Cinerama: as the tide comes in, the oceanic experience gets literal


Fight With a Stick is presenting Cinema at Spanish Banks.

The site-specific Cinerama gets wet.

Fascination, apprehension, delight, boredom, boredom, boredom: sequentially, that pretty much captures my experience of Cinerama.

This new show from Fight with a Stick is audacious. It begins way out on the flats at Spanish Banks at low tide—so start times vary. A maximum audience of 30 sits on chairs that have been placed on a sandbar. (You can also stand.) And, as the 55 minutes of performance unfold, the tide comes in—over your feet, your ankles, and then up your calves. By the time Cinerama had ended and I was walking back to shore, the water, at some points, was over my knees. (The water is warm, so temperature is not a concern.)

The performance itself is meditative and minimalist.

If this intrigues you, by all means sign up for Cinerama—but I advise you not to read any further: it’s best to discover this piece for yourself, and, in order to talk about it, I’m going to give everything away (everything as I experienced it at least.)

To begin, you put on sound-baffling headsets and head out, one at a time, over the sand to a little flock of chairs that’s way out there. For me, the sound-reducing quality of the headsets immediately forced interiority: looking down at the sunlight as it played on the stretches of shallow water I sometimes walked through, watching the seaweed and the tiny fish, listening to the apparently distant sloshing of my gum-booted steps, I felt like I was remembering my life—or as if I was in a dream. I was very aware of my own consciousness and existential isolation.

Knowing the role that the tide would play in this event, I also immediately thought of transience, of cycles, and of vulnerability—specifically vulnerability to the natural process of aging and the stupid tragedy of global warming. The first one to the sandbar, I had my pick of the chairs, which were placed one behind the other in a staggered line facing west. Being an old guy, I thought maybe I should choose one of the chairs that were already partially submerged. Then I thought better of it; my goal, at that point, was to stay dry.

I gave my headset to the company member who was collecting them and waited—too long—for something to happen. Eventually, sound kicked in—some of the chairs have little speakers hooked to their backs—and, out in the water ahead of us, ten tiny figures started to move. Five pairs of performers each held a rectangular aluminum frame. They gradually drew closer.

This gave me time to feel anxious. The water was already starting to lap at our ankles and, as the sand beneath us liquefied, the chair the guy in front of me was sitting on began to tilt at quite an angle. When I was a thrill-seeking little kid, is used to stand in shallow water and look at the disorienting planes of surfaces, light, and movement until I got messed up and fell over. At Cinerama, I got a tiny bit sick to my stomach.

Then, suddenly, the figures with the frames were upon us. Slowly, they staggered themselves through the audience, their frames all aligned so that, in the audience, we were all looking at frame within frame within frame as if we were gazing down a tunnel that had no walls.

Somewhere around here, I gave myself over to delight. Cinerama had already had me on high alert for more than 20 minutes, and, at this point, I decided to succumb to the beauty. A woman I know was sitting in a chair ahead of me and, somehow, looking at her through the frame was both timeless and temporal: I could have been gazing at a snapshot from any time during the past several decades, yet my only chance to appreciate her loveliness was right then and there. And the vastness and subtlety of the greys and the blues we were sitting in, the palette that is our home in these parts, was pretty overwhelming.

The frames quickly outlived their usefulness to me, however—mostly because what they were framing was non-specific and less than resonant. A seagull flew through a frame, a cruise ship glided in and out, but the frames didn’t enhance my experience of those visual events. Mostly, I found myself staring at a random chunk of sea and sky, and I grew bored. The performers manipulated the frames, tilting them on various planes, or raising and lowering them in sequence, imitating wave action, but I found little of interest in this.

I found more reward in Nancy Tam’s sound design, which references not just fog horns, but other evocations of spaciousness as well, including what sounded to me like train whistles.

Finally, a random woman, who was not part of the show, wandered up on our left, walking slowly, water up to her knees. And a little girl, who had been part of the audience, broke away from us and started to follow the woman. They were the Act 3 I had been waiting for. They were gorgeous.

CINERAMA created by Steven Hill (director) and Alex Lazaridis Ferguson (philosopher of scenography and spatial dramaturg) in collaboration with Delia Brett (performer/deviser), Scott Billings (installation design), Elissa Hanson (performer/deviser), Josh Hite (performer/deviser), Natalie Purschwitz (installation design), Diego Romero (performer/deviser), Nancy Tam (sound design), and Paula Viitanen (technical direction).

A Fight With a Stick production at Spanish Banks on Friday, June 16. Continues until June 30.

For tickets, go to:

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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