PuSh festival’s performances of caregiving

Vancouver’s PuSh Festival will showcase 17 works exploring connections between art festivals and social change from Jan. 18 to Feb. 4. Three works engage with caregiving – directed at loved ones, natural resources, and capitalist labour.

Ben Target | Photo by Jonny Ruff.

LORENZO, a heartfelt portrayal of end-of-life care is at the Annex from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20 for its Canadian premiere with acclaimed comedian Ben Target and Soho Theatre. This five-act monologue explores dying as fundamental to life by documenting the relationship between two friends, one of whom is near death. Known for his absurdist humour and storytelling, Target treats his performance as stand-up comedy. Direct conversations with the audience weaves together a practice of caregiving that breaks the fourth wall.

“We collectively go through the experience of what it is to be cared for,” says Target. “I do that by providing coffee, small talk in the beginning, as if we are in a living room.”

LORENZO is Target’s tribute to his uncle, for whom he provided end-of-life care during the pandemic. The real Lorenzo appreciated craftsmanship so LORENZO features live carpentry as his character constructs a wooden machine for celebratory purposes. For Target, challenges of caregiving, from undertaking physically-taxing work to confronting the body’s deterioration, also brought upon reminders of the present that are rewarding.

“At no point do I shy away from the physical nature of caring for somebody whose body is failing, especially at old age,” says Target. “The way I embrace it is to use comedy and celebrate these moments of slightly disgusting behaviour.”

LORENZO’s unfiltered portrait also addresses two taboo feelings: the caree’s wish to die and the caregiver’s resentment. While the monotony of caregiving or lack of appreciation can inspire resentment, Target says criticism from someone who needed him was the most difficult.

“Often after shows, people who have worked in palliative care have come up and said to me, I’ve been carrying this guilt for years, and I’m so glad I can now talk about anger,” says Target.

By illuminating caregivers’ humanity, Target hopes that LORENZO shows how caregiving builds communities, particularly during times of political, generational, and economic divides. A post-show talkback highlighting artistic collaborations behind a solo performance will take place on Jan. 19.

A balancing act

Multidisciplinary artist Diana Lopez Soto explores displacement and reciprocity in the world premiere of NOMADA from Feb. 1 to 3 at the Annex. Mixing contemporary Mexican Indigenous dance, aerials and installation art, NOMADA takes viewers on a three-act, cosmological journey through the Sky World, Underworld, and Earth, reflecting Lopez Soto’s long interest in site-specific work and reconnecting with her Otomi and Purepecha heritage.

“The underworld [act] is the beginning of [NOMADA], and it came from my relationship with my visceral body in relation to the food I digested, growing up with my grandmother, and the memories I had,” recalls Lopez Soto who also takes inspiration from personal accounts of colonial, environmental, and other forms of displacement.

Diana Lopez Soto. | Photo by Greg Wong.

NOMADA integrates nine-years of research, including fieldwork in Mexico, during which Lopez Soto witnessed a women-only water ritual. Participants chose their own regalia and carried blessings through dance from the river to the temple before returning to the community in hopes of a successful harvest. Lopez Soto incorporates this ritual’s task orientation into NOMADA through vessels highlighting the reciprocity between those leaving for the water and those staying to hold space.

“There is a traditional dance that is done in Mexico on top of ceramic vessels – it’s a lot of tapping your feet on the vessels,” says Lopez Soto of her inspirations. “[NOMADA] became a lot more about balancing myself on these vessels, and the journey of transcending from one to the other.”

NOMADA also uses the body to activate space. The set reflects an image Lopez Soto had of deconstructing her body in counterbalance with different vessels, each containing a distinct entity, such as water, soil, or beans. Tactility is important for the physicality of her work as an aerialist, and for the audience to use their own senses and memories to interact with these organic elements.

“I hope for us to continue to grow this connection and honour the elements and our sources,” she says while drawing attention to issues with access to clean water.

Slow sounds of labour

Co-presented with The Dance Centre, interdisciplinary artist Nellie Gossen’s Returns, a live installation of dance and garment (de)construction, is Gossen’s research project into the fashion industry’s harmful impacts on labour, ecology, and consumption. Investigating the 30-day return policy, Gossen and her team deconstruct clothes bought from retailers, creating sculptural installations from the disassembled pieces. They reconstruct the pieces and return them for refund. Its world premiere is from Jan. 7 to Feb. 3 at the Scotiabank Dance Centre Studios.

Nellie Gossen. | Photo by Mariama Sow.

“Primarily, I’m interested in how we can think about fashion and use the materials of our consumer system without creating new waste,” says Gossen. “I’m curious about how we can settle into quiet relationships with consumption.”

This desire to slow down stems from Gossen’s time studying fashion design in Berlin. Returns’ first iterations were solo endeavours, but when Gossen returned to Vancouver in 2021, she opened the performance to collaborators. The performance balances sewing skills and choreographed scores with elements of chance through a framework of caregiving and generosity.

“It’s generous for us as performers in that we can go slow and take breaks,” says Gossen. “We are intentional with the way we use our bodies in the space, and we are thinking about sculptural forms, and the garments determine what we do.”

Microphones hooked on performers’ hands that magnify the meditative sounds of garment work will recreate that experience for the audience. A growing photo exhibition documenting the 30-day process will accompany the performance.

“I hope that our work and our slowing down will offer more space for everybody to feel into their relationship with their clothing and shopping practices,” concludes Gossen.

For more information on PuSh Festival, visit: www.pushfestival.ca