Performing arts take centre stage
Everybody loves a parade. The word itself conjures images of celebration, marching, having fun. But can a parade be a catalyst for political change?
That is among the many questions that will be explored when Concordia hosts Canada’s first Encuentro, an encounter/meeting of more than 700 artists, scholars and activists from the Americas.
The bi-annual Encuentro, held in conjunction with the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, is designed to foster experimentation, dialogue and collaboration. The 2014 event is called Manifest! Choreographing Social Movements in the Americas and will be held from June 21 to 28.
And what better way to study a parade than to have one? That’s among the performance activities for faculty and students from Concordia’s departments of Contemporary Dance, Music and Theatre involved with the gathering.
“The Encuentro is very much about how we embody and perform knowledge, and one of the best ways to share what we do is to actually do it,” says Mark Sussman, associate dean of Academic and Student Affairs in the Faculty of Fine Arts, and convenor of the Encuentro.
Sussman, who also teaches in the Department of Theatre, is also one of the artistic co-directors of Great Small Works, a New York City-based performance company that will invite Encuentro participants to conceptualize, design and stage a parade in downtown Montreal. “It’ll take place as part of the Urban Intervention Day, when we leave the university to participate in events in public spaces within the downtown area,” Sussman says.
Great Small Works will share its expertise in making flags, banners, puppets and masks.
“The company is devoted to the idea that these kinds of visual theatrical elements can quickly be constructed in large numbers to create a dramatic effect, and it wants to share its techniques with others,” Sussman says.
The Encuentro is an occasion for Concordia to draw upon various artistic partnerships.
Up to 18 theatre students have been invited to take part in a one-week residency at the Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vt., to develop a show for presentation at the Encuentro.
“The students will be totally immersed in both political theatre and a farm life that includes daily chores,” says Ursula Neuerburg-Denzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre. “It will definitely be a brand-new experience for a number of urban students and likely sensitize all of them to issues about farming and food production.”
All of the performances staged at the Encuentro will be examined in terms of the relationship between art and activism. “As a community of performance studies scholars, we look what it is about the aesthetics or techniques of a performance that sparks political action,” Sussman explains. “We purposely chose the word choreographing in our theme because it applies to the notion that social movements don’t just happen, but are choreographed in ways that focus on a political goal.”
An ideal host
Stephen Lawson, a Department of Theatre artist in residence, volunteered as a lead organizer because he wanted to share the unique characteristics of his native city with peers from the Americas, while at the same time give Concordia students and faculty the opportunity to experience an Encuentro.
“I know how effective the Encuentro is as a format for gathering incredible thinkers and doers,” says Lawson, who’s been to all the Encuentros (held once every two years) since 2007. “Concordia is an ideal host because the university is a leader in bridging the arts and academia,” he says. “The Faculty of Fine Arts — with its emphasis on multidisciplinary studies — is definitely at the forefront of art programs, and being able to present some of what we’re doing to an international forum is wonderful.”
The Encuentro’s theme particularly resonates with Ricardo Dal Farra, an associate professor in the Department of Music. “I was born in a Latin American country where demonstrations are a daily activity to fight for your rights, for your survival — where the beating of pots and pans in the streets began as a form of protest — and where being involved in politics can result in people’s disappearance — 30,000 of them during the ’70s and ’80s,” he says.
As an electroacoustic music composer and media artist, Dal Farra says, “I want to participate in the Encuentro to emphasize the power of music to spread ideas, raise awareness and prompt reflection for social improvement.”
Florence Figols, BFA (cont. dance) 85, a part-time faculty member in the Department of Contemporary Dance, will participate in a workgroup focused on documenting events that are especially challenging.
“There’s always a score for music and a script for theatre, but video recordings access only the interpretation of dance — not the actual choreography,” she explains.
“What interests me is how the essence of dance as an aesthetic of disappearance can offer new creative possibilities.”
She will share her initial research into how various forms of documentation can alter sensory perceptions. Figols’s work has involved the cataloguing of videotapes of Argentinians whose relatives disappeared. She will embody their gestures to create a kinesic document and inform her writing for the project. “I want to explore how the body can re-enact past events for current meaning, and examine what’s lost or gained through each transformation,” she explains.
Lawson reminisces how his participation in past Encuentro gatherings has affected his role as both a global citizen and performer. “My work has assumed greater social aspects as I’ve become more interested in how a work of art can from its very inception engage a community rather than being presented to the community only after it’s done,” he says.