Saturday, July 7, 2012

Vertiginous Encounters

Paul-André Fortier has some of the most expressive hands in contemporary dance. The legendary Quebec dancer, winner of a Governor-General's Performing Arts Award this year, was at the Firehall Theatre last night as part of 2012 Dancing on the Edge Festival, his first trip back to the city since he brought his site-specific solo 30 X 30 to DOTE, and the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library, in 2009. The audience was criminally small, which was probably an effect of our delayed summer having finally arrived. Still, I hope Thursday's opening night audience was much bigger.

The piece Fortier has brought to this year's DOTE, Vertiges, is a collaboration with the American experimental composer and violinist Malcolm Goldstein, who appears on stage with Fortier, improvising on the violin while Fortier dances. The dialogue between sound and movement is not meant to be mimetic. Except, perhaps, for a sequence where dancer and violinist advance vertically downstage in a line, with Fortier's body spasming and jerking in response to Goldstein's energetic plucking and bowing of his strings, the relationship between what we are hearing and what we are seeing is not primarily about direct correspondence and formal reproducibility. (Incidentally, this same sequence leads to a vocal call and response exchange between the two performers, in which they yell back and forth at each other in pseudo-Chinese and cut at the air with their arms, as though they are in a bad martial arts movie--not sure what that was all about).

Rather, I saw Vertiges as an encounter between different instruments--Fortier's body, Goldstein's violin--that gradually reveals their proximal relationships--in the shared spaces between notes and steps, or the breath required to sustain both--but that also insists on their necessary separateness. This was most strikingly represented for me when, early on in the piece, the two men sit across from each other on chairs and Fortier reaches out to extend his arms like a parenthesis around the two ends of Goldstein's moving bow. And then again, near the very end of the piece, when, along the plywood that serves as a very effective backdrop and projection surface for the piece, Fortier tries to embrace the shadow self of Goldstein, who is playing in front of him.

Which brings me back to Fortier's magical hands. A tall man, and long of limb, Fortier's movement often begins with a simple placement of a hand on hip, followed perhaps by the light touch of his other hand on the first hand's wrist, and then a delicate transfer of both to the opposite hip. Several variations of this kind of pattern can recur in Fortier's choreography, including with knees if, as was the case last night, he's sitting. Hands are our most proximate means of touch, and as Fortier so often works as a soloist what I read into the care and precision with which he moves his hands, first one onto another, and then both onto a different part of his body, and then maybe next onto an entirely other surface, is a deep empathy and responsiveness for how the body remains the primary means by which we extend our selves into the world. As Vertiges shows in different ways, and in different moments, that process of self-extension is always fraught with uncertainty--scraped knees, slapped away hands, turned backs--but we can't not decide to ever lose touch.


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