Edmonton spoken word poet—and two-time national champion slam poet—Brandon Wint is partnering with musicians and Mile Zero Dance to create a multi-disciplinary performance that explores healing, ancestry, the environmental crisis, and the human capacity for resilience.
Wint describes Alive! as 60 minutes of spoken word theatre, and says it consists of 15 poems augmented by musical compositions with dance interludes. He collaborated with five musicians—Rebecca Parsons on piano, Jane Berry and Amy Voyer on vocals, Justin Khuong on guitar, and Bhuyash Neupane on tabla (a percussion instrument)—and two dancers—Mpoe Mogale and Jeannie Vandekerkhove—on the piece.
“In a certain way it’s the broadest collaboration I’ve ever led,” Wint says. “I’m just interested in exploring and expanding the ways that my poetic gifts can be adapted to different contexts.”
When conceptualizing Alive!, he kept in mind feedback he’d received regarding his “previous attempts to combine poetry and dance”—which is that it can be hard for audience members to simultaneously listen to the words in the way they want to and to watch the dancing.
“So one of the primary roles that the vocalists are playing is to create sort of less dense lyrical pockets, where the dancers can still interpret kind of the energy that came off of the poetry, but without having to dance at the same time,” Wint explains.
The performance is constructed around a loose narrative that’s divided into four suites. Wint says the first section explores collective memory, the second deals with the concept of justice, the third is about blood memory, and the fourth is about freedom.
The collaboration behind Alive! came together as a result of Wint’s relationship with Parsons, who composed all the music on his spoken-word album Infinites Mercies, which came out last February.
“Rebecca and I were keen to continue our work together, because we enjoyed the process and we thought Infinite Mercies was a worthwhile project,” Wint says.
For the launch of the album, he and Parsons collaborated with other musicians and dancers for two improvised performances, one of which took place at Mile Zero Dance.
“And that went over very well. People seemed to really enjoy that combination of poetry, dance, and sort of the improvised nature of things,” Wint says. “And because people reacted so strongly, after that show I called a meeting and I was like ‘People really seem to love what we do; what if we actually poured our intention into it? What if we did something that wasn’t improvised, but rehearsed?’”
That was in the summer of 2018.
Wint then found Berry and Voyer, members of the choral quartet FEMME, at a show held by New Music Edmonton in September.
“I think there were 16 acts on that bill, and that performance from FEMME was the most striking performance of the night for me,” Wint says. “I was like ‘Well, if I could find a way to combine what we’re already doing with what they do—or with that sort of powerfully feminine choral element—I feel like that would kind of take us over the top.’ So that was the last element that came into the piece.”
In the future, Wint hopes to release Alive!’s music and poetry in an album, and also to tour the show.
“One of my career goals or ambitions or emerging career ethics is trying to figure out a) how to adapt what I do poetically to a variety of contexts, and b) in doing so, how to extend the life of everything I do,” he says.
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