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By Chris Creighton Kelly, July/August 2014

Making Victoria a centre for developing contemporary dance.

It is a gentle gesture, a fluttering. It appears just long enough to be a known presence. And with a delicate but sustained whoosh, it becomes a continuous, curious flapping. Then, quietly, this movement is gone. But its ironic arc of subtlety stays with me.

What accounts for the staying power of that subtlety? I have been wanting to write about contemporary dance for awhile. It is the arts discipline furthest from my own practice (me, a dancer, you are kidding, right?) but I am enchanted, sometimes mesmerized, by it just the same. So the fluttering has arrived a couple of times lately but then, quietly, it is gone. Yet, I feel constantly reminded of its presence. I remember.

I make a mental note to call Stephen White, producer of Dance Victoria. He’ll be able to help me make sense of my inchoate insights.

By Chris Chreighton-Kelly, June 2014

Is the idea of fine art still relevant today?

Trekking around the CRD, as many of us do, the term “fine art” pops up frequently. From Sooke to Sidney there are various fine art shows which are regional exhibitions of artworks—mostly paintings, drawings, prints and small sculptures. Victoria itself has quite a few private galleries promoting fine art. Some of these specialize in what they call “contemporary fine art,” others highlight “fine craft art.”

There is no tight consensus about the meaning of “fine art” but it is generally understood as an art historical term first used in the mid 1700s and developed in Europe over the next century and into the early 1900s. Its sister term in French, beaux-arts, translates as “the beautiful arts.” According to the dictionary, it signifies “visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness.” 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, May 2014

On the eve of the Royal McPherson’s Centennial Festival, the meaning of performance is pondered.

An open fire has majestic, mysterious powers. It calls us immediately into the present with its heat; its crackling and spitting intensity; its ever-changing, hypnotic visuals. 

At the same time, it carries us far away from the present to a moment, common with all our many ancestors, where time and place seem to disappear. A fire creates a second kind of hypnosis that transports us both deep inside ourselves and, at the same time, way back somewhere to a human source. We are, after all, the only species who messes with flames.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, April 2014

When different folks are at the table, different outcomes occur.

In February's Culture Talks, I wrote about the tendency of our arts system to marginalize the works of Aboriginal artists and artists of colour. I mentioned that even in 2014, almost all of the funding and resources go to European art forms and traditions.

Why does this happen? These are some of the stock answers: “That’s the way we have always done it.” “It would take new funding to address new concerns.” “The work in the European tradition—symphonic music, ballet, opera, museum theatre, etc—strives for artistic excellence.” 

Hmmmm? I would answer that Indigenous artists and artists of colour are “racialized” in the very construction of their identity.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, March 2014

The art of moving words around—out loud.

It’s a cool night in Berkeley over 40 years ago, but I still remember it vividly. Walking on the University of California campus, the smell of a eucalyptus grove, the gentle, but insistent breeze, the anticipation of hearing them. 

“Them” being The Last Poets, a quartet of African American poets, ready to raise more than a little hell, ready for a revolution in the USA. We were in the Greek Theatre, up in the cheap seats, on the grass. They hit the stage, conga drums ready and started to…well what? Perform their poems. 

It turned out, that fresh Pacific evening, that all those half alive/half dead high school years of Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

 

...a friend to man, to whom thou sayst,

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, November 2013

Capital 6’s demise doesn’t discourage the rise of the boutique movie theatre.

So what do we already know for sure? Book stores are shuttering everywhere. CD shops are closing—those that remain open are mostly specialty vendors, many selling vinyl again. The publishing industry—books, magazines, newspapers—is struggling. A lot of folks are cutting their TV cable in favour of online content.

Oh yeah, online content. The new maxim has become: All information available to all people all of the time. 

And movies? The price of admission keeps going up as quickly as attendance keeps going down. Studies show annual movie-going figures (at least in North America and Europe) to be the lowest in 25 years. Victoria’s Capitol 6 multiplex cinema recently closed its doors.

By Chris Creighton Kelly, October 2013

Community theatre transforms us and reinforces our connectedness.

So where were we? Oh yeah, trying to figure out what community theatre is. In the September edition I looked at one example of community theatre and others that were not true examples. I concluded with a quote from Laurie McGrady that emphasized the notion of an interactive collaboration between artists and community that gives rise to “ethical space.” 

Academic and theatre critic Baz Kershaw describes community theatre a bit differently—and broadly— as “an attempt to build another way of life within modern culture.” In theatre professor Judith Ackroyd’s words, it reveals “a belief in the power of the theatre form to address something beyond the form itself…to inform, to cleanse, to unify, to instruct, to raise awareness.”

By Chris Creighton Kelly, September 2013

Some of the most innovative theatre involves an interactive collaboration between artist and community.

What am I doing? Here is a clue. I am in a mall. I am walking in a labyrinth with eight strangers. We encounter some people sitting at a large table with a generous portion of cherry tomatoes on it. Before we have a chance to taste one, a man with a mask starts to eat them all for himself.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, July/August 2013

Artful ways to build community.

Imagine. There is no Empress Hotel. No Chinatown. No Crystal Gardens. Before James and Amelia Douglas. Or Emily Carr. Or Francis Rattenbury. 

Imagine this place before any Europeans arrived here. For thousands of years, Coast Salish people from around our region came together to share food, honour their elders in celebration and give thanks to the bounty of the land. They danced, sang traditional songs and told theatrical stories. Often these gatherings had a spiritual component. 

Fires burned, people joked and laughed, children stayed up late. 

Were these coming-togethers called festivals? No, not really, not as we think of a festival in today’s world. But they involved a “feast” and were, no doubt, “festive”—words that are etymological cousins to the concept of festival.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, June 2013

Emerging artists are attempting to thrive outside the mainstream arts infrastructure.

They are not exactly dropping like flies, so maybe it is a little early to call it a trend. About a year ago, the 50-year-old Vancouver Playhouse Theatre called it quits. In February of this year, Toronto’s Queen of Puddings Music Theatre announced it was closing in the fall after 20 years of producing new Canadian opera works. Today, I got a message that Stage West Theatre in Mississauga, one of the last dinner theatre venues in Canada, is finishing its run after 27 years. 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, May 2013

Why funding the arts makes sense.

There is a half-way decent case against arts funding. It goes something like this: We taxpayers should not have to pay for activities that are elitist. Art is commodity production like anything else. Put it in the marketplace. If it sells, that means people like it and therefore, it must be good. And if it is good, it will sell. So no need to subsidize it.

If you look at public funding through a limited lens, this argument seems to make sense. Well, sort of. The problem with the “if it is good, it will survive in the marketplace” argument is that we, as a society, fund many human activities that cannot survive in the so-called free market. Or put another way, if they did survive, necessarily by making a profit, our whole understanding of what they are would change drastically.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, April 2013

Let’s recreate the city’s image by putting the land and its peoples front and centre.

He has had a few glasses of wine. So he, a non-native person, insists on telling me this: “There could be colourful banners, murals on the side of buildings, outdoor pole carvers and businesses selling aboriginal art.”

I respond by saying this is what we already have in Victoria. He counters by saying yes, but we need more of it. He is well-intentioned, but apparently, in some cases, there is a limit to the human imagination!

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, March 2013

If art requires the quality of uniqueness to be art, can web-based expression be art?

In the last Culture Talks, I opened a discussion about the intersection of art and politics. I made reference to Walter Benjamin’s 70-year-old idea of the “aura” that accompanies visual artworks or live theatre productions. It is this uniqueness—in the art object or the onstage performance—that, according to Benjamin, gives art its authenticity.

He also states that by reproducing artworks, this aura is displaced: “...that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art...the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice—politics.”

By Chris Creighton-Kelly

Musings on the practical difficulties of mixing art and politics.

I write these words from one of my favorite places. Collioure—a delightful, Catalan village in the south of France just a few kilometers from the Spanish border, where the Pyrenees slope gently into the silver-blue of the Mediterranean. 

It is a place for resting, loving, writing, eating and drinking well, strolling in the sunlight, sitting calmly. For experiencing the extraordinary sense of simply being alive, in this place, in this moment, in this spirit. In short, a place to appreciate the good things in life, to appreciate the good thing that is my life.

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, January 2013

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”—John Cage

The place is packed: it is a sold-out house. Theatre-goers, with nowhere to seat themselves, stand in the back, craning to get a peek at the celebrated composer. The set is bare bones—a wooden table, an old-fashioned round desk clock, a glass of water.

The theatre is all abuzz. Finally a tall man with an impish grin, 70-plus years old, walks out to sustained applause and sits at the table. He offers a short, yet complex, explanation about word fragments chosen from the bible using a strict methodology involving the I Ching. He looks up from his notes, grins again, and starts into it.

“Thddg ghat zooh frrrrrr dineeg wll nooi lask...” sound after sound after sound, sounding just like these sounds. 

By Chris Creighton-Kelly, December 2012

We all need a sanctuary from commercial interests.

A few weeks ago… I am seeing Red. And I am looking forward to it. Red, John Logan’s celebrated play about the American abstract painter Mark Rothko is playing at the Belfry. This Tony award-winning two-hander hones in on the relationship between Rothko and his assistant, Ken—just Ken, he is never given a last name. The pair verbally dance around the studio; around art ideas and issues; around, finally, the very philosophy of art practice itself.

A play about art practice—yeah! Kudos to Artistic Director Michael Shamata for bringing it to Victoria. His tight, unadorned, focus-on-the-actors direction is entirely appropriate for Logan’s script—the characters never leave Rothko’s confining art studio.

by Chris Creighton-Kelly, November 2012

Do the arts in Victoria need a kick in the butt?

I am sitting across from them—a woman and a man. We are eating lunch and we have now reached a point past the small talk. We are, after all, trying to cut a deal. 

I tell them that I would like to write for Focus magazine. They tell me that they would like that too. We talk briefly about details such as deadlines, contracts, money, copyright. But then, they—editor Leslie Campbell and publisher David Broadland—launch into a spirited explanation of why they create and publish Focus month after month: For the critical issues, for their writers to speak, for the arts in the CRD, for a kind of “disappearing” local, investigative reporting. And for the intelligence and curiosity of their readers.