Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Lucy Rupert /Blue ceiling dancer Artist Interview: Alex Mardon and Erika Mitsuhashi

ps: We Are All Here festival -- Artist interview #1: Alexa Mardon and Erika Mitsuhashi

Thank you Lucy! 
Ps: We Are All Here is the Toronto Dance Community Love-in's performance festival with an aim, it seems to me, of exposing we lovers of contemporary dance/performance to a range of approaches, to artists with innate freshness to their work whether emerging or established creators. Overlapping with the Toronto Fringe Festival, (which can be an artistic crapshoot, although this year's dance at the Fringe seems to be doing exceedingly well critically!), ps: We Are All Here offers a curated, well-crafted view of dance performance in the summer.

As I am involved in the Toronto Fringe Festival in the "little fires" production at Factory Theatre, so I could only cover a few of the imaginative artists included in the the TO Love-In's offerings this year. It might go without saying, but I'll say it anyway, they all have sparked my curiosity.

There is an embarrassment of riches to choose from in dance performances this week so indulge yourself!!

Info on the festival is here:


My first interview is with the artistic team of Alexa Mardon and Erika Mitsuhashi from Vancouver.  

LR:  In the description of your work New Beginnings you cite string theory and multiverses as inspirations I am fascinated by and an avid reader of all things theoretical physics and cosmology….what brought the two of you to string theory and multiverses?

AM: Erika and I began this collaboration by co-writing a list of all the things we were interested in at the time – images, sound, approaches, and performance situations that we wanted to explore. A mutual interest in this idea of shifting a sense of time within a performance led us to discover we'd both been nerding out a bit on this idea of the multiverse – via podcasts, a book called "Sum: Tales from the Afterlives" by neuroscientist David Eagleton, and the incredibly complex and absurd show Rick and Morty. 

EM: Ricky and Morty was the "big bang" or spark of our work...We started our collaboration with common interests and we soon realized that the associative chain we started all fell under the this LARGE idea of the multiverse.  The endlessness of this concept has been a wonderful fuel for our work together. 

LR: What brought the two of you together in the first place? What is your history, attraction, curiosity with each other as artists?

EM: Alexa and I have been getting to know each other on many different levels over the past few years.  First as interpreters in our mutual friends' works, then in professional choreographic processes and lastly as dear friends and collaborators.  Alexa is one of the most thoughtful artists I know and is one of the most effortlessly intelligent movers and  thinker that I have ever met.  

As we became better friends I was curious about her politics and socially minded work. She carries all of her knowledge in her presence and in her moving. As a collaborator she pushes our work to be multifaceted and to make art that resonates.  She is game to try anything and keeps us on track when I am on a tangent about a dream I had.  

AM: In a sense, we have spent the last four years collaborating in the way that dancers in a process come to understand how each dancer is working and approaching movement and creating relationships that way. I think that making work together has been a long time coming; Erika's brain works in a way unlike anyone I've ever met. 

I saw her solo work "this room has curved edges" at the Powell Street Festival in 2014 right after I'd gotten off a 13-hour plane ride from Taiwan, and after it finished, I sat in my seat and bawled until I could bring myself to thank her for her work. Erika's ability to flesh a complex concept into an incredibly clear image, and to run with something until it becomes absurd, funny, devastating, and then repeat the whole cycle again is something I selfishly knew I wanted to learn from her. 

Also, I think Erika experiences in her dreams what most people take acid to experience – many hours of our friendship have been spent sitting at the Alibi Room (our favourite bar in Vancouver) over beers as I listen with complete fascination to descriptions of the detailed, warped, and often prescient dreams she has on an almost nightly basis. It's wild, and the title of the piece, along with some other things in it, come from one of these dreams of hers. 

photo of Erika Mitsuhashi by Sepehr Samimi

LR: How do you approach what you refer to as the“sales pitch” aspect of this performance? 

AM: We invite the audience to join us as we attempt to do something that is probably impossible. There's an aspect of genuine desire to win the audience over in a way, and that's where the "pitch" part comes in. We are also highly aware of the structures of neoliberal, corporate consumption of immaterial or affective labour including that of artists, and the language creep that scares us. We are playing on this a little bit, but at the same time, this work means a lot to us, it's emotionally draining to perform, and we do want to "sell" it a little to the audience. Of course, not everyone will bite, and that's okay. Consent is important. We can hope you'll come along, but we can't will you to. 

EM: The sales pitch feels like it was a result of us attempting to bring the audience on a journey with us.  We have been developing ways to have the performance have genuine moments, along with the performative.  I think we walk a playful line between the different performance states and subsequently created this "pitch".  It challenges both us the performers and the audience to address the inherent consent in live performance that we are all in it together.  

LR: You also refer to “female affective labour” what does this mean to you in general terms and in the performance work?

AM: This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. Of course, affective or more specifically, emotional labour, isn't something that only women perform. Many folks extend themselves energetically and simultaneously contract their presence either due to their social conditioning, or in order to survive the micro-violences performed on their bodies by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (bell hooks' excellent term) or both. My lived experience of this type of labour is from a white, cis-female perspective, so that is where I'm speaking from around this term. In this piece, Erika and I are interested in how this invisible labour (which can show up as care, hosting, smiling, organizing) crosses over into the act of dance work, and the situation of performing, itself – the collapse between production and reproduction....I don't think we've fully addressed these complex ideas in the 15-minute working version we have now, and maybe we won't ever totally get there, but that's why this work excites me. 

EM: In this iteration, the female affective labour was alive in our bodies without us knowing at first.  We host, we ease the situation, we guide, we nurture, we smile and this list goes on.  We acknowledged that we were socialized to do these things and that's when we started the process of allowing it to have a place in the work.  It is rather layered and veiled with so many other things in our 15 minute excerpt but it is a subject that we plan to continue to investigate. 

LR: What interested or interests you in being part of the ps: We Are All Here Festival? 

EM: Alexa and I had been rehearsing once a week, mainly accumulating research.  We both had been desiring some intensive training and both planned to come to Toronto to learn from some Eastern Canadian movers and shakers.  The Love-In team inquired about us presenting a short excerpt of what we have been investigating and we started building this iteration.  We are both excited to present to a completely new audience and hope to gather responses that will inform the direction of the work.  I am so excited by the roster for this year's Love-in.  

AM: Yes, up until mid-May, Erika and I were content to get together and work every Sunday morning on New Beginnings, with no intent to show it or structure it until an opportunity we were interested in came up. We both registered to take the Love-In workshops, and when Kate emailed us to ask if we were working on anything, we knew we had to jump.  I'd attended the Love-In in 2013 and felt so welcomed by that dance community and impressed by the Love-In team's dedication to making things happen that they felt were missing in their city. It's a little strange that the first time we're showing this work is outside of our home city, but I think it's fitting, too. 

ps: We Are All Here
July 7-15, 2016
360 Geary Ave

Alexa and Erika perform on a program with Syreeta Hector and Jenn Goodwin
July 8th 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ps: we are all here. part deux. night one.

ps: we are all here. night one.
curated, organized, realized by the toronto dance community love-in
grass installation by helen yung
two/fan by michael caldwell
d.b.k. by rob abubo
the practice by kelly keenan and adam kinner

these thoughts by molly johnson

1. Most of our show going happens in the dark of winter, or that's the way it seems. My recollections of Toronto performance attending mainly involve me, at home, not wanting to go nowhere...which could happen at any old time of year but generally indicates winter. So to take the cross-town bike ride, with the warm and the breeze and the actual physical lightness that only summer can conjure, and to end up at the back end of Pia's, where food is being served and friends are congregating and it's eight pm but it's not dark out and everyone looks kind of fabulous and kind of crazy...this is good news. This is good news for art-going.

2. Reasons to love the grass: nature's charge. it made everyone a little dirty. i could take my shoes off in a demonstrative way instead of a sneaky weirdo way. my mouth felt gritty, which felt immersive. outside inside inside outside.

3. As the evening plays out, I am aware of needing to write about my experience. I am also aware that I am more willing to criticize the work of the artist I don't have a personal relationship with. I am more inclined to appreciate the work of the people I know well.

4. Michael Caldwell's Two/Fan reminds me of my neighbourhood, Sherbourne and Dundas. It reminds me of the manic but familiar relationships that amass on these street corners. Sweatpants and sunglasses cement this vibe. Louis Laberge-Côté defies gravity, which I'm pretty into. I wish there was more silence in the work. And more intention? I'm not sure about that. I experience the work with the knowledge of Michael, and feel the continued growth in what he is exploring as a creator. Whether through the vocabulary itself, or the inevitable lines of the trained bodies, I start thinking about dance as a form and how I want less of it because it doesn't make any goddamn sense...but I miss it when it's gone.

5. Rob Abubo entertains me. I don't know if the work he has made entertains me, or if it's just him. But then, in my mind, the success of the work relies on his unique brand of insanity. I've yet to see Ben Kamino's nudity, desire but I have fragments of other people's recollections of the work implanted in my memory. I wonder about karaokes and covers and how closely they tie to inside jokes and think on the good and the bad of that.

6. When I see the saxophone, it worries me. In the end it was exactly right, and a welcome presence in a work I had many questions about. Questions are all the rage, which made me want to stop asking and just lay there and turn my head on its axis and vibe with what it was instead of wondering what it wasn't. I'm interested in work that work relies heavily on the abandon and attention of the audience. But The Practice was too familiar to someone who spends many a day practicing. And as a performance...not for me, I don't think but perhaps I need to see it and not be it. From within, the voice of Kelly Keenan is spacious and assured but I have a hard time listening to lines being read off of a script. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that I need all or nothing.

7. Do I need a conclusion? The work was varied and involving, thoughtfully curated and delivered by the artists. This night made my head spin in good/important/spinal related ways and it happened in the grass, with a tall can of beer, surrounded by favourite faces and welcome unknowns. The Love In continues to contribute to our keepin on keepin community of makers in incredibly important ways, and in the case of ps: We All Are Here they are making a space that encourages taking pleasure in an event of presentation. That may sound obvious, but frankly, more often than not it's an elusive entity. I was really happy to be there.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The interstellar mission of ceaseless movement

Ceaselessly we moved through this moment, passing into the next without a glance backward.

This piece is about the Henderson/Castle collaboration with TDT called voyager. Like so many of Ame’s choices, the absence of capital letters in the titles of her work is surely intentional. I’ve never asked her about it though. In fact, we have rarely had the chance to discuss her work outside of my self-serving motivations for framing a grant proposal. Almost nothing that I write here is tethered by conversations I’ve had about the piece with Ame, or any of her collaborators. I hope I don’t say anything stupid, but that’s always the risk with writing. Actually it’s true of any expression at any time, in general, about any subject.

Voyager’s task is at first simple: move without stopping, never repeat. A straightforward description, nine bodies take the stage in sparkly outfits. *** I didn't mean to say Jennifer Castle and her piano don't take the stage, they do. I realized after publishing how movement centric this writing is. *** To say these bodies are costumed is inaccurate. They are not ‘costumed’, but dressed and revealed to us in naked lighting that relentlessly unmasks the dancers to us as audience, and us to each other as people who sit and watch the endless procession of movement and sound. Costuming in dance and performance can serve many purposes, but is commonly thought of as an expression of something related to the content of the piece, that relates in some way to the distinction between audience and performer. When the dancers move into the space, I feel as though I am seeing each individual body ‘dressed’ in clothing that expresses their movement, rather than an ensemble of bodies costumed as an expression of the content of the work itself. This initial impression becomes more palpable as the piece progresses: I am in love with Marie-Claire Forté’s ankle boots. It’s not just because I like them and wish I owned them (though this may also be true but she’s very tall so I would guess they’re too big for me). Rather, the precision of her never-stopping motion is anchored in the sound of her heels on the marley flooring. The articulation of her limbs is drawn in contrast to the flopping of the oversized bows on the front of the boots (drool). The outfits exist in contrast to the at first delicate quality of the dancer's movement. The texture of this movement builds and in its full force it is anything but gentle, though we don’t notice its force until it’s over.

So then, let’s talk about the task, as a task whose immediate definition isn’t anything more than just the condition of inhabiting, being or having a body. A way to address this work is by simply saying that embodiment is a sort of condemnation to continually move and ultimately to never move in ways that aren’t already conditioned by our experience and history. These are questions shaped by my experience of watching:

- What counts as repetition?
- If you can’t repeat anything, how do you measure time? (that question I’ll take up in a little more detail in a minute)
- If the goal is to avoid repetition, does that mean that the body (or subjectivity) never reflexively encounters itself?
-  If there’s no repetition as such, can our eyes or our bodies recognize, see, feel, hear or otherwise sense progression? 

The work is at times, totally unbearable. This frustration is partly due to the fact that we don’t, at first, have any way of measuring time without immediately discernible patterns of motion and rest. This kind of shit drives people crazy. Ultimately watching performance is pretty hard to begin with, especially when people want to be at home watching True Detective or whatever, which is considerably easier to pay attention to. Voyager articulates something different about the conventions of its form. It is challenging to watch.

(I wonder what Paula Citron will say/ has said. Does anybody know who the critic sitting in the top right corner seat of the audience was? I'm 90% sure now that it was Michael Crabb, you can read his review here, though I'm not sure one should. My favourite part was when two people left and Erika Hennebury (coincidentally also Public Recording’s artistic producer) with lightning reflexes, caught them through the railing with their forgotten iPhone, abandoned on the seat during a hasty departure. I’m glad that people left during the show. I often think about doing that but it’s more difficult when the house lights are down. The house lights stayed up for the whole piece.)

The experience of being an audience for voyager is a bit like trying to have a conversation with a new person who talks non-stop. It’s frustrating because you can’t sense their speech patterns and they don’t give you space to digest any of the things they’re saying, but rather just move on. I have a friend like this. When we were first becoming friends, I don’t think I ever understood a single thing he said. As I got to know him better, spent more time in his company, I began to pick out phrasing and cadence habits, though it still seemed like the flow of his words was endless and never self-referential. Likewise, I learned how to distribute my attention rather than concentrating on picking out meaning in the ways I was used to. By using this example of becoming acclimatized through conversation with someone, I am pointing to the way that repetition requires two distinct but related areas of our motor-perceptual lives. First, movement always comes from somewhere, from a preceding bodily action on its way to the next. It is in this way always reflecting itself, its own history. It is impossible to find movement that doesn’t in some form contain its own genesis. As a condition of being what it is, movement is thus only ever self-referential (in the sense that in order to continue on moving it must have its history built into it). If this weren’t true you wouldn’t really even be able to lift your arm. Probably this is redundant for dancers, but try it. Try to lift your arm as if the movement you can identify as ‘lifting your arm’ came from out of nowhere. It’s impossible. So the first sense of repetition implies that all movement has this character of always belonging to itself. Second, repetition is part of how we encounter the world in structures that are usual, regular or habitual. For example, “hello” is usually followed by a pause that allows the other person to respond. My reciprocal hello is an acknowledgment of a familiar pattern of greeting people.

Movement’s necessary condition of containing its own history becomes perceptible only as habit. A particular person’s way of lifting their arm, or saying hello, as containing a past movement history and gesturing towards a future one, is identifiable only through becoming accustomed to that gesture or that greeting. When you know someone’s regular bodily ways of moving, you might be able to sense the beginning of their arm gesture or anticipate the tone of their hello and the length of pause that follows it. We are thus deeply attuned to the ways in which movement habits show up in the people around us. This is largely how we make sense of the world. Ultimately voyager’s journey is futile for the reason that our perception, both of our own moving bodies and the bodies of others, is so deeply conditioned by habits which take hold in us, only to emerge as simply capacities of the body or something. 

The futility of voyager’s exercise is precisely what makes it compelling. Each moment of voyager feels almost like nothing is happening because everything is happening. You cannot at first rely on the regularities of habit and repetition, which normally structure our perception. As the piece progresses, new forms of pattern, habit and ways of marking time begin to emerge in the perceptual field, but they are not built from the currency of the familiar. Henderson, Castle and Co. demand that we suspend the expectations and sedimentations of our ordinary ways of engaging with the world, in order to see things as they really are.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Toronto's KillJoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House is a “creep lez” labour of art love.

by Eroca Nicols

Allyson Mitchell, of FAG (feminist art gallery (1)) fame has instigated the queer answer to evangelical North America’s hate driven, scare tactic based hell houses. Instead of demonizing the sins of fornication, abortion, suicide, occultism, and— of course—same-sex relationships, as in traditional hell houses, KillJoy's Kastle engages these icons of deviance to highlight fear that surrounds queerness and feminism.

The welcome mat image to the work is a giant half rainbow glory hole sprouting "vagina dentata" complete with dripping bloody fangs. It bears the sign, LESBIAN RULE, in giant fuchsia letters, leaking gold. A self proclaimed "demented women's studies professor" acts as tour guide through the installation, which is the remains of the previous nights performance. She advises “Careful! Don’t slip on the pussy juice!” as she amusingly embodies the stereotype of the fun murdering feminist kill joy.

The tour winds through monster truck sized voluptuous vagina sculptures, a lavender corridor of "two adult lesbians in love," remnants of riot ghouls and truck nut ball busting butches. After living through the emasculator and many encounters of the latch hooked and heavily hand crafted kind we end up being offered a piece of vegan, gluten free chocolate cake after processing the experience with a real live feminist killjoy.

Wielding craft like an inviting, recklessly cozy, distinctly feminist fuck you! to hetero art world cleanliness, this Lesbian haunted house is a pussy palace of radical inclusion and anti oppression while at the same time staying relevant, fun, uncompromising and un-whiney. This is neither an easy nor an unconsidered plan of action. 
“Designed to pervert not convert"
It is important to acknowledge that as much fun and mystical magic all of this madame oriented mayhem is, the dark underbelly is that there is one lez ruled castle and multitudes of Christian Right run hell houses. That shit is real scary. Allyson Mitchell and the crowd sourced crew of queer badasses she has brought together to make Killjoys Kastle get it. Tongues are firmly in cheeks and pussies but radical organizing and art and support for queer artists is not just a laughing matter, though laughing is also encouraged. These humans are carving out an outsider existence within the current framework being set out for artists by making work in ways that are doggedly defiant to demands for competitivity from the capitalist art market and dude worshipping hetero favoritism.

A hefty combination of dispute and dialogue rages even now after the installation has closed (mainly on FB) about whether/how the house was white-centric, cisnormative and exclusive. This brings to light yet another dark underbelly- that of feminism in general as mainly engaging with the interests, abilities, and concerns of white, cis, able bodied, middle class women. I agree with Alison Cooley's sentiment that this work, "successfully manages at once to satirize those evangelical scare-tactics and homophobic stereotypes, and to provide a sense of the systems of exclusion which operate within radical communities."(2) The continued conversations online suggest Kill Joys Kastle walks a complicated line of showing that underbelly and also perhaps celebrating it at the expense of more marginalized groups within the queer community.

To approach this work in term of success or failure seems to me to be missing the point. Is it possible to work in ways that are anti-oppressive and inclusive while at the same time acknowledging that fuck-ups are imminent? Can makers be discerning and self aware but still embrace a biting (insert werwolf, vampire) sense of trangrassion, satire and humor? Can the queer community assume its' intelligent beastly criticality while resisting co-option? Is there potential to acknowledge myriad faults and address these concerns from within the community and with the community with dignity and care? These questions are the real monsters. And Killjoys Kastle, in all its fake blood and blunder, takes a stab at both asking them and addressing them. The work serves as a call to other art makers and producers that claim radicality to step up and deal with the skeletons in their own closets. Spooky, scary.

The dominant arts communities in Toronto would do well to acknowledge and learn from the badassery (and openness to dealing directly with criticism, see the FB page (3)) of FAG’s and Allyson Mitchell’s commitment to a radically open queer spaces of art. Many artists and arts organizations in Toronto (including the Love-In) flirt with flying radical flags but Killjoys Kastle and FAG are all in. FAG puts their money, their home, their art and their vagina dentata where their mouth is. For this, I say hells yes to LESBIAN RULE.

1.Since FAG’s inception in 2011, Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue have been dedicating their home (the gallery is in their home,) their opportunities (they gave their commission at the Tate Modern over to local emerging queer artists of color,) and their place of privilege in the art world (university professor and development director respectively,) to making a space for feminist and queer makers in Toronto and beyond.

Eroca Nicols aka Lady Janitor is Toronto based, nomadic performance and body nerd and co-founder of the Toronto Dance Community Love-In.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


This piece has already begun.

Sometimes when you watch a dance performance, you can have a sense of not knowing when the performers begin to move. They seem to sneak into motion in such a way that you never perceive stillness as the opposite of motion; movement and rest appear as dynamically entangled in one another. In b side's careful simplicity, this is the story we get. Movement gathers force effortlessly, as if beginning always already from the middle.

Is it possible to be in more than one place at once?

Bee says she is hot. That she created this piece in the fall and there was air conditioning. There is no air conditioning in the corner-oriented Sterling space. My hair sucks at the sweat dripping from the base of my skull: I remember when my hair was short. But we are close to her, and she leans into the microphone to speak with us.

I have been thinking about what's underneath us, what's under the surface of the skin?

When Bee presses play, the analog tape recorder make a delicious scrunching sound. Chestnut shells on pavement. The texture of the sound radiates satisfaction when I see her push down on the buttons. Her voice lilts on the recording and I am caught up in it. Glad to hear the questions a second time, I am struck by the possibility of unfolding without a future or a past, into a kind of forgetting (her words, not mine). It seems to me that movement is always, and never, this kind of forgetting. Each footstep orients us to the here-now present of our current bodily situation, but it seems to me that it could only do so out of each preceding footfall, as the momentum of time or memory carried in the body, leans us toward the next. Is that what it means to be all places at once? It seems like the space our body moves through must be held or caught up in this forgetting.

Are forgetting and remembering diametrically opposed to each other? Or, like motion and rest, do they belong to each other intrinsically as counterpart to one another?

More thoughts on this tomorrow.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

postscripts to ps ( week 1 )

Whenever I write a novel I’m reminded of the essential hubris of criticism. When I write criticism I’m in such a protected position: here are my arguments, here are my blessed opinions, here is my textual evidence, here my rhetorical flourish. One feels very pleased with oneself. Fiction has none of these defences. You are just a fool with a keyboard. It’s much harder. More frightening.
- Zadie Smith 
dance : ephemeral      forever
dance : response
dance : Listen
dance : being               ( Open )
dance : bodies    ( yours, mine )   new heights; breaking down
dance : strength      ( fragility )
dance : code
dance : sight  

I don't mind criticism a bit — the critics are always wrong … but they are always right in the sense that they make one re-examine one’s artistic conscience.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald 
is it rare

to find 

a dancer 

willing to lie ?

Authenticity           & all that
so essential to the dancing body.



is a precipice

                                 an impossible         position

between the climb
& the chasm

between Work
& sublime fear

with what 


have you 

to unfurl

here    insert.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I had promised to not write a review

They sat us in a line by Andréa de Keijzer/Je suis Julio. Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh.
The second night of ps: We Are All Here passed last night. I continue to find the festival refreshing, just so, and it's burrowing a little spot I think inside (me) where it will maintain a good home. 

What makes it so enchanting?

This is the first edition of a cool, young thing. It's almost a secret. A dance speakeasy.
You have to find the space. I mean you really have to go look for it. Sterling Road, you know. Artistic hotbed. The only sensible way to get there is to bike. When you've found or created a parking spot, you walk three-quarters of the way around an ugly squat building (kitty-corner to the mysterious draped sand dunes) to suddenly stroll into an obscure, blessedly friendly-looking triangular patch of lithe, smiling people, the occasional baby, dog or kitten slinking between bare summer legs.