Thursday, 9 October 2014

What a Menu! Susanna Hood + Scott Thomson, Joe Ink, and Sarah Joy Stoker

Susanna Hood at the microphone in The Muted Note.

Any one of the three performances by Susanna Hood + Scott Thomson, Joe Ink, and Sarah Joy Stoker, from last night could have carried the evening on their own.  Each was polished to perfection, had plenty to say and was visually compelling.  I believe we were seeing the tips of icebergs.

The poetry of P.K. Page stands out among Canadian poets for how often it has been brought to the stage and the poet herself would grow into a playwright and scriptwriter.  Her words seem to be a magnet for musicians, dancers, actors and filmmakers.  Last night, we got to see a slice of The Muted Note, a portion of a longer work of 11 poems/songs for which Scott Thomson has composed the music.  His performance is delicately understated but consistent.  His trombone was never pushy but always present supporting each syllable and gesture.  Susanna Hood sang, turning the words into jazz-like lyrics and giving them further life through a vocabulary of movement that was energetic, but always controlled.

Kevin Tookey woos the teacup in Left.

Next up were Joe Ink and Left.  Choreographed by Joe Laughlin and performed by Kevin Tookey.  Clearly, all the press accolades said about this Vancouver company proved to be true: "Wickedly sophisticated", "unusual" and "daring".  The Jacobean style music by Antonio Martin y Coll was pure inspiration.  It set the courtly mood of measured movement and gesture, the poised toe, the hand on hip and proffered hand.  The clever costuming of a slim brown contemporary suit with a contradictory splendid ruffed set of cuffs and collars carried this out further.  Dancer Kevin Tookey presented us with an everyman of polite manners and we would see just how far he could balance his elegant efforts to get that oh-so-controlling teacup to stay in the spotlight of his affections.  What a perfect partner: the teacup was also an embodiment of etiquette and good taste.  From courtship, to lust, to conflict, the narrative played out seamlessly.  But the audience gasped when the teacup was finally smashed to the floor.  There would be no happily ever after for our dapper pair.

The theme of destruction went a step further in the performance of Sarah Joy Stoker.  Never afraid of a difficult topic, this local talent gave us The Worth Of, which was a disturbing yet beautiful indictment of our impact on seabirds.  Her program notes quote Chris Jordan as saying, "Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits."  This is just one sentence from three paragraphs that contextualized the graphic, wall-sized images that were projected on stage of bird carcasses, that even in death are a graceful display: the ripple of long necked verterbrae, the finery of feathers but punctuated by colourful, destructive plastic debris.  For me the most poetic image was when the organic projected images were more ambiguous, when tree roots and nerve endings those life-supporting tendrils could be so many things.  They were especially effective when projected against Sarah Joy Stoker's naked back.  The soundtrack that wrapped up every gesture and every image into a cohesive whole also had impact.
Sarah Joy Stoker seduced viewers into contemplating difficult realities.

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