The 9th Biennial Dance in Vancouver Festival is on at the Dance Centre through this Saturday. Curated this year by the Toronto-based Jeanne Holmes, Artistic Producer of the Canada Dance Festival, DIV 2013's mainstage shows highlight the depth, range, and diversity of contemporary movement expression in this city. Lucky enough to have been asked by Associate Producer Claire French to lead talkbacks after the 9 pm shows last night and on Saturday, I decided to take in the 7 pm presentations as well, thereby getting a chance to see and comment on the full line-up.
First up last night was Ziyian Kwan/dumb instrument Dance's the neck to fall. A virtuosic interpreter of others' work in Vancouver for several decades, the neck is actually Kwan's choreographic debut. It's a piece that announces a major new compositional voice in the city. Inspired by the words of the Canadian modern dancer and somatic instructor Amelia Itcush (who pioneered the teaching of Alexander, Mitzvah and her own Itcush techniques in this country), Kwan's solo combines explosive movement and plosive speech to explore, among other things, the body's relationship to external objects and external commands. One of the most memorable sequences for me was when, near the end of the piece, Kwan lifts up a large cardboard box positioned upstage left to reveal a wooly stool underneath. Eventually turning the stool on its side, Kwan rolls her body with and over it in a series of lyrically graceful waves that make both body and stool extensionally (and elastically) equivalent.
The second work on the 7 pm program was DVOTE, a choreographic and performance collaboration between Vision Impure's Noam Gagnon and Nova Dance's Nova Bhattacharya, a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer who brings that training to her work in contemporary dance. The work opens with the two dancers, clad all in black and with their faces obscured by masks, in a limb-to-limb tussle/clinch on the upstage right edge of a black square that has been taped down in the middle of the stage. Pulling themselves apart, each proceeds to move in the opposite direction around the perimeter of the square. During this sequence Bhattacharya is mostly vertical, whereas Gagnon's body is more horizontal and oriented to the floor, a visual contrast that establishes not just the different dance idioms being combined in the piece, but also perhaps differences in gender and bodily energies. Eventually, however, those bodies collide, and into the maw of the black square they inevitably tumble. It is not entirely clear to me if this recombining is meant to be harmonious or violent; nor am I sure what to make of the ending of last night's excerpt, which sees the two dancers edge very close to the first row of the audience before the final blackout.
After a 45-minute intermission (long enough to grab a quick glass of wine and a bit of conversation at the pop-up bar DIV 2013 has established at the Vancouver International Film Centre around the corner on Seymour Street), it was time for Program Four. I've written about the plastic orchid factory's _post twice before: here and here. What was interesting this third time was to see how the excerpt from the piece that choreographer James Gnam had chosen to present had been reconfigured for a proscenium stage. Originally, the work had been presented (also at the Dance Centre) in the round, with the audience encircling the dancers, and in the talkback afterwards Gnam commented on the challenge of reconceiving the effects of intimacy and proximity he and his fellow performer-collaborators were striving to achieve in the piece. Nevertheless the conceptual bones (as in the material imprinting of the history of classical ballet upon the body) and the theatrical effects (all of that tulle!) remain as strong as ever.
The evening ended with battery opera's Lee Su-Feh performing her solo Everything. Set to Barry Truax's I Ching-inspired electroacoustic score, the work makes use of Daoist ritual objects--a clutch of ruby red joss sticks, incense, spirit paper--to explore the bodily labour involved in negotiating the chance intersections of history, space and place. By that I mean that, as Lee outlined much more eloquently in our talkback, the work is in part an investigation of what it means for her as an ethnic Chinese immigrant from Malaysia to bring the cultural histories embedded in her body to bear (quite literally) on work she creates in a region where traditional Indigenous territories have been overlain with the history of settler colonialism.
As last night's program attests, Vancouver dance is not just physically experimental, but also intellectually rigorous. I look forward to Saturday.