PuSh 2018: Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster - Nicola Gunn

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Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster | Nicola Gunn | PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and The Dance Centre | Scotiabank Dance Centre | January 17 – 19, 2018

If you saw a stranger throwing stones at a duck, what would you do? What is the right response to have? Should you intervene or just ignore him and go home to write a scathing post about him on Facebook? Nicola Gunn had an experience like this when she was in Belgium and it had such a large effect on her that she turned that event into a dance piece about morality, philosophy, and the politics of intervention.

Gunn’s witty monologue moved in lockstep with her movements as she paused for effect and erupted into frenzied movement when appropriate. Her method of storytelling involves a great deal of suspense as she veers off on tangents about philosophers and pop culture before returning to the situation with the man throwing stones beside a canal in Belgium.  

Another element of suspense comes in the form of the giant 1990s style ghetto blaster taking a prominent place on stage. It remains silent for almost half of the piece, until Gunn turns it on to provide a simple electronic beat for accompaniment.

Gunn is not only a master storyteller, but she manages to infuse her winding narrative with humorous asides and references to Agatha Christie’s Poirot, David Souchet, the emotional weight of a skipping stones scene in film or TV, Brief Encounter, and Johan Galtung’s conflict studies. The tone moves from casual, to academic, to frenetic as Gunn’s emotions get the best of her and she shouts “Throwing stones at a duck is a motherfucking shit cunt thing to do!”   

Taking on the character of the duck, Gunn crawled into the audience, stepping over heads and onto legs as she made her way through many rows, all the while discussing moral superiority and how to define whether someone is a “nice” person. Her charm as a storyteller and wit as a writer was on display throughout, and nobody seemed to mind that she was crawling over them.

The piece’s conclusion, instead of seamlessly tying all the strands of Gunn’s story together, veered off in a completely new direction as she donned a colourful cape and entered the persona of the duck. While it was a visually and sonically impressive segment, it seemed out of line with the rest of the piece, leaving a sense of dissatisfaction.

In the end, this strange conclusion was only a small shortcoming of an otherwise brilliantly constructed piece of performance. Gunn’s piece inspires action and highlights some of our universal hopes and dreams while being highly entertaining. 

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