No one could ever accuse Kokoro Dance founders Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi of lacking nerve. From staging nude butoh performances on Wreck Beach to surveying the impact of internment on Japanese-Canadians during World War II, the two have consistently tackled taxing environments and risky topics. Even the fact that their company has survived almost 23 years in a climate that doesn’t offer nearly enough support for adventurous artists is proof of their courage and determination.
But consider this: it’s only days before the Kokoro-produced Vancouver International Dance Festival opens its doors (it runs from Tuesday [March 3] until April 4) and not only are Bourget and Hirabayashi having to organize this massive event, but they’ve got three major productions listed in its program as well.
One, F—a multimedia undertaking based on the legend of Prometheus and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein—is well under way (and runs March 24 to 28 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre). Another, two nights of performance with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (March 20 and 21 at the Roundhouse), builds on a long-standing relationship. But the first up, Two Night Stand, is little more than a collection of ideas. Rehearsals for the event, which features musical improvisers Chris Derksen, Lee Pui Ming, Dylan van der Schyff, and Tony Wilson, as well as video artist Clancy Dennehy, won’t start until four days before its debut, at the Roundhouse on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 3 and 4). And the production’s de facto star, Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq, is incommunicado, presumably in an airplane somewhere between the Baltic states, where she’s been touring, and her Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, home.
If this worries Hirabayashi, it doesn’t show. Creating on the fly, he says, is one of the strategies that Kokoro employs to stay vital.
“It is always, for us, the best possible performance experience to have these live dialogues with collaborators, where what we do changes what they do, and what they do changes what we do,” he explains, on the line from Kokoro’s Downtown Eastside studio. “It’s really exciting, and you push each other to places that you wouldn’t go if you were just doing it repetitively to a recording”¦.And for our audiences, too, each show is different, so it’s not like putting on a videotape and seeing the same thing again.”
Admittedly, some aspects of Two Night Stand have already taken shape. Dennehy, for instance, has gathered the footage that he’ll use.
“He’s made an interesting visual backdrop of slow zoom-ins and zoom-outs and pans of streets in the Downtown Eastside, so they kind of give you a butoh-like inspection of that area that reveals itself only gradually,” says Hirabayashi.
And in some ways the event recapitulates Kokoro’s first meeting with Tagaq, whose other collaborators have included Björk and the Kronos Quartet.
“She didn’t know who we were,” Hirabayashi admits of that encounter, which took place in 2007. “And actually because of the way the rehearsals went—we tend not to dance full out in the rehearsal process—she didn’t really know what we were going to do until we were on-stage with her.
“But she really responded to what we did,” he adds. “We really had a great dialogue between our movement and her voice—and I think that’s why she was happy to do this again.”