Thursday, March 25, 2010

Essential Jargon

Tax time. Which has made me feel like an idiot since I have a tremendous wide-eyed ignorance of anything financial, just as I have of all things related to the computer, which I naively persist in regarding as a tool. Actually, I seem to be its tool.
Why are people expected to be so in the know about fields utterly alien to them? Perhaps it's a life skill but these are skills I am absolutely no good at. At this point I should be saying, "I couldn't tell a ----- from a ----- or a ------ from a ------ but I'm too techno-illiterate to even think of examples. But specialists often seem so eager to impress you with their own technical expertise, even when it's in an area I'm not vaguely interested in. It would be like me rubbing it in someone's face that they don't know why a baroque trio sonata requires four musicians, not three. I would never do that and wouldn't even think it. It would seem more than a little ungenerous.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Nixon in China

"The myths of our time are not Cupid and Psyche but characters like Mao and Nixon," said the American composer John Adams.
He was referring of course to his opera, Nixon in China, first performed in 1987 and having to wait, incredibly, this long for its first Canadian production, and we have Vancouver Opera to thank for it.
The situation deals with Richard Nixon's visit in 1972 to red China, until then a terra incognita, which in many ways it remains. Richard and Pat, Chairman and Madame Mao, Chou-En lai and Henry Kissinger are the subjects of some very strange music that bears a superficial resemblance to Philip Glass's motoric rhythms and ostinatos but in a decidedly superior way. Adams's is more subtle and variable, more deftly scored, more expressive, warmer but only up to an important point.
It serves to underline the alienation of some extremely alien circumstances.
The characters seem to have reached an entente by the end of the second act but it's an illusory one. Both sides are left stunned by a set of paradoxes in which they've found themselves—a parallel inscrutability which is echoed by Edel Rodriguez's wonderful poster.
The production is nothing less than superb and goes across the board: the direction of Michael Cavanagh, John DeMain conducting the Vancouver Opera Orchestra, the scenic design of Erhard Rom, the costuming of Parvin Mirhady, and especially the singing. Here we have the untouchable Robert Orth as Richard Nixon, Sally Dibblee as Pat, Tracy Dahl as Madame Mao, Alan Woodrow as Mao, ChenYe Yuan as Chou-En lai and the faultless Vancouver Opera Chorus, which has a very big part here. The audience was rapt.
Adams and his excellent librettist Alice Goodman are very generous to the humbly-born Pat Nixon, whose lines include memorably, perhaps prophetically, "I foresee a time when luxury evaporates into the atmosphere, like perfume."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Last week the Marion Scott Gallery in Gastown held an opening for Kananginak Pootoogook, an important Inuit artist who was having his first showing in five years.
He was there for it, as was his fellow Cape Dorset artist Jamasie Pitseolak, whose small jewel-like sculptures glistened in a glass case, and the former Kinngait Studio manager Jimmy Manning had come as well.
The evening was packed with people and had the flair of a Soho opening. A guitarist sat by one wall, playing tirelessly and without fault. It was great to see so many people turn out to see the work of Kananginak, a man who'd brought a modern sensibility to Inuit art decades before his well-known niece, Annie Pootoogook.
He's been at work for about 50 years and what he's produced is stunning, not only the meticulous and brilliantly colored depictions of Northern bird life but his often sly interpretations of how life is changing for the modern Inuit: this is social realism at its realest. There are 31 works in the show, including two that are epic in size. By the time of the opening, 28 had sold.
I couldn't take my eyes off one piece in particular. It was of a husky in the process of being created. You can see Kananginak's hand just putting the final touches on one of its hindpaws, one small area still white. The dog looks up at him and it's that expression in its eyes that makes it unforgettable. The drawing is like a witty play on transformation myth. The hands frame the image and in a way, define it. This is the closest work I know that manages to speak of an inter-special understanding, the word referring to species.
At one point, Kananginak spoke to the crowd in English. Then he sang a song in Inuktitut as his granddaughter's eyes welled with tears. His beautiful song had the same effect on others.
The enormous dignity of the man.
The show runs to April 4.