Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Edge 3 at Dancing on the Edge

Two legendary Vancouver dance artists. Two one-word titles. Two additional firecracker performers. You couldn't ask for a better line-up as part of the Edge 3 program at this year's Dancing on the Edge Festival.

First up was Oxygen, choreographed by Kokoro Dance's Jay Hirabayashi as a commission for dancer Billy Marchenski, and set to the industrial "no wave" music of the Swans. The twenty-minute piece unfolds on a single vertical plane, beginning with Marchenski in a crouch justly slightly up of centre stage. He slowly unfurls his body to standing, pointing skyward with one index finger, before collapsing to the ground and beginning the phrase again, this time extending the opposite finger. The movement is simple but in its execution anything but pedestrian, with the strain in Marchenski's calves attesting to the effort required to unfold and bend, unfold and bend in such a controlled manner, such that the slight suspension with the pointed index finger at full verticality feels like time itself is being suspended, forced to conform to the rhythms of Marchenski's body, his breath, rather than the other way around. No doubt Barbara was after something similar with the statue poses that started off our Wreck Beach Butoh piece this past weekend, but I can say that after last night I for one still have much work to do when it comes to slowing down time through movement.

Eventually Marchenski begins his slow butoh walk downstage: legs bent, torso forward with heart centre open, an invisible orchid cupped in his throat. Arching his body backwards, Marchenski descends to the floor for a series of weight-transferring poses on elbows and knees, but never on all four at one time. Next, he stands upright with his back towards us. Slowly he begins to shake: first just his buttocks, then his hips and legs, finally his torso and arms and head, until a succession of tremors ripple like waves up and down his entire body. Again, what is so fascinating to watch about this is how the shaking accumulates in intensity over time, with Marchenski not so much becoming possessed by the gradually distributed movement as choosing to possess it from the beginning and redistribute it at will.

So, too, with how the piece ends, which sees Marchenski incorporating a series of arm waves and jumps into a hypnotic score that had me straining to register their trajectories via the trace visual residue of their arcing flights through the air. And such was the power of the choreography that it wasn't a strain at all to believe that the dancer before me really was flying.

The second piece on the program was Trickster, a collaboration between Karen Jamieson and the San Francisco-based bouffon artist Nathaniel Justiniano. The piece began as a Brief Encounters pairing back in 2013. So successful was that early version that Jamieson and Justiniano decided to develop the piece further, this time inviting Stefan Smulovitz to perform the viola live with them on stage.

Essentially the work unfolds as a structured improvisation, with Jamieson exploring a series of movement phrases anchored in different parts of her body and Justiniano (who wears a traditional bouffon costume, complete with double-sided ass and a hump at his back) burlesquing those explorations both physically and in words--often via hilarious direct address to the audience. However, this conceit would quickly wear thin if the movement itself weren't compelling to watch, with Justiniano matching the precision of Jamieson's classical ballet steps from Giselle, for example, with his own deft and extremely light-on-his-feet traversing of the stage.

Indeed, the piece ends with the two performers arriving at a mutually agreeable rapprochement between their two different physical vocabularies, launching into a final duet that--to reference their own concluding conversation--may not be conceptually "deep," but is nonetheless deeply satisfying to watch.


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