Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dance in Vancouver: Justine A. Chambers, Vanessa Goodman, and Delia Brett

It's been such a busy week that I only got to my first Dance in Vancouver events yesterday. The biennial showcase and presenting platform for local dance artists is guest curated this year by Pirjetta Mulari, of Dance Info Finland. I've always wondered about the reasoning behind DIV's outside curatorial invitations. Presumably programming choices depend a lot on knowing who has presentation-ready work, which necessarily means liaising with local folks. And, to be sure, staff at The Dance Centre are heavily involved in the entire organization of the event, including various studio showings and presenter meetings and parallel performances.

Thus it was that I got to tag along yesterday afternoon on the second of two "Choreographic Walks" programmed by Dance Centre Artist-in-Residence Justine A. Chambers. Modelled on the soundwalks of Vancouver pioneered by R. Murray Schafer and Hildegard Westerkamp, Chambers' curated two-hour stroll through the city's downtown core invites audiences to silently observe several works of site-specific dance created by local artists, including: a lesson in directional (and accessible) navigation by Naomi Brand at the southwest plaza of the VPL's Central Branch; a spatially dispersed but acoustically proximate clapping fugue by Alexa Mardon at Victory Square; and a game of pick-up basketball underneath the Cambie Street bridge by Deanna Peters (in which there wasn't much scoring, but a lot of running and passing with elan). But the walk also invites us to place these works into larger choreographic frameworks and patterns that are part of the social infrastructure of the city, be it pedestrians crossing an intersection, kids playing in a park, or the often anonymous workers who maintain the various invisible grids and networks that buttress our daily navigation of the city in the first place. Then, too, there are the ways in which we, as a group (numbering 20+), effect and change different movement flows, from holding up traffic at an intersection to absorbing and spitting out groups of people we just happen to collect accidentally along our route. This kind of shadow choreography in which we daily and reflexively participate as urban dwellers, but which we tend to relegate to background "movement noise" (the dance with and around others we do on the bus or in line at the supermarket), is here uncamouflaged and brought to the foreground by the "openings" in our walk that Chambers and her partner Josh Hite programmed with the help of students in the Modus Operandi Training Program: that is, at moments along our route, and ably cued by our pace-setting guide Kate Franklin, all we had to do was cast a sideline glance across an alley to catch a glimpse of tandem selves matching our steps, moving us forward.

In the evening, it was back to The Dance Centre for Saturday night's mainstage presentation of Vanessa Goodman/action at a distance's Wells Hill and Delia Brett/MACHiNENOiSY's plaything. I've blogged about the original presentation of Wells Hill, as part of the 2015 Chutzpah! Festival, here. The movement is as gorgeous as ever, at once languid and sinewy and robustly energetic in a way that is equally responsive to Gould playing Bach and to Gabriel Saloman's original immersive sound score. It was also interesting to see the piece in the more intimate setting of The Dance Centre (which I gather partly inspired the new costumes designed by Ziyian Kwan), and to witness the individual embodied contributions of new cast members Karissa Barry, Dario Dinuzzi, and Alexa Mardon. I look forward to the premiere of the full piece in 2017 at SFU Woodward's.

MACHiNENOiSY's plaything is what I'll call a "collaborative solo" for co-artistic director Brett. First presented in 2011, the work is a surreal dream/nightmare based on the childhood drawings of Brett's son, Beckett. Part shadow play, part puppet show, and part experiment in live projection action painting, the work's immersive visuals are at times jaw-droppingly gorgeous and at other times queasiness-inducing. But all of this is anchored by the moving performance of Brett, who whether growing an extra set of limbs from behind a scrim or unzipping a body suit to reveal another layer of synthetic skin underneath reveals--like Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, or Julia Kristeva in Powers of Horror--that motherhood is as much about the abject as the object of one's love.



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