Sunday, November 24, 2013

Dance in Vancouver Programs 1 and 2

The 2013 Dance in Vancouver Biennial ended last night at the Dance Centre with a reprise of this year's mainstage programs 1 and 2--only in reverse order from how they played Wednesday evening.

Leading off the 7 pm program was A Crazy Kind of Hope, conceived and directed by Sarah Chase, of Astrid Dance, in collaboration with Toronto-based performer Andrea Nann, Artistic Director of Dreamwalker Dance. Excerpted from a longer work-in-progress, the piece begins with Nann standing on a bench upstage right, looping her arms in a series of graceful arcs as she begins to tell us a story of the Chinatown origins of her Uncle Wayne's carp pond on Hornby Island. This conceit of matching a series of repeated gestures to a gradually unfolding narrative continues with Nann's description of a subsequent trip to Tofino with her husband and daughter, and finally culminates in a stunning loop of ninety-nine arm waves (11 circuits of 9 gestures each) in which Nann brings together the spirit of her daughter, who died very young, with the brother she never knew. The piece unfolds like a beautiful mathematical equation, our delight and wonder increasing as, through the accumulation of repeated gestures, we start to recognize the work's patterns.

Next up was Vancouver stalwart Joe Laughlin's Left. In this iconic work a male dancer (Kevin Tookey) in Elizabethan ruff and cuffs is at once seduced by and himself attempts to woo a teacup, positioned centre stage. And we in turn are seduced not just by Laughlin's precise choreography, as Tookey steps daintily around and gingerly balances with the focalizing piece of china, but also by James Proudfoot's amazing lighting, which expands and contracts the spotlight around (and at one point within) the teacup to dizzying effect.

Following the intermission, Wen Wei Dance Artistic Director Wen Wei Wang unveiled a work in progress called Made in China, co-created and performed with Gao Yanjinzi, Artistic Director of Beijing Modern Dance Company (and seven months pregnant!), Qui Xia He, of the Vancouver-based Silk Road Music ensemble, and the multi-talented video and sound artist (and SFU Contemporary Arts alum) Sammy Chien. The piece uses movement, music, spoken word, and projections to explore the collaborators' common cultural and different personal relationships with China. Seeing Wang, in particular, interact with the black and white palette of Chien's live video projections was mezmerizing, and I look forward to the unveiling of the full piece.

Finally, the evening closed with an excerpt from Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg's Highgate, her intensely theatrical and mordantly funny take on Victorian funerary culture. Very much a work of dance-theatre, in which text and movement are fully coeval, the piece focuses on Mrs. Graves (Friedenberg) and her trio of professional mourners (Alison Denham, Bevin Poole, and Susan Elliott), who are linked not just by their testaments but also by their vestments of mourning. By that I mean that costume designer Alice Mansell's shared skirt for the women plays a starring role in the work, leading to many of the wonders of Friendenberg's choreography as the dancers bend and twist and contort their bodies into various states of lamentation--all to the precise cues of Marc Stewart's richly immersive score. Needless to say, Friendenberg herself is a compelling performer, and her Mrs. Graves will go down with Goggles as one of her most memorable characters yet.

Afterwards I once again led a talkback with the artists from the 9 pm program, and after worrying how I would put Wang's and Friendberg's very different works together, we ended up having a very interesting conversation about compositional process and cross-disciplinary collaboration. All in all it was another great edition of Dance in Vancouver, and I'm so glad I was able to participate in my own small way.


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