Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spinning in Almonte

A couple of weekends ago, my poetry/storytelling performance group, the Kymeras, got to open for Evalyn Parry and her fantastic show 'Spin.' A celebration of the bicycle (and in particular the phenomenal changes it created in the lives of women), this show is a little hard to describe. Part musical show, part documentary, part one-woman-and-a-guy-playing-a-bicycle show, it was moving and mesmerizing and surprising. Personal and political.

Evalyn's songs and stories and snippets of theatre take us, mostly, through the 1890s and the bicycle craze, when bikes became not just ubiquitous, but also, serendipitously, propelled a good chunk of the women's movement. She tells tales of rebel entrepreneurs, suffragettes and the Ladies' Christian Temperance Union, and interweaves them with her own relationship to bicycles - your bike is a part of you - and the rich metaphors you can wring out of this simple machine. "The past is behind us / the back wheel is the power / the front wheel freewheels / hour by hour . . . "

I was riveted. As well as giving us the songs and stories - Google 'Annie Londonderry' sometime! - Evalyn was joined on stage by Brad Hart, who played a vintage bike mounted on a mechanic's stand. I think I heard him say there were fourteen separate pickups mounted on the bike, so he could play the tubes and fenders with drumsticks and brushes, whack on the seat for a bass line, spin the pedals, ring the bells, use a bow on the spokes, and rattle drumsticks on the spinning wheels. Add to that a set of looping pedals, and the bike sang. It was an absolutely constant presence in the show, a third character, the main character. Your eyes kept drifting to it where it hovered on the stage.

Sean, in the audience, just before Evalyn's show. And the bike.
The Kymeras - well, three out of four of us, since Ruthanne was at a storytelling conference and couldn't come - lucked into this gig. We'd been out to Almonte last year as part of Mississippi Mills bike month: arts organizer and poet Danielle K.L. Gregoire knew that I was a cycling blogger, knew the Kymeras, and asked me if I thought we could do a show about bikes. We did - to a small crowd, admittedly, but it was a fun gig, and this year, with a star like Evalyn coming in, Danielle thought of us again.

So we came out to do a bike-themed Kymeras set, to open for Evalyn. I don't think any of us really realized how big it was going to be until we got to the Almonte Old Town Hall for sound check and saw the seating. There were going to be about 170 people in the audience at this show.

Sean and Marie doing a sound check. Me getting artsy with the camera phone.
 We did a very quick sound check and went for dinner with our host and Evalyn and her band, then headed back over to the Town Hall where people were starting to fill in the seats.

We went back to the green room to munch on the lovely bowl of fruit the hosts had put out, run through our poems and stories one more time, and get dressed in our performing getups. Yup, we had a 'look': coloured summery t-shirts and black pants with one leg rolled up (to stay out of the gears.)

Sean and Marie: fashion icons.
And then it was time to go out! I have to admit to being pretty nervous, but the audience was not just big, they were warm, responsive, receptive, and a joy to perform for. I had brought my poems on paper (as the 'page poet' of the foursome, but also because I don't have Sean's confidence for memorization) and as I read, out of an embroidered notebook I'd bought and copied the poems into for the occasion, I could feel the audience coming along with me. It really breathed a whole other life into the words I was performing. The same thing happened the last time I performed in front of a really large audience, in January at the NAC. I could feel my performance getting kicked up a notch. I highly recommend the sensation.

Marie anchored our set with a pair of stories, about love winning over a bicycle, and then about a bicycle winning over love. I came between the two stories with a trio of poems about childhood bikes, about the one I have now (which changed my life) and about taking up my space on the road, and then at the end of the set Sean did a couple of his own poems - which echoed mine in their themes of love and summer and freedom and nostalgia - and then ended with a Mary Oliver cover, "Summer Day."

And then we were done, and giddy, and happy, and we headed down into the hall to watch Evalyn's show, which was, as I've said, totally mesmerizing. Watching Brad play the bicycle was a whole lot of fun, and Evalyn was a complete chameleon on stage, becoming a half-dozen different characters as she recreated the 1890s, and then took us through her own stolen bike and the bits of her life that had been tangled up in it. She got a standing ovation at the end: I was one of the people on their feet first, I think. Jumped up.

And I was so darn happy to get on my bicycle the next morning.

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