I know “March Madness” is a college basketball thing, but it’s also an apt description of the Vancouver dance community over the month just past. As Deborah Meyers pointed out in the The Vancouver Sun, March has been saturated (perhaps oversaturated) with heavy-hitting events including Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s Porno Death Cult (I reviewed the show here), Kidd Pivot’s The Tempest Replica, the Vancouver International Dance Festival, Ballet BC, and, upcoming, Noam Gagnon, and Amber Funk Barton’s the response. The volume and quality of work that Vancouver audiences have the opportunity to see is encouraging, but is it a bit much given Vancouver’s very laid-back dance-going public? Apparently not — every show I attended was full or near full. Certainly the quality and complexity of all these productions demanded full houses.
In particular, choreographer Crystal Pite’s 2011 work The Tempest Replica is an epic undertaking with a recent and tragically short three-day run at Simon Fraser University Woodward’s. The whitewashed constructivist/Matthew Barney-esque costumes by Nancy Bryant and Linda Chow that are featured in the first half of the work are spectacular, and the various projections and, what I can only think of as special effects (I heard there are over 250 technical and lighting cues), are similarly breathtaking. A retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest through movement, The Tempest Replica is heavy — with reference and allusion, history, and the aforementioned spectacular staging. A friend who saw the production the first time it was in Vancouver in 2011 said she felt compelled to take a look at her Cliffs Notes from high school after seeing the show. The Tempest Replica is a densely layered composition and, on the whole, the trappings of the production work synergistically to unfold intertwined narratives. In a hand any less considered and skilled than Pite’s this might come off as excessive, but here, it reads as visionary. The reason for this is that despite (or in concert with) all of the various theatrical armatures, the movement is still the most arresting and important element. There are moments when you become distracted by everything but are jolted back into the work by virtue of the movement happening on the stage. Particularly in the second half of the show, you realize (or remember) that Crystal Pite is kind of a genius, particularly at channelling a situation or emotion using movement. The terrifying duet near the end of the work, featuring Bryan Arias as Caliban undergoing a writhing, contorted demonic possession, a devastating display of losing dominion over one’s body, will stay with me for some time.
The Tempest Replica is a reminder of the importance of making and performing unwaveringly ambitious works, especially in British Columbia, which comes dead last in per capita provincial arts funding. Pite, who has a great deal of international experience and earned a great deal of acclaim, has recently returned to Vancouver as a long-term artist-in-residence at Simon Fraser University’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. The cliché that you have to be recognized elsewhere to get your due at home is decidedly untrue in Vancouver — the city is excellent at supporting its own, as evidenced by the impressive attendance. If only arts funding would catch up. The Tempest Replica will embark on a tour (funded in part by an Indiegogo campaign) travelling to Sadler’s Wells in London (where Pite will act as artistic associate) for its UK premiere at the end of April. Pite’s long-term residency at SFU will continue, where she will ultimately create a new work for Kidd Pivot and mentor local dancers and choreographers while juggling international projects. Vancouver is fortunate to have an artist of Pite’s calibre, one who remains invested in the local, while negotiating an international profile.