Down the Yukon rabbit hole

If you think Tim Burton is weird, you haven't seen Jan Svankmajer. And if you haven't seen Svankmajer's films, you have the perfect opportunity on March 11.

If you think Tim Burton is weird, you haven’t seen Jan Svankmajer.

And if you haven’t seen Svankmajer’s films, you have the perfect opportunity on March 11.

On Thursday, Yukon’s Longest Night ensemble will perform a live musical score to a number of short films in their new show, Alice and Other Heroes.

The centrepiece is Svankmajer’s cult classic, Alice. It’s the acclaimed Czech filmmaker’s own twisted take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

By chance, the event coincides with the release of Burton’s remake of the Alice story. Svankmajer’s version, first released in 1988, will undoubtedly prove more dark and creepy.

A master of stop-motion, Svankmajer created a Wonderland inhabited by creatures largely made out of rubbish. The White Rabbit, for example, is a stuffed animal come alive with a hole in its chest, requiring it to eat sawdust to replenish itself.

Daniel Janke, Longest Night’s artistic director, stumbled on the film during a tour of the Czech Republic last summer. While there he encountered a film retrospective of Svankmajer’s work.

He was especially taken by Alice, and he noticed “it’s never been scored, so it was released without music.”

That’s where Whitehorse’s Longest Night ensemble come in. The score, written by Janke, ranges from “bombastic to gentle,” he said, and includes an eclectic mix of instruments: guitar, trumpet, marimba, percussion, violin, cello, piano and tuba.

Think of the event as a cross between a night at the movies and a night of live music. The project makes perfect sense to Janke, who splits his time making music and making films.

Most modern movies keep music relegated to the background. This performance won’t be so clear cut, he said.

“It’s like a simultaneous performance, the music pushes into the film a bit.”

A number of other short films are included in the show. They include Drift, another stop-motion film produced by Veronica Verkley, a Toronto artist who now lives in Dawson, and Legault’s Place, a National Film Board movie from the 1960s by John Spottan.

What ties the films together, according to Janke, is the idea of the hero – hence the performance’s title.

He uses the term loosely, in the same sense as Joseph Campbell, who, in his book A Hero with a Thousand Faces, proposed that myths across cultures follow many of the same patterns, or archetypes.

“The idea of the everyday hero is someone who rises to the occasion, whatever life gives or takes away,” said Janke.

“It’s the basis for great storytelling, I think. And that’s what this is, a collection of short stories. The difference is that it’s filmed with live music, and it kind of sparkles. There’s an energy in the room.”

You only have one shot to see the show in Whitehorse. Afterwards the performance will travel to Vancouver for two shows at Performance Works, as part the Paralympics, on March 17 and 18.

The Whitehorse show starts at 8 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for children, students and elders.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.

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