Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dances for a Small Stage at PAL Studio Theatre

For the latest iteration of Dances for a Small Stage, artistic producer Julie-anne Saroyan has set up shop this weekend at the intimate Performing Arts Lodge Studio Theatre on Cardero Street. The gala program last night was a mix of the classical and the contemporary, both musically and in terms of movement.

The first piece, Flow, paired composer and musician Loscil with burlesque dancer Burgandy Brixx. Loscil played his electronic music live, via a computer and digital console, as various images of the waves and shoreline and the ebb and flow of the tide washed across the upstage screen. Following a brief blackout, Brixx appears on a raised upstage platform, positioned like a mermaid upon a rock. Unfurling her long legs, she moves onto her back and begins a series of bicycle kicks. Before long the black tunic she is wearing comes off, revealing sparkly pasties and a g-string. Brixx then begins an elaborate fan dance that forms a somewhat odd visual juxtaposition to Locsil's hypnotic music. Without the standard sis, boom, bang of the standard bump and grind burlesque score that cues us for the slow tease and reveal of skin, we are left to wonder at the particular erotics of display being invoked here--especially as Brixx's body is interpellated at various points into the screen projections.

Following a longish intermission, Small Stage mainstay Karissa Barry led off the next set with a solo set to a sampled stop-and-start score by the group Venetian Snares; her piece also featured a unique lighting installation. Next up was Vanessa Goodman's Contrapuntus, which uses Bach's "Art of the Fugue"--here transcribed for violin and played live by Meredith Bates--to explore parallel techniques of contrapuntal movement. Dancers Lara Barclay and Bevin Poole begin standing in close proximity, weaving their limbs around each other's bodies in perfect synchronous response, and only rarely touching. In the same way that in the fugue one voice or instrument will begin a musical phrase and then another voice or instrument will come in to match it, but in a different pitch, so here do we see these matchless dancers, so attuned to each other's rhythms, initiating, responding to, and subtly changing the directional flow of their paired movement. Literally opening things up in the second half of this short excerpt, Goodman choreographs a variation on her main theme by having Barclay and Poole face off on a diagonal, almost like toreadors, before bringing them together centre stage for more physical and hands-on partnering. Here I detected some trace phrases from Goodman's Wells Hill, which premiered earlier this year at the Chutzpah! Festival (and which featured Barclay and Poole); afterwards, Goodman confirmed to me that this excerpt will indeed form part of the larger work she is building, which is based on her research into the collaborations between Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould, whose "So You Want to Write a Fugue?" is a famously witty take on Bach.

I had a double dose of Le Grand Continental reunion last night; not only was LGC rehearsal director Barclay performing, but rehearsal assistant Caroline Liffman's The Fitzner Sister, a solo for Lina Fitzner, was part of the program. Set to a musical loop by Colin Stetson, the piece sees Fitzner, dressed in an amazing black and red tutu, move in and out of various classical ballet positions and poses, at the heart of which is a series of slowly and precisely executed arabesques. Because, unlike in most classical ballet, Fitzner is moving into her leg extensions without the aid of a male partner to help balance her, and because her poses are slowed down, held for much longer and not tied to set musical cues, what was made most manifest to me in the piece was the sheer physical effort and training that goes into each movement. In a big ballet production we are wont to gloss over such effort because classical technique is premised on the willful erasure of the fleshly corporeality of the dancer's body. As Arlene Croce famously wrote, onstage it is the ballerina's arabesque that is real, not her leg. Precisely because Liffman draws our attention to the realness of Fiztner's legs--which, unlike the typical prima ballerina's, are not stick-thin and sheathed in lyotards--the somatic illusion proffered by Croce is here deconstructed and materially exposed to feminist scrutiny. Which is to say to both Caroline and Lina: right on, sister!

The middle section of the evening concluded with dancer Caitlin Griffin improvising to the live musical stylings of street musician David Morin. I was not all that taken with Griffin's movement riffs, which seemed a bit wan and ho-hum. But Morin's deft use of his looping machine to overlay his guitar licks, vocalizations and finger snaps was most enjoyable.

After the second intermission, we were treated to a "musical intermezzo" featuring Elisa Thorn on harp,  Meredith Bates on violin, and Marina Hasselberg on cello. Apart from Debussy's "Claire de Lune," all the compositions were by Thorn and I was quite taken by the tonal juxtapositions. However, I'm not sure it suited the normally staccato beats of flamenco, which is what we were treated to when dancer Dayna Szyndrowski joined the trio on stage. I wanted to hear more of Szyndrowski's clacking feet, but it was almost as if she was afraid to cut fully loose for fear of drowning out the musicians. I did admire her lovely, blooming floreo, and there were several appreciative ole's at the end of the piece.


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