Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY and Donald Sales/Project20 at Chutzpah!

In the as yet still young history of 21st-century contemporary dance, someone will surely have to write a study on the world-wide influence of Ohad Naharin. Already at this year's Chutzpah Festival, courtesy of LA's excellent BODYTRAFFIC company, we have seen the choreography of two well-known Bathsheva alums, Barak Marshall and Hofesh Shechter, on the Norman and Annette Rothstein stage. Last night it was the turn of Danielle Agami's Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY, also based in LA (where they seem to be found of majuscule letters).

Agami is an acclaimed teacher of Naharin's Gaga method, and it shows in her choreography, which is as physically contortionist as it is conceptually rigorous. Mouth to Mouth, which Chutzpah! audiences are getting a sneak peek at in advance of its official LA premiere in April, features backwards crab crawls, hip-to-head leg extensions while hopping across the stage on the opposite foot, convulsive floor works, and all manner of double and triple-jointedness. Each of the dancers is mesmerizing, not least as a result of their unusual costumes, which include bolero jackets paired with underwear, a version of leather lederhosen, and a burgundy jersey dress deconstructed before our eyes via two sets of sewing shears at the outset of the piece.

At the centre of the action is Agami herself, distinctive in her shaved head and so wonderfully dextrous in demi-point. There is a moment, near the end, when Agami pauses to receive a kiss from each of her dancers. Far from obeisance, however, I interpreted the gesture--especially in light of the work's palindrome-like title--as a representation of the always mutually sustaining relationship between choreographer and performers, the dancers and the dance. And the fact that post-performance I saw Crystal Pite in animated conclave with Bryan Arias and Yanick Matthon, two of the dancers in her company Kidd Pivot (preparing for the remount of The Tempest Replica at SFU Woodward's next week) more or less confirmed this.

The second piece on last night's double bill was gR33N, a new work by Donald Sales' Project20 Company. The former Ballet BC star (alongside Pite) is also on stage throughout the piece; however, unlike Agami, he is mostly sedentary, dressed in a hospital gown and confined to a leg cast and chair positioned upstage. Three nurse-orderlies--Sarah Brinson, Katie Cassady, and Rebecca Margolick--do the bulk of the movement, dancing singly and in unison, in sequences of structured improvisation and overt pantomime, to a varied sound score built around original music by local composer (and Pite favourite) Owen Belton.

The colour green's associations with illness--signaled most materially by the bright lime backlighting that accompanies the exchanges between Sales and his doctor (Fred Middleton)--are juxtaposed with sequences that explore, mostly playfully, other feelings linked to this particular palette, including envy, greed, and innocence. Overall, the work itself feels a bit young and not fully ripened at this stage; it could definitely do with some editing. And one, of course, wishes that Sales, in his brief ambulatory forays downstage, would occasionally join his three muses in some more physically locomotive movement.

At the same time, I was also fascinated to watch Sales watching his own choreography being performed. Here's hoping he liked what he saw.


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