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The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 10 – art is of the self

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I have loved being physical since I was a child…more accurately….it has been my escape from a dysfunctional childhood. When I would run and play I would forget that I was living with my single mother and that when I went home she could be drunk or getting ready to go out and get drunk. Overall I was a happy child but I was constantly on edge as I rarely felt safe.

My mother did the best with what she had… as every parent does. My mother grew up in foster homes and never felt loved. She was abused and turned to smoking and alcohol to mask the immense pain. In her early 20s she met my father and he overlooked the alcoholism because he loved her and probably a bigger factor was…. his mother didn’t like my mother.

My mother and father married and then conceived me. They divorced when I was one year old and the first time I remember meeting my father was when I was 14. Until that time my mother felt powerless and would demonise him constantly. She would go to discos (literally –  it was the 70s!) and come home with strangers, turn the music up really loud and smoke. I would try to hide under the covers to escape but it wasn’t possible. I would ask her to turn down the music and she would then turn it back up again. Many times it was on school nights.

I carried this razor sharp edge of  fear with me for a long time….and into my dance training as well. Dance is incredibly personal and will bring up the demons from the past. My physicality was pure uncontrolled energy and ballet is about precision and beauty. I struggled, fought the process at time and beat myself up for not getting it right. I had several great teachers that had much skill and knowledge…and they had their own issues.

I can’t remember the exact statistic but it was like 70 percent of contemporary dancers have had major emotional trauma in their lives. When I heard that it started to put some pieces together for me. It affirmed that I wasn’t alone. At times I would trigger some of the women in my program.

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I have a vivid memory of a rehearsal in my first year with a guest choreographer and we were sitting down in a circle.  I said a sentence using the word “girls”, referring to the female dancers in the piece. A second year student, Wendy, said “women”. I was confused and said “girls” – she said ” they are women” – I said ” ladies” – she said “women!”. It had to be explained to me later but it was a huge learning about respect for women in my language. Wendy warmed up to me and we had a great time dancing together later in the year.

I loved training. Once I got into the swing of the program I loved it. I really loved how Brian approached the creative process. “Art is of the self”. I really resonated with that and really came to love modern/contemporary dance for its freedom of self expression. I personally believe all great art is an expression of the artist. How else can a person go to the depth of their piece unless they have a personal connection to it.

My latest show, Message in a Bottle, is my greatest work because of this. It is a dramatisation of my childhood. I have a difficult audience for a heavy subject of growing up in the home of a violent alcoholic but I have a found a way to touch on the subject with an engaging performance for children by drawing upon that experience. The grand message being forgiveness. It took me a long time to truly understand where my mother came from and her success as a mother. I forgave her and now we have a great connection.

I believe that it is the obligation of the child to be the evolution of the parents. They did the best with what they had. It is our job to see where they came from, learn from their mistakes and forgive. It took me a long time to understand this but it is the only way to get free.

 

The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 9 – Middle aged man in underwear

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Let’s get some context of where I came from… I did one year of post secondary acting training and some low level dance classes, I fumbled into my first professional dance job, did some commercial dance work, dreamed of being a cruise ship dancer, then worked as a commercial fisherman and logger and have enrolled in a contemporary dance program….

One week before I arrived in Edmonton I was covered in fish blood on the west coast. I was rough around the edges and luckily my instructors were patient with me. The huge culture shock was overwhelming and I put up a barrier. I was one of two men with a class of 35 women around me. My initial response was one of excitement with my good fortune because at that time I was driven by my lizard brain as many young men are. It got me into some trouble and lucky enough I was tolerated and forgiven by my classmates.

I was way out of my comfort zone. Classes discussed the artistic process and history of dancers and dance companies that I had never heard of and didn’t connect with. I wanted to dance. I was a kinesthetic person and wanted to be dancing on cruise ships. I had signed up for some “arty” nonsense. I was interviewed for the college magazine and was quite open about it.

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I was physically powerful but way behind most of the women in technical training. It was emotionally really difficult. I didn’t learn routines or combinations as fast and I felt foolish. My brain hurt more than my body. At that time I didn’t know how to learn and would be really hard on myself.

The chair of the program, Brian Webb, and I almost instantly bonded in a strange way. We were in two seemingly diametrically opposed realities: I was blue collar macho and he was/is flamingly artistic. A few weeks into the program he had a show and the students went out to see him. I come from the west coast and would infrequently participate in rituals common here. I thought if I would prepare myself in this way I could better understand this “arty” performance.

I got lost downtown Edmonton and when I entered the performance space I saw my middle aged instructor rolling around on rocks in his underwear. I was waaaay over my head. The performance included circles with sand, him carrying a large metal chain with a cross on it and he made many references that I didn’t understand. I later learned that is was related to his catholic upbringing but at the time I was very confused.

The final scene had him sitting in a chair talking about the fear of whether he had AIDS or not while a nurse took his blood. A woman passed out near me and I couldn’t tell whether that was part of the show. It was a serious moment about how his life partner Bill, had AIDS and how he dealt with his own fear every time he got his blood checked. It was heavy to say the least.

After the show he struts (Brian mostly swaggers) up to me and says something like “That ain’t like being on the fishboat isn’t it??” with a big grin on his face. He knew it was a mind expanding experience that I didn’t understand. I replied “It was fine but what does it have to do with what we are learning?”. “It doesn’t” and he swaggered off.

We have been great friends since.

 

 

The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 8 – Epiphony

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I eventually got the job I wanted on the same boat as Terry but he didn’t want to fish so I was with his captain on my own. The captain bought another boat that had to finish a Halibut quota and I hopped on to help out. Myself and two men I never met before went up to the Haida Gwaii. The other deckhand was a good worker and very experienced. I struggled and dreamed of dancing.

We were long lining. It is just like it sounds. One very long (2-5 kms) line with thousands of hooks on it with bait which was normally herring. When it was hot, the bait would start to rot, combined with the swell of the ocean and smell of the diesel could bring on sea sickness…I am getting queazy right now just thinking about it.

Sea Sickness is brutal. At the beginning of my fishing days I worked on a very small boat with a couple legendary brothers, The Martinellis. I didn’t get sick for quite a while and then we would come in to deliver and would talk to Terry. He would get really sick and negative. I took his feelings on and started getting sick.

The boat was the Viking Princess. Out on the ocean is magical in some ways. We started one morning at 4 am off the north west coast of Langara Island…and worked until 3 am the next day. The entire day was  a struggle until a gray whale breached right beside the boat to have a look at us in the middle of the night.

I was studying Aikido at that time and brought a book by Morehei Ueshiba onboard. The men I was working with were uncomfortable with it. At one point on deck I dropped into the splits and was ridiculed. Granted, it was a strange thing to do in that environment but I really didn’t want to be there. I needed to dance.

I hated fishing. The lifestyle and the pecking order of the men that fished were toxic. I had to dance. Mrs.  Cleric told me of a dance school in Edmonton called Grant MacEwan…Des ja vous!. I called the chair, Brian Webb and he encouraged me to apply. In between openings I videod an audition tape and sent it off…..

The boat changed hands and my skipper took over and we went salmon fishing in the Haida Gwaii again. Salmon trollers are(were….I don’t think there are anymore on the west coast of Canada) odd people. Someone might be catching fish a somewhere else and that creates a huge desire to “pick up the gear” (pull all the hooks (up to 100) and line out of the water) and rush (not really rushing as a small fishboat will only travel 6-7 knots per hour approx. 10 kph) to where there could be fish. The captain of the boat I was working on was tortured and we spent quite a bit of time going between spots. Poor fellow.

One day we had a large amount of fish on deck, dieing to be dressed (gutted). I could “dress” a salmon in under a minute. First you insert the knife in the sphincter and cut to the chin (gills). Make two small cuts around the throat (gills) and if done correctly you can pull the entire intestines of the creature out in one action. Then cut along the spine (blood line) and scrape all the blood out with a spoon. Fish would shutter in pain when I did this. Connecting to the fishes pain planted a seed deep inside me.

Holding a beating heart in my hand one day I had an epiphany. If I could do this so efficiently and humans are not a very intelligent species (ie. we kill each other and ruin our own habitat) there must be another creature smarter than us that could this to us.

Weeks after sending off the audition tape I called Brian Webb…I got in! I was elated. I had a future that I had dreamed of and fishing would come to an end.

I worked hard. I wasn’t the greatest deckhand but I could work. I lost gaff hooks over the side when trying to drive the spike through the fishes skull to bring it aboard. This was cause for ridicule. But I worked.

We had agreed that I would stay until a certain time and the captain wanted me to stay another week. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity so I left. He didn’t like it and it was not ideal. I missed out on money but I didn’t care. I wanted to dance.

I through out my fishing clothes and drove to Edmonton with Terry and Harry. One week later I was in my first ballet class!

My life took an awesome turn….

The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 7 – Near death experience #1

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Soon enough I got a job as a chokerman for Koprino logging company working with men I went to highschool with. “Setting beads” was the idiom for the job I was doing. This involved working on the side of a mountain with a “tower/yarder” at the top with a “Block(pulley)” on the bottom. A 1.5 inch steel cable would loop between the “block” and “tower/yarder’, which was a huge diesel-hydraulic machine that would winch these massive trees up the the “landing” (road) to be loaded onto logging trucks and sent off to the sorting yard. My job was to wrap a 3/4″ cable around a log lying in the clear cut with another man and then we would get out of the way as the “yarder” would pull the tree up the mountain. It was physically enjoyable work and it was very physically challenging.  It was also frustrating as the “beads” would get tangled in the underbrush and there was constant tripping…also because of the underbrush there was pressure to hustle and “get some wood”.

The first few days was a trial and I was picked over another guy. I can’t remember how far in but it wasn’t long. There was a massive hemlock at about 3 feet in diameter and 30 feet long. We hooked it up and sent it up the mountain. Our cables came back down and we were getting the next logs ready when we heard the one long horn…and “get the F*&% out!). We scrambled and got about 10 feet away. The log was too big for the grappling machine to load it onto the truck. It slipped and shook the ground on the way down to stop where we were working.

I was shaken up and crying I was so scared. We were called up to the landing and had a safety meeting and let go for the day. I lasted about 3 more days and let go. I was too scared after that. It was surprising how compassionate these very rough and tough men were. They completely understood that I had that kind of scare too early and that there was no shame as I would have gotten seriously hurt if I would have stayed on with that level of fear.

Still teaching dance from time to time and just floating and dreaming of dancing my long distance relationship with Anne came to a close…as most young people long distance relationships do. I got another logging job in Kimsquit Valley. We would fly north in a small plane and land on a gravel runway. It feels like you are going slide into the bush. Once in camp I was the smallest man in there by at least 30 pounds. I had long hair and was told by some of the old timers that if I came back with long hair I would be locked in a barrel. There were also threats of rape…whether it was a joke or not I wasn’t comfortable. This is the blue collar experience.

Men would stay up all night drinking and then get up very early to work their physical and dangerous jobs. Each man was allowed to bring in 48 beers and some would order beer as soon as they landed to make sure they had enough. I saw a guy vomiting first thing in the morning and he didn’t think it was from the alcohol. Apparently they would meet up outside of work and do harder drugs as well. I couldn’t help but think they were in alot of pain or somewhat insane.

I was supposed to go in for 2 weeks and every shift was short I was happy. Every time I was off any blue collar work I ever did was the best time. If a fishing opening was short I was happy. I could do the work at a decent level but hated the childishness.

Camp mealtimes were awesome.The camp cook was a nice man and excellent at his job. The last meals of my last shift up north were spent stuffing my face with triple helpings. I ate so much that I didn’t have to eat for 2 days after coming out.

I am happy to have lived through it.

 

 

The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 6 – veering off course

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Anne and I fell in love…or at least what I thought love was at 21 years old. She was beautiful and talented and I was afraid that she would leave me so I proposed to her and gave her a cool pair of shoes as an engagement ring substitute…I do many things very well…but I have always struggled with Romance. :0)

She was dancing and performing with the cheer squad of the Tigers and I was jealous and wasn’t supportive….It has taken me some time to come to a place of forgiveness for myself. Looking back on that time…I did the best with what I had.

I overstayed my 1 year work visa and was nervous about being an illegal alien so we decided to come to Canada and I would apply to return. We flew from a Melbourne summer to a Port Hardy winter. If you have never lived on the North West Coast of Canada you have yet to experience wetness. It gets really really wet. The gray sky filled with golf ball sized rain drops for months at a time. My friend Harry and I would go for long walks in the rain when we were growing up and I don’t mind it. In fact I find the low cloud gives me a sense of coziness…It is an acquired taste. ;0)

Anne got to experience snow for the first time and meet my highschool friends. After a few weeks she went home and I had a feeling that it was over. My step mother suggested that we date other people. I was too insecure or young to accept that as a possibility.

As I was a “professional” dancer I started teaching some classes at the local dance studio for Mrs. Cleric. I would teach what I knew and had an affinity for the young students. I enjoyed being playful with them and they responded to the respect I gave them.

At that time my friend, Terry Crawford, was making big money as commercial fisherman. He had a relaxed schedule (or at least that is what it seemed) and would have tons of money. I idolised Terry and the money so I decided that the money was the way to go. There wasn’t any work on Terry’s boat, The Merry C Two, which would have been ideal, so I put the combed the docks and got a job as a tender on a dive boat.

The boat was the Rave On and we would harvest Red Sea Urchins. I remember leaving Hardy Bay the first time to cross the Queen Charlotte Strait. I was nervous. My first time out on the water. I had the physical capacity for the work but not the emotional. My fiance was a million miles away and I would call her from the boat…This was a really expensive thing to do but I was driven by fear.

The divers would see this fear and pick at me. This was my experience with all resource extraction industries. When a group of men that feel they have no other options are doing something they don’t want to do (ie. fishing, logging, oil) they create a pecking order reinforced by the threat of violence.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt trapped on the boat. I liked seeing remote parts of Canada like Namu , a really isolated ghost town that was once a hub of activity in the 70s. I didn’t mind the work as it was physical which is what I enjoyed. Most importantly, I hated the working environment. Always having to be in guard was tiresome and frustrating. I worked for several openings and eventually jumped ship onto a packer (a large boat that is used to “pack” fish or product to packing plants for processing) up north and came home.

I just realised that I mutineed… Which is my recommendation for anyone that is working in a job that they don’t like….Mutiny and find a nicer crew. Life is too short to be around people that aren’t supporting you.

 

 

The long Voyage to professional piracy – Part 4 – A dream realised

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I started to leave the auditorium… I was pulled aside and introduced to Neville Kent , the producer, and Ian the choreographer.

Most of the details I don’t remember but they clarified that I wasn’t the strongest dancer but that I had tricks and…. I GOT THE GIG! I was officially a professional dancer! Professional by the simple definition of getting paid that is.

I was a Simpsons Gang Dancer ! Homer and family were the costumers characters and we were doing the Bart Man dance.

I was elated that I got the gig. It was a pivotal point in my life and self esteem. I had realised a dream. I was now a professional dancer…I didn’t know what that would entail but that didn’t matter and I hopped on my bike and rode back to Peter’s moms’ place at Mermaid beach. The rain had stopped and  my bike hadn’t been stolen. It was a great day.

I had to find a new place to live. While spending time at the beach I had made friends with a couple of guys from Halifax and they had a room to rent. I moved in shortly after. There were 4 of us in the house and they were there to party.  Rehearsals started for the show. I would come back to a huge mess of beer bottles, pizza boxes and sometimes holes in the walls. I wasn’t a partier so this was not ideal for me.

I thought I could learn pirouettes and ballet technique at rehearsals. That is not how dance training works. The other dancers and choreographers were really patient and helpful…I learned later that I was almost cut because of my lack of training but was kept because I worked hard. I also did extras – appearances for the producer in the costumes at public markets.

I made a good friend of Mitchell Bartlett, a very skilled and successful dancer that had just finished touring with Kylie Minogue. I have always been a direct person and he liked my honesty. I admired his skill and success. He was also very helpful, kind and supportive.

I remember being very nervous before the first few shows as I was never really confident that I knew the choreography and would be watching the other dancers all the time. This isn’t what you are supposed to do. Once the run started I had fun. I felt like a star. I was on stage living the dream…as they say…or at least what I thought it was at the time.

There was a couple there that primarily performed on cruise ships and that really appealed to me at the time. Travelling the world as a dancer onboard a ship seemed really glamorous….and I wanted it. The seed was planted.

When the run of the show had completed Mitch invited me to stay with him until I got on my feet in Melbourne. I would start doing dance classes and he would help get me connected. So I said my goodbyes, paid my debts and bought my plane ticket to Melbourne.

Another adventure begins…

 

 

 

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The long voyage to professional piracy – Part 3 – I come to a Land down unda

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Australia was exciting….getting off the plane from the coldest winter in Victoria in decades but mild by Canadian standards. FYI – The Canadian standard is gauged by anywhere East or North of the lower mainland of BC. Palm trees and warm.  Crocodile Dundee and Men at Work had just opened up Australia to Canada, the world and there I was. The Road Warrior was one of my favorite movies at the time as well. Arriving in Australia was amazing. People that sounded like Paul Hogan and driving on the other side of the road. Sun, surf and of course night club dancing. Really exciting times.

Peter and I couldn’t find work. We stayed with his very generous mother but I wore out my welcome. I was hungry and didn’t know what to do. Peter’s sister, Melissa, saw an ad for a dance audition at Dreamworld, a theme park not far away. “You’re a dancer.” “That’s right. I’m a dancer”…(Think….Leap! and grow your wings on the way down).

We brought our bikes down with us and were in great physical condition so I did the natural thing and cycled to the audition…..through 90 minutes of a tropical downpour. I was soaked. I left my bicycle unlocked outside the auditorium and sloshed my way into the cattle call (a cattle call is a large audition with lots of people – like cattle in a paddock).

When I looked down into the amphitheatre I realised that I was over my head but decided to stay and give it a go. I am getting tense in my stomach as think about this event . (I find it very interesting that I have such a visceral reaction) As I walked into the crowd I heard a man saying that he just finished dancing with Janet Jackson….I was waaaay over my head.

I stood in the back and tried to learn the choreography. I didn’t understand the language(not the Australian dialect – the dance vocabulary) they were using. When the choreographer said “attitude” I thought emotional attitude. (So I would put a dramatic look on my face)Later in life I learned it meant a bent leg. At one point I knocked over a ladder. Embarrassed and ashamed I choked back the tears and the enormous urge to run. I committed to staying and completing the audition.

In a dance audition, dancers learn as a group and then get put into smaller groups for the producer, choreographer, and director to view them closer and see who has the skill, looks, and height they are looking for. Australian dancers are usually short haired, tall and highly skilled. I am 5’7, had long hair and had virtually no formal training.  An audition is a really competitive environment and I was at a huge disadvantage. I thought was a dancer going in and realised that I was wrong but for some reason I didn’t quit.  As Les Brown would say “You gotta be HUNGRY” and I was…both literally and figuratively.

I remember the terror of being downstage(close to the audience) and trying to follow the dancers around me and sneaking myself upstage (further from the audience) so I could see. Fumbling through what I now see as very simple choreography. I remember that I was even in rubber soled deck shoes that were my dancing shoes. An enormous faux pas for an event…I still didn’t leave.

Then came the trick section. I was physically very strong and had tricks…that were sloppy because I taught them to myself. I had this habit of trying stuff in front of audiences that I hadn’t done before. I remember starting a tumbling run of a row of back hand springs (I had done a couple before but not a row) and almost falling off stage into the audience.

Then we were all brought together, thanked for our time and were more or less told “Don’t call us we’ll call you….

 

 

 

The long voyage to professional piracy – Part 2 – Jump!…and grow your wings on the way down

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While at Malaspina I learned about the theatre arts program at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton. They had a large dance component which really interested me. My Solid Gold dreams could be realised!

I booked the time off from the rig in Grande Prairie and was supposed to be rehearsing and preparing for the audition. The problem was that I was wiped out at the end of an oil rig working day. I convinced an acquaintance of mine to drive me to Edmonton and we went to a night club the night before the audition. I wasn’t very disciplined in those days and consequently I was really tired for the audition. I did the best I could, sprinkled with some 19 year old emotion and felt that I did poorly. I was very disappointed with myself and returned to Grande Prairie deflated….a few weeks later I learned that I was accepted!

I moved to Edmonton shortly after to be with a woman that I met at the night club the night before the audition. I was not the most emotionally stable person at that stage of my life . A month later I fled from Edmonton and vowed never to return. Never say never was out of my range of comprehension for me at that time. I ran to Victoria by invitation of a friend. I started working as a Kabuki Cab operator and made a good friend from Australia, Peter Kennedy. Neither of us were good salesmen. My fragile self esteem was terrified of rejection so I wasn’t the most successful at selling rides…but I was enjoying the development of a long term friendship. A great way to spend a summer in Victoria as a 19 year old man.

When the summer was coming to an end I got a job as black jack dealer for Great Canadian Casinos. I had the hand eye coordination but I am an early riser by nature and didn’t have the emotional maturity to be around drunk people. I was let go at the end of my 3 month trial period. This was perfect for me as I had gotten a job as a bike courier for Demand dispatch and loved that job. Peter and I shared a flat with another man. All cyclists and young. We had a lot of fun. We would go out and I would dance all night long…I loved to dance and still had that dream in my subconscious.

Peter and I had some loose plans (very loose…we were 20…:0) ) to cycle around Europe. Peter had saved a little money. I had a river-like relationship with money at the time … it flowed through my hands. His Canadian visa was expiring and we weren’t ready so we decided to go to his home on the Gold Coast in Queensland to earn some money in the service industry. I flew there with one year work visa, 200 dollars, a one way ticket, and no medical insurance.

Les Brown has a saying…”Jump! and grow your wings on the way down.”   That is how I lived my life until I was around 40. I have had some fantastic experiences because of it. Now I find that a more directed approach works better for me…

 

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