Calgary artists seek intersection of art and politics with Know the Rules, Win the Game

Politics is often referred to as a blood sport but two Calgary artists present it more as a dance in their performance.

'I really gravitated towards the clown, being able to say certain truths,' says Mark Ikeda

Mark Ikeda, left, and Richard Lee created and perform in Know the Rules, Win the Game. It's being performed this weekend at Fluid Fest. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Politics is often referred to as a blood sport but two Calgary artists present it more as a dance in a performance called Know the Rules, Win the Game.

It's part of Springboard Performance's dance and performing arts festival called Fluid Fest, on now in Calgary.

Mark Ikeda and Richard Lee, the dancers and collaborators who created it, explain what it's all about to The Homestretch.

This interview has been edited and paraphrased for clarity and length. You can listen to the complete interview here.

Q: What is this show all about?

Mark Ikeda: We started looking at the rise and fall of the taikomochi, the Japanese clown.

Way back when they were in a position of power, they had the ear of the emperor. They would run ceremony, they would have a say in political life and military action.

Over the years, that roll slipped further and further away from the political sphere.

Q: Sort of like a court jester?

Ikeda: Absolutely. Both entertainment and being able to say the truths the emperor might want to hear.

We looked at that trajectory from close to the political heart and how it slipped further and further away.

We started to parallel that to some of what's going on right now in politics, in art, and what role art has in politics.

That sent us into a deep dive into the politics of art and the art of politics.

Q: What role does art have in politics?

Richard Lee: I believe there is an art to pretty much any discipline.

Understanding, persuading an audience, understanding how to make the personal universal. I think those are great strengths for politicians and artists.

Q: Describe the relationship between this jester and the emperor as it evolves through dance.

Lee: We see the emperor character, myself, and the jester character, played by Mark, doing a lot of partnering and depending on each other. But as it deteriorates, we see a little more physical manipulation, and it can get "dance violent" as the relationship gets worse.

Q: Why does it go from jester to geisha? That's an interesting evolution.

Ikeda: Historically, it came about because there was a great peace and so this great tactician was no longer needed.

The role eventually morphed into an entertainer, then found a home as a male geisha.

Q: How did you decide who would play each part?

Ikeda: I really gravitated towards the clown, being able to say certain truths.

Richard is tall and I am five foot nothing. There is a physical stature that Richard has that lends itself well to his part.

I have always been intrigued with the interplay between performer and audience, so we have set a device that only the clown is able to break the fourth wall and speak to the audience.

Once that door is open, the emperor does come with me sometimes but I am the only one who can really crack into that and interact with people.

Q: What else should audience members expect?

Lee: They can expect a lot of humour.

Clowning in the sense of being almost like stand-up. There is a lot of physical comedy in our partnering and our dancing.

We almost give an on stage documentary about this history, alongside the dancing.

Q: You came to dance via acting. How did that come to be?

Lee: I graduated in 2008 from acting school at the University of Alberta. As I went along in my acting career, I took more and more contemporary dance and dog-paddled my way along for a few years and started getting hired for professional gigs.

Ikeda: I'd say I am more of a dancer than an actor because no one really hires me. I create a lot of my own work.

Q: Tell us about Fluid Fest.

Ikeda: It happens every October and there are some really amazing artists coming in this year from across the country and from right here in Calgary.

Know the Rules, Win the Game runs 7 p.m. Saturday at DJD Dance Centre Studio Theatre. Fluid Fest goes until Nov. 3.

With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch.