Alice and Other Heroes uses live music to tell heroic tales

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      Daniel Janke may have been on a trip to the Czech Republic, but it was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that captured his imagination. The Yukon composer and filmmaker was on tour with one of his own films in Eastern Europe when he saw Alice, a 1988 surrealist take on the Lewis Carroll classic by famed Czech director Jan Svankmajer—a film that quickly gained cult status but never had a musical score. So when the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad came to Whitehorse looking for works from the North, Janke knew exactly what he wanted to do.

      “Because it’s never been scored, it’s like a vehicle for a composer gone wild,” Janke jokes, taking a break from putting the finishing touches on Alice and Other Heroes—a mix of film and live music that runs Wednesday and Thursday (March 17 and 18) at Performance Works. “And the idea of performing live with the film kind of gives it a third narrative. It’s not film anymore; it’s not live music. It’s a very different experience.”

      In addition to nine quirky excerpts from Alice—one involves a roomful of socks that come alive, another a band made up of skulls and creatures that attack the main character—the show features several short films by Canadian filmmakers, including Janke himself.

      Among the films are “Sluice Box and a Rocker”, a poetic look at the pioneer mentality by Winnipeg’s Deco Dawson; a stop-motion animation film called “Drift” by Whitehorse’s Veronica Verkley, about a man adrift in a boat with his dog; and a 1964 National Film Board classic by Suzanne Angel called “Legault’s Place”, about an elderly man who hunkers down in his tiny Montreal cabin as the city grows up around him. Janke’s own directorial contributions include a comedy called “The Lottery Ticket”, about a man who wins big but finds that sometimes fortune is bad luck, and “How People Got Fire”, an adaptation of a First Nations legend.

      It’s an eclectic mix, but what all of the films have in common, Janke says, is the idea of the everyday hero—which makes the show an ideal fit with the Paralympic Games, which begin Friday (March 12). “Each film deals with an individual rising up to some kind of challenge, whatever life gives or takes away,” he says. “So the connection to the Paralympics is a wonderful bit of synergy.”

      Unlike musical groups that play along to silent films, Janke’s Longest Night Ensemble—which includes Vancouverites J P Carter on trumpet and Cameron Wilson on violin—will perform alongside films that still contain all of their original sound and dialogue. (Some of the films were remastered to remove music or voice-overs, but the rest of the audio was left unchanged.) And rather than taking a back seat to the films or overly dramatizing the action, Janke’s compositions play a decidedly different role.

      “The music helps tell the story, but the music doesn’t tell people what to think or what to feel. It’s kind of the opposite of the Hollywood model,” says Janke, who has scored many films and has also worked on sets doing location sound. “At times, you forget the music is there, and at other times you’re drawn to it. But the atmosphere is really charged because the music is live and there is still sound from the film. So there’s a real sparkle and energy that comes from that combination.”