ARTS Broth­ers wres­tle with Cain and Abel

The Georgia Straight - - Arts - By

Janet Smith

he first thing you need to ask about two broth­ers mak­ing a dance-theatre work called Cain and Abel is “Do these guys get along?”

By every in­di­ca­tion, fa­mously so. Lo­cal sib­lings Aryo and Arash Khakpour have been work­ing to­gether for six years, push­ing the bounds of per­for­mance in phys­i­cally ex­treme ways.

But the duo be­hind the Bit­ing School com­pany ad­mit there can be ten­sion, es­pe­cially in their creative process. “It’s in­ter­est­ing, be­cause we kind of wres­tle with each other to talk about work and share with each other—and it’s the same thing on-stage,” Arash of­fers, talk­ing with his brother over speak­er­phone on a re­hearsal break at an East Side dance stu­dio. “See­ing us on-stage is a good de­pic­tion of what our re­la­tion­ship is.”

“But be­ing broth­ers, def­i­nitely, yes, makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion bet­ter,” Aryo in­ter­jects. “Part of that is be­ing close col­lab­o­ra­tors.”

Each of the broth­ers brings some­thing dif­fer­ent to the mix. But to un­der­stand that, you first have to rewind a bit. For the older Aryo, who spent more of his life in Iran, see­ing his first op­er­atic pro­duc­tion in Tehran got him hooked on theatre. Since com­ing to Van­cou­ver, he’s got­ten a BFA in theatre per­for­mance from Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, and worked as a per­former, direc­tor, and dra­maturge.

As for Arash, who came here in Grade 9, friends in­tro­duced him to con­tem­po­rary dance, and he’s a grad­u­ate of Out In­nerspace’s Modus Operandi train­ing pro­gram and a per­former with com­pa­nies like Wen Wei Dance and Ki­ne­sis Dance so­math­e­atro.

Nei­ther of their par­ents is an artist. Their fa­ther is a med­i­cal doc­tor and ENT sur­geon, and their mother a home­maker. “But our mom does

Cain and Abel.

love danc­ing, I must say—at par­ties she would al­ways have a solo,” Aryo ex­plains. “But mak­ing the tran­si­tion wasn’t easy,” he con­tin­ues. “It was ‘What are you do­ing? You have to be an en­gi­neer or a doc­tor.’ ”

“I did sign up for en­gi­neer­ing, and I dropped out two weeks be­fore,” says Arash, who then im­mersed him­self in dance. “Aryo was sup­port­ing me a lot through that.…as with any im­mi­grant cul­ture, you’re com­ing to a dif­fer­ent coun­try to thrive, and be­ing a male dancer was prob­a­bly one of the last things they were ex­pect­ing.”

“But that fight is fin­ished and we have their full sup­port now,” Aryo em­pha­sizes. “It’s very in­ter­est­ing to have our doc­tor fa­ther see the piece and say, ‘Oh, this is what your piece is about.’ ”

The story of Cain and Abel turns out to bridge their Ira­nian and Cana­dian cul­tures. The events in the Ko­ran, which they grew up know­ing, are al­most iden­ti­cal to the tale in the He­brew and Chris­tian Bi­ble. In it, the two sons of Adam and Eve of­fer up sac­ri­fices to God; when He re­jects Cain’s but ac­cepts Abel’s, Cain jeal­ously slays his sib­ling—in the first act of mur­der on Earth.

“Div­ing into the story it­self, it’s very per­sonal—it’s the first birth of a hu­man and he killed his first brother,” Aryo says. “They’re so in­grained in our psy­che that they’re archetypes now. You can talk about any­thing you like and layer images on top of all that. And we liked that sim­plic­ity of it.”

For the broth­ers, the story opened up ideas of frat­ri­cide, pa­tri­archy, mas­culin­ity, and more. “Peo­ple see it po­lit­i­cally, and some peo­ple see just two broth­ers beat­ing each other up,” Aryo quips.

Where the Khakpours get re­ally ex­per­i­men­tal is in the se­cond half of the show, reimag­in­ing the story as two fe­male sib­lings, and draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Jean Genet’s 1947 play The Maids.

“The first part is the first day of the world, with Adam and Eve, and it’s quite phys­i­cal and raw, so there’s a huge fast-for­ward in time for the se­cond part,” Aryo says, stress­ing that the ag­gres­sive male story con­trasts the tone of the fe­males’. They seem to be ask­ing us to con­sider how our world might be dif­fer­ent if it had been two sis­ters in­stead of the two broth­ers, Cain and Abel.

Ex­pect an ex­pe­ri­ence with vi­su­als and sounds some­times as wild as the phys­i­cal ac­tion. Alex Mah cre­ates the sound­scape, with light­ing by Par­jad Shar­ifi in the first half and Sophie Tang in the se­cond. And the Khakpours will make sym­bolic use of props, in­clud­ing a lip­stick.

So how do the broth­ers cat­e­go­rize the work? A lit­tle good-na­tured sib­ling ri­valry seems to crop up here again.

“I think what­ever we do, I am go­ing to say it is theatre and Arash is go­ing to think it’s dance,” Aryo quips.

PLAY­WRIGHT KAT SAN­DLER won the 2016 Dora Award for out­stand­ing new play for her jaw-drop­ping pro­fes­sional de­but, Mus­tard. The Arts Club’s new co­pro­duc­tion with Vic­to­ria’s Bel­fry Theatre makes it easy to un­der­stand why.

The tit­u­lar char­ac­ter, played by An­drew Mc­nee, is the imag­i­nary friend of Thai (Heidi Da­mayo), a very an­gry 16-year-old whose per­sonal life and home life are dis­as­trous. Thai and her mom, Sadie (Jenny Wasko-pater­son), are both still dev­as­tated that Thai’s dad walked out a year ear­lier. Sadie is self­med­i­cat­ing with wine and pills, while Thai is get­ting into phys­i­cal fights at school and scream­ing at Sadie, and Mus­tard is forced to face up to the fact that in his own de­sire to be needed, he has over­stayed his wel­come and de­layed Thai’s abil­ity to grow up and cope with her feel­ings.

San­dler’s writ­ing is so good and it holds up beau­ti­fully to direc­tor Stephen Drover’s de­ci­sion to start big and stay there, every emo­tion and every con­fronta­tion epic and un­re­lent­ing. This isn’t wholly a crit­i­cism, be­cause most of the time the pro­duc­tion’s broad­ness matches Mus­tard’s bal­ance of arch whimsy and traum­edy (trauma-in­formed com­edy). But there’s also a lot of ten­der­ness and nuance in San­dler’s script, and Drover’s pac­ing puts ad­di­tional de­mands on his al­ready hard-work­ing cast.

Da­mayo, mak­ing her Arts Club de­but, is fan­tas­tic. Thai’s anger is ut­terly be­liev­able, as are the fa­mil­iar teenage mood swings—de­lib­er­ately cruel to madly in love, ut­ter de­spair to all-con­sum­ing rage. Wasko-pater­son is heart­break­ing and hi­lar­i­ous, and she builds a bridge be­tween the two ef­fort­lessly. Mus­tard is a phys­i­cally de­mand­ing role, but it’s also an emo­tion­ally rig­or­ous one, and Mc­nee is bril­liant. The play hinges sig­nif­i­cantly on his per­for­mance, and he’s flaw­less. Also, the chem­istry be­tween Wasko-pater­son and Mc­nee is per­fect, from their first star­tled meet­ing when Sadie dis­cov­ers she can sud­denly see Mus­tard to their sweetly off-kil­ter flir­ta­tion.

These per­for­mances are in­spired by San­dler’s way with di­a­logue. I think one of the marks of a well-writ­ten play is the cast’s abil­ity to nav­i­gate the lan­guage, par­tic­u­larly the swear­ing, and Mus­tard’s every F-bomb lands with pre­ci­sion. It’s also a play that sneaks up on you, and doesn’t pro­vide any tidy res­o­lu­tions or easy an­swers about love, fam­ily, and the lies we tell our­selves about lone­li­ness, feel­ing needed, and the re­al­ity of grow­ing up. Mus­tard is won­der­ful and weird, and it sig­nals a pow­er­ful and wel­come new voice in con­tem­po­rary theatre.

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