slow-burn of a piece which deconstructs, with great humour and insight, the exoticisization of otherness in the fields of cultural anthropology and new music. Perhaps it’s just because this piece is still fresh in my mind but in many ways I feel it weaves together two key curatorial threads I’ve noticed in the festival thus-far: the human voice and encounter with the other. I am reminded of the very specific quality of conversation in The Ranter’s show Intimacy, which is centred around one man’s encounters with strangers. Inked and Murmur also comes to mind, in which Aakash Odedra wrestles with the ‘otherness’ of his own name through the repetition of the letter ‘a’. Then there’s the musical incantations of Stewart Legere in Let’s Not Beat Each Other To Death, in which he contends with brutality directed towards queers the world over, and The Queer Songbook Orchestra’s Songs of Resilience, which gives voice to various individuals’ queer coming of age through music. And of course the explosive acappella creations of Roomful of Teeth, who incorporate everything from Tuvan throat singing to yodeling to Sardinian cantu a tenore in their eclectic arrangements. For me, PuSh 2016 boils down to Voice and Encounter.

It is a tremendous gift to be given the time to get to know a city and a festival. The thing that I’m perhaps most struck by is that they seem to be one of the same. The Festival’s audiences reflect, to a greater extent than most others I have attended, the diverse makeup of this city. On opening night I sat beside a young woman who was attending Inked and Murmur alone. I assumed she was either a dancer herself or was somehow involved in the performing arts. “No, no I work in real estate” she replied. “I just always come to PuSh.” At first I thought she was a refreshing outlier. But it became an experience I had repeatedly throughout the Festival. Whether striking up a conversation with an insurance broker during the intermission of Roomful of Teeth or with an elementary school teacher from Surrey in the bathroom of Performance Works before Miss Understood, I kept encountering a Vancouver that lay beyond the insider arts crowd I had assumed was the Festival’s primary audience. Equally refreshing has been the wide range of age, cultural heritage, subcultural affiliation, and gender expression I have seen night after night.

My question is: how has this been accomplished? I have a few impulses, ranging from the ubiquity of the Festival around the city (bus ads, front page features in the weeklies, program guides everywhere, etc.) to effective community partnerships and outreach initiatives. But it seems that both the arts community and the city at large feels a sense of belonging at, and even ownership over, the festival which feels quite unique to me. And I would be curious to hear how you think that has been cultivated.
February 1, 11:34 PM, Jordan Tannahill

Two people on stage giving presentation
Joyce Rosario (right) with artist at the 2016 PuSh Assembly Pitch Session. Photo by Kristel Saan

The Festival has now wrapped. I have not been able to set my mind to this task since you last posted after Roomful of Teeth last Monday. I have only seen you in passing and now you’re probably back home in Toronto! I think this has still been a worthwhile experiment in co-authoring a blog post, and I look forward to having another go at this with you next year.

The final week of PuSh is always the most fun and most exhausting. We close out with the Industry Week of the PuSh Assembly, a gathering of international and national presenters, artists and industry members. Norman often describes the experience of the Festival as ‘a wedding every night’. Some are akin to barefoot in the park affairs, others much more elaborate. The Industry Week is like a multi-day extravaganza, an exercise in endurance and stamina. Not only are there all the performances, but also daytime events and in-between finding time to connect with guests who have come so far to join us.

The final Sunday, just two days ago, was extremely special on so many levels. I think it also offers a glimpse of an answer to the question that you posed about how we’ve cultivated ‘belonging’. I met a lot of new people that day. It was bittersweet that the very day that we had our Industry Brunch, an opportunity to see many of our visiting guests for a final farewell before heading back home, was also the day that we held a get-together for all the hosts and refugees to welcome and thank them for participating in our Meet Your New Neighbour program.
February 9, 3:08 PM, Joyce Rosario

Performer in dark with spotlight pointing into the sky
Performance of Declarations at Club PuSh at The Fox Cabaret. Photo by Tim Matheson

Yeah, the third and final week was quite the blur, but a joyous one. Lots of new faces. I had a lot of fun working on Declarations. The evening was a diptych comprised of a video and a live performance. I shot the video on a sound stage just before the festival; it features performer Liz Peterson reciting a text of a hundred declarations I wrote, with accompanying gestures she improvises on the spot. I was really happy with how it turned out.

I felt the live performance was much less successful; but it yielded lots of useful information for me as a creator, and I want to develop it further. The process of collaborating with fifteen local Vancouverites, ranging in age from nineteen to seventy-five, was very special. And when we built the piece in the white studio of the Dance Centre it felt quite compelling to me; a choreography of subtle gestures, conversational voices, genuine vulnerability. But unfortunately it really didn’t transfer to the Fox; I misjudged how to use that space.

In the end I was proud of certain aspects of the night and embarrassed by others, which is exactly how I felt after the first showings of Concord Floral or rihannaboi95. It’s a vital part of the process. I had a big lightbulb moment on the plane ride home and have been working steadily on a new draft of Declarations for a proscenium. I feel like I’m moving closer to realizing my initial vision. But I wouldn’t have been able to take that step forward without Saturday night. I feel so grateful to have had Club PuSh as a space to play, experiment, risk and fail in. It’s the kind of space and ethos Will and I have tried to cultivate with Videofag.
February 9, 3:54 PM, Jordan Tannahill

I’m pleased as punch that you had the experience you did here in Vancouver, and especially that it was in the context of PuSh. I’m glad too that you’ve touched upon the full spectrum of the Festival experience, from lobby conversations with audience members, to working on a new piece at Club PuSh. That your impression of the city has come from your experience at the Festival means a lot, especially since that impression of one of diversity and inclusion. There’s a ton more to do on that front, but I think we do a heck of a lot to move that conversation forward.

I want PuSh audiences to be as diverse as my grade five class picture in East Van, that’s a very personal ethos that drives my work and a belief that is complementary to the vision and mission at PuSh. We certainly cannot be all things to all people, but we can offer a different context for people to be together at citizens, a space where art and artists are at the centre and where artists and audience engage in dialogue and exchange. In this space, where we meet difference with an open mind, is the possibility for transformation. In this way, we create a place where you, as an artist, can experiment (and fail, or not). It is at once the same place were we welcome newcomers to this land through experiencing performance together.

With that, let’s sign off for now. I look forward to the next iteration of Declarations and can’t wait until our next Club PuSh meeting via Skype!!
February 10, 1:57 PM, Joyce Rosario

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