Amarillo opens PuSh festival in provocative multimedia style
The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival kicked off last night in risky, multimedia style.
Its opening show, Amarillo, was a boldly experimental portrait of the desperate people who disappear trying to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. It included wild visions of sand spilling over the playing area and overhead live video projections of everything going on on-stage.
Before the show opened at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, PuSh executive director Norman Armour paid tribute to the venue's namesake, who died on December 31 at the age of 72.
Armour spoke of Milton Wong's love of the kind of cutting-edge work that PuSh features, telling the story of the long-time philanthropist seeing Jerome Bel's The Show Must Go On when the theatre opened for PuSh three years ago. Armour said Wong kept slapping his knee and turning around smiling, laughing at the show's high-concept, popsong-dance jokes. "He understood contemporary arts," Armour said, challenging other private donors and corporations to step up and support culture the way Wong did.
Created by Mexico City's Teatro Linea de Sombra, Amarillo starts out telling the story of a man who disappears trying to jump the border to Texas, but quickly evolves into a non-narrative swirl of video imagery, voices, fiesta dancing, and the haunting growl of throat singing (by Jesus Cuevas). All of the elements add up to a complex pastiche of the emotional toll of Mexico's exodus, on both those who risk their lives to escape and those left behind.
Much of the stage magic is low-tech; one-gallon water bottles (essential tools of survival for those crossing the desert) get laid out in elaborate patterns and become illuminated, glowing lights. Actors throw themselves against the back wall and repeatedly climb up its metal rungs, a strong visual metaphor for trying to break through America's impenetrable barriers.
But there is a lot of video too: the projections on the back screen feature images of the train to El Norte, endless roads, city scenes and scrolling text.
There are surtitles for most of the Spanish, but some will find it a challenge to follow what is happening. Some things you should know: The Beast is a nickname the Mexican migrants give to the dangerous trains that lead to El Norte. And the women you see wrapping clothing in plastic and setting around water bottles refer to those who bury necessities in the desert for the people trying to make the run over the border.
This is a rough kind of theatrical poetry, with its handheld cameras and sporadic surtitles. The effect is chaotic, sometimes bizarre, and always political. At one point the troupe even startles the audience by stopping mid-way through, raising the house lights, and reading a letter to the Vancouver public from the Huichole people, who are upset a mining firm based here wants to drill on sacred land.
Clearly, like the PuSh Fest itself, Teatro Linea likes to stir things up. Amarillo continues to Thursday (January 19).
After the opening production, the proceedings moved to the Waldorf Hotel, where hundreds of PuSh-goers could circulate from room to room, indulging in everything from accordion rock (by the group Fang) to interactive Native-dance lessons to guided performance-art tours.