SPECIAL REPORT/EXPO 86

A WORLD OF PERFORMANCE

ANN WALMSLEY March 17 1986
SPECIAL REPORT/EXPO 86

A WORLD OF PERFORMANCE

ANN WALMSLEY March 17 1986

A WORLD OF PERFORMANCE

SPECIAL REPORT/EXPO 86

The Eiffel Tower still stands as the landmark of the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. But at the time, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show stole the show. Since then, each world’s fair has endeavored to outdo its predecessors with startling and diverse entertainment. Vancouver’s Expo 86 is no exception: organizers have persuaded Leningrad’s Kirov Ballet to make its first North American appearance in 22 years and the Peking People’s Art Theatre to make its North American debut. Other world-class performers include Spanish romantic pop singer Julio Iglesias and comedian Bill Cosby. And despite management problems, trimmed budgets and the challenge of pleasing both the audiences and the pride of participating nations, many experts predict that Vancouver’s program will prove to be a triumph. Said David Haber, a Houston-based arts consultant who was producer of theatre presentations at Montreal’s Expo 67: “It is a marvellous array of international coups— with many performers people would never have an opportunity to see.”

The sheer scope of the entertainment will be dazzling. In addition to Expo’s World Festival featuring internationally renowned orchestras, ballet and theatre companies on stages in Vancouver, 17 theatres on the fair site will offer performers ranging from an Inuit heavy metal band to the Second City comedy troupe. In all, Expo estimates that the corporation will stage 14,000 performances, in addition to the indi-

vidual programs offered by most of the 52 participating nations. The Canada pavilion alone plans to offer 9,000 performances of 200 events on its five stages—including experimental productions that fuse music, dance and video and are designed to expose avant garde artists to large audiences.

Expo organizers have tried to cater to all budgets and tastes. Tickets for the opening gala of the World Festival— the jewel of the fair — ranging from $25 to $50 have sold out. But other elements of the fair’s program are free. Indeed, visitors will see the richest free street festival of any Expo, including French high wire daredevil Philippe Petit and an Italian theatre company which uses actors and horses as pieces in a giant chess game. Boasted Jim Pattison, Expo’s chairman and president: “This will be the biggest show in Canada between now and the year 2000.”

Sloppy: Still, in many cases Expo’s final programs have fallen short of the original plans. A series of management purges, which included the still-unexplained firing last July of the original Expo programming director, Christopher Wootten, created instability at critical planning phases. About $7 million was trimmed from the budget for the entertainment program, which is now about $36 million. The cuts meant cancellation of an art gallery, a 500-seat children’s auditorium and planned appearances by such major performers as the National Theatre of London. People inside Expo privately blame those cutbacks on British Columbia’s Social Credit government, which they claim adopted a lowbrow approach to entertainment. Meanwhile, critics in the Canadian art community charged that sloppy planning has left the exposition embarrassingly short of visual art and Canadian theatre. Conspicuously absent from the lineup are two Canadian theatrical institutions: the Stratford and Shaw festivals.

Expo organizers credit Wootten as the visionary who fought to elevate the level of Expo’s entertainment. Before leaving, Wootten left his mark by hiring Ann Farris Darling

SPECIAL REPORT/EXPO 86

as producer of the World Festival. A veteran of Expo 67, where she co-ordinated 200 World Festival attractions, Farris Darling has organized 31 productions in Vancouver. To ensure that they would be spectacular, she travelled to 13 countries to appraise artists and haggle with companies and governments over fees. Months after the festival brochure had been printed she continued to pursue Milan’s La Scala opera company, and there are now indications that the company has agreed to bring its 350 artists and crew to Vancouver to perform Verdi’s II Lombardi.

Alienation: Farris Darling has consistently displayed a taste for the daring and the unconventional. Along with such reliable attractions as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the World Festival also includes a sinewy “trance dance” from Indonesia performed by 60 sarongclad male dancers. And she commissioned Urban Sax, a Paris-based group of 50 saxophone-playing performance artists who wear space suit costumes, to create a work specifically for Expo.

Some of Farris Darling’s choices are controversial. After she picked the State Theatre of Heidelberg’s Sylvia Plath, a contemporary dance-theatre piece about the American poet and the theme of alienation, an official at West Germany’s Ottawa embassy, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I personally would have liked something more neutral, like a ballet.” But the decisions

have won praise from critics. Said Mavor Moore, former chairman of the Canada Council: “The Sylvia Plath and others were picked not just because they were going to do a good public relations job for some government. They may be the most sensational.”

Of Farris Darling’s 31 World Festival attractions, nine have already sold out. Still, she has also had several disappointments. Since the project began, Expo organizers have trimmed 18 per cent from the festival’s original $10-million budget, leaving her with $8.2 million. In addition, her focus on securing international attractions led to budget shortfalls and misunderstandings with such Canadian companies as the Stratford and Shaw festivals. Stratford had intended to bring Henry VIII and Hamlet, while the Shaw Festival had discussed staging its acclaimed Heartbreak House. But the Shaw’s producer, Paul Reynolds, discovered late in the negotiations that Expo officials were offering to pay only $50,000 of its estimated $250,000 cost. Said Reynolds: “It was ludicrous. Now, the only major Canadian theatre company appearing is the Charlottetown Festival. People will think Canadian theatre is only Anne of Green Gables again.”

Scramble: Visual arts planning was equally troubled. Wootten and his visual arts consultant, Luke Rombout, former director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, wanted a $2-million exhibition of international masterpieces that would appear in the planned fine arts pavilion. But in the summer I of 1984 senior Expo officials decided to use the space for three cabarets. As a result, there was no pavilion with adequate climate controls for fine art. Instead, Rombout succeeded in arranging only two shows: Ramses II and His Times, a collection of 80 pieces from the Cairo Museum displayed in Montreal last summer, and an exhibition by Toronto artist Michael Snow, centering on holography—a photographic medium that projects images that appear to be three-dimensional. Already installed at a renovated railway roundhouse on the Expo site, Snow’s show explores illusion. In one series, real table legs appear to support a hologram of a still life arrangement on a tabletop.

Snow’s work has drawn rave reviews from critics and the local arts community, but many West Coast artists are incensed at being excluded from significant representation at the fair. The Vancouver Artists’ League, a group of West Coast artists that opposes Expo’s artistic policy, is mounting several exhibitions at galleries in Vancouver before the end of the exposition’s run. Still, Rombout declared: “Expo 86 is an international world’s fair. It would be naïve to focus on artists who happen to live in the host city.”

Despite the critics, as Expo planners scramble to meet their deadlines, the success of the fair’s entertainment already seems assured. Encircled by ocean and mountains, the exposition’s physical beauty and diversity are likely to highlight the triumphs rather than the I tribulations. Said entertainment direc| tor Hamilton McClymont: “We want to z balance the serious, didactic side of | Expo with some entertainment that g warms your heart.”

ANN WALMSLEY