By Marita Dachsel. Based on poetry collections by Elizabeth Bachinsky, Marita Dachsel, and Jennica Harper. An Electric Company Theatre production presented by the Vancouver International Writers Festival and Boca del Lupo’s Micro Performance Series. Directed by Anita Rochon. Starting at the Anderson Street Space (1405 Anderson) on Tuesday, October 16. Continues until October 28 >
You know how a lot of poets do that irritating floaty thing when they’re reading their poems, how they use that I-am-a-priest-in-the-religious-order-that-worships-my-own-sensitivity voice? Nobody in Initiation Trilogy does that—which is one of the many reasons that this show is such a refreshing celebration of the power of poetry. Not everything works, but the things that do are thrilling.
In Initiation Trilogy, you start in the Anderson Street Space on Granville Island, then walk to three separate installations that explore poetry collections by Vancouver writers: Elizabeth Bachinsky’s God of Missed Connections, Marita Dachsel’s Glossolalia, and Jennica Harper’s What it Feels Like for a Girl.
God of Missed Connections is intoxicating—with the emphasis on toxic. Bachinsky is exploring her Ukrainian roots and she draws a lot of her imagery from Chernobyl and cancer: “To Ukraine!/ Where irradiated wolves populate abandoned cities.” The collection repeats incantatory phrases that feel both deeply physical and religious: “From the neck, from under the neck/From the ears, from the hearing/From the nape, from under the nape.” This is tough, meaty stuff, which is why the joy, when it comes, is so liberating—as in this invocation to presence: “Envision a room, live there for years/Live there for years/Get to know your fingers/Your fingers will get to know you.”
The actors bring it. Colleen Wheeler can simultaneously express so many layers of meaning in a line that it’s like she’s speaking in chords. When Haig Sutherland delivers a simple description of a dancer—“But she could spin and spin and spin and spin”—he does it with such brave, gentle openness that, when I heard it, I felt like I loved him. Wendy Morrow Donaldson is quietly authoritative.
And the design for this piece is stunning. Cande Andrade (projection), Jonathan Ryder (lighting), Owen Belton (sound), and Pam Johnson (scenography) create a brutally seductive environment. I don’t want to ruin surprises, but the pleasures of the design contribute enormously to the impact of this piece.
Harper’s What It Feels Like for a Girl is the most traditionally theatrical collection in that it contains a linear story. Interestingly, its theatrical adaptation is the least successful.
The imagery engages at first: “When you are thirteen the world is a small room./A bedroom. A locker at school./A box.” And Jennifer Paterson, who performs What It Feels Like with newcomer Emma Lindsay, is one of the best actors around: earthy and authentic. But I lost interest in the story of sexual awakening. Partly that’s because the seating—which was designed by scenographer Naomi Sider, and which I’ll leave you to discover—is sculpturally arresting but, for me, distractingly uncomfortable.
The series of small, sculptural rooms that Sider has created for Dachsel’s Glossolalia is a lot more satisfying. Figuring out what to do in each space requires engagement, which I appreciate. And, in my experience, the text is most winning when Dachsel focuses so keenly on the rhythmic and textural properties of words that they almost become objects: “fingers hip to thigh to quim to quim fingers to quim.” The text, by the way, imagines the experience of some of the wives of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
We should all thank Dachsel for her adventuresome vision: this project was her idea. And director Anita Rochon deserves credit for the overall elegance of its execution.