Q&A with HATCH artists, WIVES on This Is a Costume Drama

HATCH is a situation where new performance and new audiences encounter one another in the spirit of inquiry. This year, artists participating in the HATCH residency are sharing insight on their projects in relation to the other work playing here at Harbourfront Centre – thinking through and sharing ideas across our performing arts programming.

In this post, curator Evan Webber asks WIVES to discuss the World Stage production of The Dietrich Group’s This Is a Costume Drama.


Evan Webber: So I’ve been doing this thing where I ask the HATCH artists to write about their work in relation to a presentation that’s happening at World Stage, because – it’s very selfish, actually – it’s that I’m trying to understand the edges of the this form I’m drawn to. To understand what’s available to it: its traditions, its codes, its economies, its inequities…

Part of why WIVES’ work is surprising to me is because you play with the codes that govern a viewer’s engagement with forms like dance and performance art and theatre. My expectations are always upset. The Dietrich Group mixes expectations too, albeit in a different way – for example, they refer to the work as sculpture. So what does this disciplinary language mean to you? Does it help? How does it influence the choices you make?

WIVES: We have yet to see This Is a Costume Drama  but in the spirit of both DA Hoskins and WIVES we will start from an impulse and begin running laps from there.

We can talk about The Dietrich Group’s work (like WIVES’) as a performance space that either utilizes or borrows from both dance and theatre (stage) and visual art (gallery) contexts. Architecturally, the floors and walls are white when they perform on stage, while in galleries the dancers occupy performative space, pushing viewers to the side as though they were in a theatre. While one is generally considered a spectacle, the other is called an exposition (both are called shows). It seems to us that while an exposition shows what is, a static thing even if it moves, allowing the viewer to remain removed and objective, a spectacle works toward seducing its audience through a series of unfolding and ideally unexpected events. Alternately, an exposition implicates the viewer in a shared space with the artwork (live bodies are intense) but the stage usually allows the audience to hide safely in the dark.  WIVES are always looking for strategies to implicate the audience deeper in the action, to make them feel things, offering options to participate but also the opportunity to hide and watch.  We find integrating projected images with live bodies and objects produces a tension in deciding how to look, hear and feel and provokes a wide range of experiences from seduction to alienation.

Though these are formal questions maybe only interesting to artists who dabble between disciplines, there are potentially deeper (political) implications in regards to art making and choice making. What are we asking of the audience when we propose to them that an image is an object? And what are we asking of them when we propose that it is theatre or dance? WIVES are pretty indiscriminate with the codes we use so we are not afraid to upset the continuity of those questions, but we’re aware the two propositions are different. Although our work is usually viewed frontally, we keep in mind that we are simultaneously constructing three-dimensional and panoramic images. With feeled we make reference to the photographic eye, borrowing the close-ups and instant replays of sports broadcasting. We try to deliver juicy, nostalgic, hysterical and beautiful images, but then challenge the viewer to stay with us for everything that happens on the periphery of a close-up or a snapshot moment. Providing temporal context in theatre and dance is normal, for WIVES this also involves exposing some history/context of the material and the process. Successful illusion is trumped by suggestive confusion, which is more connected to how we feel every day in contact with mass media and information technology.  We like Richard Foreman’s term “disorientation massage.” More than one thing is definitely happening at once.

The Dietrich Group’s This Is a Costume Drama runs April 29 to May 2 at the Fleck Dance Theatre. Get Tickets here.

WIVES are in residence as part of HATCH 11, in the Studio Theatre, April 27 to May 3. Be sure to join them for their presentation of feeled, Saturday, May 2. Advance tickets are available here.