One dancer grabbed another by the throat at a rehearsal Thursday afternoon. Dark, foreboding music morphed into movie soundtracks of sword fights and gushing blood, only to be punctuated by the somewhat comical sound of expiring in a 1980s videogame.
Award-winning choreographer and dancer Shay Kuebler explores violence, voyeurism and death in his new work, Glory, with his new six-person ensemble, Radical System Art.
The world premiere of Glory will animate the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre as part of the Chutzpah! Jewish Performing Arts Festival that runs Feb. 19 to March 15.
Kuebler started performing with a theatre company in Edmonton at age 5. Soon after, he started training in martial arts, a stepping stone to his training in dance.
“Action movies were at their pinnacle and violence was becoming a little more mainstream in cinema and I realized just how much violent material was around me,” Kuebler said of his youth in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “I was going to adult action films and watching guys explode and get shot and all this stuff, and I realized how much I was nurtured to accept violence.
“All of this inspired me to make a show about the fact that we glorify experience and, in particular, we glorify violence and death, beautify death, we place it in a really shaped, nice accepting tone,” he said.
Kuebler’s exploration of violence is influenced by the time when movies featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal, in addition to Rocky IV, were all the rage, but Kuebler’s exploration of voyeurism is also shaped by newer videogames and social media.
“To me, voyeurism is this idea of getting as close to the experience as possible without the repercussions of that experience,” he said. “It’s crazy to me to think about the games that I played when I was a kid, Ninja Turtles and stuff like this. If you killed the bad dude, he flashed and he then he disappeared. Now kids are holding rifles and shooting guys.”
Kuebler isn’t one to shy away from bleak, but relatable, themes.
Shay Kuebler and Radical System Art’s first production was KAROSHI, named for the Japanese word for death from overwork.
“I really like visceral quality to performance,” Kuebler said. “I always want to talk about something that can relate to almost everybody in some way, they can translate.”
Kuebler, who cofounded Vancouver’s acclaimed dance troupe the 605 Collective, executes his own sound design. His mashups for Glory include clanging electronic music, battle scenes and snippets from videogames. Performances will feature interactive elements with lighting and microphones and live and pre-recorded video.
He and the other dancers played toddler tag, their arms held away from their bodies, fingers spread, Thursday. They drew on martial arts, hip-hop and contemporary dance to mix seemingly suspended and bouncy movements with dynamic spins and turns.
“I want to bring in people that don’t normally see dance shows and theatre shows,” Kuebler said. “If I can bring them in on the surface, the challenge is then to take them on a ride they don’t expect and to go around corners they don’t expect, to open up the underbelly of some things.”
Glory runs Feb. 21 to 23.
Israel’s internationally lauded dance company Maria Kong marks the group’s first North American performance with BACKSTAGE. This 360-degree immersive theatrical dance show features a live rock band, video art and technology at the Red Room Ultra Bar. Companies returning to Chutzpah! include Idan Sharabi and Dancers from Israel/Holland, and BODYTRAFFIC from Los Angeles.
For more information about all of the events included in Chutzpah!, go to chutzpahfestival.com.