Last night's audience at the Vancouver Playhouse for VIDF's presentation of the international collaboration between Sweden's Memory Wax and Cuba's Retazos was woefully small. That's a shame, because folks missed some amazing dancing and equally inventive stage theatre.
The first of the two pieces on the program, Possible Impossible, begins with a nattily dressed balladeer enchanting us, and the space into which he enters (which includes a table, a wardrobe on wheels and a couple of empty door frames), with a song of welcome. Soon he is joined on stage by seven other performers (four men and three women), who begin to bang out a syncopated drum beat on the table. (The table must have been amplified by an overhead mike given the resulting resonance in the theatre.) The rhythm begins to overtake a couple of the dancers, who start to shake their hips and shimmy their shoulders as they move downstage. But this is only the beginning of the carnival atmosphere, and over the next 50 minutes the dancers will don white masks and blond fright wings as, drawing additionally from traditions of clowning and mime, they conjure various scenarios of encounter staged at the thresholds of reality and fantasy. To this end, those moveable empty door frames become sites for some uncanny mirrored partnering, and the table acts as a rostrum for a group sequence of combative jostling that reminded me very much of Kurt Jooss's The Green Table.
The second piece on the program is called Crisálida, and it begins with a lone female dancer perched on a chair centre stage. Her back is to us, and all we see is her long legs extended in the air as she cycles through a sequence of developpés, criss-crossed knee folds, single and double leg extensions, and of course an impossibly wide mid-air split. During the course of this a male dancer enters and attempts to partner the woman, or at the very least to arrest the movement of her legs. But she will have none of this, her legs refusing to be directed by the man, and instead very much directing him, including when they land on his chest and push him away. All of this is the prelude to a partnering sequence featuring the piece's full complement of eight dancers, and which was refreshing for its mostly genderless choreography: the women lift the men at various points and there are several same-sex combinations. The verticality of this section is contrasted with the horizontality of the hip-hop infused floorwork that follows, which is rendered all the more visually stunning by the fact that it is captured by a live video feed and projected onto the upstage screen, so that at various moments it looks like the dancers, in their different formations, are hanging precariously from a wall or the side of a building. The piece concludes with more partnering, only this time enhanced by the fact that all the dancers are additionally moving with and around their own chair.
The collaboration between these two companies has certainly yielded stunning results. I hope there will be more to come, and that next time they come through Vancouver they will get the sizeable audience they deserve.