Friday evening Richard and I enjoyed a lovely walk to the Western Front to take in EDAM's presentation of its latest choreographic series. The fans in the studio were whirling, it was not overly crowded (though the house was more or less full, which was nice to see), and cold wine and beer was for sale by Daelik at the bar: in other words, viewing conditions were just right.
First on the program was Tom Stroud and Peter Bingham's A Delicate Balance, a duet for Delia Brett and Elissa Hansen that builds slowly and subtly, sneaking up on one's senses. Which is only fitting given that it is about memory. The piece begins with the two dancers standing against the upstage wall; their gazes are fixed resolutely outward to the audience. First Brett and then Hansen draws a hand to her face and opens her mouth in a silent scream. In voiceover we hear someone describing her memories of a house she lived in. At a certain point the performers notice each other, and they slide closer to each other along the wall, at first curiously and then more threateningly, the dancers' more or less matching height used to wonderful effect as each alternates in looming over or cowering from the other, a shadow play enfleshed and come to life. Perhaps we are witnessing a battle between the ego and the id over who owns the past (or is enslaved by it); then again, as per the epigraph from Richard Holmes in the program about the muse Mnemosyne needing a twin (one who forgets alongside her remembering), that battle might actually be between two sisters' different recollections of the house they grew up in.
After this prologue, the dancers push away from the wall and advance toward the audience in parallel lines, improvising solo movement phrases as they reach searchingly into the immediate spatial void around them, building corporeal architectures in the absence of ones made of bricks and mortar. Eventually the dancers will cross paths, making contact and, using the vocabulary of that dance form, partnering in the sharing and redistributing of each other's weight--which, in this case, must include the weight of memory. To this end, the piece ends with an uncanny visual trick whereby the two dancers' bodies become one, Brett's initially off-beat and slightly delayed mimicking of Hansen's gestures eventually matching her partner's movements exactly as she slowly moves behind her, the two bodies now a perfect palimpsest as the voiceover intones about rooms and hallways leading to still more rooms. If, as Frances Yates and Marcel Proust and Sigmund Freud (among many others) have taught us, memory is essentially an architectural system, then what better medium than dance (whose archive is the body) to incarnate that system.
Following the first intermission longtime EDAM dancer Anne Cooper debuted FormSongs, which if I'm not mistaken might be her first work of original choreography. In the piece Cooper, along with partner Kelly McInnes, alternate between composed and improvised structures, solo and unison phrases, all performed to the live vocal improvisations of the wonderful DB Boyko (recorded music by Veda Hille is also used in the piece). The interplay between movement and voice was frequently fascinating to behold, as when Boyko's long sibilant exhalations of breath sent the dancers swooshing backwards into the distance, or when her staccato clucking had them ricocheting off of the floor and each other. I also appreciated the cross-disciplinary call and response aesthetic embedded into the work, with Cooper and McInnes at times answering Boyko vocally and Boyko likewise getting up from her station stage left to every now and then join the dancers in a bit of movement. On the whole, however, I think the piece went on a bit too long. The bit about the "Lemon Poem" by Pablo Neruda felt especially superfluous and unnecessary.
The evening concluded with a new work, Scenes for Your Consideration, by the always exciting Amber Funk Barton. A trio, the piece begins, like Stroud and Bingham's A Delicate Balance, along the upstage wall. Dancer Elya Grant sits on a stool, moving her hands from her thighs to her knees, and her head to her hands in perfectly controlled counts of eight as a song by Grizzly Bear plays on the soundtrack. Suddenly Andrew Haydock appears from behind the stage right door, inching his way, also in time to the music, to the empty stool beside Grant. Antonio Somero Jr makes a similarly dramatic entrance from the stage left door, and our menage is complete, as over the course of the piece the dancers will form and disperse and regroup in patterns that suggest rivalry and reciprocity, competition and care, friction and friendship.
What is so rewarding to take in is the depth and variety of choreographic skills that Barton employs to stage these scenes. A pleasingly geometric floor sequence involving the overlaying and collapsing of six sets of arms and elbows mixes a bit of unison, canon, and retrograde. Likewise, the influence of being in residence at EDAM registers in the bodily chains and gravity-defying support structures that Barton creates with her dancers. And, refreshingly, she is not afraid of stillness. One of my favourite moments in the piece is when, the music having cut out, Grant sculpts the bodies of Haydock and Somera into an interlocking tableau centre stage. All of these young dancers are on fire in this piece, with the tiny Grant especially watchable as she flings and slides her bodies across the stage floor, or bounces off of the studio walls. Barton also gives us a great ending as, with the lights fading, the dancers move upstage in a series of hugs, but always with one of them on the outside, and thus forced to break up any new relationship that forms. Something to consider, indeed.