Living in and around Vancouver for the better part of my life, I've seen Sam McKinlay perform as THE RITA countless times. Skate sets, snorkel sets, nylon sets, various one-off live collaborations, etc., and the thing that I quickly came to notice is that, in the moment, every set feels like it's better than the one that preceded it. This remarkable consistency and personal oneupmanship makes every set memorable - pure nylon crunch at The Rickshaw, a backdrop of giallo clips at the Victoria Events Center, amplified skate rail at Antisocial, classic Egyptian/Roman film samples at the Nowhere space, underwater submersion at The 'Old' Yellow Cab Building, among so many others. These two performances dedicated to total ballet feet worship were among the more conceptual in McKinlay's live oeuvre, and were no exception to the rule.
The first set was the main event: A blank stage. A double-wide folding table with minimal gear on one side. The signature static crackle fades in - it's the pure-power sound of a master. The immense wall eventually gives way to familiar samples from previous releases. Various props are then brought out. A classical ballet record. A mannequin's foot. A ballet shoe. The foot is placed atop the record, and then inside the shoe with cautious, delicate precision. Preparing for pointe. After a brief reprise the musical theme from the ballet comes into focus. Then it's a study of the scene. A digital camera. Its flash as photographs are taken of the mannequin's foot in the ballet shoe. Careful to obtain the right shot. Large prints of these shots are brought out and taped to the front of the table. A display of the scene from the artist's vantage point. A vision captured. A reference for later study. A keepsake for the collection. The theme ends. The photo session is over. Another noise reprise. The stage is slowly torn down as we are lead into one last sample of familiar dialogue before a finale of crumbling static.
The second set is more stripped down. There is no camera. No record. No faux foot. Only a ballet shoe in the palm of McKinlay's hand as he sits in front of one of the large prints affixed to a table. The noise is mostly left to its own devices, interwoven with the familiar samples. There is again a study underway here. The photo is touched and traced by fingers that long to know all of the intricacies of what is on display. The shoe is worked over, its form and texture explored with a contact mic. He brings the shoe to his face and indulges himself in its glory. He lets it sink in to him and he into it. He breathes it all in. This is THE RITA, at last. The performance suddenly becomes not only a case study in obsession and form but also a character study of the performer as we are given this brief unguarded glimpse into something truly personal. How the set ends is inconsequential after what we have just borne witness to. This kind of intimacy is what matters in art, and no amount of text can convey its power.
McKinlay's dedication to his obsessions is familiar to most that are aware of him at this point. This current, and perhaps ultimate, obsession of the relationship between ballet and feminine form is at once the culmination and the continuation of every aspect that makes THE RITA what it is. The time was right to receive him in Montreal at this conceptual and performative high.
You can choose your favourite era of the project as you see fit, but the dedication and forward-momentum of THE RITA make it impossible to ignore the power of the moment.
released August 31, 2018
This release is digital-only and includes a 12-page PDF booklet featuring the above liner notes along with select images and flyers from the two events.
Taylor Geddes: recording, liner notes, layout
John Milchem: cover photo
Thanks to Summer Isle for their assistance in making these events possible.