Don’t Stop Playing: Preview of a Brief Encounters Pairing
The first ever collaboration between Karen Jamieson, contemporary dancer, and Nathaniel Justiniano, bouffon
Photos and words by Ash Tanasiychuk
What’s the expression?
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”
(thanks George Bernard Shaw, that’s a good one).
Sunshine and laughter. Claps of hands and stomps of feet. Smiles of play and bulges of… ogre lumps?!
The Dance Centre, Davie St, downtown Vancouver. I’m escorted by Karen Jamieson Dance’s General Manager Pamela Tagle to a rehearsal in Studio 7, where two very accomplished strangers are working on a piece together for the first time…
… and they’re presenting it to the public in two weeks.
With so many years of experience, how could these performers sleep on this? Did they get baked in a months-long summer orgy of beachtime BBQs and forget all about it? How amateur!
Whoa whoa wait a sec, the performers – Karen Jamieson & Nathaniel Justiniano – are actually doing everything EXACTLY as they should.
These two immensely creative, prolific, and successful artists have been brought together for the first time (yes, first time ever in their lives) by Brief Encounters, a multidisciplinary performance fest that revolves around this challenge: work with someone you’ve never worked with before, and create an original piece. In two (only TWO!) weeks.
They haven’t slept on anything, they’ve actually met nearly every single day since they were first allowed to. The restrictions have been forced onto them, and as another expression goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
VANDOCUMENT’s Ash Tanasiychuk was asked to meet Jamieson and Justiniano, to document this section of their creative process – to shoot photos of their rehearsal, and to conduct a brief interview – as a preview for Brief Encounters.
I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to experience. Jamieson, known for her primal and contemporary dance, and Justiniano, known for his bouffon style, have a combined energy that blisters their surroundings in a way that defies their short relationship. It feels, as I mention to them at the end of our interview, that they are a classic comedic duo.
Stuffed full of lumps & bumps, professional bouffon Justiniano looks the most elegant hunchback you’ve never imagined. Jamieson frets over the lack of a tutu (because “that’s what ALL dancers wear. Always. It’s essential”).
Everything was said with nearly everything spilling over everything else: talking over one another, but complimenting each other, more finishing each other’s sentences than trying to be the one on top. Jamieson and Justiniano tease each other, goad each other on, and somehow, hilariously yet seamlessly, make it all balance and make sense.
“This is a little nuts” and “a bit weird,” they admit openly, words spilling out of their mouths, as they move, as they decide how to move, accepting the challenge of so very little time, but staying focused on the bouffon theme.
Jamieson and Justiniano play the role they’re in at that moment with everything they’ve got. And, as skilled and professional as they are, fun and play surprisingly, refreshingly, take priority. Perhaps that’s a skill that only comes with experience: the seriousness of their job maintains a consistent undercurrent – it is ever present, even if the surface displays mania, humour, or silliness.
When Jamieson suggests “interweaving” as a way to think about their collaboration, Justiniano says “Yes! Let’s make some crochet bombs!!”
“let the work emerge!” Justiniano completes emphatically, “emerge between us!” he clarifies, emphasizes.
“That gesture you keep coming back to – AH!” she explodes forward, arms wide open, outstretched.
Sound effects: “Shhbam!” “Kapow!” Their movements aren’t the only explosive and playful demonstrations or expressions in the room. Growls.
“We have to find a way into this one…” Jamieson says, “I’d like to begin… with the roots growing down into the earth… Drawing energy up… (more Justiniano energy-flowing sound effects “schzzz pschhzz!”)… Feeling the weight of it, of the earth, dropping down. Feeling the weight of the body just dropping. Feel it. Dropping down (STOMP!), into the earth (STOMP!), opening up space in the body… space in the ribcage, all the bones… opening the doorway to the heart (Justiniano: “squuuueeek squuueeeeaaal !!” pig/baby dragon/pit of the earth gremlin hoarde squeal). Feel the heartbeat of the earth.”
After a brief respite from the explosive, in which discussion and reflection take place, the energy builds again. Feet stomp. Hands clap. “The doorway to the soul,” Jamieson realizes, “that’s the part that I forgot.”
They work through conflict and disagreements by moving; not only their bodies, but their words, their language choice, it’s all very fluid, an almost eerie ebb and flow that’s entrancing, yet comforting because, each time, eventually, it balances.
“Oops, I jumped the gun” when a move by Jamieson was slightly mistimed. Justiniano immediately eases, “you can jump anywhere you want” with the least amount of sarcasm or silliness he’ll display all afternoon.
More laughter echoes in the sundrenched room. Laughter generates more laughter, encourages more laughter. Snickers (not the bar) – “a dance bar – I’m too old, I need a dance bar!” Justiniano proclaims.
Following rehearsal, we sit for a short interview.
Karen Jamieson asks if I’ve taken notes, I say I’m recording this whole visit, she is happy to hear this, saying I should use whatever stands out from the rehearsal, “I think that’s where the best stuff comes from, through the spontaneous moments.”
NJ: Well, for the purposes of this, I would just say, from my understanding – I’ve only been in Vancouver for less than a week – I’m almost certain that I’m one of the Top Five most beautiful people in the city so far and I’m not seeing a lot of competition.
NJ: I’d also put myself in the Top Five for movement ability, and just general aesthetic. Put those three down, I think.
NJ: I didn’t see you taking notes, but I know that you’re recording.
KJ: I’m just a humble dancer.
KJ: I just focus totally on my work. I have no interest in being in the Top Five.
NJ: I’m also in the Top Five pretentious artists in the…
AT: … world?
NJ: … the city. Well, I’m thinking that Vancouver is up there, so if I’m best in Vancouver, I must be best in the world . Yeah, you’re right.
AT: (reading notes aloud): Top Five in Everything and The Humble Dancer…
KJ: (laughs) … yeah … and The Humble Dancer are getting together to create… It’s challenging! But you know what? We’re loving it.
NJ: If you want to think of it like in India, there’s a lot of arranged marriages…
KJ: … arranged marriage, and we have two weeks to produce a baby. And that’s what we’re doing. Cobbling together the baby. That’s the process you were watching.
AT: How many times have you been rehearsing?
NJ: This (Sept 11th) is our sixth rehearsal… Since the 5th -ish?
NJ: And it goes up on the 19th.
AT: Whew! Do you want to tell me a bit about what you’re working on? Or is that sort of a secret?
KJ: I think it’s a secret, don’t you?
AT: What do you think the key is to longevity as a creative person when there’s not really a lot of support?
KJ: Keep learning, growing. Experimenting. Playing.
NJ: I can sum it up in one word (dramatic pause): whore.
KJ, AT: (laughs)
NJ: Be. A. Whore. And the money will come in, because that’s what whores get.
KJ, AT: (laughs)
KJ: That’s the key to longevity.
AT: So do you have any advice to emerging artists…
KJ: Love what you do.
NJ: Love WHO you do
KJ: Love your art form. Play. Play with it.
NJ: … with yourself. Or your John?
AT: I’m really surprised that you’ve never worked together before.
KJ: Really? Why? (laughs)
AT: Because you’re like a comedic duo. You’ve got different personalities but they play off each other really well.
KJ: Heeeyyy! Well that sounds promising!
AT: If I could just sum it up: Top Five in Everything gets together with The Humble Dancer…
AJ: Does it have a title?
NJ: Ah, no.
KJ: I think, “Dancing Bouffon.”
NJ: I think “Expert Whore” is now considered.
NJ: I say “Dancing Bouffon.” We’ll see who wins.
KJ: (to me) … You will come to see the piece?
AT: If it’s called “Expert Whore.”
NJ: Ah! See?! Do you see?!! We’ve got to SELL this!
AT: (laughs) Thank you both.
KJ: Thank YOU. I’d like to add, I look forward to seeing the pictures.
KJ: and I look forward to seeing the piece.
Thank you kindly to Karen, Nathaniel, Pamela, Kristina, Deanna, and everyone who made this meeting possible.
Don’t sleep on this! Brief Encounters, Sept 19-21 at Performance Works on Granville Island: all five pairs perform every night.
For more information:
Brief Encounters is a interdisciplinary performance experiment designed to fuse disciplines and push artistic boundaries. Brief Encounters was created by The Tomorrow Collective in 2005, and is produced by Katy Harris-McLeod and Kristina Lemieux. For each instalment the producers pick inspiring artists/creators and match them in unusual pairings. Two weeks prior to the show dates the artists are allowed meet with their partner and begin working. From this point on, the only criteria is that the piece be a new collaborative effort.
Karen Jamieson Dance
from Karen Jamieson’s General Manager:
“This is Karen’s first time participating in Brief Encounters. She was thrilled to be asked this year and despite her busy schedule this season she promptly accepted the invitation! Her work with Nathaniel Justiniano has been fantastic – observers of their creation process have commented that they look like they have worked together for years. They met for the first time On September 3rd!
Karen Jamieson dance was founded in 1983 and this year marks the 30th anniversary.
Karen has been a professional dancer and choreographer since 1969.
Upcoming events for Karen and the company include the completed production of CONNECT. It is part of a long on-going series of free dance workshops for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Since 2006 community dancers and Karen have created a series of performances out of these workshops. This year CONNECT will be performed as part of the Heart of the City Festival http://www.heartofthecityfestival.com/ on Sunday November 3rd. Times and info to be announced later. The work is in partnership with Carnegie Community Centre and SFU Woodward’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.
Karen is also working on an in-depth solo project, choreographed by and danced by her, called solo|soul . The premiere will be July 2014 as part of the Dancing on the Edge festival, in partnership with The Dance Centre and in celebration of the company’s 30th year. This is an important work for Karen.”
Actor / Creator / Movement Designer / Teacher
“Nathaniel Justiniano (Founder & Artistic Director, Naked Empire Bouffon) is a professional actor/creator and director.
In 2007, under the direction of Master Teacher Giovanni Fusetti, he co-created Pax Americana, a satire of war as seen through the lens of United States history and EUOI!, a bouffon experiment in ecstatic ritual, inspired by the research of anthropologist, Barbara Ehrenreich. He has performed with The Thrillpeddlers in their mega-hit, Pearls Over Shanghai, as well as with WE Players in their epic, 5-hour, island-wide production of The Odyssey on Angel Island. He joined the SF Buffoons in their 2008 productions of The Hasheesh Eater and their premiere of Spunk, a satire of gold rush-era San Francisco.
In 2009 he led the creation of Naked Empire’s debut production, Shame! as a DIY Artist-in-Residence at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, formerly one of San Francisco’s most popular centers for queer and activist performance. His one-man show, Cousin Cruelty’s Compulsion, addresses the use of institutional violence in society and was one of the offerings in the 2011 International Home Theatre Festival, as well as the subject of a feature column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Most recently, he co-created and performed in You Killed Hamlet, or Guilty Creatures Sitting At A Play, a satire about avoiding death which won critical acclaim and the San Francisco Best of the Fringe Award.
He teaches workshops nation-wide in bouffon for which he was honored with the SF Bay Guardian’s BEST OF THE BAY AWARD for BEST ROMP WITH YOUR INNER PSYCHOPATH. He has served as the Director of Physical Comedy for the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival, and guest teacher of physical theatre at Sacramento City College and Kinetic Arts Center of Oakland. He is currently a senior faculty member of the new Clown Conservatory program at the San Francisco Circus Center where he teaches clown, games, status, mask performance and is the director of the spring Bouffon Intensives.
He has also been a professional community organizer and educator for LGBT youth empowerment programs for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, as well as a program manager for community-based theatre initiatives out of the National Conference for Community & Justice and Cornerstone Theater Company. He holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from Chapman University and an MFA in Ensemble-Based Physical Theatre from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre.”
Founder of VANDOCUMENT. Photographer, illustrator, lover and supporter of arts & culture.