A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Wen Wei Wang, Karissa Barry, Vivaldi & Alison Denham's Abs
Friday, October 19, 2007

There is one book in my library that I have never finished. It is Russel Hoban's 1980 Riddley Walker. It is an apocalyptic novel much like my favourite A Canticle for Leibowitz but I cannot struggle past chapter one. Hoban invented a language for the main protagonist Riddley who speaks in a devolved form of English, with a much changed spelling and resembles a phonetic transliteration of a Kentish accent. I have given up on this book. Riddley Walker is defined as an ergodic novel. An ergodic novel requires a "non-trivial effort" to traverse the text. This effort must be extranoematic, that is, it must consist of more than simply reading by moving one's eyes along lines of text, turning pages and mentally interpreting what one reads. My favourite José Saramago, who is very stingy with punctuation, is a mild example of ergodic literature.

Sitting on the front row with Rebecca last night at the Cultch watching the hour long dance program, Three Sixty Five by choreographer Wen Wei Wang was sort of like ergodic dance if there is such a thing! The music was composed by Giorgio Magnanensi and the score was pre-recorded with the addition of the never boring and very live cello of Peggy Lee. The music seemed to me like a devolved Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi. And there was a reason for this. Wen Wei Wang says this in his choreographer's statement:

After four years of work with my own company I wanted to challenge myself as a creator and push myself beyond my own cultural roots. Vivaldi's Four Seasons was my inspiration for this work and is also the basis for Giorgio Magnanensi's composition. This has been a great challenge for me. Vivaldi's music is so beautiful, so well known and so often chosen by choreographers that it required a fresh and imaginative treatment in order to succeed. This project was not just to create new movement but a way for me to understand another culture through its music.

My last work, Unbound, was the result of my proceeding choreographies and I regard Three Sixty Five as the beginning of an important new phase in my choreographic career. As I enter this phase I want to go beyond everything I have previously expressed through movement.
-Wen Wei Wang

I relied on my own imagination to figure out this one hour long dance that pushed the five dancers with constant and grueling movement to the limit of their abilities. Five dancers (sparingly dressed in white) and one musician (Peggy Lee), a troupe of entertainers in a space ship from Proxima Centauri on their way to Sirius get lost and crash land on our planet. We have been gone for a while. In a dump site Lee finds a boom box with a tape (Vivaldi's Four Seasons). Radioactivity and age have affected both the tape and the box. What plays (every once in a while you can recognize Vivaldi, the rest of the time it seems to sound like program music)is the score we heard last night.

Lee puts in her interpretation and the dancers do likewise. I felt both trapped and mesmerized by the performance. A white violin hangs from the ceiling. The dancers and the musician have discovered a cult to the instrument. They are in awe of it.

And so were we in awe of the five dancers, Wen Wei Wang (slippery and fit like a Weddell Sea seal), Scott Augustine (a prime example of this new breed of Vancouver contemporary dancers who are compact and with their low centre of gravity can move with incredible speed) Karissa Barry (when I saw her in the mentor program at Arts Umbrella she already stood out. She is another one of those compact and strong dancers) Andrea Keevil (willowy in contrast to the rest) and lastly Alison Denham. Of Denham, Rebecca said, with amazement, "What abs!" Unlike Hoban's Riddley Walker I think I could handle Three Sixty Five one more time.

There is one more performance of Wen Wei Wang's Three Sixty Five tonight at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.


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