Conrad Alexandrowicz's Mother Tongue puts poetry in motion—literally

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With his new work, genre-pushing artist Conrad Alexandrowicz is literally putting poetry in motion.

Mother Tongue melds the poetry of B.C.–based Lorna Crozier and Erin Mouré with physical theatre—and Alexandrowicz has found the two art forms to be a match made in heaven.

“They work together well because they both work with representations outside of realism,” says the artistic director of Wild Excursions Performance, speaking to the Straight on a rehearsal break over the phone. “Poetry works with images, incantations, and impressions outside of literal logical language. I’m working with all these marginalized art forms: dance, physical theatre, and poetry.”

Discovering the potential of poetry for performance has opened a whole new world for Alexandrowicz, who has melded spoken text with dance and theatre in works like the satirical Dance, Little Lady! and the play The Boy Who Went Outside.

“Suddenly, there’s this huge reservoir of text that could be used by people who want to make physical theatre,” explains the artist, who is also studying the blending of both forms through academic research as an associate professor at the University of Victoria.

He’s been surprised to see so few theatre and dance artists accessing the rich material being produced by our nation’s poets. “Of all the poetry in English Canada in the last 10 years there’s a lot that could be used in this way,” he says. “It seems the possibilities are endless now, as I read more and more authors.”

In the case of Crozier and Mouré, he saw similar themes in the poets’ words and has joined their text into an evening of two pieces. “The Poet’s Dream” is based on Crozier’s verses about the death and memory of parents, and the circle of life as children go on to become parents. The piece “our verges <borders>” draws from Mouré’s book The Unmemntioable (sic), an emotional look at the death of her mother and the experiences she had while taking the ashes back to Ukraine.

“They’re about parents and children and mothers and daughters,” says Alexandrowicz of both women’s poetry. “It’s about families, about parents and children and mortality and remembering those who died.”

His constant challenge has been to bring those words to the stage, and through experimentation, he has found that, when it comes to spoken text, less is more. “As you know, what you can read and what you can listen to are two different things,” he says, adding that the poets have been generous and “adventurous” in letting him winnow down and compress their words.

Alexandrowicz has gathered an assortment of people from the dance and physical-theatre worlds to pull off his vision of moving bodies and spoken words, and admits there are performers he delegates more movement to, and others he delegates more words to. The cast ranges from dance artists Vanessa Goodman and Jane Osborne to actors Peter Anderson and Linda Quibell.

“You have to be careful about what you give people to do,” the category-defying choreographer, writer, and theatre artist says. “The way we train performers affects what we’re able to do. We don’t really encourage people to do more than one thing.”

With Mother Tongue, Alexandrowicz is certainly doing his part to change all that. But he has bigger intentions as well: he wants to do nothing less than bring the poets of the country together with the dance and theatre artists. “What I would like to do is put out a communiqué to all the poets in Canada,” says Alexandrowicz, who’s also trying to get a research paper on the idea published.

Like we said, he’s putting poetry in motion—in more ways than one.

Mother Tongue is at the Scotiabank Dance Centre from Wednesday to Sunday (May 14 to 18).

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Madam
I wish Conrad would just speak for himself and not premise things with “we” when he means “I”.
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