Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cocktales with Maria at the Cultch

What do you get when you cross opera, drag and verbatim text about gay sex? Why, Cocktales with Maria, of course, an intimate and very naughty cabaret act produced by Vancouver's Low-Rent Gutter Opera Performance Collective which plays in the Founders' Lounge at the Cultch through Friday as part of the rEvolver Festival (there is an additional show and "play party" scheduled for Saturday at Club 8x6 on Haro Street).

Cocktales was created by composer Isaiah Bell and singer Joel Klein, a tenor who has sung male roles for various opera companies across Canada (including the VOC), but who as Maria Toilette gets to play the diva. And what a diva she is! The performance actually begins in the lobby area as we observe Maria, clad in a gorgeous vintage peach ball gown and sporting an amazing orange wig the size of a nun's habit (though this is no Von Trapp, do-re-mi singalong kind of show), applying the last of her make-up (the show's stylist is Myles Laphen). Maria is helped in this regard by her pianist and "pain-artist," The Morekeys de Schade (Karen Lee-Morlang), and also by the long-suffering Vadge ("performative" stage manager and show producer Kristina Lemieux), who like Dame Edna Everage's mute and doleful bridesmaid Madge is always to hand to do her mistress' bidding, which is chiefly not to steal her limelight.

Not that that would be at all possible. Maria is an imposing and charismatic presence, and squeezed into the tiny (and, I must say, woefully underused) Founders' Lounge, it is impossible for audience members to take their eyes off of her. Following the opening number, an original setting of the Sky Gilbert poem "Bengali Tea," Maria explained the premise of her act to us. She and Bell interviewed a number of gay men from the West Coast about their sexual experiences--their wildest, wackiest, or just plain most memorable stories--and then used the edited text as the basis for the eight "cocktales" that Maria has chosen to sing for us. Because the text is verbatim, the singing of it comes across more as recitative than aria; however, Bell has provided a lush piano score for each of the tales, and combined with Klein-as-Maria's precise enunciation and wickedly impish way with the most incongruous of lines, one is transported by the weight and colour and emotional delivery of each song in a manner equivalent to the richly sustained final notes of "Nessun doma." Plus there are no surtitles!

The most moving of the tales for me was the final one, about a man raised in a religious family who details his encounter with an older boy at camp. Finding himself suddenly sharing a tent with this boy, our narrator recounts, via Maria, how he worked up the courage to reach across in the dark and begin touching the boy's body. His hand is not rebuffed, so the explorations become bolder. But the song is not about sexual consummation; it is about what precedes that--the impossible delirium of desire, discovery, want. Klein sings this narrative with a resonant vocal tremulousness that puts you inside that tent, that makes you feel the downy fur in the small of the love-object's back.

Indeed, I got the sense last night that part of the challenge for Klein and his collaborators with this show--especially played in such an intimate setting--is reigning in the operatic muscles. We got a taste of just how big Maria's voice can potentially be in her encore, a deliciously ribald take on "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." It was the perfect capstone to a wonderful set.


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mountain View Solstice Dancers: Rehearsal 10

Last night we reached an important milestone in our rehearsals: we were joined by the musicians who will be performing the live score for us on the evening of June 21st. They include Little Chamber Music AD Mark Haney on double bass (whose original composition, "New Friends and Stranger Companies," is the second of the three works we dance to), Marina Hasselberg on cello, Adrian Verdejo on electric guitar, and Sarah Wheeler on vocals. Sarah's song, "Open Your Heart," is the third and final piece we dance to. We got a taste of what that choreography will look like when Jessica danced it solo for us while Sarah sang; the combination of Sarah's big voice and Jessica's fluid movements, combined with the fact that we were outside just at dusk, was intoxicating. Several of us suggested that we should just leave things like that, with Jessica dancing alone for the final number; that said, and as difficult as I know this new choreography will be to learn on top of all the rest, I am eager to start mastering these final steps. Sarah's song is big and bluesy and Jessica has appropriately composed a concluding line dance for us (shades of Le Grand Continental redux), complete with lots of turns and hip shimmies and hand claps.

Of course, we only have three more weeks in which to learn this--plus perfect the other two numbers. And I'm going to be away next week because of a conference. Oy vey!

Mark's friend Joelysa Pankanea was also there last night to teach those of us who wish to sing during the circle formation bit of "New Friends..." that particular bit of vocalization it. It sounded really great when everyone was just standing around inside Celebration Hall at the beginning (I wasn't singing, just listening). However, when we went outside and tried our first run through of this piece things sort of broke down. Trying to remember the choreography (and our spacing) from two weeks ago, combined with the added complexity of counting on our own in our heads to the live music, plus singing on top of all that proved too much for most of us. For now we've decided on a core of four singers who will break off and cluster in the centre during this bit, with those who wish to among the dancers free to join in while also moving should they see fit.

Working through "New Friends..." several times, we eventually did get the timing and most of the choreography in pretty good shape by the end. After the aforementioned preview of "Open Your Heart" by Sarah and Jessica, that left time for a couple of run throughs of "Spiegel Im Spiegel." Here the first challenge was hearing the music from where we start, at the edge of the road leading south to Celebration Hall. The second, for me, was working through the duet portion of the piece. For personal reasons, Suzie couldn't be there again last night and as it's been ages since we danced this bit together, I sort of just faked my way through. Tt's my turn to be away next week, and I'm wondering if we shouldn't book some extra time together to perfect this...

Notwithstanding all my very real anxieties about how much there is still to do between now and the performances on the 21st (another fun fact I learned last night: there'll be two of them, at 7 and 9 pm--see the poster below), I am proud to be part of this creative experiment. The music is amazing, Sarah's voice seems to fill the entirety of the spectacular Mountain View setting, and Jessica has worked hard to craft group movement that complements both. Clad all in white (I previewed my outfit last night), it'll seem like we're floating through space like one of Laban's famous movement choirs. And with any luck the dying light will mask our slight imperfections.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Arts Umbrella Season Finale at the Playhouse

Arts Umbrella has long been the Vancouver dance community's stealth weapon. Under the legendary leadership of Artistic Director Artemis Gordon, the Granville Island dance school has trained generations of Ballet BC members and now, increasingly, major international companies are travelling to recruit from its graduating ranks. The drawing card is that while Gordon has given her dancers an unparalleled foundation in classical technique, she also encourages individual expressiveness and creativity.

Part of that creativity emerges from the company's incredibly varied repertoire, which includes lots of contemporary work, and which also, to Gordon's great credit, makes a point of showcasing the diverse choreographic talents of local Vancouver artists. Both of these aspects were on display at this weekend's AU Dance Season Finale, held at the Playhouse from Thursday through Saturday. I attended yesterday's matinee performance, and the program featured works choreographed by two former Ballet BCers, as well as one current company member. (Ballet BC AD Emily Molnar was also in the audience, no doubt casting a watchful eye on possible future apprentices.) Alyson Fretz's Cuore, choreographed on the apprentice company, began with a charming extended sequence in which the dancers, seated on the floor and backlit, move their arms above their heads in gracefully silhouetted arcs. Peter Smida's even just hello, also set on the apprentice company and featuring an eclectic musical score (including Jimmy Durante singing Make Someone Happy), was a witty comment on both the dailiness of dance class and the social anxieties of adolescence, with the two male members of the company at one point interfering with their female counterparts' arm and leg extensions at an imaginary barre, and later dragging two other girls from the corps to partner them (willingly or not) stage right. Finally, Simone Orlando's En Avant, which closed the program, provided a fitting bookend to the excerpt from her former Ballet BC boss John Alleyne's Four Seasons that began the afternoon; the requisite leaps, turns, lifts and dextrous footwork appropriately (if somewhat ho-humedly) highlighted the senior company's technical command and musicality.

For me the standout pieces on yesterday's program were by Crystal Pite and Amber Funk Barton. Four women from the senior company (Ria Girard, Misa Lucyshyn, Brooke Williamson and Sabine Raskin) performed an excerpt from Pite's A Picture of You Flying (part of The You Show); in collapsing joint by joint to the floor and then floating back up as if pulled by invisible strings, and in inserting themselves into and serving as ballast for Pite's trademark bodily chains, the dancers proved themselves more than equal to both the work's distinctive choreography and Owen Belton's challenging electronic score. Finally, Barton's Factory was a revelation; set on the women of the apprentice company (though, I have to say, I mistook them for the senior company until I read the program notes), it begins in silence with the dancers preening and posing like bathing suit models or Andy Warhol superstars, albeit ones who look like they've just stepped out of a Francis Bacon painting, with the dancers pulling their arms in at the elbows, bending at the hips and baring their teeth in a fierce grimace. They do all of this before a line of men from the senior company, who sit cross-legged downstage, with their backs to the audience. Then suddenly an African bass drum tucked in the downstage left corner of the stage is struck, and this is the cue for the piece to move (quite literally) into a whole other register, with Barton using the driving beat of the drumming (and, periodically, the men's accompanying clapping) to structure a series of solos and unison sequences that emanate from the dancers' pelvic cores and that build upon the plie as a recurring motif.

One of the more interesting aspects of such year-end showcases is the audience. It's filled with parents and extended family members and friends, who embody a range of ages (and attention spans), and who, refreshingly, don't necessarily respect the usual protocols of spectating decorum. One rambunctious toddler in the row in front of me kept up a running commentary throughout the afternoon, asking her mother why none of the dancers were in tutus, why there was no music, how come it was so dark, why the dancers kept running on and off the stage like that? It was hilarious, but also encouraging: for here was someone who was fully engaged with the art. Which is, after all, what we wish from all performance.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dance Work/Work Dance at the Audain Gallery, SFU

By now there is a long tradition of dance in gallery and museum spaces. The Judson Church artist-choreographers pioneered this concept back in the 1960s. And, more recently, Ralph Lemon curated the series Some sweet day in 2012, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first Judson concert with a series at MoMA that paired works by founding Judson artists like Steve Paxton and Deborah Hay alongside pieces by a younger generation of choreographers, including Jerome Bel and Faustin Linyekula. (Hay's "Blues" created something of a minor scandal with its unexamined racial and gender politics, but that's another story.) Often, however, in jettisoning the concert stage, these artists merely re-erected the proscenium inside the gallery: whether seated on the floor in a storefront space in Soho in 1962 or on tiered chairs in the atrium of MoMA in 2012, the audience continues to be disciplined by the time-specificty of the traditional dance program (first this piece and then this piece, each followed by applause), and so is not encouraged to think very deeply about the relationship between the dance and the institutional politics of the exhibition space.

It is just this kind of thinking that dance artist Emmalena Fredriksson is trying to activate in Dance Work/Work Dance, which she has created in partial fulfillment of her MFA requirements in the School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU, and which is on at the Audain Gallery at SFU Woodward's through this Saturday. Fredriksson has composed four durational pieces, each based on an improvisational looping score, which her roster of ten dancers (herself included) performs on a rotating basis over the course of the gallery's opening hours. The works are set in distinct yet proximate sections of the gallery's white cube, and apart from two drawings on the floor in the central exhibition space, a few found objects in one of the adjacent rooms, and a conceptualist map-cum-table of the dancers' scheduled rotations through each piece on the wall facing Hastings Street, no art objects per se are displayed. Visitors to the gallery must actively wander through the exhibition space in order to encounter each work, always aware that however absorbed we become in watching one piece, another is happening nearby--and aware as well that the longer we stay and watch each, the more texture they will gain (by virtue of the different dancers bringing their own distinct physicality and movement vocabulary, not to mention aesthetic and intellectual sensibilities, to each score's set of instructions).

Add to this the fact that we are also watching our fellow spectators watching and that, depending on when and in what manner we enter the exhibition space, we might be wont to mistake a cluster of carefully posed and intent audience bodies as part of the work, and one begins to see just how complex Fredriksson's piece is. (It is not for nothing that one of the books included in the display case at the gallery's entrance is Jacques Ranciere's The Emancipated Spectator.) Shifting our disciplinary frames of reference by placing dance in a gallery setting, Fredriksson is asking us to rethink the ways we have been trained to receive dance as art (the "dance work" part of her title). But, in so doing, she is also confronting us very materially with the labour that goes into making dance dance--as both a noun and a verb. To "work dance" is to call on a repertory set of skills that are intuitive and deeply felt; that have a starting point in time and space but not necessarily any fixed end; that repeat but also respond to variation; that are unique and individual but also fit into a larger pattern. All of this is evident in the written scores Fredriksson has composed for and with her dancers (and which we are provided in the exhibition catalogue), and the cumulative effect of watching the execution of movement last night--both the moments of stillness and the moments of more accelerated energy--was what so often gets obfuscated in traditional concert dance, especially ballet: the time and effort that goes into making dance look timeless and effortless.

That goes for the audience as well. To do justice to the work of Fredriksson and her collaborators, we need to put a requisite amount of time and effort into working through all of the different kinds of dance that are going on, including our own. As Fredriksson writes in the catalogue, "To dance like no one is watching and everything is seen, to watch like no one is dancing and everything is dance."


Friday, May 15, 2015

The Sensationalists at The Cultch

The 605 Collective, even when they're standing still, are always so interesting to watch. Their latest full-length creation, The Sensationalists, plays the Vancouver East Cultural Centre's Historic Stage through this Saturday. A collaboration with Theatre Replacement's Maiko Bae Yamamoto, who directed the piece and contributed to its movement design over the course of an amazing two-year development and rehearsal process, the piece is an experiment in immersion--both kinaesthetically and acoustically.

The experience begins in the lobby, with the 605 ensemble--co-directors Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin, along with fellow performers Laura Avery, Walter Kubanek, Lexi Vajda, Jane Osborne, and some additional  repertory members--mingling among the audience members around the box office and bar area. Some whisper secrets in patrons' ears; others, leaning back from a bar chair, reach out and clasp your hand for balance, or else, wearing headphones, lean up against you and sway ever so slightly. Occasionally they also form bodily massings amongst themselves, piling on top of one another, both belly to belly and side to side, along a wall, and also freely and fully supporting each other's weight in the middle of the floor by crouching into a ball and offering their backs as platforms to climb and kneel upon. I was offered the latter opportunity by a woman who was about half my size and though I was worried I would crush her I also couldn't resist this invitation of proximate interaction and shared bodily contact.

This is, to a large degree, the entire premise of the piece, for after the pre-show lobby experience we are led by the ensemble toward the theatre, where we have to make a choice: do we join the dancers on the floor, fully immersing ourselves in the choreography while standing and moving about at orchestra-level for the first 50 minutes of the piece; or do we head for the balcony and partake of the bird's eye view of what's going on below, sacrificing the extra sensory involvement for a double dose of surveillance, watching our fellow audience members watching? Truth be told, you have to make this decision in advance, at the time of ticket purchase (as differential costs are involved). Richard and I had opted for the balcony--Richard because he didn't want to stand for that long, and me because, while initially drawn to the idea of moving among and with the dancers, the critic in me craved the additional visual perspective on the aesthetics of the piece that I would get through physical distance. Talking with Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg in the lobby about this decision, she dubbed us Statler and Waldorf, the two crusty critics from The Muppet Show, and imagined us carrying on a running commentary on the piece, or at the very least her own and everyone else's wardrobe choices. And while several others we spoke to said we'd made the wrong choice, Maiko herself reassured us that the balcony option had its own--albeit different--benefits. (That I saw local dancer-choreographers Peter Bingham and Wen Wei Wang also heading upstairs also did much to set my wavering mind at ease.)

Once inside the theatre, the piece begins (as it were) with Gelley teaching Kubanek a simple arm movement phrase to accompany a spoken utterance about the Milky Way. Kubanek repeats this several times, in the process teaching it to the audience members milling about him. Before I noticed his bare feet, I was at first uncertain whether Kubanek was a dancer or an audience member (I hadn't noted his movement presence in the lobby), and of course such sense confusion is a natural offshoot of the total sensory experience of the piece. How precisely does the apparently "reactive" movement of the audience on the floor, in walking about the stage to get a better view or to make space for a bit of spontaneous partnering or to avoid being conscripted into said partnering, differ from the "active" movement (whether choreographed or improvised) of the dancers? Indeed, one of the most fascinating things for me, in the balcony, was watching the different choreographic structures individual audience members developed and quite often repeated over the course of the first 50 minutes. My friend and colleague DD Kugler kept restlessly circling the perimeter of the natural circle the audience mostly formed. Whereas Sophie and Lara largely stayed put--at least in the beginning--in the upstage left corner. Two folks I didn't know--a man in a red shirt and a woman in a purple blouse--for the most part managed to position themselves in the centre of the action. As such, more than once they found themselves responding directly to the dancers' mimed instructions--most compellingly when, along with others, they formed a chorus line of weighted ballast and support as Martin "walked" upside down across their backs.

As interesting as this was to watch, there was also, after a while, a visual sameness to the quality of the immersion. It was like I was watching a rave in slow motion and, sure enough, at one point the taller members of the audience are brought together to form a mosh pit, arms extended vertically to transport the smallest of the female dancers from the upstage wall to downstage floor. In fact, the most visually stunning image for me was when the dancers instructed all of the audience members to mass upstage in a tableaux while they segued into some preliminary unison work. This was the prelude to the orchestra audience then being invited to take a seat and don, with those of us in the balcony, a set of headphones. With Gabriel Saloman's ambient electronic score echoing inside our ears, Martin speaks into a microphone a list of items that I took to be the sort that gave him goose bumps--as, presumably, the intimate amplification of the sound of his voice via our individual headsets was meant to replicate.

In this concluding section of the piece, the ensemble reverts to the more traditional conventions of concert dance, but I have to say that I didn't mind at all. In fact by this point I was craving exactly this kind of movement, with 605's trademark forward accelerations and suspensions in mid-air thrilling to take in, especially when done collectively as a group. There is also a stunning duet between Gelley and Martin that struck me as a seamless blending of their hip hop training with some obvious influence from contact improv. By the end of the piece, as the group masses at the upstage wall once again, supporting each other as they climb and reach for the rafters, the link between the two sections of the piece became more clear, with the first half modelling the embodied skill-set--support, weight transfer, reactive instincts, intimacy, trust--we all have within us, but that these dancers have refined into an art.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mountain View Solstice Dancers: Rehearsal 9

We pressed ahead last night with the rest of the choreography to accompany the second of the three musical compositions in the piece. We segue from the Matrix-esque slo-mo partnering we learned last week into some cool cheerleading moves before forming two parallel lines that, after some forward hip and arm action reminiscent of belly dancing finds us forming a circle. I believe it's in the centre of the circle that the singing--from those who are so inclined--will happen. Myself, I'm just sticking to dancing, thank you very much.

The circle eventually breaks apart into two new parallel lines, which become zig zags of alternating inward and outward horizontal moves. There's some hand and arm (and head!) coordination that I still need to work on in this part. Fortunately the very end of this section repeats phrases from the beginning that we've already learned.

In this second section, where--as with the earlier waltz steps--we're covering a lot of ground both individually and as a group, we've really felt the physical constraints of Celebration Hall as our de facto rehearsal venue. I admire Jessica for the on-the-fly geometry lessons she's having to conduct--both in adapting the choreography to the more confined interior space and reminding us of how things will look and feel when we're finally outside.

Here's hoping that happens soon. Already it's getting warmer and lighter week by week; biking home last night at 9:15 pm it felt like I was racing against dusk. No rehearsal next Monday because of the holiday, but when we return on the 25th, weather and equipment permitting, it would be great to really bust loose outdoors.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Ballet BC's RITE at the Queen E

Were it possible to transport yourself back in time to the premiere performance of a once scandalous and now iconic work of art, what would you choose to see? Perhaps it would be Ibsen's A Doll's House, waiting for the outraged reaction of the proper Copenhagen audience to the reverberatory thunderclap of Nora's slammed door? Or maybe you would have preferred to be on hand for any of the versions of Salome--by Wilde, or Strauss, or Maude Allan--soaking in the catcalls and faints during the "Dance of the Seven Veils"? If pressed to choose, however, a great many of us would likely pick the May 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring. Staged in Paris by the scandal-courting Ballets Russes impresario Serge Diaghilev, and with choreography by the sexually mercurial Vaslav Nijinsky, the work is most famous for introducing the world to the legendarily dissonant score by Igor Stravinsky, music that has since entered the modernist canon, but that at the time apparently sent audience members screaming into the streets covering their ears.

There have been countless danced "Rites" since then, with an updating of the sexual and gender politics of the original (in which a sacrificial female dances herself to death) almost becoming its own rite of passage for a choreographer and/or ballet company. One thinks especially in this regard of Pina Bausch's game-chaging take on the piece, in which she bridged Stravinsky's music and libretto with the influence of Mary Wigman's expressionistic choreography and thereafter altered the course of Tanztheater Wuppertal's compositional and thematic focus (for better or worse, depending on how one views Bausch's subsequent explorations of gendered violence and the trope of the female victim).

Now it is the turn of Ballet BC, with this weekend's final instalment in the company's 2014-15 season showcasing not one but two new interpretations of this classic work. The first, RITE, comes from Artistic Director Emily Molnar who, working with scenic designer Omer Arbel (the furniture and lighting designer of Bocci fame) and experimental composer Jeremy Schmidt, picks up from where the 1913 work left off, giving us a post-sacrificial gloss on the original movement and design. Or at least what we know of both. While Nijinsky's choreography was reconstructed in 1987 for the Joffrey Ballet based on the scraps of notation that remained, press reviews of the eight premiere performances, and some eyewitness testimony, no one can be sure if it is historically accurate. Nicholas Roerich's original sets were also destroyed (on the orders of Diaghilev), although there are interviews with him discussing his vision for the piece. And, judging from her program note, Molnar has certainly done her research, reading up not just on The Rite of Spring, but also on various major and minor artistic currents swirling about it. Her movement deliberately references Nijinsky's. The dancers' hands and arms are frequently splayed at their sides, and their knees bent inward: from this position they jump vertically in the air, or else fall to and then rise in waves from the ground. Clad in their shimmery black body suits (the costumes are by Kate Burrows) and set against Abel's white, rune-like set, the dancers reminded me of walking hieroglyphs, with their largely improvised and often highly gestural movement vocabulary, when paired with the strobe lighting effects programmed by James Proudfoot, spelling out a language of the body that is simultaneously unique to them and rhythmically entraining of the group. (That the dancers, especially Connor Gnam as the headdress-wearing  lead "Shadow," wouldn't look out of place on a club floor during fetish night surely contributes to this--the man seated next to me leaned over near the start of the piece and asked if I was reminded of Madonna's "Erotica.") Schmidt's atmospheric industrial score is a key and maximally entrancing element in all of this, its droning synth sounds just as sensorily jarring in their way as Stravinsky's percussiveness. There is much I still need to reflect upon with this piece, which is why I hope it becomes a mainstay of Ballet BC's repertoire; but one of the things I responded to most enthusiastically last night was Molnar's use of stillness, letting her dancers--and us--absorb the changes in dynamic range and pitch and tempo in Schmidt's music, before releasing what has been incorporated by the body in successive explosions of kinetic energy.

Paired with Molnar's RITE is Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's Consagracion, which he choreographs to the original Stravinsky score, adding a new set design by Luis Crespo (a series of brown woven and inverted conical structures that descend from and rise up to the rafters, evoking a magical forest). The dancers, forming a horizontal tableau downstage at the start of the piece are all clad in similar androgynous white shifts--the kind that children of both sexes from Victorian-era photographs might have been posed in. And, indeed, Ramirez Sansano takes as his inspiration for the piece that fraught ritual of puberty when we transition from at once innocently sexless and polymorphously perverse erotic beings into sexually aware young adults whose desires and behaviour must apparently conform to prescribed gender binaries. Except that Ramirez Sansano, thematically and choreographically, sets out to trouble and resist this expectation--in dance and life. As the dancers form different duos and trios, helping each other to remove the top part of their shifts while exploring some deeply sensual partnering, it is a male-male couple that emerges as the pulsating sexual life force of the piece. They sniff and nuzzle at each other's necks, wrap their torsos around one another, roll above and underneath each other across the floor and--here was an unexpectedly delightful kinetic sight--kiss for an extended period of time.

Just when I thought the Rite couldn't produce any more surprises, there is this: a glorious springtime celebration of the right to sexual freedom.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Mountain View Solstice Dancers: Rehearsal 8

One thing my admittedly brief career in community dance has taught me: knowing how to count is important, especially when the musical beats are irregular and the accompanying movement even more improvisatory. All of which is to say that the careful reader of this blog (please identify yourself, whoever you are, so that we can have coffee!) will have noticed that I've skipped a number in my rehearsal documentation of the Mountain View Summer Solstice dance project. That's because I was in Montreal last week on business--a seemingly ridiculous phrase when applied to academics, but in this case I was truly in meetings for three days straight, from which I will also be producing a final report.

In my absence, Jessica and company finished setting the opening Arvo Part piece, which meant I had a lot of catching up to do at last night's rehearsal. I duly arrived early and tried to assimilate the last half of the duet that ends this section. But without Suzie there to accompany me it was a bit haphazard, and I mostly tried to focus my concentration on absorbing what Jessica was doing. Fortunately the new choreography repeats certain phrases from the first half of the piece, so I wasn't completely lost.

After the rest of the company's arrival, and following our opening warm-up, we moved on to learning brand new movement, which in this case will be accompanying the second of the three musical compositions of the evening. This is the original piece that Mark is in the midst of composing; the final version will be performed live on the evening of the actual performance, but for now he has given Jessica a skeletal bass track from which to begin building her choreography. He then plans to respond in turn by layering over different instrumental motifs. This is all very well and good in theory, but Heather wanted an assurance that Mark would at least provide us with a struck cymbal or some sort of other distinctive musical cue to alert us as to when we are to pop up from our bent-over, haunch-in-the-air grooving at the start of this piece.

We did spend a lot of time last night "assuming the position," to use Jessica's phrase--that is, bent over at the waist and sunk into our quads, moving only our tailbones and heads and fingertips for successive counts of eight (see, more dance numeracy!). This does eventually culminate in full verticality, leading into what I've dubbed our sci-fi sequence: a series of robotic steps forward that then segue into a brief and somewhat anomalous Fosse-esque jazz flourish that is really just a prelude to a longer Matrix-like bit of mirrored improvisation. I was partnered with Diane for the latter and we had a lot of fun channeling our inner Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss--though who was Neo and who was Trinity might have been hard to determine to the outside eye.

I have to say that I do like the improvisatory bits. It takes a lot of the pressure off in terms of the quality and the timing of the movement. But, as I suggested at the outset of this post, that doesn't mean that you can stop counting!