Saturday, May 28, 2011


A short post on _post, the plastic orchid factory's newest show, on at The Dance Centre through this evening.

As I am just in the midst of reading Jennifer Homans' Apollo's Angels, her comprehensive, well-researched, and at times very politically slanted and polemical cultural history of ballet (for her everything seems to end with Balanchine), I was very taken with Artistic Director and choreographer James Gnam's witty and intelligent dialogue with his own classical training. Like Homans, Gnam begins by going back to Louis XIV's codification of French court dance in the 17th century. But Gnam's entrance as a latter-day Sun King and his brief demonstration of the discreet and restrained "noble" steps that begat ballet (the bravura jumps and spins would come later, with the Italians and the Russians) is actually preceded by a future anterior performance contained within the company bios in the program.

Each of these bios goes on at length about the performers' respective dance training (though, unfortunately, Natalie LeFebvre Gnam's seems to have been cut off in the printing), the physical and emotional highs and lows they experienced in relation to that training, and what eventually led them to trade the classical world for contemporary performance. In this way, _post is much more than a mere deconstruction of ballet's virtuosic steps and rigidly codified rules. It is, rather, much more dialectical in spirit, at once homage and critique, with each dancer's personal relationship to what they both learned and lacked in their classical training deeply informing the piece, and the obvious joy with which they perform it (something emphasized in last night's talkback, moderated by Lee Su-Feh).

Everything about the piece has been very carefully thought out, from the unique stage design and set-up, to James Proudfoot's always inspired lighting, to the amazing costume design by Kate Burrows (Regency space-age is how I would label it), and the abundant humour. At times I think the show's central prop--40 feet of white tulle that is wound up and unfurled at various key moments, and that variously functions as a grand pompadour-style wig for Louis/Gnam, and a cocoon, wedding dress, winding sheet, and, finally, the world's longest tutu for each of the female dancers--literally gets in the way. Certainly the business of folding and unfolding it distracted me on more than one occasion from the dancing and the delicacy of the choreography. Highlights in this regard include Natalie LeFebvre Gnam's amazing off-balance solo on "half point" (that is, she wears only one shoe, with the other remaining sock-clad); Alison Denham and Gnam's propulsive and floor-oriented duet in their spherical plastic tutus; and Denham and Bevin Poole's proprioceptive exchange of movement and text.

A final shout out to Taylor Deupree and Kenneth Kirschner's sound design. As an art form, ballet has always been subservient to music (indeed, story ballet started as an operatic entre-acte), and _post's layered, halting, hiccupy score nicely frees the dancers to explore first and foremost their bodies' internal rhythmic relationships with space, with each other--and with us.


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