Something wicker—and wonderful—this way comes. Balanced atop dancers Barbara Bourget, Jay Hirabayashi, Molly McDermott, and Billy Marchenski, designer Jonathan Baldock’s woven, basketlike headpieces are among the strangest and most striking creations ever to grace a Vancouver stage. They’re so odd, in fact, that everyone who’s seen them during rehearsals for Kokoro Dance’s Book of Love has seen something different.
“[Lighting designer] Gerald King saw African masks, and another person remarked that they reminded her of those shakuhachi players in Japan who wear baskets on their heads,” says Hirabayashi, who choreographed Kokoro’s new evening-length outing with his life and art partner Bourget. “They really transform our characters, I think.”
Other viewers have compared Baldock’s work to tribal costumes from Papua New Guinea and the blank stare of an inflatable sex doll, but when Book of Love’s cast first set eyes on them, Bourget simply saw a challenge.
“I was totally shocked,” she says, interviewed in a conference call with Hirabayashi from Kokoro’s Downtown Eastside office. “I expected something wild and wacky, and he didn’t disappoint. But then, of course, we had to figure out how to wear them.”
So just how are they a problem?
“Well, we can’t see!” Bourget reveals, laughing at the notion that, in this production, love really is blind. “They have eyeholes, but they don’t exactly align with our eyes, so it is a bit like dancing in your own space and feeling everybody else, rather than being able to turn your head and see them. Masks also require a little more subtlety when you wear them, because just a slight movement really changes the emotional context. So there’s been a lot of adjustment in terms of how we incorporate them into the choreography that we did.”
Hirabayashi reveals that the new work is named after a tune from the Magnetic Fields’ 1999 concept album 69 Love Songs. “It starts off with the line ‘The book of love is long and boring,’ ” he says, before Bourget completes the couplet: “ ‘No one can lift the damn thing.’ ” That sent the two choreographer-performers off in search of other rock songs about love, before setting the movement on a mix of tunes by blues extrovert Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hornby Island guitarist Tony Wilson, and the Magnetic Fields, among others. Only then did they erase the soundtrack and turn things over to composer Jeffrey Ryan, who has created an original score that new-music sextet Standing Wave will perform live when Book of Love debuts.
“I think the process has been kind of magical, in the way that each of the contributors have given their own input,” Hirabayashi says. “They’re not trying to enhance our vision, but to add their own—and, ultimately, what we’ve wound up with is a sense of commitment, and of joy.”
That’s appropriate, for although Bourget cautions that Book of Love is no Harlequin romance, it does pay tribute to her enduring creative and personal partnership with Hirabayashi. (McDermott and Marchenski sometimes portray a younger version of the Kokoro founders.) The company turns 30 next year, and continues to build on its singularly provocative fusion of butoh and modern dance.
“We’ve created over 190 works, and its really been wonderful—although at times very stressful—to really stretch our creative muscles on this one,” says Bourget. “In making it, I thought about my grandchildren, and my children, and how much I love the art of dance. And I think the piece has a little bit of all the facets of love, including maybe a little bit of romance. But not too much: it’s Kokoro, after all!”
Kokoro Dance presents Book of Love at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre from Wednesday to next Saturday (November 25 to December 5).