Artful indeterminacy

Vancouver’s Queer Arts Festival is anything but random

The Queer Arts Festival (QAF) may be only five years old in its current incarnation, but it’s throwing a centenary birthday bash.

The birthday boy, free-form experimental artist John Cage, will make a posthumous appearance along with his more structured contemporary Pierre Boulez in QAF’s Boulez Contra Cage, adapted from correspondence between the two queer composers.

A fusion of theatre and musical performance, the piece, subtitledInterdisciplinary Argument for Two Musicians and Two Actors, mines the friendship and artistic debate Cage and Boulez engaged in between 1949 and 1954. Those unfamiliar with the composers’ music can expect to be pushed in new directions.

In further tribute to Cage’s penchant for what he called indeterminacy in art, QAF entitled this year’s artistic showcase Random Acts of Queerness.

“We often do a play on words,” artistic director SD Holman points out. “People can go with it in the literal sense, whether it’s the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence skating down Davie St . . . or Kelowna, to interpreting it in a formal sense and using it as a way of breaking free of habit and risking the effects of something random.”

It’s a challenge to artists to look at their work through a different lens, whether their work is on canvas, on stage, in music or any other media. “The artists are really excited by it. All of the artists are taking very different tacks on the theme,” Holman says.

Vancouver’s three-week celebration of queer art, which was recently granted charitable status, showcases 150 artists, featured in visual art shows, workshops and performances.

Unless otherwise noted, all performances take place at the Roundhouse Performance Centre, 181 Roundhouse Mews. For more information, go to


Thanks, but no thanks

Thank You, You’re Not Welcome is a simpler, edgier, more personal reconfiguration of Noam Gagnon’s 2010 dance piece 10 Things You’ll Hate About Me.

“It’s more like a Brothers Grimm fairytale now,” says the dancer and choreographer.

Distilled from the thick, seam-broken journals filled with Gagnon’s musings and artwork, Thank You is part autobiography, part fantasy-merging-with-life story about a Quebec youth struggling with poverty, incest, alcoholism and his coming of age.

“There’s the moment of awareness, the moment of facing the demons, facing the reality of what you’re made of, and also where you came from,” Gagnon says.

“The thing I find fascinating about this is that it doesn’t matter if it happened 30 years ago. It happened 100 years ago, and it still happens today. Some stories just keep repeating themselves,” he says. “It’s about saying, ‘I’m grateful for what happened, but this needs to stop. It’s almost like saying, ‘Fuck you.’”

It’s a cycle Gagnon manages to arrest through dance. “There’s a moment of transcending. His desire to dream really leads him to believe that there’s something more, and the possibility of survival is great.

“I’m playing a character that is beyond me, that hopefully has an element that is about everyone else,” he adds.

“It’s the kind of work that brings you right into your guts and right into your imagination. It’s not an intellectual story.”

Thank You, You’re Not Welcome will be performed Fri, Aug 3 at 7:30pm.


Law of Proximity is an attempt to explore, through contact dance, issues of intimacy, touch, safety, communication and identity, say MACHiNENOiSY’s co-artistic directors, Delia Brett and Daelik.

For Daelik, contact dance, with its emphasis on shared physicality and improvised movement, opens avenues for sensual, intimate communication, without being sexual.

“When I got involved in theatre and dance, touching took on a whole new meaning for me,” Daelik explains. “As a teen, touching can be a volatile subject. For kids who are not straight, it’s doubly difficult because there is taboo sexuality associated with it.”

Conceived three years ago, Law of Proximity is a collaboration between queer youth and professional artists within a workshop setting to create a performance that is youth-driven.

Mostly in their 20s, participants have been pulled from Qmunity’s GAB Youth, Capilano University, Purple Thistle and previous workshops.

“We want it to come from the youth. Whatever we do, whatever we create, that queerness is going to come from them,” Brett says.

“The themes that have been coming up are identifiers, the names we call ourselves and the names that people call us,” Brett says.

“We asked about positive, negative or neutral labels that we associate with either being gay, being queer or being an outsider,” Daelik adds.

“Another issue has been homophobia, what that looks like nowadays — this subtle non-violent communication that communicates homophobia,” Brett says.

“They’re going to use the skills of contact to embody whatever it is that we end up creating and maybe improvise some of the moments within that.”

Law of Proximity runs Wed, Aug 15 to Sat, Aug 18 at 7:30pm, at the Scotiabank Dance Centre, 677 Davie St.


Lesbian drama humour

Lesbian relationships “are great fodder for humour,” says Jan Derbyshire. “I think we have our own way of doing things.”

Derbyshire’s new play, workshopped at the Queer Arts Festival two years ago, premieres on Aug 9 and stars local comedian Morgan Brayton.

“I wanted to look at a couple who had been together for a long time but still had to deal with the question of marriage, now that we’re allowed to follow a more linear progression in our relationships,” Derbyshire explains.

What about those people who don’t want to get hitched, she wondered. Is that a commitment issue or just how some queers roll?

Out came Turkey in the Woods, in which one half of a long-term lesbian couple is always threatening to leave, while the other half has a driving need to tie the knot traditionally.

The comedy lies in the conflict, Derbyshire says, “and how long we stay in therapy, how long we stay connected to our past, how we’re allowed to repeat the same pattern over and over again,” she adds.

“I wanted to look at all the myths but also the jokes around the myths,” she says, such as serial monogamy, relationships with roughly three-year life spans, the we-all-know-each-other and we’ve-all-slept-together scenarios. Oh . . . and don’t forget the less-than-reputable therapists who hang on to their patients, co-dependent-style.

There’s some truth in all of that, Derbyshire says, but the missing pieces are the relationships that do work.

Turkey in the Woods runs Thurs, Aug 9–Wed, Aug 15, various showtimes.


Fundamentalia’s limited freedom

Billed as Canada’s first lesbian opera, Rachel Rose’s When the Sun Comes Out follows three people trying to fully be themselves in Fundamentalia, a constrictive cultural landscape that doesn’t allow them that freedom.

As they search for limited opportunities to express themselves, two of the characters — the married couple, Lilah and Javan — are immersed in the lies they believe they have to tell to survive. The surprise is they’re hiding behind the same lie, director Robert McQueen says.

“They have betrayed the oath that they have taken with each other in their marriage, and by force, they have lived in fear of what they feel and what they have experienced.”

In part, disruption enters in the form of the tomboyish Solana, a young woman implicitly from “the West” whose teacher-student relationship with Lilah evolves into an intimate one. Having tasted the forbidden, Lilah and her marriage are left in a state of chaos. “The obvious choice would be for the women to leave,” McQueen points out.

With her ingrained sense of personal and sexual freedom, Solana is accustomed to packing up and leaving when things get tough in her world. Except she has bonded with Lilah.

“By the end, the three realize their strength is in forming a community and living within that,” McQueen says.

Still, there are no guarantees.

A workshop performance of When the Sun Comes Out will take place on Thurs, Aug 2 at 7:30pm.