Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dance Follies and False Fronts

At EDAM’s studios at the Western Front last night Richard and I took in a mixed program of new choreography.

First up was Struck, by Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers Artistic Director Brett Lott. Featuring a quartet of female dancers elegantly sheathed in costume designer Norma Lachance’s see-through black dresses, simple yet effective lighting by Dean Cowieson and Kyla Gardiner, and an original score by Christine Fellows, the piece begins with the dancers, aligned horizontally and staggered according to height (short, tall, short, tall), slowly emerging out of shadow. What at first appears to be a coincidence of the performers’ body types takes on added structural resonance, however, as the piece slowly unfolds as a succession of solos and duos in which the shorter and—it appeared to me—more emotionally intense of the dancers successively attempt to woo their taller, more aloof sisters. All of this takes place within a single square of light, with the dancers taking turns entering it to sculpt the spaces between—at times painfully proximate, at other times as painfully distant—themselves and the bodies of their would-be others, who are watching silently from the shadows.

Next up was EDAM Artistic Director Peter Bingham’s X pollination, his latest contact improv-inspired work, this time for two male dancers, James Gnam and Chengxin Wei. James and Chengxin are both former Ballet BC dancers (now each with his own company, the plastic orchid factory and Moving Dragon, respectively), and here Bingham is clearly having some fun putting the two through their shared weight-transfer and floor-based movement paces, while retaining various balletic traces in the classic arm movements and foot positions that are interpolated near the end of the piece, and in the final double tours en l’air that punctuate the piece’s witty close. The dancers are also clearly having fun discovering how their classic technique can be adapted and expanded via this new form, and in response to each other’s bodies. The highlight of the evening for me.

Finally, the program ended with Joe Laughlin’s Dusk. The first part of a work-in-progress “on experiences surrounding darkness, shadows, limited visibility, and declining light,” the piece—also for four female dancers—was in many respects quietly terrifying, despite being performed under more-or-less full house lights. This is because what begins as a seemingly benign solo for lead dancer Caroline Farquhar (with fellow company members Michelle Cheung, Tara Dyberg, and Samantha-Jane Gray languishing in various poses along the back wall of the studio) eventually turns into something far more menacing, as Cheung’s gradual shadowing of Farquhar’s movements becomes part of a larger monitory process in which Farquhar is first coerced into moving according to the others’ desires, and then constrained from movement altogether.

All in all, a fine evening of dance, made all the more enjoyable by Reece Terris’s witty “Western Front Front—Another False Front,” his addition of a new, larger, and more ornamented façade to the exterior of the venerable building. Part of the 2010 Cultural Olympiad, this architectural folly remains on view through to the end of March; however, the dance follies described above have only two more shows—this Friday and Saturday.


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