Music of the Spheres — This Crazy Show — Noam Gagnon’s Autobiography

Noam Gagnon — This Crazy Show — Scotiabank Dance Centre — October 20 2016 — Photographs — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Vancouver is unique in the dance world. Small as the city is it has an impressive dance scene. Noam Gagnon of The Holy Body Tattoo is but one example of what we have going here.

Music of the Spheres

Musica universalis (literally universal music), also called Music of the spheres or Harmony of the Spheres, is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies — the Sun, Moon, and planets — as a form of musica (the Medieval Latin term for music). This “music” is not usually thought to be literally audible, but a harmonic, mathematical or religious concept. The idea continued to appeal to thinkers about music until the end of the Renaissance, influencing scholars of many kinds, including humanists. Further scientific exploration has determined specific proportions in some orbital motion, described as Orbital resonance.


At last night’s performance of at the Scotiabank Dance Centre of Noam Gagnon’s Vision Impure — This Crazy Show I had the luck to be sitting right next to retired (not quite) arts critic Max Wyman and his wife. With me, hovering in my head was the memory and ghost of the designer of the Dance Centre, Arthur Erickson.

All three of us, (Wyman and Erickson and yours truly) would have agreed that every once in a while you have someone who has a talent that cannot be explained except by a quirk of spirit that the Spaniards call “a fenómeno”. They used to use the term for virtuoso Jai-Alai players.Belmonte the bullfighter was one. Wyman would add Evelyn Hart (so would I). To a short list I would include former Ballet BC dancer Lori Stallings. And of course Arthur Erickson himself was a fenómeno.

There are some that equate the fenómeno as someone with inspiration by the devil himself such as Nicolò Paganini. Others cite divine inspiration. Whatever it is Noam Gagnon is one.

Some years past you might have had a heated discussion on 19thcentury classical ballet versus modern dance. When John Alleyne took the helm of Ballet BC he brought us the works of then Frankfurt Ballet fenómeno director William Forsythe. Vancouver audiences wondered about performances that included dancers talking. Then Crystal Pite choreographed theatrical production of The Electric Theatre Company’s Studies in Motion — The Hauntings of Eadward Muybridge. It was perhaps then that theatre and dance became one in our city.

Any Greek scholar would affirm that the ancient Greeks did not separate art into modern parts like visual arts, music, theatre, sculpture, poetry.

Noam Gagnon’s This Crazy Show is such an example of a performance that was all that and more. Bryan Kenny (the Set Designer) and Stéphane Ménigot (Lighting Designer) gave us a set that was spectacular and reminded me of the Music of the Spheres. Darryl Milot (Creature Designer) made it scary when it had to be.

But it was Gagnon’s performance that struck a nerve in me as it was a tender, very intimate autiobiography on how he came to be a dancer. This included a treatise on how our interior organs help us dance and how the lungs (his father’s failing ones) and the heart (his mother’s failing heart) created a pathos (the Greeks knew of that) that led to his catharsis to become the dancer that he is today.

As a dancer (this amateur dance critic) can cite that Gagnon is one of the few dancers in Vancouver that can dance on one spot. He did not quite do this on Friday night. But this style of his makes him as unique as Lori Stallings was from the ankles down.
 The show began in a light-hearted way but it all led and ended almost scary. The whole show (about one hour and ten minutes of it with sweat and almost constant movement) finished with a five seconds of a big metallic sphere swooshing by Gagnon’s slim but washboard chest in what will be for me one of the most memorable events of Vancouver Dance.

Gagnon’s gentle low key voice, reminded me of Arthur Erkickson who had exquisite taste. Parts of Gagnon’s show may have not projected that because of their rawness but I can only hope that Gagnon will again entertain us, shock us in the House that Erickson built.

I cannot end this with comments on James Coomer (Composer, Sound Designer and Accordionist). I absolutely hate the accordion and yet…Listening to his playing and using the bellows to suggest that last whispers of breath of Gagnon’s dying father was extraordinary.

Addendum: As I was watching Gagnon dance I was thinking about Nanaimo Bars. How can that be? The spring floor of the dance centre was designed with the help of dancer Cornelius Fischer-credo and set designer/dancer Jay Gower Taylor. The floor is made of a sandwich of white and black rubber that resembles a …

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