My search for truly groundbreaking work at the 2008 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival led me to Kate Alton and Ross Manson’s The Four Horsemen Project, which played at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre last weekend. The performance I saw defies categorization.
Based on the sound-poetry developed and performed by Toronto’s original Four Horsemen, Alton and Manson’s Project combines movement, animation, video, theatre, sound and song to reanimate and celebrate the collective’s mind-bending poetic works.
Although Rafael Baretto-Riviera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol gained considerable notoriety in Canada and abroad when The Four Horsemen were active between 1970 and 1988, few Canadians today have ever heard of them or their work.
Even Alton and Manson admit they knew nothing about the avant-garde sound-poetry collective until Stuart McLean played an excerpt of Allegro 108 on his CBC Radio program, The Vinyl Cafe. Immediately captivated by what they heard, the two began researching in an effort to revive this nearly forgotten chapter in the history of Canadian performance art.
The 70-minute performance piece they have developed as a result of that research makes an effort not only to re-present The Four Horsemen’s works, but to educate the audience about what the 1970’s collective was trying to do. Interspersed between the playful performances are video clips that explain the aims and origins of the sound-poetry movement. As the 4 actors embody and explore our use of everyday language, their sounds and movements build on the phonic foundation initially laid forth by the four poets.
When the performance ended my senses were tingling and my mind was racing. I felt as though I had just learned a great Canadian secret. Even though I stood clapping in the midst of a sold-out audience, I wondered how many Canadians would hear, or care to know, about The Four Horsemen Project.
Waiting for the bus a man asked me where I was headed. When I told him I’d just attended a PuSh Festival performance, he cocked his head to the side and said, “PuSh? What the heck is that?” After explaining a bit about the festival the man sighed, lit a cigarette, and said with an exhale, “I’ve lived in Vancouver all my life and I’ve never heard of that festival. But then, I’m not into artsy stuff like that. That stuff’s just not for me, you know?”
Although I was frustrated with the man’s response I couldn’t help but wonder: if the public can no longer relate to the performing arts, then who indeed are they for?