Thursday, December 18, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 15

Last night was our final official rehearsal before the holiday break. To begin with, there was a considerable amount of shuffling of positions on the floor, with the elimination of a whole row from Group B (mostly owing to people dropping out). Mercifully, I stayed put. After that, we learned how to fall properly to the ground at the end of the "India" section, including how to avoid stepping on the head of the person behind us for those of us in the last two rows.

Then it was on to a general review of all the sections, refining some of the trickier moves in each, such as the "Where's the Bunny?" pirouette from "Cumbia." I still don't have that one down--at least not as expertly as Gatis, who was coaxed on stage by Lara to demonstrate for our benefit. But I'll work on it over the holidays. More successful was perfecting the cross of Groups A and B in the middle of "India," with all of us definitively arriving at a consensus about how many marks we are to move at a time, and with the lines from each group now aligning nicely during the little circle move we all do in the middle. Whew!

At the end of the two hours, Lara praised us all for how far we'd come since we started this process. She said we were going to blow Sylvain's socks off when he returns in January. But to do that, she reminded us, we needed to practice over the holidays--preferably just with the music, and not the videos, so that we could listen for cues and learn to anticipate what move was coming next.

A large group of us then began a semi-epic journey along Main Street to find a bar that could accommodate us for a celebratory drink (I think there were about 20-25 people in total). Ling, who was our ringleader, announced that the folks at The Cascade Room, whom she had originally been in touch with about holding their back space for us, had sold us out and given up the room to another large party. So after various desperate telephone calls, she received confirmation that The Whip could take us. Except that when the first wave of us arrived, the aggrieved hostess was aghast to learn that the six people she had anticipated had morphed into a double digit mass. After various other suggestions (The Narrow, The Anza Club), we tramped to nearby Main Street Brewery, which more or less had the space to accommodate us.

It was nice to get to chat with some of my fellow dancers at more length outside of rehearsal. I learned, for example, that Cheryl writes for the Courier; that Ling has previously lived in London and Berlin, working in the arts and entertainment industry, and that after several years in Vancouver she was still finding it hard to make new friends; and that Jessica, the virtuosic mover at the front of my row, did her dance degree at SFU, and is a good friend of my student Alana Gerecke. I also discovered from Caroline how quickly she and Lara and Anna had to learn the piece from Sylvain at the end of October, and from Lara that she was going to be part of a new work at Chutzpah! choreographed by Vanessa Goodman, and featuring Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin from the 605 Collective, alongside top Vancouver dancers Jane Osborne, Bevin Poole, and James Gnam (who studied alongside Lara at the National Ballet School--something I'd learned on Monday having coffee with James).

A common refrain in my conversations with my fellow community dancers was what we were all going to do come February, after our public performances of the piece. We're already anticipating being bereft without our regular Monday and Wednesday evening rehearsals and many of us would like to find a way to keep the group going--not just as an occasional social gathering, but actually as a regular community dance project. Super talented husband and wife team Mark Haney and Diane Park apparently have access to space at the Roundhouse and the Moberley Arts and Cultural Centre and, even better, may have successfully convinced Jessica over her second beer to take creative charge of our motley crew come February/March.

In the meantime, members of the group (again, chiefly Mark and Diane) have taken it upon themselves to organize two additional and self-directed workshops of Le Grand Continental this Saturday and two weeks hence, on January 3rd. Non-professional, volunteer performers wanting to give up their free time to rehearse more? Clearly something--nay, everything--about this project is clicking.

I am so stoked for January!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 14

Having learned the last minute or so of "Champagne," we've now got virtually all of the choreography under our belts (which I realize might not be the appropriate metaphor in this case). The ending of this section is perhaps my favourite, consisting as it does of nine counts of eight of improv--the last three of them jumping up and down in ever wilder abandon.

"Cumbia" and "Champagne," among the hardest sections to learn, are now looking really good and I feel pretty comfortable that I've got most of their moves down. It's now a question of putting everything together and reviewing the earlier sections that we learned. At home, before rehearsal yesterday afternoon, I had a complete mental lapse when I couldn't remember a particular transition in "Ima." It came back to me eventually, but the episode is a reminder of why it's important to keep going back over what we've already learned, no matter how comfortable we may think we are with the material.

Which is what we did for the last half of the rehearsal, running through all six main sections in succession, and additionally learning our waves of collapsing domino rows at the end of "India" (another favourite bit, as after that we're just lying on the ground for a minute and a half--though I may regret saying that come our move outdoors at the end of January).

Wednesday is our last rehearsal before a two-week holiday break. The delightful Ling has organized a group drink at The Cascade Room afterwards. I think it's a perfect opportunity to take over the room and demonstrate to everyone our amazing moves.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 13

We continued learning the rest of the choreography attached to "Champagne" last night. After the opening bit, which has all of us fanning out from a clump in the centre (where we've arrived at the end of "Cumbia") in a loose blooming flower configuration, we find our way back to our spots in the grid and basically it's full throttle from there until the end.

The choreography in this section is faster and more hard contact--a lot of jumping up an down, which means potential joint and lower back pain if you don't land right. It also means we'll be ending each performance more or less completely spent.

Can't say this is my favourite section, but a silver lining is that a lot of the choreography draws on phrases--or variations thereof--that we've already learned. For those of us in Group A that additionally means that we don't have to relearn the arms that go with our Charleston steps!

Lara, who was working us pretty hard last night, also went back to "India" to drill the waltz steps and particularly the quick catch step that needs to lead into the second of these. I'm still having trouble with this, in part, according to Caroline, because I'm overthinking it. And, indeed, when, just as we were beginning a run-through of "Cumbia," I did it on my own quickly, without the music, it was there in my body all along.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 12

Last night marked something of a milestone in our rehearsal process for Le Grand Continental. Not only did we learn the last few moves in "Cumbia," but we were also taken through the start of the penultimate section of "Champagne." This means that apart from the rest of "Champagne" (which we will presumably be learning on Wednesday), the piece's intro and conclusion, and a short section in the middle when we're lying on the ground and most of the movement is mercifully ceded to a group of children who will join us in January, we now more or less have all the choreography in our bodies!

To mark this achievement Lara had us put all six sections together in order ("Gogoprado," "Stockfunk," "Ima," "India," "Cumbia," and the start of "Champagne") with the music for our first (again, more or less) continuous run-through. We stumbled through it, some better than others. I had several brain farts along the way when I couldn't remember for the life of me what step came next. But the important thing was that I kept moving and always found my way back into the choreography. And while our lines were looking a bit amorphous and misshapen at various points--especially in Group A, as we were missing several dancers--we did remember to check in with each other and recover our grid formation when we could (or when Lara shouted at us to do so--which, I have to remind myself, won't be happening in performance).

Of no less minor consequence was the fact that my position has changed on our dance chess board! Caroline informed both Hilary and I of this news at the top of rehearsal: specifically, that Hilary was being moved to the back outside edge (gulp!), and that I was being moved as well so that we might stay together (awww...). At least for the time being, as Caroline let us know that our current positions may very likely change again, not least because she herself covets Hilary's spot.

I was a bit traumatized at first--I'm not good with change. But I quickly got used to things and one of the happy byproducts of such shuffling is that one gets to kibitz with more people. I'm now between Leslie and Cheryl, who is a lot of fun, and near enough to Sara and Jane to engage in plenty of witty banter at the back of the room.



Friday, December 5, 2014

things near & far at The Firehall

As they indicate in a note included in the program to things near & far (on at the Firehall Arts Centre through this Saturday), Anne Cooper, Ziyian Kwan, and Ron Stewart have been friends and dance colleagues for three decades. During that time, they have collaborated in separate pairings on many works for local choreographers. Yet until now they had never danced together on stage as a trio. Seeking to remedy this, they collectively commissioned two choreographers whose work inspired and challenged them to build new pieces on and for them. That one of these choreographers, Josh Martin, was younger and local and the other, Tedd Robinson, older and from Quebec, was also a deliberate choice. The resulting commissions are at once in dialogue with each other (both are called dwelling) and with the embodied dance histories of their performers, revealing in their own distinct ways how separate parts fit into a whole.

For Martin this means beginning with the accumulated dance repertoires that already reside in the dancers' bodies from a lifetime of performance. Walking out on stage with both the stage and house lights up, Cooper, Kwan and Stewart pause and adopt distinct poses, or make a specific gesture, before quickly exiting. They do this a couple of times before eventually coming together to help each other remember a succession of moves, using their bodies and their voices to indicate how their arms are meant to be held, or in what direction they are meant to travel across the floor. At a certain point, however, they actually drop to the floor, their heads and arms and torsos pierced by the shafts of bright white light that lighting designer James Proudfoot sends across the stage. To a gorgeous score by Stefan Smulovitz, Martin infuses his own choreographic sensibilities into the work by having the trio engage in extended floor work that draws on and adapts several of hip hop's trademark moves: rolls into suspensions anchored by an isolated and locked arm; a wrapping around of the legs and circling into verticality before a liquid and seemingly boneless collapsing at the joints sends the dancers' bodies back down to the floor. What I especially liked about this work is how the patterns approached but never quite fully meshed into full-on unison movement: which is to say that the dancers were moving together but also in response to each other. I also liked seeing what Martin's choreography looks like slowed down; this is, dare I say it, his most mature work to date.

In his piece, Robinson takes the metaphor of building a work and literalizes it for us on stage. It begins with Stewart, clad in a white canvas shift and bodice, shuffling centre stage on his toes. Positioned there is a thin length of builders' wood, supported by two tiny foot stools. Balancing his body over the wood, Stewart takes a hand saw and proceeds to cut the wood in two. Cooper, having emerged upstage left, her body also wrapped in a similar tarpaulin-like garment, balances the two bits of cut wood on her head and then exits from whence she came. Finally, Kwan's bit of balancing consists of stepping onto the two footstools, now inevitably orientalized into the distinctive Geta platform sandals worn by traditional Geisha, shuffling on them towards the downstage left footlight, and then blowing some glittery confetti off of the piece of paper she is holding. After this ritual preparation of the space, it is now ready for a collective act of creation, which in Robinson's case means demonstrating the choreography inherent in carpentry. Donning plaid work shirts over their white dresses, the dancers grab additional planks of wood leaning against the stage right wall, take up nail guns and with the precision and timing we associate with the best group dancing erect a perfect square enclosure. Into which they eventually step, enacting a final act of balancing via the successive wearing of the footstools on their heads. Featuring the contributions of longtime musical collaborator Charles Quevillon, Robinson's work is typically elliptical, but also firmly grounded in the material world.

As are each of these wonderful dancers, who bring both works on this unique and satisfying program to  life through their embodied collaboration.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 11

It must be flu season, as there were many absent bodies at last night's rehearsal. And several more who did turn up were sniffling and blowing their noses, or else wrapped in even more layers of clothing than usual--despite the always near-stifling conditions in the Ukrainian Hall (my spot, in particular, seems to be directly underneath a vent that only emits hot air).

On top of this, Lara announced she'd fallen on her chin earlier in the day at The Dance Centre, suffering a mild concussion! And yet, there she was, alongside Anna (Caroline was also absent), leading us with her trademark calm aplomb through the next section of "Cumbia." Lara is right that it's much easier to get the hang of this section's more free-flowing moves and multiple changes of direction in person in the rehearsal studio, rather than following the video at home. I'm feeling much more confident with where we've gotten to so far after last night. I also love that Sylvain has given us several freestyle moments in this section, where we can just shimmy on the spot for multiple counts. My kind of choreography!

That said, I am still planning to make it to the extra movement clinic this Saturday, especially as I had to miss the last two.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Le Grand Continental: Rehearsal 10

Last night I was late to rehearsal, as there was an important Senate meeting at SFU that I needed to attend. I arrived to find everyone sprawled on the floor as Lara and Caroline and Emily were rearranging the chessboard of our positions for the piece. Mercifully, my partner in dance crime, Hilary Meredith, had protected my spot in my absence, as for a moment it apparently looked like I might be moved to an outside edge (!?!).

Emily had also sent me the video for the new section we were learning, "Cumbia," in advance. I had practiced as much as possible on my own, and was pleased to discover that where the group was upon my arrival was also more or less where I'd gotten to on the video. Except I was following Sylvain's much more slowly delivered explanations of each move; with the music, as I discovered, things moved much more quickly, which made for a bit of confusion.

I also could have sworn that the coat flip turn and move on the video was done on the diagonal--but we'll resolve that question on Wednesday.