Do you know people so incredibly smart and creative that, every once in a while, you do a double-take and think, “Holy crap, I can’t believe this is someone I wave to on the street?”
Louise Moyes is one of those people for me. Seriously, she combines dance and documentary filmmaking (what?) to create these rich, beautiful shows about women and feminism and life and love (WHAT?).
She’s amazing. And brilliant. And it’s always enlightening to talk to her.
Lucky for me, there’s a good reason to interview her: Moyes has a new show opening at the Hall on March 6th called Moore-Gallant: A Docudance. She acts out a short story by Lisa Moore, via dance and storytelling, and then she uses three shorts films and dance to tell one of Mavis Gallant’s short stories.
She’s also going to donate proceeds from her opening night performance to the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award. Jackie Hynes, this year’s RBC MJAward winner, will read from her script before the performance starts. Moyes also has Elisabeth de Mariaffi reading on the 7th, Sara Tilley reading on the 8th, and Wanda Nolan reading on the 9th.
I caught up with Louise to hear more.
How is all the preparation for your show going?
It’s going well, I’m at the point now that I’m really looking forward to getting in the theatre because then that conversation happens with the audience. I’m working with several different directors and outside eyes and that is a delicious relationship, but I’m looking forward to telling stories.
I just read an article about Mavis Gallant in the New Yorker, where they printed excerpts from her diary from when she was living in Paris and had no money and was so hungry, waiting desperately for this cheque to arrive from having one of her stories published.
Yeah, she was a pre-feminist feminist, she was a journalist in Montreal and she wrote short stories and she said I’m moving to Paris and I’m going to starve if I have to. She was literally starving.
She was, yeah!
And she had one of her stories published in the New Yorker and her agent had been trying to hide the fact that she’d been published and the money. So, and apparently, she has lived from her writing ever since and been the most published woman of any genre in the New Yorker.
And that’s an impressive feat.
How did you get into her?
You know, the book I have, I got at Afterwords for two dollars a long time ago.
Note the importance of the independent used book store, everybody.
[laughing] And I did English Lit at University, Canadian Lit with Noreen [Golfman]. And I was having an interesting chat with Noreen a few weeks ago and she was saying that as a young prof, it was challenging to try to present Mavis because she is so complex. We were talking about how she is so good at portraying, in very subtle ways, self deception. As a younger person, when I was 19 or 20 reading the stories, I didn’t know what self deception was, I was trying to understand myself. Now that I’ve been reading her for over 20 years, and the emotional layers of her stories become more and more revealed to me as I get older, I don’t think I understand her fully yet. But this project helps me understand her more.
Why do you think self deception in particular intrigued you?
It’s not a topic I often deal with in my shows, I tend to focus on the light and people actually gaining self-knowledge, I think. So, it’s a darker look at humans than I often take. I think we want to understand the light and the dark. And she’s got a good sense of humour about it, too. That is a lovely thing about her, is that while her characters aren’t always aware of everything she’s revealing about them, she does it with a sense of humour.
So how do you express all this through dance? How do you express Mavis and self deception and her humour through dance?
This is both dance and theatre. This story is a love triangle and it’s a series of four short stories that are connected. This man is in love with two very different women, one very exotic and very voluptuous, the other quite prim and conservative, but both equally passionate in their way. So I play the prim wife on stage, and Lisa Porter is the other woman. [Lisa Porter is shown in three short films, directed by Moyes and shot by Paul Pope. – ed]
Some sections are overt theatre where I play a character; I play the man on stage, in a theatrical way.
I would say, for the dance — I think it’s the movement that really helps me get to the layers of emotion and the self deception, it’s the body language, it’s the things that aren’t said.
Can you tell me a bit about those movements?
We set it up so that there is a prelude where I do Juliette’s Dance — she is the prim wife — to music by Duane Andrews. His music is throughout the piece, he was natural partner to work with on the composition side because his music is half Parisian. We’re working with some of the pieces he has already made and the kernel of the story he scored like a film score, so he put in sound effects and also music. And one of the pieces he had already made, called D.D.’s Blues, we use as a prologue. So, we see the movement and the emotion of Juliette and then those movements are repeated in the story and are familiar to the audience — that is the hope, anyway, that they will connect and say ‘Oh, I saw that movement before, and that’s what this movement means now.’” That they’ll connect the movement and the word.
Okay, so this is an exploration of Gallant’s work and also of Lisa Moore? How does she fit in?
I had read a story of Lisa Moore’s in a magazine that reminded me of Mavis Gallant’s work. And I had known for a while that I wanted to work with Mavis Gallant’s story, but that I needed something to balance it, and one afternoon I was in studio rehearsing to some Parisian-style music and the idea just balanced it, it was like the right hand and the left hand. I asked Lisa and she was thrilled — I hadn’t realized that Mavis is her short story heroine and when Lisa teaches writing at MUN, she works with Mavis as an example of superior short story writing style, and that she defended Mavis Gallant in Canada Reads. And Gallant has actually written to Lisa, through her agent, to say that she admired her work.
Yeah, that was a really nice full circle.
So, I left a message for Lisa and she called me back, laughing, saying you won’t believe, but the Walrus magazine just phoned me and said they were reprinting a verbatim conversation from Canada Reads, which is people of all different backgrounds, and apparently there was one fella on the jury who was saying that he couldn’t read Mavis Gallant because she is too old-fashioned. Lisa said she lept across the table and pointed at him and said, “You are a lazy reader!” And the Walrus thought it was a wonderful thing, and reprinted it. So it was a lot of great happenstance.
So, when all the funding was in place, she and I met in my kitchen and she gave me a brand new story and she said, ‘I think this is a really good visual story to work with.’ And it is, I’m so happy to work with it. It’s layered in a different way than the Gallant is, this one is more layered in its ideas. It’s about a gorilla escaping from a zoo and it’s about when man and animal meet. It’s also about self deception, and there are some interesting ideas about the character’s place in the world. There are philosophical ideas, there’s biological study and there’s the emotional life of this main character, Harry.
Do you do the Gallant story first?
No, I do the Lisa Moore story first, because it’s a shorter presentation and it’s more focused. It’s really sculptural, it’s just one pool of light, and me — it’s a lot of limbs and legs, and a fake fur coat and piece of plexiglass. I learned the whole story verbatim and I’m telling the whole story, kind of like contemporary story telling.
Is there a film accompanying this one?
Nope, just a little bit of music. I think it will be a complete contrast in a satisfying way.
The evening will open with a writer, so that will set the tone of the evening. As you know, the Michelle Jackson night, March 6, Jackie Hynes will read from her screenplay, and short story writers will read on the other nights.
Tell me a bit about why you decided to donate to the RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Michelle made a short film for a show that I do called Florence, and I had been doing this show this spring, so Michelle has been with me. And I love the community aspect of performing, I’m a solo performer but I’m very social and also we come from a community that does work interdisciplinarily and works together, so because there’s film in the show, too, I wanted to embrace the film community in some way and I think the award is a very important award.
Moore-Gallant: A Docudance opens on March 6th at the LSPU Hall and runs until March 9th. Tickets are available at the RCA Box Office or at the Hall.