Saturday, July 14, 2012

Effort over Time

Heidi Strauss and adelheid dance projects' this time was a splendid way to finish my 2012 Dancing on the Edge experience. The piece, as the program notes inform us, is a response to a 1970 play by Ken Gass. Until his recent and unceremonious firing, Gass was Artistic Director at Factory Theatre in Toronto, where Strauss has worked as dance-artist-in-residence for the past several years. Indeed, Strauss has choreographed frequently for theatre and opera, and while this time is a wordless performance, the narrative it crafts out of its intense physicality, combined with the canny use of lighting and projections, suggests that Strauss is a choreographer who is very comfortable with theatricality.

In the case of this time, that theatricality began with the transformation of SFU Woodward's Studio T, where the performance took place. Upon entering, we discover that the black box space has been reduced in size by about one-third, an internal wall having been erected, and through which, we soon discover, the seats have been arranged on opposing sides, with audience members, once positioned, facing each other like sports fans cheering for different teams. However, as we wait for the performance to begin, we have something other to watch than each other; below each set of raked risers is a long and narrow screen, on which we glimpse a loop of projected images of dancers Justine A. Chambers and Yuichiro Inoue, presumably in rehearsal for the piece.

Turns out the sporting arena metaphor is an apt one. Upon entering, Chambers and Inoue, dressed casually in street clothes and both wearing trainers, eye each other warily while leaning in the doorway, or sitting down next to the opposite wall, or circling each other gladitorially in between. At this point, the house lights are still up and there is no sound other than the tap of the dancers' shoes on the floor. Gradually music builds and the first of a series of horizontal shafts of light bisects the floor, and the dancers begin a contest of wills that, we eventually discover, is less about self-expression than collective submission. When, after 45 minutes of intensely physical movement, Chambers and Inoue end up in a clutch on the floor, we get that this is not about a "you" or a "me," but an "us"--and what it takes for "you" and "me" to become that "us." If one definition of power is the expending of effort over time, then this piece demonstrates just how much more effort it takes--and how delimited our time might be--to give up power.

It's a lesson that is equally apt for an audience that becomes an "us" (that is, something more than the sum of our individual selves) through compelling performances such as this one.


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