CENTRE STAGE: In review: Winners and Losers, Trevor Noah at JFL Northwest, and dance at Chutzpah!

Trevor Noah is hilarious and just plain adorable.

Winners and Losers

Feb 16–27; The Cultch

This show has been gaining plenty of critical acclaim, from being nominated for a 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award to rave reviews from critics, but it didn’t work for me. While there were many interesting concepts discussed through a capitalist lens, I felt like I was essentially eavesdropping on an interesting conversation between two friends.

I’ll admit that the conversation was at times engaging, funny, and entertaining, but there were also an equal number of moments when I wondered what the point was. Based on conversations between the performers, Marcus Youssef and James Long, the show situated the two at opposite ends of a long table, a bell in front of each, while they debated whether something was a winner or a loser in the face of capitalism.

They discussed Mexico, Canada, microwaves, Pamela Anderson, their own parents, and each other. As the topics of discussion became more personal, their conversation became heated. They were brutally honest with each other — as any true friend should be — and they shared anecdotes from their childhoods while struggling to reconcile their economic backgrounds.

After throwing arguments at each other for a while, the show abruptly ended. “I think we’re done,” said Youssef. “Until tomorrow night,” replied Long.


 

Trevor Noah

JFL Northwest

Feb 19; Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Trevor Noah made his first stand up appearance in Vancouver for the JFL Northwest festival and entertained a sold-out, appreciative crowd. We laughed until our faces hurt, and reveled in Noah’s cultural commentary.

Noah casually took the stage and soaked up the love from a cheering audience. This being his first time in Vancouver, he shared his observations that “Vancouver is a lot more Asian than I expected,” and that, “it’s like bizarro America: everything seems the same, but people are polite.”

Before the show, Noah took a walk around the city and described his hunt for the best poutine and his perspective on Chinatown. He said that if he were to be dropped off there, he would just assume he was in China and not think that perhaps a few blocks away he would be in Vancouver — there are no Chinatowns in South Africa, he explained. 

The hilarious cultural comparisons and gestural acting continued with his assessment of communications between drivers on the road. In America, he said, everyone honks all the time and it’s impossible to know what they are trying to say, whereas in South Africa, they hoot and this sound can be modified to suit many purposes. His story of getting tacos for the first time was capped off with a wonderful miscommunication in which napkin was taken to mean diaper, as it does in South Africa.

Noah now knows that there could never be a black James Bond thanks to a visit to Scotland, where there are no black people, and he made his case for a Russian accent being the scariest of any accent. These kinds of observational stories about race, nationality and cultural differences, acted out and described with wonderful pacing and humility are what gives Noah his trademark likable style.

I love Noah’s brand of humour, which doesn’t rely on tired clichés. He is able to tell lengthy stories without losing the audience’s attention, and he has the respect of his fans. Everyone in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre left the show laughing, and I hope Noah is able to return soon to do it all over again.


Shay Kuebler Radical System Art: Telemetry Vol. 1 and MADBOOTS DANCE: (SAD BOYS)

Chutzpah! Festival

Feb 20 – 22; Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre

The first version of his full-length project being developed over two years, Telemetry Vol. 1 is a beautiful piece of choreography mixing swing, bebop jazz, house and contemporary dance and music styles and incorporating Danny Nielsen’s stunning tap mastery. The choreography seems to have an air of maturity about it, and this may be Kuebler’s best work yet.  

The show began with Neilson tapping across the back of a dark stage, as lights were activated based on the intensity of his tapping. This was an impressive effect, and Neilson was then joined by Kuebler and five others who moved surreptitiously across a dimly lit stage, a single light swinging back and forth to show us bits and pieces of their movements.

The group moved in a flowing unison, reacting to each other and always anticipating their next move. They ebbed and flowed around the stage as Neilson continued his tapping, his rhythms complimenting their trademark Kuebler movement style.

Neilson was spotlighted a couple of times; coming to the front of the stage to show off his footwork, and then later, on set off to one side as the other dancers riffed off of his moves. I also enjoyed an emotionally charged duet between Kuebler and Lexi Vajda that showed off a new side to Kuebler’s work I hadn’t seen before.

The second half of the double bill was an all-male troupe from New York, MADBOOTS DANCE, performing (SAD BOYS). Four dancers in tight pants and strange harnesses around their shoulders presented a rather aggressive, bold work that seemed to be a portrayal of what it feels like to be gay and be ridiculed by words such as “faggot,” “beast,” and “sissy” (these were all projected onto the stage). As the piece went on, they moved through a few phases, some emotional and contemplative, others urgent and angry.

A pile of sand at stage right served an unknown purpose, and the meaning behind the quasi-nudity at the end with one of the dancers covering his penis with only his hand was also lost on me. I’m not sure that I understood the message these dancers were trying to convey, but the piece presented some bold choreography that did elicit feelings of concern and uneasiness. Perhaps that was what they were going for.   


 

Coming Up: Vancouver International Dance Festival

The 16th annual VIDF will be presented at various venues around the city from February 28 to March 19 and includes world premieres from Vancouver’s Company 605 and EDAM, a Canadian premiere and co-production by Sweden’s Memory Wax and Cuba’s Danza Teatro Retazos, along with performances by Quebec’s Compagnie Virginie Brunelle and Japan’s Natsu Nakajima. Always presenting a variety of dance styles ranging from butoh to hip hop, the festival is sure to have something for everyone’s tastes. There are even some free performances taking place in the SFU Woodward’s atrium, so be sure to check them out.