Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gallim Dance

DanceHouse ended its 2011-12 season in spectacular style last night, with what for me was the highlight of the four shows presented this past year: Gallim Dance's Blush. The New York-based Gallim is the brainchild of Artistic Director and choreographer Andrea Miller, who was a member of Ohad Naharin's Batsheva ensemble before founding her own company in 2007. The influence shows, as Blush begins with a lone male dancer on stage twisting and undulating his body in some gaga-inspired ways (and I'm not referring to her Ladyship here). At the same time, the dancer's slow, deliberate contortions bring to mind aspects of butoh, an influence further compounded by the fact that all six dancers in the piece are covered head to toe in white body paint, which through repeated contact and exertion gradually wears off over the course of the hour-long piece, revealing the rosy skin underneath.

Following this opening solo, three women dancers position themselves just inside the downstage left corner of the taped square that prominently demarcates the primary zone of contact for the piece. Behind the women, just outside the upstage boundary of the square, the three male dancers lay on their sides, with their backs to us. As the men slowly inch across the stage, the women move inside the square in a series of squats and knee folds, gradually unfurling their bodies to full verticality. There is something coquettish, almost preening about this movement, as if the women are trying the catch the men's attention, which remains steadfastly turned away from them. And, indeed, much of this work seems to be about sexual combat, a reading aided by the costuming, which puts the men in Spartan style diapers, the women in leotards with cinched waists, and both groups in gladiatorial-style ankle braces. So its perhaps no surprise that when the men finally do notice the women, two of them immediately grab the nearest available one, and start flinging her back and forth between them.

This trio, with the dynamic Arika Yamada (on whom my eyes were riveted throughout the piece) at its centre, foregrounds the incredible athleticism of all the Gallim dancers, as Yamada goes from hanging upside down off of one of the men's shoulders to balancing on another's outstretched quadricep in an instant. Yet for all the dancers' gymnastic ability, there is also an intrinsic grace to many of their signature moves. The arched backs on the women's swan poses, and the men's leg extensions particularly caught my eye. As did the repeated leaps into the air performed by all the dancers throughout the piece. Not only did it seem during these leaps that the dancers were able to stay suspended in mid-air for longer than humanly possible, but at their highest point off the ground it also felt like they were able to draw on extra reserves of energy to punch their bodies into some durationless fourth dimension of time-space surcease, their bodies, like Zeno's arrow, fully locomotive and motionless all at once.

There were many such heart-stopping moments throughout the evening, but for me a definite highlight was the male pas de deux near the end. It begins, in half-light, with the two men running together around the perimeter of the stage, one apparently supporting--or is it restraining?--the other. By the end, each man will take his turn chasing after the other, with the pursuit eventually ceding solely to the supporting partner from the opening, who is ultimately unable to catch up with his desired quarry and reestablish the embrace. In between, however, the men are in almost constant contact, with the movement, showcased in a series of simple spots, at once muscular and impossibly tender, reminding us that there is often very little that separates the blush that blooms from within and the bruise that marks from without. The physical (dis)coloration is the same, even if the emotions behind each are not.

Making use of a very eclectic musical score throughout, Blush ends with Wolf Parade's anthemic "I'll Believe in Anything," the dancers now exploding across the stage in separate abandon and then ecstatic union. When one of the women pauses and begins to tug at the floor tape, the others slowly mass in front of her, pulled inside the very square--as, most assuredly, are we--that she is pulling up. A final coup de théâtre that very much made me a believer of this extremely talented company and choreographer.

DanceHouse has just announced its next season. To use their tagline, I recommend getting in on the ground floor early.


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