It’s been a bit over a month since the third and final Night Cuts took the stage. Now that it’s wrapped up, we asked Artistic Director Gerry Morita and Set Designer Kai Villneff to reflect on the Night Cuts series—What worked? What challenges did they come across? What was their overall vision for the piece? These two reflective pieces offers an insight into their artistic brains and hopefully clarify the connection between dance and hair—a question we seemed to hear a lot at the Night Cuts shows.

Gerry Morita in Night Cuts #1 / Photo credit: Russ Hewitt

This year, I embarked on a new improvisational-based work for Mile Zero Dance, a three-performance series called “Night Cuts”. The concept behind the work was to collaborate with Tony the Venetian Barber next door, combining personal aesthetics and grooming within the conventions of a dance and music improv show. I was hoping to disturb the realities of both—to make the audience as much a focus of attention as the performers and to show the artistic and dance prowess of the barber or hairdresser’s hands, and to also highlight the very personal relationship that ritually builds between the aesthetic worker and the client (or audience in this case). It was a work in progress, as I set out to explore with different musical collaborators and dancers and hairdressers what this could be, as well as what it couldn’t be. The only constant people were Kai Villneff (designer), Tony, and myself.

What I learned is that there is so much more to explore! Our relationship to personal grooming and care is very performative and ritualistic, especially in terms of men’s grooming, which can be overlooked. (Watching Tony shave and cut a client has, at times, brought me to tears.) Not only are his hands so soft (as Trent and Kai can attest!), Tony has a caring gentleness and professionalism; yet “manly” intimacy is something that is rare to see or to experience.

For the first show with Gel Nails, Jeannie and I really explored the world of “girly grooming” in the first performance—almost like a pre-teen sleepover—with Jeannie braiding and combing audience hair in the pre-show time. I collected audience hair samples in a magical box. We braided our own hair together and danced contact with the resulting knot and we further explored both the chaos of messy, animalistic hair (Jeannie!) and the soothing stroking of caring for another person’s hair.

For the second performance, Richard Lee and the Pigeon Breeders joined the roster. The intent with this version was to explore “cutting”, and it had a lot more edge to it as a result—thanks in part to the drone-like music of the Pigeon Breeders. This performance led more into the rituals of hair with a shrine made to Tony (who couldn’t be present for this show, except on previous video recordings) and a preshow that live-recorded a shave by Richard. The events were more chaotic and dangerous, I found, with Richard’s shirt getting sliced off and the fuzzy set becoming quite dishevelled. It did not “resolve” in the way that I expected, but it instead stayed on edge.

The third and final event was set-up as a musical departure with J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations played live by pianist Roger Admiral. Dancer Jen Mesch accompanied me on the dance floor whose classical lines and imaginative wit were completely different than the first two events with more flowy and contact improvising. One of the main reasons I wished to interpret this particular piece of music is for its popularity among dancers and improvisors, such as Marie Chouinard and Steve Paxton. It’s been said that the Goldberg Variations was commissioned for an insomniac, so we delved into the world of altered states, absinthe, women’s roles in the 1700’s—and once again, the magic of hair. This piece was significantly longer and more difficult to bring together, but was a great challenge to accomplish.

All together, I feel that the three pieces raised more questions than answers. Can haircutting, dance, and music ever really come together in a space where the entire audience becomes beautiful? Can dance unlock the secret mysteries of hair and ritual? Or is this a lifelong pursuit?!

I found Night Cuts interesting as a way to really involve the audience in process-based work, and I continue to be curious about performance within both dance and aesthetics.

Written by Gerry Morita

Gerry and I approached the three shows as one large process piece intended to explore and refine the many themes surrounding hair and hair cutting in our society.

In Night Cuts #1 I focused on being as sculptural as possible with the set design. I explored the more textural and literal aspects of hair by creating a structural “hair ball” made up of fabric and yarn that stood 10 foot wide. Obviously this was a visually-striking assemblage that put it more in the reigns of an installation than a typical stage set. Beyond this the tactile qualities of the hairball allowed for interesting interaction between dancers and set piece. The colours, the seating arrangement and the exclusively soft materials used created a very comforting vibe in the space. Plus, the simple and baggy costumes the dancers wore contributed to a gentle sleepover vibe. This show really reflected the more intimate sides of hair grooming.

Building on what I learned in Night Cuts #1 I decided to start in an entirely different way and focus on making a ground plan that would allow for more free movement in the space for #2. By simplifying the space for the second rendition of Night Cuts I was able to create clear movement paths in the space. This allowed me to plan out lighting and do far more with the light this time round. I was able to colour isolate areas of the stage and sculpt the body in a much cleaner fashion. The costumes in this rendition were inspired by the people who frequent Tony’s barber shop. I thought that this connected the two worlds nicely. Thematically we wanted to step away from the gentle vibes of the first Night Cuts and move more into more the uncomfortable aspects of how we engage with our hair.

Night Cuts #3 was the biggest aesthetic departure for us. A lot of this came from the change in music. The previous two Night Cuts featured experimental music by Ponoka’s Gel Nails and Edmonton’s Pigeon Breeders, but the third employed classical pianist Roger Admiral to play J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations—a composition that was made to help someone fight off insomnia. The shift to classical music really affected the look of this piece. We dropped a lot of the texture and colour that existed in the previous pieces for something more intermedia heavy. We had decided early on that we wanted the piano and Roger Admiral’s hands to be major visual components. I realised the best way to balance that with the barbershop and our hair themes was through video. By layering projections of Roger Admiral’s hands with a live stream from the barbershop we created a unique and dream like image that I think served this production of Night Cuts very well. The heavy use of video meant that I had to base all other aspects of my design around the video: Lights had to be shot from the sides so it would not spill onto the projection surface; the set was designed to be a giant tiered projection surface; and the costumes were sapped of the colours that had existed in the previous Night Cuts so they too could be projected onto and become an extension of the videos. The silhouettes of the costumes were more inspired by the themes, specifically the repetitive and mind numbing qualities of the Goldberg Variations.

Written by Kai Villneff