Sunday, February 7, 2016

PuSh 2016: Relative Collider

My last show at this year's PuSh Festival was the conceptual dance piece Relative Collider, a collaboration between the dancer and choreographer Liz Santoro and the theatre artist and software engineer Pierre Godard. A co-presentation with The Dance Centre, the piece combines theoretical principles from physics with different mathematical and linguistic structures. On the one hand rigorously formal, the work is also a thrilling display of technical and bodily capacity from within a strictly defined system.

Part of that system has to do with the look of the space, which given the white Marley, the bright stage lights, and the pedestal stage left supporting a lone MacBook computer, resembles an Apple Store. Into this space march Godard and Santoro and her two fellow dancers (Cynthia Koppe and Stephen Thompson). Godard steps behind the computer and hits a key. A metronome's amplified counts start to sound. The three dancers, standing in a small semi-circle just to the right of Godard remain impassive. Soon, however, their feet and knees begin to pulse in time to the metronome. Just when one thinks one has the pattern--left, right, left, left, right--the dancers appear to switch things up, holding one leg flexed for an extra count, or reversing the order of the leg pulses. And then, all of sudden, they stop. Except that they haven't exactly. One of the dancers slowly splays one hand, another leans forward and twists her torso, and so on. Godard calls out a count of eight over the metronome, and then they're off with the leg pulses again.

And so things continue, with the intricate micro-movements of the dancers' legs eventually giving way to hops and skips and also at various moments being counterpointed with unison sequences of deconstructed vogue-like hand and arm gestures. Trying to figure out where and when these sequences occur, and what relation they have to each other, is part of the joyful kinaesthetic and intellectual surprise of this piece, which moves itself--and us--into a whole other realm when Godard starts to call out different words and phrases, while still rhythmically adhering to the timing of the metronome and a strict eight-count structure. This becomes the cue for the dancers to improvise with what they can do with their bodies from within this structure, the measured and controlled steps giving way to bold leaps and pirouettes, the tight-to-the-torso hand and arm work erupting into sweeping waves and fist pumps.

It's exhilarating to watch, a kind of danced version of entropy as Richard suggested to myself and Ziyian (who was sitting next to us) after the performance was over. Which I interpreted to mean in the case of this work that as we were witnessing the collapse of a choreographic system we were simultaneously discovering its constancy.


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