Manuel Roque's Ne meurs pas tout de suite, on nous regarde (Don't die right now, we're being watched), the closing show at this year's Vancouver International Dance Festival, is as excessive as its title is long. From the balloons that litter the stage, and to which co-performer Lucie Vigneault keeps adding from her plastic deck chair at the top of the show (which Roque, seated beside her, registers with only the faintest of interest); to Roque moaning and grunting while he slithers about the stage and eventually up into the audience to lie in the laps of various patrons; to a one-sided and thoroughly banal telephone conversation by Vigneault; to Roque jumping about the stage with increasing freneticism while repeating over and over, "Lucie, look at me": durationally and conceptually, everything about this piece is designed to test the limits of our spectating patience.
And yet it is never for a second boring. The performers, even when they are doing nothing, are utterly compelling to watch. One gets the sense, not least from the work's title, that theirs is an environment not completely of their own choosing--including the fact that they have to share it with each other. In this space of enforced play--to which we are tipped not just by the balloons, but also by the party hats that the performers wear--Vigeneault and Roque must constantly seek out new ways to amuse themselves. In so doing, they interact with the space and its objects in ways that feel authentic and spontaneous despite their routine repetitiveness: Roque jumping up and down over and over, or wrestling with an inflatable giraffe (or was it a deer?); Vigneault trying to crush the balloons with the legs of her deck chair or, at the microphone, insisting ad infinitum that what she has to say is IM-POR-TANT. And for a piece that has very little "choreography" in the traditional sense, the movement was nevertheless consistently surprising and--precisely because of its iterativeness--necessarily virtuosic.
Indeed, there is a way in which one can read Ne meurs pas as an extended rehearsal for partnering. Having spent the whole piece either trying to upstage or just plain get the other's attention, at the end Roque and Vigneault come together in a brief push-pull pas de deux that sees Roque persevere in extending his hands to initiate the duet as Vigneault appears to rebuff him by poking him in the chest. Or maybe in this unreal world of post-apocalyptic play she is just checking to make sure he exists. Either way, they are already dancing with each other--as, of course, they have been all along.