Motion Studio

Welcome to Motion Studio and midnight in Chinatown

By Sarah Todd
  • A dancer performing at the Motion Studio, 1966 / Photo by Jack Dale
  • UNIT/PITT Projects, 236 East Pender Street / Photo by Yvonne Chew
  • The site of the Witching Hour Solo /Photo courtesy of UNIT/PITT

The Motion Studio was a short-lived Vancouver experimental performance, music, movement and film venue circa 1966. It was located at 1236 Seymour Street and spearheaded by choreographer Helen Goodwin, musician/artist Gregg Simpson, filmmaker Sam Perry and others. Despite the venue’s brief existence (one or two years, depending on who you talk to), the space influenced Vancouver’s cultural fabric indelibly, providing an outlet for true experimentation and a place for dance, music and moving images to meet. Perhaps the earliest prototype of an artist-run centre, Motion Studio was a non-institutional platform for immersive, multimedia performance that pushed the boundaries between artist and audience, life and art. This monthly column about dance and performance on the West Coast is named for Motion Studio as a way to acknowledge the generative potential of movement. This column will endeavour to pay attention to the experimental, unusual and boundary pushing, in the spirit of the Motion Studio.

The Motion Studio was by no means a traditional dance venue; it was probably more like a warehouse or artist studio space. Contemporary dance in visual art spaces has a long, established history, which to me always brings to mind a crystalline image of a Merce Cunningham work staged in a glowing modernist gallery space, not unlike a dance studio, white walls instead of mirrors. The images that spring to mind are undeniably beautiful, but I find it even more compelling when a gallery space is not just a choreographic vessel, and the specificity of the space is allowed to complicate the work.

This is what I was thinking about last Thursday when I found myself standing in front of the locked door of the Unit/Pitt Projects (formerly the Helen Pitt Gallery) at midnight waiting to see the Witching Hour solo by Brian Solomon as part of Battery Opera’s epic new project Vancouver, crawling, weeping, betting. The six-week project invites an incredible number and range of artists and performers (including author Michael Turner, choreographers Justine Chambers and Arash and Aryo Khakpour, media artist Henry Tsang, and musicians Peggy Lee and Veda Hille, just for starters) to comprise “public actions, clandestine screening, change meetings and intoxicated psychogeographies.

The Witching Hour solo is a one-hour performance that takes place in a storefront gallery in East Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood. A small (but dedicated) audience gathered outside the gallery’s glass windows, effectively reproducing the proscenium stage, but with higher stakes – the audience was outside and cold (tinfoil blankets were available, a nice touch) and the performance was behind glass, away from one of Vancouver’s livelier streets at midnight. This week’s performer, Brian Solomon, had a lot to compete with – cops, a heckler or two, neon-sign buzz – but he held his own throughout the largely improvised hour. While the broader structure of the Witching Hour solo proved more interesting than its content, Solomon had several moments of brilliance, combining a series of relevés and other balletic standards with movements from First Nations dance vocabularies. At one point during the hour, a guy leaned out of his car driving down a nearby alleyway yelling, “what are y’all watching”? “A dance performance,” someone answered. “Dance on!” he said peeling out of the alleyway. Indeed.

Vancouver, crawling, weeping, betting is a vast project that includes a newly published book, weekly performance salons and guided city tours. It runs for another month and, remarkably, all events are free of charge.


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