Graveyards and Gardens brings process of creation to life

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      Coproduced by Vanessa Goodman and Caroline Shaw. Commissioned by Music on Main as a partner with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Livestreamed from The Annex on January 29. No remaining performances

      Anyone who believes arts and culture have taken a hiatus during the pandemic needs to start paying attention to livestreamed events.

      Case in point: Music on Main's Graveyards and Gardens, a mesmerizing coproduction featuring original choreography and dance by Vancouver's Vanessa Goodman juxtaposed with a musical story created and voiced by Pulitzer Prize–winning musician Caroline Shaw.

      The world premiere at Vancouver's PuSh International Performing Arts Festival was moving, captivating, and at times even a little confusing until the secret was revealed in a flourishing finale of dance and song. 

      In this show, music was the metaphor for creation, with the garden's perimeter consisting of orange cables ringing the stage.

      At various times, a diligent and very focused Goodman is seen adjusting musical devices—a cassette player, a speaker, a phonograph, a microphone, et cetera—and then responding with her body to the sounds being created.

      If you are at all curious about what a cassette player looks like in dance, Goodman provides a spellbinding demonstration, with jerky movements in perfect synch with the sounds. And to drive this point home, her looping arm and hand movements represent the spinning spools inside machine.

      As more and more sounds are created during the show, including musical beats and ocean waves, Shaw's voice comes up with various phrases like "of marinated memories" and "everything returns to soil". Kudos to sound designers Kate de Lorme and Eric Chad for feathering all of this together so elegantly. 

      The single stage light and series of lamps inside the orange cables, overseen by lighting designer James Proudfoot, enhance the otherworldly feel.

      The camera work, focusing on Goodman's feet or hands or parts of the set, including the ever-present cables, also reinforces the mood. It ranges from contemplative to exuberant, depending on how Goodman is expressing herself at any given time.

      As I watched, I wondered where on Earth this kaleidoscope of sounds, phrases, flashing lamps, and singing bursts would take Goodman, whose sole presence on stage remains riveting throughout.

      I'm not going to spoil the ending except to say it left me pondering the cycle of life, the history and evolution of music, and the entire process of artistic creation. All in less than an hour.