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.