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event imageEARTH = home
by Kendra Fanconi
Judith Marcuse Projects
Black Box Studio
Great Northern Way Campus
June 16-25

(This is Jerry's review of the original 2006 production.)

First impressions of the World Urban Festival: imagine the Folk Festival staged on an early version of Granville Island, a post-industrial, pre-transformational site without the ocean.  The best things about it so far are lots of free entertainment and valet parking for your bike.

Inside one of the old warehouses on the former Finning site a Shabono has been constructed, a communal tent where producer-choreographer Judith Marcuse is staging the theatrical centrepiece of the Festival. Wednesday night the temperature inside the Shabono was about 35◦.  By the weekend it will be much warmer.  Talk about the greenhouse effect.

EARTH = home is based on three years of workshops Marcuse conducted with young adults from around the world to garner their feelings about “the state of the earth and the behaviour of people around them.”  Her dance-theatre piece attempts to connect those findings to major environmental and social concerns “and the desires we share for the future.”

These are lofty goals and huge issues which the show tries to distill into 75 minutes. The dance performance alternates with visuals projected through two large, round screens on the ceiling (courtesy of Jamie Griffiths and Diego Samper) over which crawl various depressing statistics about the declining condition of our world (“10 million people starve to death each year”).  These are followed by text messages presumably reflecting the feelings of the mostly non-speaking young dancer-characters: “RU doing your part?” “I didn’t do it. Why should I fix it?”

The story they dance also plays out their fears and anxieties.  Trapped in this (urban?) space as thunder and lightning rage, the eleven performers dance their mistrust, anger, greed and generosity to Hal Foxton Beckett’s driving, Stomp-like percussive score.  They quarrel and try to connect, gang up on each other, rip each other off.  It’s not quite Lord of the Flies, but when empty water bottles fall from the sky they fight viciously for the last full one. In the end, they find empathy and reconnection.

The performers are attractive, energetic and committed, and the dancing is terrific.  But dance is a blunt instrument for dealing with the particularities of political, social, and ecological issues.  There are some great moments, like the angry how-do-we-get-rid-of-all-this-garbage dance after plastic bags rain down from the sky.  But no specific issues are ever addressed specifically.  And there seems a real disconnect between what the performers are doing on the floor and the larger story of social and environmental degradation the visuals are telling on the ceiling, especially since one part stops when the other goes.

Earnest and entertaining, EARTH = home has its heart in the right place. But as far as saving the world, the bike valets make a stronger, clearer statement.    

Jerry Wasserman