Review – Diving for Pearls

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The final performance in Upstream’s 2015-16 season at the Halifax Music Coop space on Barrington Street was Diving for Pearls, advertised as Music/Media Art Performance. What a wild ride! This performance featured seven instrumental musicians, two vocalists, multimedia artists and live dance by modern dancer Jacinte Armstrong. The collaborative nature of the evening saw all the participants improvising off each other and continuous projected images in a presentation of just over an hour in length.

The cavernous Halifax Music Coop space provided height for sound and visuals in the form of a soaring cinderblock back wall on which photos, text and film, shadows, colours and silent movie intertitles were projected. This space really works for this kind of event with its flexible seating and set up , and a raised platform at the front for some of the musicians provided different levels for the dance artist to utilize.

Responding to the musicians’ improvisations, Armstrong began the show by slowly writhing on the floor in the aisle between the two audience sections, and used virtually the entire Coop space, including around and between musicians on the floor and the platform and audience to perform in. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been danced “under” before, but at one point, I felt my chair moving and looked down to see Armstrong’s fluid arm coming from underneath my seat as she moved forward and sideways under the chairs in the front row. It was frankly a bit of a shock to look down and find her there.

Visual artist Mitchell Wiebe and singer Ann Denny provided vocal improvisations on closely held microphones that spanned the gamut from repeated phrases, drones, blips and burps, actual singing and percussive effects throughout the piece. There seemed to be a role reversal going on between Denny and Armstrong, as they traded high heels and a more straight-laced business suit persona (Denny) for bare feet and free arm motions (Armstrong). They also played with the constraints of Denny’s microphone for a freer style of movement and sound. Denny’s long curly hair was also like another character in this piece as she bent and straightened allowed it to fall forward partly hiding her face at certain points.

Vintage images were employed of various water sports like polo, water skiing and swimmers with c. 1950 bathing caps, fish and underwater images, including some vintage kayakers at a point when the drumming intensified, matching the projections of speeding whitewater. The players utilized their instruments and other found objects such as bottle blowing (bassoonist) and at one point I think I saw Jeff Reilly “playing” a blown up red balloon presented to him by Armstrong, who somewhere behind the audience had pulled off a costume change, going from an off-white slip dress to a black outfit. Music and sound surrounded the audience from all sides, with bells, glockenspiel, bass and percussion riffing off the keyboard, guitar, bass clarinet, flute and bassoon. The players occasionally got up and moved around the space, which probably gave them a first chance to read some of the hilarious intertitles such as “For heaven’s sake, shut up so a lady can read!” They took turns on solos and freely bounced improvised melodies around the room, at one point sounding like a funked up version of a traditional jazz combo.

What was it all about? Not really sure I can tell you, but Armstrong did not have a good time dancing in those high heels and kind of appeared to “die” or perhaps just give up at the end of the piece, after miming some kind of lame tap dancer. An inter title told us “This is pretty cool!” and it was, and then “The End” flashed up in a vintage typeface, and it was all over. Whew.

No house program was provided so I hope I’m getting the names right here, but want to give a thanks and a shout out for an entertaining and interesting night to media artists Tim Tracey and Rod Drisdelle; musicians Tim Crofts (keyboard), Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet), Doug Cameron (drums), Dawn Hatfield (flute), Geordie Haley (guitar), Devin Wesley (bassoon), Ann Denny and Mitchell Wiebe (vocals) and Lukas Pearse on bass and everything else. Really cool, guys, really cool!

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