Saturday, April 6, 2013

War: Requiem at SFU Woodward's

Things are bustling at SFU Woodward's, where several year-end shows highlight the immense talent and creativity of Contemporary Arts students across the disciplines. Last night I got a chance to see the senior repertory dance students shine in War: Requiem, an intense, athletic, and visually stunning show overseen and co-created by Rob Kitsos, and featuring additional choreography by the 605 Collective, Shauna Elton, and Vanessa Goodman.

The show begins, more or less in medias res, with the full company of 18 dancers scattered about the Fei and Milton Wong Theatre's reconfigured thrust stage, clad in gender-neutral variations of grey and black (the costumes are by Carmen Alatorre), and each standing at rigid military attention. As the audience begins to file to their seats, one of the dancers shouts a command and, en masse, the group begins to march in place, 18 pairs of sneakers echoing like artillery fire off the Wong's sprung floor. Another command and the group comes together centre stage, a single unit now, marching with collective purpose, but going nowhere, their blank performance faces in this case telegraphing the anonymous--and obedient--abrogation of self required of the common soldier.

Here and elsewhere throughout the evening I was also reminded about how much unison choreography has in common with military drills and formations, not least in terms of the bodily discipline (and disciplining of the body) required for each. In one full-throttle sequence after another, in straight lines or diagonal v-shapes, running or simply standing in place, standing on tables upstage, or rolling on the floor downstage, the dancers executed a range of complex and intensely physical choreography with precision and virtuosic timing. Which made all the more memorable and impactful those moments when one among them broke away from or moved counter to the group. Often this occurred in combination with spoken text, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear one of my favourite parts from the Homebody's monologue in Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul being recited at a certain point (although it wasn't credited in the program).

It's also a credit to the overall curation of this show that while I could pick out what I thought were recognizable 605 moments or phrases and whole sequences that likely came from Rob or Shauna or Vanessa, the total experience of the choreography felt seamless. Which is also to say that the dancers' interpretations of the variations in style were also incredibly fluid and organic.

Finally a shout-out to the amazingly integrated design concept for the piece, with music by Gabriel Saloman, lighting by Sarah Bourdeau and Rui Su, projections by Chimerik (brothers and new media wizards Sammy Chien and Shang-Han Chien), and installation work by guest artist Nancy Tam. At moments throughout the piece we glimpse a figure walking slowing behind a scrim upstage, wearing what looks like a Hazmat suit. It's Tam, wrapped in layers of plastic. This mysterious figure finds a visual corollary at the end of the piece: as the dancers one by one deposit plastic replica bodies downstage and join each other in a heap on the floor centre stage, heaving for a few moments together as they collect, or expend, a final breath, Tam begins emerging from her own plastic cocoon, like a butterfly from its chrysalis. Creation from destruction? Beauty from ugliness? It's a deliberately ambiguous closing image, but one that, like everything else in this production, is full of meaning and resonance.

War: Requiem runs for two more performance today, at 2 pm and 8 pm.


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