Oceans of Wisdom

This review of our show appeared in our local newspaper, The Grapevine.

MAYBE THE SEA IS LONELY: World Oceans Day on Denman Island By Anthony Gregson

Last Friday, Denman hosted World Ocean Day, with two one- hour performances, a matinee at 1:00 PM, and an evening performance at 7:00 PM,at the Community Hall. Both drew an enthusiastic reception from full houses, in itself a feat. Over $2300 was collected in donations.
The artwork installed in the Hall around the performance, provided a visual feast both before and after the performance.
ADIMS member Sussan Thomson and Wendy Pope facilitated what they came to think of as a platform where creative freedom could take hold and thrive, and yet remain in context. Considering the range of media, talents, and approaches, the performance was tight, smoothly transitioned, well-paced, and high- ly imaginative. In fact, reviewing events on the international World Ocean Day website, Sue feels she did not see anything quite as original.

The network of women behind this event wanted more than just another opportunity for public awareness and education. They wanted to “get out of our heads, to stay out of the left brain, to let the heart of the imagination speak.” As environmental activists and members of ADIMS, it was a reaction to continually thinking of the ocean as a problem of environmental manage- ment, of constant solution- ing. “We’ve all put out so much information about the problems and it was causing despair.” Wendy posed the question, “What if, instead of stressing out on problem solving, you took time to think of the ocean in a more personal way, as a relationship?” Maritime and mother come from the same route in French. “If we have a relationship with something, you care, you see it as someone.”

Important to the whole idea is the concept of Stella Maris, a traditional attribute of the Virgin Mary, as pro- tector of sailors. Or, for Buddhists, the Chinese goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin, whose image was prominent in the accompanying art show. These protective avatars can also be understood in a broader sense, as a caring relationship with the sea. They wanted the idea for the show to come from the sea, to ask the sea what it wants, so they began, together with Stacey Armstrong, a pilgrimage around the shore, making personal offerings and prayers to the ocean, in an individually ritualized communing.

The show began with beautiful visuals of the Denman shore, including images from the pilgrimage itself. Fine images of Denman are nothing unusual, but these seemed somehow new, fresh, as if you hadn’t really known the place. They were accompanied by the music of the Robert Minden Ensemble, a Vancouver group who compose their own music using instruments that they invent for themselves, an approach totally appropriate to a relationship that is not anthropomorphic. The visuals were an excellent segue to Oceans of Wisdom, a reflective poem in four parts especially written for the performance by Cornelia Hoogland. The poem further explored the idea of relationship with the ocean. Cornelia, solemnly dressed in as the Poet Priestess in cap and robe, gave a calm, resonant reading of the first three parts.
People stare at the sea. Motionless on a log, or somebody’s brought a lawn chair, another a blanket––they just sit there, smacked up against the edge of the sea. Staring. What do they look at? Wave after wave, pulsing to shore. What do the people think as they stare? Maybe nothing. Maybe the sea’s a flat screen TV, a sedative, maybe it lulls them to sleep. Or a grandfather clock––tick-tock, back, forth, in, out.

Maybe the ocean is alone like we are alone; it wants company. Watch it roll over the rocks; watch it run its fingers through small beach stones.

Starting at the edge of the sea, Randy Duncan took us under with a ukulele performance to accompany a slide show of shore sculptures made by Denman school children, an idea generated by Stacey Armstrong in conjunction with Shelley Ord and the teachers. After the slide show, Randy and Heidi Wagner played one of his compositions in a duet, By the Sea.

No doubt the star of the show was Plastique, the creation of Jennifer Lee, who swept on stage in a red, supremely confident Barbie doll hairdo, wearing a huge white gown composed entirely of clattering plas- tic junk, the creation of Kerri Davis. While the idea of a relationship with the sea may be healing, Sue points out that plastic is not just a pollut- ant. In a relationship, you have to own who we are, and plastic is part of us – face it or not, a tremendously useful, even beautiful substance integral to modern life.
Gushy and seductive, Plastique warms up the crowd by asking how many of “youooo” are wearing plas- tic, or have it in your purse, or are sitting on it. “Let’s hear it up for plas- tic!” and the crowd cheers sardonically. She celebrates herself as “versatile and unique with my boutique physique, I’m pliable, and easily shaped. I’m cheaper, brighter, saf- er, stronger – Plastique! I’m edible, and durable, and wearable – shareable, and terrible!” And so forth. All clever stuff written by Lee. Announcing that she is expecting, she sweeps off stage in a rattle of milk jugs – a ruffle at the hem of Plastique’s dress, added by Davis.

This was counterbalanced by a poi- gnant rendition of Safe in the Har- bour by the Australian songwriter John Bogle, sung by Jennifer West on guitar. There was a calm in Jennifer’s smooth voice that was restorative, coming after the teasing ridiculousness of Plastique. And here was another relationship, of the ocean as a sea of dreams, of adventurers, and of those who whittle away their lives.
Plastique, pleased with herself as ever, returns with her baby, a daughter named Microplasticia. Her father, she says, was “an Italian pipeline”. But Microplasticia, clean, quiet, with no smells or mess, has one supreme virtue: she is easily disposable, and is quickly flung to the back of the stage. Plastique then announces her real reason for being here: thanks to us, she has become the ocean – a contradictory ocean. “I love its skin as smooth as saran wrap, I love when it’s rough, and waves of ocean make waves of plastique, and we swirl and we bump, we slip and we sink and it’s so more – more – more!” Determined to marry the Ocean she sets off to find the grumpy old poet priestess, and “turn that grumpy frown upside down”.

A lively interlude of energetic dancing by Riane da Silva and her daughter, Selena Miles, against a fast-paced audiovisual, making shadows on the screen, switched the dial again, this time into a can-do activist mode. Each act reflected a different aspect of our relationship with the ocean.

Plastique’s encounter with the poet priestess was a foil for the final poetry of Cornelia Hoogland which tries to learn from the apparent hope- lessness of rescuing the situation, front and centre, delivered with sober clarity by Cornelia Hoogland. Much was owed to the directorial skills of Juan Barker, who helped here and with all transitions.

As if all this was not enough, there was a flash mob, an idea initiated by Cynthia Minden. Members of the audience stood up and sang snatch- es of seafaring numbers and other songs. This surprise was moving, and caught a whole lot of different individual relationships with the music and lore of the sea. It was in- genious to ground out the perfor- mance this way, reminding us that we were part of the whole idea, and not just spectators.

The performance ended with the Chanters, women who meet regularly to worship the moon. They intoned the beautiful Magnifence of the Ocean in a slow round, like the rolling of waves:
There is so much magnificence / Near the ocean / Waves are coming in / Waves are coming in /
There is so much magnificence …

No video record was made of the performance, which is why I have tried to describe it in some detail. The ability of Denman to marshal so much diverse talent, give it free reign, and yet orchestrate a great show, is impressive, and frankly, deserves a wider audience.