Ben Kamino makes me feel ashamed, in a good way. The dancer and choreographer regularly goes to a place in his performance art that causes some well-shielded part of me to squirm with discomfort, for which I’m grateful. His performance at SummerWorks this year, titled Fathers & Sons, was no exception.
A durational work—short-hand for long and exhausting—that he shared with his father and brother, Kamino catapulted, sagged, and scampered around the space for six hours. It was a heroic effort, even if the role he played was basically the opposite of the hero.
I’ve been interested in Kamino’s work ever since I saw him perform with Sook-Yin Lee in How Can I Forget? last year. As with that piece, in Fathers & Sons he tries to discover some elusive truth in his own life and history, which he attempts to lure into the open by creating a set of conditions and tasks that he and his family could all comfortably perform together.
To that end, the dance was folded into a scene of general creative busyness. Kamino’s brother Alex is a tattoo and mural artist, and he spent the time drawing designs on two walls. Their father Tim occupied himself creating electric automatons with markers attached to draw on the floor. (Several were crushed.)
Kamino extended that studio atmosphere to include the audience, inviting us into an immersive environment spread out with blankets, books, tape decks, and photos, where we could basically do our own thing. People came and went, napped, flipped through pages of tattoo art or continental philosophy, and stared at the ceiling.
But despite Kamino’s generous offer to ignore him, mostly we watched. Kamino is a delicate figure, thin and airy, and he allows himself to float and flutter like a moth going after a light, while at the same time invoking some heaving primordial power that’s screaming to get out. It’s an absorbing contradiction.
It’s wrong to talk about a simple contradiction in Kamino’s dancing, however, because there’s just too much going on. He seems to enter a raw, unfocused state, convulsed by constantly shifting feelings, literally like a baby. I don’t know if it’s technically the ego or the id, but Kamino lets it all out, like a flag in the wind.
This is the aspect of his work that unnerves and excites me, the crazy childish keening that’s probably more likely to find some exalted state—Kamino is an incredible leaper, throwing himself into the air as if he’s actually trying to get up there—but also threatens to wreck and ruin with disappointment.
Meanwhile, Tim and Alex continued their creative production with a quiet clarity that was deeply reassuring and provided a vital context for Kamino’s dancing. They were the mood of the work, Kamino the emotion. As a meditation on experiencing yourself in a family, it worked for me.
An analogy: watching this performance was like staring out over a lake. His father was the deep, still water, his brother the trees throwing lines at the horizon, and Kamino the wind on the surface. Sometimes he’s kicking up waves and sometimes he’s a gentle ripple, but the lake doesn’t change.
Fathers & Sons was a pay-what-you-can durational performance that took place in the Theatre Centre Incubator (1115 Queen Street West) on Saturday, August 9.
Photo provided by the Kamino family