fever / PuSh International Performing Arts Festival

Date 24 26 January 2008 @ 9pm Venue ScotiaBank Dance Centre

Dance/Voice Nigel Charnock Music Michael Riessler and the Virus Quartet

Lighting Rachel Shipp Technical Director Tomek Wozniakowski

Reviewer J H Stape

Performance art? Dance or anti-dance or madcap improv? Shakespeare on crystal meth? Post-modern cabaret, or, rather, a cabaret of post-modernity? Be-in, or happening, or love-in?

Nigel Charnock's relentlessly genre-bending fever, is a defiantly definition-evading one-man show of endless search: "My love is a fever," as Sonnet 147 has it, and Charnock is took bad, he is. His body writhes, he attempts escape -- to escape it, meaning, structure, and yet Shakespeare is there rock-like, formidable, inevitable.

For all its self-referential playfulness, fever is a series of variations on a theme: it is at once about nothing in particular and about everything in particular. About the fever that is love -- self-love, sexual desire, shuddering loin-bursting lust -- it is also inevitably about itself. How can dance mean? What does dance mean?

There are several seemingly throwaway lines about sign-language, about a gesture that means something, and Charnock is caught, again. He caresses the microphone, rubs it over his body, puts it down his crotch --clutched frequently -- covers it with his socks, a wooly condom.

He attempts to divest himself of all the weight of tradition of dance and performance and theatre, even of gravity, and of pattern, and yet though he removes all but his underwear, throws his socks at the audience, rails and wails, this is, he well knows, mere evasive gesture: the power of Shakespeare shines out in a voice that is so seductively beautiful that it out Olivier's Olivier and out Gielgud's Gielgud.

In the welter of gesture, sound, frenetic movement -- Charnock cavorts, pirouettes, shows us his ass -- the sonnet form glaringly stands forth as a structure that imposes itself magisterially. Grammar is inescapable, and so is patterning and so is the search for meaning, whether found in love or in dance/movement or even in trying to escape from the poetry of motion. Nor can Charnock escape beauty, for by choosing Shakespeare he quizzically insists upon it: "Oh, thou lovely boy" as the sonnet has it

Every performance of fever is different (there were mentions of "Vansterdam," gangland shootings in the street, local events), and the Virus Quartet with Michael Riessler underline the shifting moods with ever-changing colours, burbles, and pips, but though the riffs on the sonnets change (as the choice of them does from night to night), the words are cast in stone: the form is an ultra-traditional one. There are 14 lines invariably, a form Shakespeare himself inherited, and his words haunt and challenge and strike chords still because he manipulated a given form so triumphantly.

And it's just this play between complete spontaneity, or what poses as that, and utter structure that intrigues this intriguing artist of throwaway lines and throwaway gestures (Charnock took photographs and tossed them to the audience).

The artist begins by staggering on stage, juttering, and ends by lying down on it whimpering in the darkness "I want to go home," becoming both audience and performer simultaneously as the audience and the performance meld, and as the theatrical conventions are ineluctably observed: we applaud, he bows with his musicians, we leave, but the "fever" is unassuaged, and we now know there's no remedy for it.

The PuSh Festival lives up to its name in bringing to Vancouver an artistic event -- call it what you will -- that so exuberantly looks at artistic borders and battlelines, and is so inventively self-questioning. Bravo Nigel Charnock, artist-rogue and rogue-ish-artist with a voice flecked not with gold but with platinum.

© 2008 JH Stape