MFA student collaborates with Mascall Dance for the remount of The Three Cornered Hat

Photo courtesy of Mascall Dance.

Barbara Adler’s work doesn’t fall neatly into one genre. She’s working on her masters of fine arts in interdisciplinary studies at SFU, and regularly collaborates with other artists on a variety of projects. “The things we make are hard to pin,” she says.

Even within the interdisciplinary studies program, it is difficult to find a concrete definition of the field. “It’s a big question and we talk a lot about that, but never come to a consensus,” Adler notes.

Adler isn’t the only one involved in this show with a connection to SFU. Dancer Billy Marchenski graduated from the acting program, Mascall’s partner John Macfarlane teaches lighting design and technical direction, and composer Stefan Smulovitz is a staff member who also teaches music.

Focusing mostly on music and text-based mediums of poetry, prose, and spoken word, Adler was given the opportunity to explore the intersection of text and movement when she was invited to be a research participant with Mascall Dance. “There are intersections and commonalities, but there are also challenges with text. The audience tends to interpret the movement as a literal interpretation of the text,” she says.

During her creative process, Adler attended rehearsals at Mascall Dance and improvised with the dancers. Artistic director Jennifer Mascall wanted Adler to have sense of how dancers improvised, and there was a lot of back and forth among them during the collaboration.

Adler describes Mascall’s choreographic style as always pushing the dancers to the limit of what they’re comfortable with in terms of improvisation. “It’s one thing that makes it exciting to work with her — it’s exciting to be a little terrified all the time,” laughs Adler.

Adler is also interested in improvisation in her own artistic practice. She refers to her improvised moments of storytelling as a form of banter with the audience. “It’s all about conversation and less about bodies and space,” she explains.

Mascall Dance began working on this project almost two years ago, collaborating with many artists from a variety of disciplines. The Three Cornered Hat is a culmination of that work. The show was presented last year as part of the Dancing on the Edge festival, and this year it’s being remounted in its new evolved form.

Studying movement, space, and human interaction, The Three Cornered Hat studies the moments we might otherwise miss. “One of [Mascall’s] concerns is setting up movement that allows people to see spaces that they usually don’t notice,” says Mascal. For example, the space between people’s lips as they are about to kiss becomes very noticeable in that moment, but it is usually not given any thought. According to Alder, Mascall wants to find ways to make these unnoticed spaces legible and noticeable.

The show is humorous yet profound, and it presents intricate scenes of various abstracted human interactions. There is also plenty of audience engagement, and stacks of ubiquitous red notebooks are used as versatile props that become stools, stepping stones, and even a mop. This updated version of the show will be presented in a larger venue than last time around; it’s an intelligent work that deserves the larger audience.

The Three Cornered Hat will be presented by Mascall Dance April 9 to 11 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. For more information, visit