Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dusk Dances at DOTE and Bike Rave 2014

It was touch and go weather-wise earlier in the day, but the rain managed to hold off in the evening, which made the experiences of this year's Dusk Dances at the Dancing on the Edge Festival that much more pleasant. As was the case last year, this unique outdoor dance event (which originated in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods ravine 20 years ago, and has been playing DOTE for eight of those years) took place in CRAB/Portside Park. Returning once again as host was the inimitable Tara Cheyenne Friendenberg. After a rousing opening set by Commercial Drive's pick-up Carnival Band, Friendenberg took to the stage in character as the chakra-obsessed yoga guru Arlene, from her recent Porno Death Cult. After inviting us to breathe in the park's positive energy and to get lost (conceptually speaking) in the wonder of the movement that was to follow, Friendenberg then led us to the setting of our first piece.

Body Narratives Collective's be graceful in the wind began as a solo choreographed by company co-director Meghan Goodman for her partner Julia Carr. The piece has since been expanded into a trio, with Susan Kania joining Goodman and Carr as tree nymphs using their bodies to at once honour and mimic the sapling around which they dance. To this end, the highlight of the piece occurs when the three dancers, all very fine movers, slowly and expertly unfurl their bodies into freestanding headstands, revealing the bright green foliage on the brown tights underneath their skirts (the costumes were by Lina Fitzner). They then begin to bend and twist their legs in a manner that suggests tree branches swaying in the wind.

Following Friendberg/Arlene's ringing bell, we next gathered back in the centre of the park, in front of a teepee, and looking out at the magnificent view of the north shore mountains and Burrard Inlet. Yvonne Chartrand's Cree Creation Story, excerpted from a longer work called Cooking It Up Métis, makes use of CRAB/Portside's beach in a way similar to last year's Incandescent, with Cree's four performers (Chartrand, Eloi Homer, Kat Single-Dain, and M.Pyress Flame) slowly coming into view from the "upstage" space of the beach, as if emerging directly from the sea. This is fitting given that the piece takes its impetus from a story told by an Elder (whom we hear at various points in voiceover) about the Cree peoples' relationship with the natural elements.

For the third piece on the program, we hiked up a ridge to a grove of cedar trees in the southwest corner of the park. This was the setting for Denise Fujiwara's Unquiet Winds, which features Dusk Dances founder and artistic director Sylvie Bouchard and Brendan Wyatt as two harlequin-like figures trying to come together in love. East meets west, however, as commedia traditions combine with Butoh-inspired movement (Bouchard and Wyatt are clad all in white and wear white face- and body-paint) in a delicate and very moving display of our inevitable, almost instinctive bodily trepidation in making a connection with another.

The final choreographer on the program was Julia Aplin, who was back this year with another water-themed duet. In place of the slip-n'-slide from Onward, Ho, however, Inner City Sirens, Part II, features two inflatable mini-wading pools. Dancers Mairéad Filgate and Brodie Stevenson, clad in old-fashioned onsie bathing suits, bathing caps, and goggles, eventually dive into the pools, demonstrating their synchronized swimming skills to the live musical accompaniment of Blake Howard and Jesse Baird. Needless to say, there's not a lot of water left in each pool by the end of the piece, especially when, as he is wont at several points, Stevenson goes rogue with his testosterone-heavy splashing.

All in all, I would say, this year's selection of Dusk Dances pieces made much more conscious place-based use of their CRAB/Portside Park setting (coincidentally, the subject of an essay I am working on). For much of the evening, however, I was worried that that setting would descend into riotous chaos as the performance drew to a close; this was because the park was also to be the meeting point (between 8:30 and 9 pm) for the start of Vancouver's 2014 Bike Rave. But I guess organizers of the latter event were alerted somehow that this would have seriously disturbed everyone's collective energy flow because my colleague and fellow raver Tiffany--whom I was meeting at the park--alerted me that the Bike Rave folks had moved the launch point to Science World. It was thence we pedaled, joining what looked like thousands of other groovy and glowing and ready-to-rave cyclists for a different kind of social choreography.

The whole thing was a bit ad hoc--when to ride, when and where to stop and dance--but also a lot of fun, with participants for the most part loopily chill and getting high (literally and metaphorically) on the music (a five hour house mix downloadable here) and the general vibe of being outdoors and moving along the seawall with so many people on a night without rain. (I only saw one incident of aggression, and it came from a pedestrian, who was clearly frustrated by his progress against the manic flow of bike traffic, and so gave the woman riding next to Tiffany a shove; mercifully our pace at that point was so slow that the woman's stumble didn't initiate a domino-like spill.)

After pit stops to shimmy and shake (bodies and bikes) at the Plaza of Nations, David Lam Park, and Sunset Beach, Tiffany and I cut out at English Bay to go for a drink along Denman (the entire route was, I believe, to have gone all around the seawall, eventually arriving back at CRAB/Portside). Sipping our negronis, we agreed that this is what we need for next year: more and better glow sticks for our bikes; costumes; a boom box so that we can hear the music on our own instead of chasing after or waiting for someone else; and, perhaps most importantly, a flask or two for liquid refreshment.


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