Saturday, February 18, 2012

Chelsea Hotel

The title of this post is Chelsea Hotel, but the first photo is of Black Jack.  Any connection?  None that I can think of, except that I photographed her the same day we saw the play.  She gets this expression just before she believes it is meal time.  It works every time.
I told you that I was going to do "Ottawa" and "thank you" posts next, but Chelsea Hotel has jumped the queue.  I had thought it would fit into a facebook post, but it turned out to require a bit more space and time.  Our Thursday evening began after a very pleasant meal (eggplant/bean taco salad) delivered by Bill from Topanga Cafe.  Thank you, Bill!  Then we were off on our fairly long walk to Firehall Arts Centre. There was a light mist falling, but  I was still able to take a couple of pictures.  BC Place roof caught our attention almost right away. We had seen it in pink, blue, tangerine and mauve hues, but never before in such a brilliant shade of green.  
I've since learned that was in honour of the Home and Garden Show.
There are many who would describe the walk we took as unpleasant: lonely, barren street except for that impossible to ignore green disc, noisy traffic on rain-soaked pavement, Bill with a bad cold, I with a much less severe one, but tired from some late-night blogging the day before.  Yet, as I think back on the evening, it is with great pleasure.  Bill waited patiently when I stopped to take photos, made me laugh at least a 100 times, and hardly whined at all about his cold.  (Actually, I did most of the whining for him :) The play, in spite of the fact that I should have done my homework before going, like all successful art, has inspired lots of thinking.
This sign was on the front step. I snapped quickly, not wanting to hold up the people behind us, and paid with blurry focus.
We had front row seats.  Yay!  I took these next two pictures before the play began.  I was prepared for the mounds of crumpled paper, having skimmed a review a few days earlier.   However, skimming has its drawbacks.  Somehow, I thought the tortured writer (Adrian Glynn McMorran) was Leonard Cohen. In fact, the characters in the play are not linked to Cohen's life at all, except in so much as the lyrics to his songs brought images to the writer's mind, and it is a parade of these images that play out before us.  Every single line of the play came either from Cohen's song lyrics or his poetry.  That in itself is an astounding feat.  This too, I hadn't realized before going, and perhaps led to the fact that Bill and I were both confused about the story line.  Although many aspects of the play were stunning, I found myself disappointed at intermission.  I claim to love Leonard Cohen's music, but in fact, I realized that I barely recognized many of the songs we heard.  Some, I had never heard before.  Added to that, some of my favourite songs were taken at tempos much faster than expected.  Still, the voices and acting were strong, and I hoped to begin to make more sense of the story in the second half.
The reviewer, Marsha Lederman, referred to the huge mound of papers on the left side of the stage as a "sleeping mountain of rejected words." I think she was spot-on with that image, although I have a small suspicion that she too, missed some of the point of the play.  "Rejected words" makes more and more sense to me as I think back on the play.  
I also loved the way people and even a cello suddenly emerged from that mountain.  Again, that is making more sense to me now.  At this point, I must make an embarrassing confession.  Miss "love-the-front-row" dozed off a couple of times during the second half.  I am so deeply sorry if the performers noticed this, and I'm pretty sure it would have been hard to miss.  It was definitely not because of boredom.  Going to a performance when sleep-deprived is no longer something I can get away with, and I really hope not to make that mistake again. An interesting side-point of that dream-state I found myself in, is that the beautiful voices, exquisite harmonies and absolutely pure intonation of the slower songs continue to play through my mind, almost as though I had dreamed them.  I long to hear this performance again, and after some time reading reviews, studying Cohen's lyrics, and just thinking over our experience, I have decided to go back for a second chance sometime before the end date of March 3rd. I was prepared to go alone this time, but dear Bill has said he is more than willing to go with me.  I am convinced the man is a thinly disguised saint!

Below is a Cohen print in the lobby of the theatre.  It is available for sale, at what seemed to me a very hefty price ($4000 and something), along with some other merchandise.   
The array of talent in the play was mind-boggling.  I have never before seen six actors on stage at the same time with such versatile musicianship.  They all sang well (an understatement), and they traded instruments so nonchalantly that I began to take that versatility for granted.
Photo by David Cooper  
The talkback after the show was enlightening.  Seeing the actors back in their street clothes somehow made them much more vulnerable.  Lauren Bowler (Sister of Mercy) made me realize just how difficult it was to remember the countless prop and costume changes.  Never mind the lines, the music, the choreography, the limited rehearsal time!.  One person in the audience asked if any of the actors had learned an instrument specifically for the performance, and there were a few chuckles amongst the group. I think several of them could play every instrument: keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, violin, cello, kazoo, and accordion, to name the ones I remember at the moment.  Another (rather unkind) person criticized the Bellhop's (Benjamin Elliott) drumset skills.  I agree that there was a problem with balance. Even placed at the back of the stage, the drums drowned out the vocalists' lyrics in the more exuberant songs.  That may be a matter of technique (thinking of lifting the sound out of, rather than of  playing into the drum, might help), but Elliott's rhythmical and musical understanding were solid. He never lagged behind, and in some of the lighter numbers, was brilliant.  I hope he won't be discouraged by that person's comment.  That said, the lyrics are crucial to the understanding of the play, and I am also hoping that the actors will find a way to correct the balance so that they can always be heard and understood. My final words about the play?  Go, if you can!  I'm quite sure you won't be sorry.  Perhaps, we'll see you there.

Walking home late at night through east-side Vancouver streets is always an adventure.  I don't remember which street we were on when I took the pictures below, but I do remember we purposely chose a route where there were quite a few police cars.  I was even a bit afraid to take the pictures of these etched (or painted?) scenes in two door windows as I thought my camera might make us a target.  No worry though.  Bill promised to run for help if we were attacked :)
I am curious about these windows and hope to get more information about them soon.
I love the gate to Chinatown, especially with lit-up towers in the background at night.
Bill had never seen this Rick Hansen sculpture (and I only once before), so we stopped for a look.  I loved the night-time lighting. I finally solved the problem of unwanted shadows by..  
focusing only on the sculpture.  Rick Hansen is one of my heroes.  If you haven't read his autobiography, I think you would find it gives you a much broader view of him.  I  believe Bill Koochin caught a perfect blend of noble determination and fear in this expression. 
Neither of us had ever seen these huge aluminum balls before, although one would think they would have been impossible to miss.  We couldn't find information on site, but enjoyed looking at them. The balls were much lighter than they appeared, and they moved, although I think they may have been attached in some way to prevent them from rolling (or being carried) off the property.  There was a face in each ball that seemed to be an athlete, but we couldn't figure out who they were, or even what sport they may have represented.
Bill was curious about the balls, but also playful, probably just the response the artist, Liz Magor, would have loved.
There's untold mystery in them thar skies :)
I am becoming more and more aware of my shadow when I take pictures, but I missed seeing myself in this one, looming over the depiction of the athlete.
I like this one: Bill's shadow on the left and mine on the right.
I finally did find information (thank you google!) about  "The Game."  Here is a quote from the artist, Liz Magor: 
Fourteen large metal balls are scattered throughout the grounds of General MOtors Place Arena: 7 are smooth stainless steel with 3 grooves at each pole and 7 are aluminum with grooves every 3". Two bronze medallions are inset into each ball; one end depicts a star and the other is the face of a person in action.  All balls are 60.5' in diameter.  "The Game" engages all the exterior sites of the Arena at once, identifying them as a field for an over-sized game.  There are two teams of balls - 7 for each side.  It appears as a game in progress... Contributing to the idea that there are dramatic consequences to this game, bronze medallions are set into each ball to carry the image of a person in action.  In the form of a portrait, these human images lend an identity to each ball and also indicate its situation in the game.  Some faces appear triumphant, others suffer the stress of falling or spinning... At the opposite pole each ball carries the image of a star.  Whether read as rising or falling this sign casts the player as a guest of fate, inexorably rolled along in the flow of events.
Wow!  Bill came close to guessing some of these details, but it sure does help to have an artist's statement to clarify questions.  How do people come up with these ideas, I wonder.  I am becoming more and more aware of the importance of artists to our view of the world.  I think, when a work of art is installed, we sometimes quibble at the cost, but taking time to explore and understand art expands the dimensions of our thinking. 
We finally continued on our way.  I love that there are some trees in front of BC Place, and took this photo of a few branches against the luminous green.  
The photo below shows the top of the grove of evergreens.  It would be nice to have light on those trees, although, as Bill noted, he would hate to pay B.C. Place's electricity bill.  He quickly followed that with, "Wait a minute.  I do pay that bill in the form of taxes." Hm..
As we walked on, we were rather amazed to see several trees in bloom with cherry blossoms. 
In the darkness, the pink didn't really come through, but it was a perfect opportunity for Bill to point dreamily off into the distance, and for me to reflect on the myriad of ways I appreciate him..  and Vancouver.
Thank you to everyone (including Leonard Cohen) who worked so very hard to bring Chelsea Hotel to us!  And, as always, thank you, dear readers, for giving me an audience for my thoughts!


  1. Thanks for bringing this play to my attention, maybe we will be able to fit it in, but I think not the front row. So far not doing too well with attending anything at the Fire Hall the one play we had tickets for was cancelled.
    BC Place looks good in green light and those round stones look interesting but my favorite night scene is the gates of Chinatown.
    Oh and That first picture of Black Jack is great.
    Thanks for taking us out for the night.

  2. So glad to hear some one else confess to falling asleep at the theatre - I can't tell you how many times I find myself nodding off, and I'm a volunteer usher at a theatre, (and usually seated in the front row!) - turn off the lights and my body says "NAPTIME!". Oops.
    Enjoyed this post and hearing about the play, as well as seeing the nightlife shots.
    Cherry blossoms....yay spring!

  3. Those nighttime shots ARE dreamy, Carol! What a unique twist in adapting Leonard Cohen’s work into a play in a more personal way. Now why didn’t I think of that? Leonard Cohen is one of my favorite poets and writers and his songs play in my mind to this day as well as in the minds of millions. His Hallelujah, interpreted in so many different ways, I believe is one of the most played songs on the planet. I saw him perform live once in Vancouver and his voice, especially when older, brings true depth to the words. :)