James Ryan Gobuty
How do you dance a poem? This loomed over me as I approached The Harbourfront Centre Theatre to see Fujiwara Dance Inventions’ stage adaptation of Eunoia.
Eunoia is the Griffin Prize-winning poem by renowned Canadian poet Christian Bök that constrains itself by using only one vowel in each of its sections, hence the title. As Bök said, "eunoia is the shortest word containing all five vowels." It is no surprise that it took Fujiwara Dance Inventions five years to be able to lift this important yet difficult poem off of the page and onto the stage.
Fujiwara Dance Inventions undertook an almost Sisyphean task in adapting Eunoia, not only because the text is in itself difficult, but because the company decided to impose specific constraints upon themselves in the choreography. For instance, director and choreographer Denise Fujiwara notes that “in Chapter A, the dancers initiate movement from the jaw, back, palm, calf, etc.,” using movement constrained to the same vowel that Bök applies himself. It is exactly these constraints that breathe new life into the poem that the dancers recite as they move through the stage.
Each “chapter” of the piece is also marked by a unique colour scheme (corresponding to the colours associated with each letter on the cover of Bök’s book), a unique score (composed by Phil Strong), and a unique video projection (designed by Justin Stephenson). Thus, in Chapter E the cast is dressed all in white, while the score is limited to the use of one black key on the keyboard (Bb), and the projection creates a concrete poem shaped like the Parthenon (corresponding to the chapter’s main character, Helen). These myriad constrained art-forms maintain the spirit of the original piece, while breaking new ground in the world of theatrical adaptation.
In keeping with the original text, the performance is also cheeky, self-referential, and salacious. The performers change costume live on stage, serve beer and popcorn to the audience, and ask for the audiences’ help in completing a cross-word, all while sharing one microphone. This infuses the production with an element of camp, engaging in a powerful and arduous process of adaptation, while also avoiding treating itself too seriously.
It is impossible for one short review to articulate the many axes and valences of this production (subliminal Morse code translations of the poem strummed on a guitar string anyone?), but suffice it to say that, much like the source text, this is a production that one can come back to again and again and find a new level of intricacy and inspiration.
EUNOIA is playing at the Harbourfront Centre until Nov. 8. Tickets can be purchased online at harbourfrontcentre.com or by phoning the box office at 416-973-4000.