Musicians and dancers follow the noise at this year’s Dancing on the Edge
It’s easy to come up with a long list of classic concert mood killers. Someone else’s unstoppable coughing fit, the blare of sirens on the street, the tinkling ringtone of an untended cellphone: all can wreck even the most memorable music. But if dogs start barking, horns start honking, and helicopters hover overhead during Brad Muirhead and Farley Johansson’s What’s the Idea?, it’ll be no big deal. The composer and the choreographer have designed their work to absorb interruption—and that’s a good plan, because they’ll be mounting it in busy Victory Square as part of this year’s Dancing on the Edge festival.
In fact, the show won’t be complete without deranged yelling or the monotonous bleat of a car alarm.
“The musicians have the wild-card factor of anybody being allowed to pick any sound they hear in the environment, and then go after it,” says Muirhead, in a telephone interview from his Vancouver home. “So there’s that going on as well.”
It’s not that Muirhead is insensitive to where his music is going to be heard—rather the opposite. The first iteration of his project took place at the intersection of Hastings and Main; unsurprisingly, the site proved too distracting for musical communication. The trombonist next moved to Oppenheimer Park, but that was too serene. Victory Square seems like the perfect compromise—and it offers sonic possibilities the other two zones didn’t.
“There’s lots of people on the street, there’s people hanging out in the park, there’s people eating their lunch, there’s people sleeping, and there’s traffic on four sides,” says Muirhead. “There’s also tall buildings on four sides, which should bounce the sound around in some interesting ways.”
As for the sound itself, it will be produced by four separate brass-and-saxophone quintets stationed at each corner of a 30-metre square, with two drummers and Muirhead, as conductor, in the middle. Asked how the music relates to the environment, the improv stalwart responds that he’ll start with a low drone that will appear to grow out of the background hum of the city. “There’s also a full classical fugue that emerges from the cacophony at one point, which then builds and builds and builds and builds for about eight minutes,” he adds. “Then we’ll get into some really crazy rhythmic stuff before gradually morphing our way back to a final drone.”
Meanwhile, choreographer-performer Johansson and a crack team of male dancers—including local stars Edmond Kilpatrick, James Gnam, and Shay Kuebler—will be exploring the movement potential of the park’s sloping terrain.
“It’s not a level playing field, and that will affect us considerably,” Science Friction’s artistic director points out in a separate telephone chat. “The one saving grace is having a softer surface. That opens up potential for some rough-and-tumble work, which is always fun to do—especially if you’ve got a bunch of guys who are skilled at partnering and ground work. I think we’ll have quite a bit of fun tumbling on the grass, at times.”
And they won’t be the only ones having fun. With its massed brass, circuslike undertones, and highly kinetic setting, What’s the Idea? should be a blast—and it’s free.
What’s the Idea? takes place at Victory Square at noon on Tuesday (July 10) and at 5 p.m. on Wednesday (July 11), as part of Dancing on the Edge.