Centre of Contemporary Art: CoCA, Christchurch

30/11/2019 - 30/11/2019

Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival

Production Details

Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ) is a new work-in-development by theatre-artist and performer, Alice Canton. 

The work presents seven stages of life, reflected through seven local volunteers born in the Year of the Tiger, between 1938 – 2010.

Together, an ensemble of strangers reflect on their lives and the changing world around them, discovering in real-time the strands of the zodiac sign that tie them together.

Part live-documentary, part social practice, Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ) celebrates intergenerational connection through conversations about family, fortune and compatibility.

“It’s a testament to Canton’s skill as a storyteller and facilitator that the show, and its accompanying workshops, convey a strong sense of empowerment through the affirmation of personal experiences.” The Pantograph Punch

Ōtautahi Tiny Performance Festival 
30th November 2019 
Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA) 
Year of the Tiger: 10am 

Alice Canton

Alice is a performer and theatre-artist of Chinese and Pākehā descent. Her collective practice and artistic nom de plume, White_mess, make a range of live theatre and performance events from solos to large-scale community engagement projects. White_mess work with strong social purpose – reflecting the world in which we live and challenging the ways in which we operate. Alice’s current focus is on social practice, exploring the threads between participation, political engagement, and community.

Alice has a Bachelor of Performing Arts (Acting) from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School (Acting) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (Sculpture) from the University of Canterbury.

Theatre ,

Funny, refreshing and deeply communal

Review by Emily Mowbray-Marks 01st Dec 2019

It’s 10am.
It’s the opening show to Ōtautahi’s Tiny Performance Festival.

“The festival embraces artists that are taking risks, pushing the boundaries and breaking new ground with work that is not easy but transcends our understanding of ourselves and our world and has the courage to speak to the challenges of our times.”

It’s a cool day, juxtaposing the 33 from earlier.

I’ve tethered my old bike to a stand beside a young garden being sprinkler-ed. I had to choreograph when to position & lock her before disabling my basket, so as not to be watered.

Dry, I walk through the open wide door of CoCA on Gloucester Street, Christchurch | Otautahi.
I go between the fresh white walls.
I doc marten up the polished concrete staircase.
I’m ushered into a white (not black)  asymmetrical ‘box’.
Fairy lights sporadically line the low ceiling under which the audience sits.
The white box is an illusion.

Artist Alice Canton tests sightlines and walks upstage, exposing the depth of this unusual yet workable unraised stage. Two Fresnels light the intimate performance space.

I’m ready for this: 12 hours of dance | poetry | music | theatre | performance art.

We’re here to see Alice Canton’s Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ), which is described on the as “part live-documentary, part social practice, which celebrates intergenerational connection through conversations about family, fortune and compatibility.”

Canton (Writer, Director, Actor) explains Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ), is a work in progress. Canton has cast Siri as the Narrator. I love this. Siri is hilarious. Siri shares that the reason we’re seeing a work in progress is Canton feels it’s a waste of time creating a finished product if the audience don’t appreciate or get it.

This show is delightful, a warm way to open a festival which clearly embodies inclusivity.

I’m finding it difficult to sculpt the sentences for evidence of inclusivity without feeling like I’m being prejudiced, positively prejudiced, but prejudiced, and naive and presumptuous all at the same.

In the panel discussion later, Alice Canton shares the concept of social procurement: “That’s when companies and government departments start taking ethical and environmental factors into account when they make purchasing decisions (Nikki Mandow of Newsroom).”

During the panel discussion, Alice is responding to the Chair Dr Erin Harrington’s question of the under-representation of people who identify as women (or non-binary) in theatre | performance, from those who are programmed to those operating and performing et cetera. Canton suggests we could adopt the social procurement model (as few Festival’s purportedly do) and ensure there are percentages of contributors that identify as women or non-binary.

It would appear that the Director of this ground-breaking brave tiny festival (Julia Harvie) has done just this.  How do I talk about this refreshing inclusivity Harvie has employed?

I’m writing that Tiny Fest’s head technician identifies as a woman, but how do I know this.  She? hasn’t told me. We haven’t even met. Our ushers visually (to my born-in-the-70s-eyes) present themselves as male, female and non-binary, as do our performers, as do our audience. But why do I feel the need to tell you?

I tell you I’m finding it very uncomfortable writing about it, because I’m fearful I’m being insulting, intrusive, assuming and focusing on the way someone may like to externally present themselves in a public space.

Yet the external expression of someone matters not to me. Conversation matters, looking into eyes. Listening. Responding. Finding the intersection of experience. Observing the gaps in understanding and reflecting on that difference.

Yet somehow it feels medicinal to acknowledge ‘this focus on gender, sexuality, and inclusiveness’ of Tiny Fest. To acknowledge that an Artistic Director, a Festival, a group of funders, a Council, a venue, an audience is giving space & listening to, some ‘conversations’ that aren’t always encouraged (particularly in a public space).

The day is full of such ‘never-ending’ (Paprika Marika quotes) and important questions about identity, gender, sexuality, de-colonisation, feminism, inclusivity. It’s a juicy juicy day.

Alice Canton’s Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ) is therapeutic practice, come performance art, come community building. There are a couple of technical aspects to hone, around audibility. Perhaps a lapel mic for Canton or if budget doesn’t allow, placing herself behind one of the volunteers (instead of downstage) so that both the performer and audience can hear Canton’s illuminating questions. The show is too tasty – we don’t want to miss any morsels. My neighbour says to his neighbour, “What a rush!” We really like this show.

Highlights are Canton’s casting of Siri as the narrator. I know I’ve already told you, but Siri is just so entertaining, especially when she uses repetition (like some sort of beat poet or meditative mantra e.g. Google is born, Google is born, Google is born, which eventually resembles Google is spawn.) The automaton’s vocal quality acts as a symbol of our times. Siri’s strange inflection, eliminating emotion in her delivery, symbolises the disconnection and reducing empathy many of us feel in our professional, personal, familial, civic and communal lives.

I wonder how much ‘documentary’ in motion or ‘research-ness’ Canton will retain in the final product? Will she continue to hold her laptop, reading the interview questions from it? Will she memorise those questions and make it more preordained university lecturer-like?

Is the disconnection between Canton and audience (created when Canton is busy referring to her screen) adding to the message that we field our relationships through technology thereby reducing eye-contact, human connection, and hampering the act of reading and responding to one another. Are we more interested in ourselves? Our self.

At the same time, Canton cares about us. She wants to see, to listen to our experience. She gives us space to see, listen to our neighbour and the stranger two rows ahead too.

Year of the Tiger (虎—hǔ) is funny, refreshing and deeply communal. Canton asks us questions, sometimes inviting volunteers to stand on stage. Her delivery is intelligent, kind, and part cheeky. The audience is simultaneously asked to feedback how they position themselves (agree, neutral, disagree) on many beautifully provocative questions:
“I can’t stand confrontation.”
“I know how to get around the rules.”
“I have a good word for everyone.”
“I prefer to be alone.”

I’ll be going to see the next ‘show’ Alice Canton aka White Mess shares, for an opportunity to be with people, and to consider what it means to be human at this time.  


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