Powell Street Festival Society presents Spatial Poetics XV on June 25th at Studio D SFU Woodwards (149 West Hastings Street, Vancouver). Now celebrating its fifteenth year, Spatial Poetics invites artists of different backgrounds (dance, theatre, performance art, music, etc) to collaborate in the creation of a new, multi-genre artistic work. This year Powell Street Festival artistic director Mark Takeshi McGregor assembled a team of artists to explore the macabre and twisted theme of Japanese ghost stories. Spatial Poetics XV will feature two new performance works: “Mujina, The Faceless Ghost” by Jay Hirabayashi, Barbara Bourget, and Stefan Smulovitz, and “The Weeping Mother” by Linda Uyehara Hoffman, Eileen Kage, and Kisyuu. As they busily prepare for next week’s event, the artists took some time to talk about their work, and give us a fleeting, spectral glimpse of what to expect. The first of two interviews, today we focus on dance artists/choreographers (and founders of Kokoro Dance) Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget, and composer/musician Stefan Smulovitz.

Mark McGregor: Given that the theme for this year’s Spatial Poetics is “ghost stories”, I thought I’d begin this interview by asking each of you: do you believe in ghosts?

Jay Hirabayashi: Absolutely. I am a ghost too.

Barbara Bourget: I don’t know if I believe in ghosts but I do feel a very strong kinship with the spiritual world.  I think it is why I create choreographic works;  hopefully to  somehow to make manifest the mysteries of living that are not easily expressed any other way.

Stefan Smulovitz: I didn’t believe in ghosts until I went to the wailing wall in Jerusalem. Thousands of years of prayer and energy and hope and dreams written on scraps of paper and shoved into the wall had an incredible feel to it. There was no question that ghosts were there. People dying and living and praying and wishing all in one place for millennium. Crazy juju there.

Q. Do you think you’ve ever seen or felt a ghost?

Jay Hirabayashi: I feel myself all the time.

Barbara Bourget: For years after I lost my father in 1983, I would feel his presence so powerfully that I would sometimes see him on the street striding along with his very unique gait. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But it always caused me to do a double take and it gave me the shivers.

Barbara Bourget & Jay Hirabayashi

Q. Your performance for Spatial Poetics is inspired by a traditional Japanese ghost story called “Mujina: The Faceless Ghost”. Without giving away any surprises, can you tell us what is the story about?

Jay Hirabayashi: Working too hard and drinking too much brings out the ghosts.

Barbara Bourget: Hiding one’s true self. Nothing is what it appears to be.

Stefan Smulovitz: My chin….

Q. In my mind, the story has many elements that are very sympathetic to the butoh aesthetic: it embraces the macabre, the absurd, and the potential for the grotesque. What attracted you to this story? Has Japanese mythology/ghostlore ever informed your previous work?

Jay Hirabayashi: We liked Mujina because it is short and emphatic. We will take some liberties in retelling it. We did a piece called Ghosts for the Powell Street Festival and Dancing on the Edge Festival in 2008. We conjured up the ghosts of Japan Town.

Barbara Bourget: Jay and I have always admired the Japanese films we have seen related to unexplained mysteries and the paranormal.

Q. Stefan: You have a very special role in this performance. Moreover, your music contributions will be, if I’m not mistaken, entirely acoustic — on solo viola, as opposed to electronics based, for which you’ve achieved quite a reputation. Can you elaborate on your role in this performance?

Stefan Smulovitz: Playing with electronics is a blast because you can summon any sound you can think of. It is a medium of creativity and thought. The viola on the other hand is absolutely human. Un-amplified the strings vibrate and express a much more visceral reality. For a ghost story to be truly scary it has to be felt – to feel real – to touch your insides. The directness of the viola seemed the right choice. Any electronic sounds distracted and made it something else. The purity of the acoustic sound is what has impact. Its also just a lot of fun to play the viola dressed up in costume – much more satisfying than being behind a computer screen!

Q. On a scale of 1 – 10, how scary will this show be?

Jay Hirabayashi: 11

Barbara Bourget: I don’t really know. It could be raucously funny. This is for the audience to decide.

Stefan Smulovitz


Spatial Poetics XV takes place on Saturday, June 25.
Doors at 7:30 p.m. Performance at 8:00 p.m.
Studio D, SFU Woodwards, 149 West Hastings Street.
Advance tickets ($12/15) can be purchased here. Tickets will also be available at the door ($15).