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June 5, 1970

It's about THAT trip
Was it really necessary,
asks our Mr. Dafoe


During the recent Intermedia week at the Vancouver Art Gallery I was among those who attended a performance called "Seven Acts:Media Theater Performance." I was also among those who left at the interval and when I returned to my office I wrote a word picture of what I had seen rather than a review.

A letter has now arrived from Gathie Falk, one of those responsible for the "happening" at the Art Gallery. Portions of it are printed below.

"I am not surprised at your confusion over the Intermedia Theater night at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Using old names for new art forms is misleading. But it is difficult to name the kind of thing that we are doing since it is made up of a conglomerate of elements belonging to several art forms.

"Other names that have been used for this kind of event are: Happening: really a misnomer' as it suggests that anything goes. Dance: quite good, but dance buffs get really mad. Theater Pieces: the name I prefer, since that does not imply that they are plays. Environmental Theater: which does not seem to mean much.

One thing is for certain : there is no plot, no story as in drama, and no self-conscious movement as in most dance. Movement, however, is very important. There usually little to look at so the looking has to be keener.

"Steve Paxton, a well known New York dancer, does a piece which involves a crowd of people standing still for 3 to 5 minutes at a time and who slowly change their positions during that time, not self-consciously, but the natural weaving and relaxing of the body. Much of my piece called Act 1 was dance in the same way: the completely natural movement of the body against a curtain, trying to push something over it and finding it very difficult.

"Later there was the movement of legs and sometimes a ball, then wrangling bodies, then the mouths and the glasses routine where each person stood at attention while wearing them.

"The first scene was tied to the second one by the falling balls and oranges theme. The flyers thrown against the wall made quarter circle arcs like the falling balls. The fliers from the back of the room made semi-circular arcs. I had sound in mind here, too, the plop of The Sun carriers fliers against the swoosh of the fliers from the back.

"In mood, the piece to me was both funny and tragic: games, anti-i-over, volleyball, changing to a wrangling mass of struggling people, changed into a motley crew of regimented people (no politics intended), and then the picnic on the dolley island with the poor man unable to tie his tie and the innocuous flier boy, all of which developed into the hand grenade atmosphere later on."

Gathy Falk goes on to say that the theater pieces follow the structure of traditional music, with inter-related themes.

I have attended "happenings" many times and more and more i am convinced they represent the efforts of people who, while they have a hankering for things artistic, lack a full measure of creative talent.

I am willing to admit that ordinary movements of the body are quite marvelous. I can appreciate the sight of a well shaped hand curved around a wine glass. I can wonder at the interplay of muscles as a man walks up a flight of stairs. I can see that is charm in the simple chore and wonder in the play of children and adults.

But these things are visible to me at all times. I hear the plop of the newspaper against my door every day but Sunday. Balls fly regularly at every tennis court in my neighborhood. To that extent, I suppose, life and art are one. No intermediary is required to make these things visible to me.

I am willing to admit that one can witness drama of a kind while parked in a car on Maim Street in Moose Jaw on a Saturday night. There is wonder to be found in the ticking of grandpa's pocket-watch if you happen to be three years old.

Artists reveal to us things of which we are only half aware or of which we are totally unaware.. Only those with limited visions feel the need to present us with the obvious. Only those unable to think of anything else describe vertigo as a new art form.

I can understand, as well, the desire for greater physical and emotional contact between people on stage and in the audience. I am aware that people shrink from touching one another and avoid emotional contact with strangers. At happenings, I gather, we are suppose to feel free to touch, free to behave in a spontaneous way.

All this is fine in theory, but it doesn't always work in practice. We never know, for example, what the response will be if we walk up to a young woman and embrace her. She may respond favorably. On the other hand, she may scream.

For this reason i have always refrained from touching young women I don't know until they have made it perfectly clear that my intentions would be welcomed.

The whole question of emotional and physical contact in theater opens up complex area for debate regarding the point at which art ends and simple copulation begins. The sex-act is a splendid thing, but I have a feeling that it might prove to be an impractical art form.

Most of the happenings i have attended were no more than pathetic attempts to recapture the free play of infancy. I can recall vividly the day when I was ten years old and discovered, while playing with my sister in a sand-box, that making sand castles had lost its old charm. I would like to recapture the I once had for sandbox play, but I have found that now I find even greater pleasure in music, dance, poetry, theater and painting. One can bring to these things the clear joy of childhood, one can still appreciate simple arcs and ploshing sounds, but one is prepared, as well, to deal with larger themes, bigger ideas.

I understand the innocence displayed at the Intermedia show. I sympathize with the earnest efforts of those involved. Nonetheless, it all seems to be trivial and dull. The ticking of grandfather's watch no longer thrills.


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