Cul­tur­ally Speak­ing

Ottawa Magazine - - THIS CITY -

Wel­come to Wol­ly­wood

Bol­ly­wood dance lends it­self well to flash mob­bing. The smooth moves of In­dian cinema can be com­plex in chore­og­ra­phy or quite sim­ple; imag­ine just a few hip shakes dressed up with swaths of colour­ful cot­ton, ban­gles, and a back­beat, all be­ing un­furled on the pub­lic square.

It will be this planned spon­tane­ity, plus a sense of col­lec­tiv­ity, that will be writ large on July 8 and 9 when Mon­treal chore­og­ra­pher Roger Sinha presents Ot­taW(olly)Wood as part of Canada Dance Fes­ti­val. Af­ter a call for au­di­tions went out ear­lier in the year, non-pro­fes­sional dancers were se­lected; a few weeks of prac­tice ses­sions fol­lowed. Soon, these 150 cit­i­zens of the cap­i­tal will gather in a pub­lic lo­ca­tion (TBA on­line) for a live per­for­mance that’s been honed by Sinha and Mon­treal chore­og­ra­pher Deepali Lind­blom. (The duo launched an edi­tion called Mon­tre(olly) Wood in 2016 and will do so again this July for that city’s 375th an­niver­sary.)

The Ot­tawa and Mon­treal events are be­ing billed as in­ter­cul­tural cre­ations — and the em­pha­sis is im­por­tant. In­ter­cul­tural, as be­tween cul­tures, evokes a com­ing to­gether as op­posed to a bor­row­ing of. It’s not “oth­er­ing” and fetishiz­ing the idea of In­dian mod­ern and folk­loric dance to make it some­thing to be con­sumed. In­stead, the chore­og­ra­phers’ col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach means dancers have the chance to add their own take on Bol­ly­wood. Ask­ing dancers and au­di­ences to think too deeply on the un­der­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy of the event might be a tall or­der, espe­cially given that Bol­ly­wood is known for its in­dul­gent tales and high gloss. But it’s not a to­tal stretch to think that di­ver­sity will be on the minds of spec­ta­tors and par­tic­i­pants. Af­ter all, our 150th is a chance to re­flect upon our mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, some­thing we should do more of — if we don’t, it’s like us­ing the good dishes only for spe­cial oc­ca­sions. With­out #Canada150, how of­ten do we see a bunch of cit­i­zens get out to bust a move in the name of their coun­try? —Fa­teema Sayani

The Darker Side of Nos­tal­gia

Liv­ing and dy­ing by the sword — in the King­dom of Os­goode, even kings aren’t im­mune to this bru­tal re­al­ity.

When the King­dom of Os­goode Me­dieval Fes­ti­val reen­acts the Dark Ages, the king will ei­ther be shot by an ar­row or slain by the sword. It’s a re­flec­tion of the darker as­pects of the era, but it’s usu­ally over­shad­owed by the ro­man­ti­cized as­pects of the me­dieval pe­riod.

This year, the fes­ti­val, which runs from July 8 to 9, cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary. It has grown in pop­u­lar­ity con­sid­er­ably — 200 peo­ple at­tended the first gather­ing; or­ga­nizer Connie Bazil says 5,000 are ex­pected this sum­mer. That’s nearly dou­ble the pop­u­la­tion of Os­goode.

It’s not too dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand why this fes­ti­val has thrived, given that its core fo­cus is all-ages fun, imag­i­na­tion, and nos­tal­gia.

Yet in spite of flow­ing gowns, joust­ing knights, and pip­ing pipers, it’s doubt­ful you’ll find fes­ti­val-go­ers caked with dirt, smelling rank, or in­flicted with the pox — all com­mon to one of the most ar­du­ous pe­ri­ods in West­ern his­tory. Lifes­pans were short, dis­ease was ram­pant, and war was com­mon. So what’s the at­trac­tion?

Bazil con­cedes that shows such as The Tu­dors and Game of Thrones have cer­tainly helped cre­ate in­ter­est in the fes­ti­val but says its suc­cess is hinged on more con­crete as­pects: its lo­ca­tion, its rep­u­ta­tion, its kid­friendly na­ture. Still, for those who at­tend these fes­ti­vals with se­ri­ous gusto, a draw to the Dark Ages is based on nos­tal­gia — that “yearn­ing for a ro­man­ti­cized past,” as Fred Bot­ting de­fined it in Gothic. In look­ing at this genre, the au­thor of sev­eral books on English lit­er­a­ture, and pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Kingston in the U.K, notes our con­tem­po­rary fas­ci­na­tion with the “nos­tal­gic rel­ish for a lost era of ro­mance and ad­ven­ture.”

In rel­ish­ing the past, how­ever, we may find our­selves re­ject­ing the present and yearn­ing for some­thing that has been san­i­tized.

“By nos­tal­gic re­mem­ber­ing, we con­jure up a past we de­sire to long for and thus para­dox­i­cally trans­gress his­tory it­self by way of mem­ory,” notes Linda Hutcheon, a Univer­sity of Toronto pro­fes­sor.

Fas­ci­na­tion with the me­dieval era is an ex­am­ple of this “nos­tal­gic re­mem­ber­ing,” with the icky bits of the pe­riod scrubbed clean.

“If you look into this pe­riod, it wasn’t pretty,” says Bazil. “We for­get how dirty peo­ple were back then. There was no bathing, there was no in­door plumb­ing — all those things seem to dis­ap­pear and in­stead [most peo­ple] think only about the ro­man­tic as­pects of the pe­riod.”

To the fes­ti­val’s credit, an en­tire day is de­voted to ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren about the era, in­clud­ing not-so-nice as­pects of me­dieval life, ex­plains Bazil. The kids love it.

A yearn­ing for a ro­man­ti­cized me­dieval age is in­no­cent enough when it comes to the fes­ti­val; it’s less so when se­lec­tive mem­ory man­i­fests it­self in other, darker ways.

At its worst, it can be seen in the rise of right-wing pop­ulist move­ments; it’s also as­so­ci­ated with back-to-the-lan­ders, mod­ern-day Lud­dites — even plas­tic-free­l­iv­ing move­ments.

It may seem un­fair to con­nect the yearn­ing for a san­i­tized ver­sion of the past with the fun hap­pen­ing in­side the King­dom of Os­goode; how­ever, this “clean” ver­sion of the me­dieval era can be seen as a re­minder of how easy it is to “trans­gress his­tory by way of mem­ory.”

Take, for ex­am­ple, the case of James Harris Jackson, a white racist charged with the mur­der of a black man in New York in March. In an in­ter­view with me­dia, Jackson stated that his ideal so­ci­ety was 1950s’ Amer­ica: a mo­tive tied to his san­i­tized be­lief that life was some­how bet­ter back then be­cause in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples were taboo. The Korean War, nu­clear ten­sion, McCarthy­ism, the po­lio epi­demic — likely none of these bleak as­pects of the 1950s ran through Jackson’s mind as he al­legedly mur­dered Ti­mothy Caugh­man. Nei­ther did it seem to oc­cur to him that the weapon of choice in his Utopian 1950s’ Amer­ica would not have been the sword he used to ex­e­cute his crime. — Matt Har­ri­son

Me­dieval fes­ti­vals, such as the one held in Os­goode ev­ery sum­mer, of­ten ap­peal to a yearn­ing for a ro­man­ti­cized, but san­i­tized, ver­sion of the past

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