At last year's Dancing on the Edge, Justine Chambers created one of the buzz events of the Festival with her commissioned immersive dance-theatre installation/conceptual performance event/experiment in relational aesthetics, Family Dinner. It involved audience members sitting down as invited guests at a real dinner attended and hosted by some of the most amazing contemporary dance artists in the city. There, amid the passing of wine, the sharing of plates of food, and the animated conversation that attended both, one was able to witness in an intimate and thoroughly implicated manner the social choreography and gestural vocabulary that is a part of this ritual of everyday life: the surprising uses to which cutlery may be put; the different ways that people play with and eat their food; how we sit in our chairs; whether we put our elbows on the table; whether we lean in or sit back when we're talking to our neighbour; what's happening with our feet and legs underneath the table; and how we respond to the unexpected, outsized, or boorish bits of behaviour that test the limits of what we accept to be proper table etiquette.
From this first phase of the project, which I am sad to have missed, Chambers has extracted what she calls a "lexicon" of gestures that emerged from performers and audience members over the course of the dinners. In Family Dinner: The Lexicon, part of the Edge 1 program at this year's DOTE Festival, those gestures are now "re-performed" for us by five artist-collaborators, some of whom were part of the original installation. Stage-right to stage-left, the diners include: Aryo Khakpour, Kate Franklin, Josh Martin, Alison Denham, and Lisa Gelley. When the lights come up, they are all sitting at a long table, each with a plate of food before them. One by one they unfold their napkins, pick up their knives and forks, and taste a bit of their food. In its ritual repetition, the sequence exposes the dialectic of sameness and difference embedded in all repertory acts, including social ones like eating: Khakpour cuts his food with precision; Frankin stabs at hers with force; Martin hoovers his into his mouth, which is about an inch from his plate; Denham keeps turning her plate, taking a bit of each of the different food items in turn; and Gelley just pushes her food around before setting down her fork. From there, the movement gradually builds: a sequence involving the drinking from and filling of water and wine glasses (which neatly combines live sound picked up by two table mics with Nancy Tam's recorded score); bits of mimed conversation; the wiping of mouths with napkins; a wonderful below-the-table section, expertly lit by lighting designer James Proudfoot, that featured a lot of manspreading, including from the women. These and other gestures are sometimes performed in unison or in canon, but more often than not they are presented juxtapositionally, though whether as a structured improvisation or as set choreography I am not sure. If it's the latter--which Chambers' program note hints it might be--then what we saw last night is a marvel of bodily memory, the wholly seated movement as precise and virtuosic in its timing and articulation as any classical ballet. Chambers has called this phase of her project a live "archive of a shared movement vocabulary." Given my own interests in the sensory experience of performance archives, I couldn't have asked for a more stimulating experience.
Also on the program last night were pieces by Karissa Barry, Victoria-based Constance Cooke, and Vanessa Goodman. I'd seen an earlier version of Barry's Submission to Entropy at Dances for a Small Stage. It features Lexi Vajda and Jessica Wilkie as two black hoodie- and goggle-wearing creatures who slink about the stage in a simultaneously languid and alertly curious manner, adapting their movements to their sensory exploration of the space and each's occupation of that space (including a humorous rat-a-tat sequence involving those goggles). Cooke's Liminal: The Space Between is an excerpt from a larger work. What we saw is set on dancer Mark Sawh Medrano, who is a gorgeous mover, with an amazingly sinewy back and fluid arms that, when illuminated by the handheld lighting device of onstage "Shadow Player" Brett Owen, weres especially evocative. I can't say I understood or found especially interesting all of the other scenographic elements in the piece, including the faces that emerged at different times from Owen's projections, or the shower/bed-springy structure that Medrano danced behind.
Goodman's solo Container, a version of which she presented earlier this June at the Magnetic North Festival, showcases what an amazing mover she is. Clad in nude-coloured dance semis and what looked like mini combat boots, and combining hyper-kinetic android-like movements with various club grooves, Goodman reminded me at various points of a cross between Priss from Blade Runner and Miley Cyrus--but without the look-at-me twerking, and with a much more gorgeous silhouette. At one point, early on in the piece, Goodman launches into a deep lunge, arching her back in way that had me wishing I could mimic that pose on the beach. Then, too, there is Goodman's innate musicality, as when she pulses her upper body and arms in simple yet hypnotic time to the electronic sound score by Loscil (the Vancouver-based artist Scott Morgan). To go back to that sci-fi connection I made via the Blade Runner reference, Container ends with Goodman dancing in a single, slowly fading spot upstage (the lighting is again by Proudfoot), her upper body raised to the ceiling as if she is about to be transported to another world, one that is big enough to contain her outsized talents.