Friday, December 18, 2015

Saudade at SFU Woodward's

The more-than-human and the not-quite-human: for the angels in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire and the replicants in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, respectively, the non-anthropoid is not all it's cracked up to be. Notwithstanding the frailty and fallibility of human bodies and desires, Bruno Ganz's Damiel and Rutger Hauer's Roy long for a temporality, a dailiness to living, that is at once more quotidian and less absolute than the one they currently inhabit. Such is the starting point for my colleague Rob Kitsos' new interdisciplinary dance piece Saudade, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T through this Saturday. Taking both films as key sources of inspiration, Kitsos and his collaborators have crafted a performance that combines movement, text, sound, light, multimedia projections and, not least, a series of moveable screens in order to explore the mutability and the porousness of borders between different states of being, including what it only seems proper--both within the multi-modal and perceptually immersive context of this piece and the conceptual premises of each film--to call the sensory and the extra-sensory.

In addition to sharing a world-weary detective as protagonist, Wings of Desire and Blade Runner are also notable for the ways in which they showcase the experience of alienated urban living, with the overheard interior conversations of the Berliners in the former and the walls of flashing neon advertising that form the futuristic backdrop to the Los Angelenos in the latter speaking in their different ways to the frequent attenuation of meaningful and felt interpersonal relationships in big cities. It's appropriate, then, that Saudade begins with the projected image of a city skyline that fills the upstage wall dissolving into what looks like a molecular mass that gradually fills the stage floor (the media design is by Remy Siu). Into this space steps Alexa Mardon, our surrogate flȃneuse, who proceeds to walk in a grid-like pattern, the map she is making (or is the one she is following?) illuminated for her and us on the floor (the lighting is by Jaylene Pratt, in consultation with Kyla Gardiner). Mardon is dressed in grey, which in terms of the more or less monochromatic colour scheme of Lorraine Kitsos' costume design, positions her as between what I took to be Cody Cox and Erika Mitsuhashi's angels (they wear white) and Michael Kong and Felicia Lau's replicants (in shades of black). And, indeed, to the extent that Mardon's character is both a part of and separate from the other dancers at various points throughout the piece, it is possible to read her as a combination of Rachel from Blade Runner and Marion from Wings of Desire, both of whom in their different ways hover between worlds (including as love objects).

Not that Kitsos' goal is to slavishly reproduce scenes or narrative tropes from each film. To be sure, the screens are effectively used throughout to convey the different insides and outsides of the various worlds being conjured (from the geometric to the kinaesthetic to the sonic), as well as the permeability of those worlds--as when, for example, Mitsuhashi leans her ear towards one of them to hear what we can see is happening just behind it. There is also an intensely physical scene in which Kong thrashes about on the floor downstage in a manner that recalls the painfully violent death of Pris, an interesting bit of cross-gender transference. However, for me the choreography was most captivating in those moments of almost- or shadow-partnering, when one of the dancers is mimicking from behind and with a slight but perceptible delay the movements of another. Here is where we see--and feel--that aching desire for connection with a human other--a space in which one's proffered hail (and the gesture of the raised hand is key for Kitsos throughout) is not just recognized, but also returned.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book of Love at the Roundhouse

For their 30th anniversary season Kokoro Dance’s Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi have created Book of Love, a quartet they have been building over the past two years with company members Molly McDermott and Billy Marchenski, and excerpts of which they have previously unveiled at the Vancouver International Dance Festival and the Powell Street Festival. Set to a dynamic original score by Jeffrey Ryan that is performed live by the StandingWave Ensemble, and that builds dramatically in tempo and tone, the sixty-one minute piece takes its cheeky inspiration from a song by The Magnetic Fields: “The book of love is long and boring.” However, what Bourget and Hirabayashi and their collaborators have put together is anything but ennui-inducing; instead, the piece manages to be tender and funny and surreal and lusty all at once--which is my ideal description not just of a butoh performance, but also of any lasting relationship.

Part of the surreality of Book of Love comes courtesy of London-based Jonathan Baldock’s otherworldly costumes, which clad both the dancers and musicians in priest-like cassocks of vibrant hues, albeit with longer drapey arm sleeves for the dancers, which they fling about and pitch into the air with controlled abandon in the first section of the piece. That this control comes from a finely tuned spatial and kinaesthetic awareness becomes clear when one takes note of the other distinctive element of Baldock’s costume design for the dancers: headpieces made out of overturned woven baskets, with only the tiniest of openings for eyes and mouth, making direct visual connection with one’s fellow dancers (let alone the rest of one’s own body) nearly impossible. All the more remarkable, then, that this section features the evening’s most extensive use of unison choreography, including a series of spins and turns that in this context gives new meaning to bobble-headed.

Following the removal of the headpieces and the placement of them centrestage in a sculptural configuration, like miniature, torsoless versions of the Maoi humanoid statues on Easter Island, for me the piece more or less divides into two complementary parts. In the first, the dancers pair off along gendered lines. Jay and Billy, having reconfigured their cassocks as sarongs tied at the waist, and reattaching the headpieces as humps that they now wear at their backs, slowly pivot back and forth in a central spotlight, like replica selves whose bodies and not-quite matching movements have been distorted by an invisible funhouse mirror. Meanwhile, Barbara and Molly are positioned upstage of the male dancers, each bent at the waist and taking tiny, delicate steps in tandem, two gypsy Esmereldas in search of their Quasimodos.

In the second part of the piece, the dancers discard their cassocks altogether, arranging them under their respective headpieces, with sleeves stuffed into eyes and mouths, or curled around the small side handles that stand in for ears. Now completely naked except for butoh’s traditional white body paint and fundoshi thongs, the dancers form opposite-sex partners, beginning with Jay, in a gorgeously solicitous move, repeatedly lifting Barbara, wrapping her body around his face, doing a slow quarter turn, before setting her back down and then starting the process all over again. Behind the older couple Molly and Billy are crouched in low squats, their arms raised to the sky in a hieratic pose, as if in some ritual celebration of faith and fecundity. For both, this piece suggests, are facing pages in the book of love. As Jay and Barbara come together in a series of tight pelvic clinches and spins and fumbling waltz steps, each trusting the other to find the right timing and direction and rhythm of the steps, Molly and Billy encircle each other on all fours like animals in heat, occasionally pausing to preen in an armstand and twice crossing to meet--one with tongue extended, one with mouth open to receive said tongue--in their own version of an embrace. It is on just such a strange and compelling imagistic juxtaposition of mah and maw that the piece ends--that is, we are presented with both the comforting stillness of the space between and the terrifying unknowingness of being swallowed up that defines two-becoming-one in love as in dance.

Book of Love continues at the Roundhouse through this Saturday, with a special benefit performance beginning at 5 pm December 5th. Tickets can be purchased here.