Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Three Humours : Rodolpho Yves-Lapoint, Sakiko Yamaoka, Vasan Sitthiket

A bit of macabre theatre started off the night as Rodolpho Yves-Lapoint did his best Tom Waits impression. Asking "What's he building in there?", Yves-Lapoint led the audience through an enigmatic riddle. Through a series of visual puns, he spelled out the premise of his performance. A light bulb became WATT; a bell DING; some five dollar bills were DOUGH. Finally, everything came together. "WATT HAM HIGH DOUGH WING EAR? JEW AST WEIGHT DING FOUR T..." or "What am I doing here? Just waiting for the..." Rodolpho then filled his mouth with red paint to spit out the final word in his riddle, END, which also marked his face with a clownish red nose. Sawing away at a rope which dangled a cinderblock above his belly, he waited until the very last moment to escape, ending the whole thing with a momentous crash.

Yves-Lapoint's demeanor was that of a careless provocateur, letting parts of his set flutter to the ground, flinging them aside. A bottle of Jack Daniels was left out on a table, presumably a prop, as he seemed to prefer helping himself to the drinks of the audience. Ham and cash were both tossed at the audience. Cigarettes were lit and stuck between his toes and fingers, only to be extinguished by a spray bottle of cleaner. Though not all viewers bought into Rodolpho's schtick, (one audience member felt prompted to cry out, "Oh honey, it's not that bad."), he did manage to evoke a surprising amount of involvement from us. He had us playing along to guess and shout out his puns. People gasped and screamed, preemptively applauding to avoid the performance's purported grisly end, the artist squashed by the block in the air. So, if anything, we were well entertained.

After such a spectacle, Sakiko Yamaoka's artist talk was hilariously guileless. Presenting us with a typo-riddled document outlining her plans, she informed us that upon arriving in Vancouver last Wednesday, she had attended her very first demonstration. She too wanted to make a march, of sorts, and could we please attend? Her march was called "We are Elegant", something she had previously performed in both Indonesia and Jerusalem. Quite simply, she interviewed people in each locale, asking them to pose in a way they felt was elegant. Then she would photograph a group of people, all holding the same elegant pose.

In Vancouver, she had already interviewed women in the Japanese community from about age twenty to ninety-three, collecting elegant poses. Using audience members to demonstrate, we saw that the poses were indeed very elegant. Some seemed reminiscent of traditional geisha postures, while others involved interaction, my favourite being "shaking hands and laughing." Her march would take about twenty people from around Chinatown to Japantown, stopping at interesting sites along the way to photograph the group enacting each of the elegant poses.

Another proposed piece, "Navels of the World", continued a project first made in Yokohama. Yamaoka would ask a homeless person their favourite word and write it on their belly, photographing the belly with various colourful toys, jewelry, and flowers. Documentation was shown of bellies inscribed with "Love you" and "an immoveable heart". The inscription "World Peace" was accompanied by a picture of George W. Bush. After this, resident bad-boy Rodolpho was dragged in from the bar to have his belly inscribed with the word of his choice: VODKA. This was photographed with some pretty flowers and a cute raggedy doll. Yamaoka explained that she hoped to collect polaroids of bellies on Hastings St. in the Downtown Eastside, holding a street exhibition of the photos directly afterward.

Vasan Sitthiket closed the night with a moving piece that considered the value of rice. "How many people," he asked, "in this world eat rice?" "How many grains of rice does it take to buy a computer, a missile, or a B-52?" Let's compare this to a car, a room, or a house to live. Let's compare this to the life of a child in Israel, Palestine, or Iraq. By weighing the worth of rice compared to the cost of war, Sitthiket questioned the value of life in a society devoted to war-making. "We the people," he proclaimed, "who live, who are still alive: we can move our body; we can use our energy."

The performance was infused with a spirit of satire. Sitthiket sported a pair of sunglasses emblazoned with glittering dollar signs, and a tie adorned with words like "lawyer", "congressman", and "banker". In this get up, he used a giant blow-up hammer decorated with the American flag to bat a inflatable version of the globe into the audience. How many bombs, he asked us, do Americans use for democracy, liberty, freedom? Working himself into a frenzy, Vasan began shouting FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY over and over.

The simplicity, energy, and political intention of Sitthiket's movements evoked traditions in theatre such as Augusto Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed". His first action was to pour a beautiful white line of rice across the black floor of VIVO. Using forty kilos of rice, this line became the starting point of a giant white peace symbol drawn in rice on the floor. This symbol was broken as Sitthiket moved across the floor, forming rice piles in the shape of phalluses, then diving into the piles, invoking storm, fire, tornados, fury. The rice became people caught in a huge force beyond their control.

Finally, with the help of some audience members, Vasan taped pairs of carrots, cucumbers, bananas, and bok choy on to his body as if they were sticks of dynamite. Sudden realization that there is a balaclava rolled on Sitthiket's head. Raising his arms like a suicide bomber, "I AM A CULTURE TERRORIST" is written on the tape across his belly. Holding this pose, he spins slowly, turning, as his movements become a well-measured, yet ecstatic dance "like dead in fire". Then it is all over. The audience is invited to take home the rice, the vegetables. We pour out into the night.

- stacey ho

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