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After a ten-year absence, legendary dance company The Holy Body Tattoo returns with a multi-city international tour, starting at Vancouver’s own PuSh Festival. Alongside Montreal post-rock group Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the company will perform monumental, its fifth and final work, on January 28 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. In anticipation of what promises to be an incredible one-night-only performance, SAD Mag spoke with renowned choreographer and Holy Body Tattoo co-founder Noam Gagnon about what to expect from monumental.

PuSh 2016_The Holy Body Tattoo_publicity image

SAD Mag: What’s the story behind the name “Holy Body Tattoo”?

Noam Gagnon: It’s a play on words. Powerful experiences leave traces on the body, they become almost like tattoos. We wanted, as choreographers, to think about experiences that change—or force you to change—your point of view or to make choices.

SM: How is this idea reflected in your work?  

NG: We’re thinking about the impact of some of those experiences, those moments in someone’s life that…leave traces. There’s so many things in our lives that we don’t have a choice [about], or we don’t have the opportunity to express. So we wanted to create a setting where we could speak about those things.

SM: Why is dance such an important form of expression for you?

NG: The body doesn’t lie. You can see that as we get older. You look at a child or at a woman who’s 90 years old. What is going on in someone’s life has an impact not only on their physical body but also on the markings of their face [and] your ability to perform your daily tasks. Even after plastic surgery, you look at someone’s spine, their hands, and there will always be something that will betray their history.

Photo by Chris Randle
Photo by Chris Randle

SM: Tell me more about monumental. What’s the piece about?

NG: The first part is based on the view of the individual being betrayed by work; it’s really this idea of the hyper-structured place where everyone has to be the same, and the strain of having to fall into the same beat at the same time. You realize at some point [that] something’s going to break. The beauty of it is realizing when it’s gone too far, picking up the pieces and realizing what we’re left with. This is part of our humanity, part of our growth.

SM: HBT is known for going almost “too far”—for pushing dancers to their limits. Can you explain the rationale behind this?

NG: The places of change and the places of growth in our lives [occur] when we push through our comfort zone, and push beyond our level of ability…The things that actually are powerful, that have the ability to create an impact in our lives are the things that require an incredible amount of effort. What I find at the end of the day is beautiful is watching people push their bodies to this extreme. The more we are challenged, the more we have a possibility of acknowledging what is really going on. And the effort to continue, to adapt in order to go on—it’s a beautiful thing. That’s what’s fascinating, because we will survive—we’ve survived everything.

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SM: Is it strange to be doing monumental again, a decade after its premier? 

NG: Well it’s a bit sad, because I think that as a society [today], we’re more alienated from each other, and we have less understanding of how we function within one another. History just keeps repeating itself.

[But also] I think it’s actually quite exciting that we we were able to tap into something that still has resonance. This new incarnation is infinitely better. I can’t tell you how much more powerful it is with Godspeed [You! Black Emperor]. It really is an experience of a lifetime. It’s crazy, crazy, crazy powerful—disturbingly beautiful.

SM: What do you hope to achieve with monumental?

NG: The mandate of Holy Body Tattoo is to create powerful experiences and to leave traces. We’re just leaving powerful images for people to reckon with in a setting that speaks about the world we live in.

[monumental] speaks about the best and also the worst of people. We’re not trying to make a story that it’s linear—saying people are good or people or bad—we’re trying to create a window where people can actually make their own choices.


Holy Body Tattoo performs monumental on January 28 at 8pm at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre as part of Vancouver’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Tickets are available at ticketfly.comThis interview has been edited and condensed.

Bizarre Love Triangle is an arts and literary festival happening November 27th and 28th at 552 Clark in Vancouver. The festival is a collaborative effort between Sad Mag, Real Vancouver, and Obscurior, and is shaping up to be the year end party we’ve been dreaming of. The festival is 100% totally free, but capacity is limited, so reserve your tickets here in advance to ensure you get through the door and in on the fun.


On the 27th, the festival is kicking off with Obscurior x Sad’s Point of Inflection exhibition–thirteen writers created short pieces prompted by a Point of Inflection, and Obscurior created cinemagraphs and original music to accompany each piece. There’ll be live readings, and live performances, and a DJ set by City of Glass, so bring your eyeballs and your ears for 13 generally spooky takes on a tipping point. See the trailer here.

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The 28th is an open gallery for you to peruse, plus artist talks throughout the day. Then, that evening, is THAT FINAL MOMENT–Sad’s and Real Vancouver’s Year End Party to end all Year End Parties! We’ve got Beer by Driftwood and Phillips, and live performances by Gay Sha and Vixen Von Flex (the beauty our Movement issue cover)!


Hosted by the lovely Sean Cranbury and Dina Del Bucchia, an evening of cheesy jokes, live readings, live performance, sweet music, and boozy drinks. Celebrate a year well destroyed, issues created, and art dispersed. This is our bizarre love triangle send-off. Party with us. 

See you Saturday!

Photo by Steve Ullathorne

Gravity and Other Myths just brought their ‘A (Eh?) game’… and you’re going to want to see them do it again.

Remarkably skillful, hardworking, risk-taking acrobats, this Australia-based team of performers is pushing physical limits and personal boundaries. Their featured tour, A Simple Space, is honest, genuine and viscerally infectious. With a small twist of playful humour and a touch of over-confidence, the cast of A Simple Space will tickle your soft spots just enough to distract you from the physical angst you feel for the performers.

On opening night, A Simple Space’s cast revealed their show (and a little bit more) to a mesmerized and fascinated full house. The York Theatre was the perfect sized space for Gravity and Other Myths’ performance aims. Cast only by a handful of spotlights, the room was no bigger than a modern sized Vancouver condo (kidding…we know condos here are smaller) and housed the cast to its maximum potential. With nowhere to go but up, that’s exactly the direction these performers ended up traveling.

The show started out with a game of trust. Accompanied by melodic pieces produced by live percussionist (and insanely talented musician), fellow Gravity and Other Myths member, Elliot Zoerner, the acrobats began a sequence of staged falls, one after another. Each acrobat moved with the music, exercising stealth, strength, and agility to quickly catch his fellow performer. Setting the tone for the rest of the evening, the opening act unveiled a truthful, trusting, raw approach to what could otherwise have been a flashy, over-the-top circus style scene.

Each following act only got better. Every cast member was given an opportunity to showcase her individual ability while being surrounded and supported by her mates. The team seemed prepared and ready to respond to any situation. Quick on their feet and graceful with their steps, the performers demonstrated cooperation, determination, and responsibility. Though silly and challenging games were played, every audience member watched with bated breath. The acts, ranging from a skip and strip contest to a front flip-a-thon, brought a unique set of skills to the stage but always kept the artists’ focused mindsets intact. The show was admirable, entertaining, and nerve-wracking all at once.

Undoubtedly, I’d go see this performance again. It’s family friendly, date night appropriate, and checks off all the boxes of ‘cool things to do in Vancouver’. Check out the individual bios of Gravity and Other Myths here and be sure to scope out the listings for the next show.


A Simple Space runs until October 24 at the York Theatre. 

Sean Parsons grew up in Fort McMurray, where he started performing in community theatre musicals at the age of nine. When he was nineteen, Sean left home to attend (and promptly drop out of) college for musical theatre, then briefly taught English in China before moving to Vancouver, where he got a Musical Theatre diploma from Capilano University. Now Sean performs regularly in Vancouver as a bearded drag queen—Beardoncé. Every Sunday, Beardoncé hosts a show called Sanctuary at 1181 on Davie Street.

Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Matthew Burditt
Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Matthew Burditt


Sad Mag: What was it like growing up in Fort McMurray, and doing theatre there?

Sean Parsons: It’s a weird oil sands industry town. People know what it’s all about, it’s not a cultural hub by any means, but my whole life—and longer than my whole life—they’ve had the Keyano Theatre. Each year they do a four-show season and at least two of the shows are musicals. All the community theatre I did growing up was at the Keyano. My first role was as one of the children’s ensemble in Oliver.

SM: Why do you think it is that theatre survives there?

SP: There’s nothing else to do; people are thirsty for something creative. And there’s such a community built around going to the theatre. Live performance is something that will always withstand the test of time.

SM: Why did you decide to perform drag with a beard?

SP: When I started it was a personal choice because I like having a beard myself. I knew that if I shaved my beard I would be more accepted, I wouldn’t have that “thing” against me, but I’m a very hairy person. To quote Gaston: “Every last inch of me’s covered in hair”—and if I shaved my face I’d have to shave my chest and arms and legs. A lot of Queens do that, and I give them props, but it wasn’t something I was willing to do.

SM: What training has influenced you most as a performer?

SP: The Canadian Improv Games. You have no idea what is going to happen, you try your best to prepare, rehearse in whatever way you can. I did three years of college for singing and dancing and acting but the reality of live performance is that it isn’t always going to go as planned.

While performing I have never felt like I was fucked. At this point just going with what’s happening and making it work is built into me. Often in improv you get a suggestion and you’re like “that is the worst suggestion I’ve ever received,” and you wonder how you’re going to incorporate that into the scene and then the next moment the scene is over, and you move on. It’s the same with drag, it sucks and you feel embarrassed when it doesn’t go as you had hoped, but improv teaches you to let it go. I credit that experience for so much of the foundation of who I am as drag performer.

SM: What sort of numbers do you like to perform as Beardoncé?

SP: I lean towards  dark and dramatic numbers. I want to do stuff that has more impact and makes people think, rather than just be funny and sexy. But I obviously  do those things as well.

My intention is to hopefully expand the perception of drag as fluffy and campy. Often, drag falls into a few stereotypes of being either super girly, bubble-gum pop, or raunchy sexy.  I respect queens who attempt to elevate drag to a more artistic platform. I think drag should always be fun, and somewhat subversive, but I also believe it is an art form, and art should make people think critically about what they’re seeing.

Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Victor Bearpark
Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Victor Bearpark

SM: What are the things you want your performances to prompt people to think about?

SP: Well, definitely gender. Because I perform with a beard the odds are against me. A lot of drag is built around creating the illusion of gender, being “passable.” It’s an attempt to transform your masculine features away and create something super feminine. For me there’s no illusion. With the beard it’s like instantly taking that element away. But I’m also not creating something revolutionary; it’s been done before. There was this group called The Cockettes, based in San Francisco, and they performed bearded. They were these beautiful bearded hippies, in full drag face, with elaborate headpieces, covered in glitter, and often naked otherwise. I’d like to say they were inspirational when I entered the drag world, but I only recently found out about them.

SM: How do you see the drag world as it is now?

SP: There’s a big influx. RuPaul’s Drag Race has made it accessible; if you’re mildly interested you can access it. The volume of people doing drag has cracked open the preconceived notions of what drag is. There’s more room for people to play with being gory, hairy, or anything really. It used to be that unless you were a tiny little boy who had no eyebrows you weren’t doing drag. The whole definition of the art itself is changing right now. I just feel excited to be a part of that change.

SM: What do you think people see when you perform?

SP: My performance style is feminine. I’ve obsessed over pop-culture women my whole life—Janet Jackson and the litany of them, Whitney, Britney, Beyoncé—I try to play up a hyper-feminine movement style, and I always wear a corset and giant heels. So my performance encompasses all these preconceived notions of what it means to be a woman. But people are instantly taken off-guard, because they think “he’s beautiful and feminine, but this female presentation is on a very, very hairy man.”

SM: What has changed for you in the year you’ve been performing?

Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Victor Bearpark
Sean Parsons, photo courtesy of Matthew Burditt

SP: The biggest thing that has changed is I don’t spend a month preparing every number like I used to do. I’ve come to realize I really have to pick and choose my battles. I don’t always have time to choreograph every minute of a performance, so though I still take it seriously I have become less precious with it.

SM: Do you ever feel vulnerable or nervous when you perform?

SP: I am a confident person when I get on stage, partly because I’ve been doing it for so long. I think any performer would be lying to say they don’t get nervous but I would say that once I’m on stage I’m confident. There are numbers where I feel more vulnerable than others but I’m never nervous until it’s fifteen minutes before my performance.

With the BEARDONCÉ gallery show I organized at East Van Studios this past February I did feel more vulnerable. I stacked the deck with songs that weren’t necessarily upbeat. It was music that Sean listens to rather than what Beardoncé performs. I let the recognizability go and chose stuff that resonated with me.

SM: What do you hope to leave your audience with?

SP: I want to captivate my audience and tell a story; I want them to walk away with the same buzz you get when you see a brilliant piece of live theatre, or a spectacular concert, like you were a part of something special. It’s a difficult task considering most drag shows happen on tiny stages in loud bars and your audience could care less about the show, as long as they’re consuming copious amounts of alcohol, but I like a challenge.
Beardoncé will be performing in Queer as Funk! on July 31 at the Imperial  will be performing. For future events,  follow Beardoncé Facebook or Twitter.

Emily Molnar, artistic director of Ballet BC, chats with us about the company’s upcoming triple-bill program, Trace. This evening of works includes the Canadian premiere of William Forsythe’s workwithinwork, a world premiere by Walter Matteini, and the return of audience favourite Petite Cérémonie by Medhi Walerski. Trace plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from March 26 to 28.

SAD Mag: How does the term “Trace” relate to each of the three pieces?

Emily Molnar: Every time I’m given the beautiful problem of solving how to put three very distinct pieces together on a program and give them a title, I try to find an overarching theme. Most of the time the works that are on a program are related in the sense that they come from very distinct choreographers in the world of contemporary ballet, but they are very unique pieces in that they don’t look the same—they’re not necessarily working with the same theme. Sometimes our full-length evenings do have a thematic concept, but in most cases I try to keep it very diverse.

Trace came up in the sense that there are many different lineages, many different choreographers who have worked with various companies. On this evening there is an enormous amount of lineage between the history of dance, the future of dance, the styles of dance within contemporary ballet—so I thought of the idea of tracing or making a trace of these different time periods.

SM: We know world-renowned choreographer William Forsythe has a special place in your heart from your own time as a performer. What do you hope your dancers will learn from working with him on his piece for Trace?

EM: I think the most important thing is probably the idea of individuality, of courage, of daringness, of taking the classical idiom and really pushing the boundaries and limits of how one interprets and investigates that. Bill’s work—it’s such a sophisticated score—you feel like you’re getting smarter and developing each moment you dance his work. I love watching the dancers take more and more risks and accomplishments through each run-through and each day. The work is just so rich, and there’s so much attachment to musicality and the use of space. It’s just a really beautiful score to challenge the intelligence of an artist.

SM: The arts climate is difficult in B.C.; funding is low despite a thriving local scene. That said, Ballet BC has overcome some substantial financial hardships. How do you keep going?

EM: I think we keep our eye very closely geared toward the making of the art and the creation of an experience for our audience. Through that we try to bring people in who believe in what we do and try not to make the lack of money a means for lowering our standards. We try to do something with everything that we have and to make the most of it. That doesn’t mean we don’t wish we had more, but we’re also very aware that there are many artists in this country. Another way we deal with it is that we make sure that we speak about what it means to be an artist and to be a company that is making art—to make sure that we are educating our local and our national community about dance. We do this by supporting a number of different choreographers and by creating a global conversation about the making of dance and why dance is important.

Trace Ballet BC
Ballet BC’s Trace

SM: What does dance mean to you? 

EM: It’s an art form that requires every part of you as a human being; it requires your physical body, your emotional body, and your spiritual sensibility. It really calls all of that into action. The moment you are dancing, you cannot lie. When you dance, everything about you is exposed, but there is something very beautiful about that because it challenges you to the deepest part of your being to put all of those things into alignment and to speak with them. As an art form, as a form of expression, it is so fully encompassing that I feel it really is one of the most beautiful journeys that we can make as human beings.

SM: How do you make dance accessible for an audience?

EM: We talk about the fact that all of us are dancers, even if it’s in our living room with a piece of music while we’re doing your dishes or brushing our teeth. It is an innate form for us as human beings. It is a form of expression that we can all touch on. What a lot of people don’t know is that a great dancer is like a great athlete and a great artist all put into one—like a painter and a soccer player. And it’s those two worlds that come together that I think makes dance so appealing. You see these physical impossibilities taking place, but then you have this form of expression, you have emotions being described and a narrative about what it means to be alive inside of the body.

SM: If you had to describe what it’s like to be a dancer, what would you say?

EM: It’s the hardest thing you could do and the most wonderful thing you could do. The life of a dancer is one that requires an enormous amount of dedication and commitment, and for that alone it’s a wonderful career. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve learned about the world by doing it. It’s not a career that many people get to do, so it’s a precious and very special thing to be able to say that you are a dancer.

SM: You were nominated as a YWCA Woman of Distinction. What does it mean for you to be a female leader in the arts?

EM: It’s something I take very seriously and try to honour. I feel very grateful for the nomination. There are many wonderful women of distinction around me who have been nominated as well, so I feel a bit out of place. I don’t see myself belonging to that group, but I take it with a huge amount of gratitude and gratefulness. I think that leadership is a very important thing for us to look at…for females as well as for males.

One of the things that interests me most in this world is human potential, and I just happen to be using dance as a vehicle to discuss that. But I think that leadership—people feeling empowered to speak and to be who they are—is the most beautiful thing, and the thing that we need to give a lot of attention to in this world. If I can be in a position of leadership where I get to create an environment that empowers people to excel and be the most that they can be, then that is a huge gift.

This interview has been edited and condensed.
Showtimes and ticket information available on Ballet BC’s website.

This weekend at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Ballet BC welcomes Miami City Ballet for their Vancouver debut, Balanchine, a collection of three works by dance legend George Balanchine. Widely regarded as one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th Century, Balanchine is not only revered for his artistic skill, but also for the breadth of his oeuvre. This weekend’s triple bill was selected to highlight both of these features. Indeed, aside from their masterful choreography and expert execution, the three pieces chosen for Balanchine are about as different as you can get.

The first ballet, Ballo della Regina, was performed by a male principal and an all-female corps. The piece is challenging and fast paced—so challenging, in fact, that Miami City Ballet is one of the few dance companies in the world granted the right to perform it. A tale of a fisherman in search of the perfect pearl, Ballo della Regina is vibrant and dynamic, replete with high jumps and complex footwork. Despite the demanding nature of the piece, however, The Miami City ballerinas made it seem almost effortless. Quick and light-footed, they seemed to flutter across the stage.

Second on the program was Symphony in Three Movements, a plotless, large-ensemble work, first choreographed by Balanchine for the opening night of the New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival in 1972. Over 40 years later, it is still impressive. Edgy and contemporary, this invigorating ballet pairs a flair for drama with a subtle sense of humour. The dancers’ high kicks, angular movements, and unexpected twists gave the piece a jazzy feel, reminiscent of West Side Story.

Concluding the evening was one of Balentine’s masterpieces, Serenade. Although meant to be plotless, it is almost impossible not to imagine a narrative in the sorrowful swells of Tchaikovsky’s Serenada in C Major for String Orchestra to which the ballet is set. Lit by a bluish glow, sixteen dancers formed a long, graceful curve across the stage, dancing in synch. The ballerinas’ slow, languid movements resembled waves upon a quiet sea, their intertwined bodies like the vertebrae of some giant beached whale. In the foreground, two female dancers vied daringly for the attention of a single male companion. The pair mirrored and inverted each other’s movements, each woman becoming the imperfect shadow of her counterpart, until the two were almost indistinguishable. Concluding with a startling finale, Serenade was an eerie, but beautiful, finish to an exceptional evening.balanchine2

Ballet BC Presents Miami City Ballet in BALANCHINE

Queen Elizabeth Theatre (649 Cambie)
February 19 – 21, 2015 • Performances at 8:00 pm
February 21, 2015 • Performance at 2:00pm

 Visit BalletBC for tickets and information.

Ballet BC dancer Racheal Prince_ Photo Michael Slobodian

If you were among the many doing pirouettes of grief that you missed the three-day run of last winter’s Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, there’s still time to catch the ballet one more time this season.

Ballet BC’s 2013/14 season closer, UN/A runs April 24–26, 2014, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. It marks the premiere of three brand new works by three international choreographers: vibrant new voices from Spain, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano and Cayetano Soto, and Montreal’s award-winning Gioconda Barbuto, who returns to Ballet BC with a full-company commission with music by Gabriel Prokofiev.

Visit balletbc.com for details and purchase tickets ($22.25 to $70.00) through Ticketmaster.