Saturday, March 16, 2013

Birds On a Wire

After a couple of productions that were somewhat conceptual and narrative in nature, it was nice to have a new piece from Peter Bingham and his EDAM dancers that was more physical and "classically" contact.

City of Crows, on at the Roundhouse through this evening as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, begins with a trio. To live improvised music by Diane Labrosse, company members Delia Brett, Anne Cooper, and Monica Strehike begin individually with simple movements--bending at the knees, stretching arms out from the torso, jumping in place--before gathering each others' arms, and weight, and moving to the floor for the tumbling and rolling and shared structures of support that are a trademark of Bingham's choreography. At one point, with the three women stretched out on their stomachs, Brett pointed to a tiny spot on the floor. Cooper curled herself into a fetal position and moved into it; then Strehike did the same, only this time placing her body on top of Cooper's, followed, of course, by Brett. In another memorable moment, the women form a vertical line upstage right, swaying their upper bodies left to right in counterpoint, and then their heads forwards and backwards, as if balancing on a tree branch.

Following this opening (and a brief costume change), Brett, Cooper, and Strehike are joined on stage by Alana Gerecke, Farley Johansson, and Stacey Murchison, who sit downstage. Clad all in black, and with their heads just visible above the first rows of the audience, they look like birds on a wire, watching attentively like crows do, waiting for the moment when they will suddenly take flight. And fly the do, with Bingham's other signature--gravity-defying lifts--much in evidence in the partnering between Johansson and Gerecke and Murchison. All of this is accompanied by amazing black and white video images by Chris Randle; projected on a floor to ceiling screen, they create an added immersive sense of space that in several instances make it feel as if the birds are actually in the room with us.

The EDAM dancers are so engrossing to watch not simply because of how gorgeously they move, but also because they are clearly so comfortable with each other. There is an ease and familiarity in their movements, an understanding that when they torque this way, or leap that way, someone will be there with a limb or planar surface of their body for support. Which is in large part why I like watching Bingham's male partnering, especially when--as is the case here--it is practiced by the expert likes of Johansson and James Gnam, who joins the group from the stage left wings for the final sequence of the piece. In the playful toss and tumble that ensues (watched and eventually joined by Gerecke and Murchison), there is no competition or latent eroticism: it's just two guys showing us what their bodies can do when they agree to work together.

Like the way crows communicate and socialize, contact improv depends on collective intelligence and trust and mutual support. Having displayed theirs so compellingly in this piece, the EDAM company deservedly earns ours.


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