Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Arena Beats

I may have been on the wrong frequency last night, but I'm not sure I got the concept behind Heart as Arena, Dana Gingras' new work for her independent company, Animals of Distinction, and which is on at the Cultch's Historic Theatre until this Saturday.

The radio transmission conceit created some interesting acoustic effects, but I didn't see the connection to the choreography, and the ones suspended from the ceiling, while serving no apparent technical purpose, played havoc with the sightlines of those of us sitting in the balcony. As for the choreography, I have always been a big fan of Gingras' work with Noam Gagnon for their company The Holy Body Tattoo: the repetitive phrasing, the physical extremity, the play with scale. And, indeed, last night what worked best for me were those moments when the five dancers (Gingras, Sarah Doucet, Amber Funk Barton, Masaharu Imazu, and Shay Kuebler) came together--mostly on the floor--to create the intense energy and pulsating action I was expecting from the title of the piece. But these sequences were too often bracketed, for me, by scenes that were surprisingly listless or tonally disruptive: such as Gingras and Kuebler as dueling toreadors circling Funk Barton, stretched out like a movie star on a white blanket.

A red blanket recurs at the end, on which Gingras contorts her body like a cat in heat, now apparently trying to attract the attention of a disinterested Kuebler. But the partnering between Gingras and Kuebler, which does seem to provide the piece with a kind of central contest of power or scene of conflict, is too diffusely rendered and suffers--as does the work as a whole, in my mind--from a lack of a coherent movement vocabulary. The program notes say that Gingras developed the piece with the dancers, and you can certainly see Kuebler's and Funk Barton's trademark 605 moves throughout. However, they need to be better corralled to the theatre of this particular amphitheatre.

And maybe, in the end, that was what I was missing: some larger spark of theatricality. Symptomatic, for me, of this piece's weak pulse on the theatrical front was the moment in the middle when all of the dancers exit for a costume change and we're left staring at a bare stage for a good minute. That's when my own heart sank.


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