Festival Preview: High Performance performs highly

By Kevin de Vlaming

This year’s High Performance Rodeo lineup will knock the stockings off of even the staunchest of traditional theatre fans. The lineup, announced by Rodeo curator Michael Green on Tuesday, was decided upon with a broader goal in mind for this year’s Rodeo than in previous years. Calgarians will recognize the longstanding tagline for the High Performance Rodeo as being ‘The Festival of New and Experimental Theatre.’ This year, that designation was modified to read ‘Calgary’s International Festival of the Arts.’

“It’s always been an international festival for the arts,” says Green. “It’s taken 21 years to grow into what it is now, and I sensed it was time to take it to the next level–to broaden its appeal to Calgarians and to really call it what it is.”

Green has been curator of the boundary-testing festival for the entire span of its life, each year watching it take on new forms to expand its cultural influence abroad. For Green, it’s been as much of a personal journey as a professional one.

“We started all those years ago,” says Green. “We [One Yellow Rabbit] were university dropouts–we didn’t have any experience with doing this sort of thing. We just followed our instincts and pulled together what we called the first festival.”

Just as OYR grew from a ragtag operation striving to carve themselves a name in Calgary’s still-young arts community to a Canadian standard in experimental performance, so did their festival evolve from humble beginnings into a much-lauded international affair. This year’s festival features artists from as varied a set of locales as Albuquerque, Brighten, Dublin and Brussels. The headliner this season, performed as usual by the Rabbits themselves, is a piece called Five Hole: Tales of Hockey Erotica, and features Canadian rockers the Rheostatics playing a live accompaniment to the performance. Rodeo-goers will also want to watch for performances by folk-blues legend Alejandro Escovedo, Dublin’s Pan Pan Theatre group and New York political satirist the Rude Pundit.

Complimenting the array of uniquely experimental perform-ances will be a series of solo shows for solo audiences by Theatre Replacement, out of Vancouver. Their conceptual piece, “Bio Boxes: Artifacting Human Experience” will allow one-on-one performances between actors and audience, with the entire experience contained within a box worn on the shoulders of the actor.

For Green, selecting the artists to be showcased in this year’s Rodeo was akin to preparing a sort of smorgasbord.

“The pasta dish doesn’t resemble the pickled herring or the curried lentils,” he says. “But I’d be hard pressed to tell you which one I preferred. I know that I need to have more pasta on the table than I do pickled herring, because more people are going to want to eat that kind of stuff. It’s all about balance.”

Fans of the acquired-taste dishes need not worry about their portions; this year’s Rodeo has plenty of envelope-pushing artists to be shocked by. Istvan Kantor, Governor General’s Award winner for drama, will be creating his own performance installation at the Art Gallery of Calgary. Avant garde performance fans might recognize Kantor as the artist banned from the National Art Gallery for decorating the walls of the establishment with his own blood. Also, Action Terroriste Socialement Acceptable, an artistic collective from Montreal, will be at the Epcor Centre rallying a small army of audience participants to march through the streets of downtown Calgary in a performance intervention which poses difficult questions about the role of oil and terrorism in modern society.

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