On a cold and rainy Thursday in Vancouver, with no cab in the city to be found, Richard and I made it to the Firehall a minute before curtain. This year's Dancing on the Edge Festival kicked off with an eclectic line-up: three very different pieces that offered up a mix of kinetic pleasures and conceptual challenges over the course of a somewhat too long evening.
Leading off was Here on the ground, a collaboration between Julia Carr and Meghan Goodman, of Body Narratives Collective, and Hornby Island choreographer Sarah Chase. The piece tells the story of Carr and Goodman's friendship through some of the surprising coincidences in their life histories and careers: both are longtime company members of the aerial dance company Aeriosa (performing a site-specific work in Stanley Park as part of DOTE this coming Wednesday and Thursday); both are new moms (plaster body casts of each woman's pregnant belly figure at a certain point and there is a very sweet moment near the top of the show in which each performer races to pack up the baby-related items needed for a day out in the park); and both have several family members who tend to share the same name. All of this is related to us through Chase's trademark cross-lateralizing of verbal speech with different combinations of physical gestures, which the dancers cycle through as they tell their stories. At different points in the piece, Carr and Goodman even let us in on the system by which the individual gestures are chosen and paired with different parts of speech: as she did with SFU's rep dancers during her Iris Garland residency in the School for the Contemporary Arts earlier this spring, Chase will pair a word or sometimes just a syllable with a gesture in whose articulation there will be embedded some physical or verbal mnemonic. For example, the wiping of invisible "slime" off of one's thigh will be cued to a word that rhymes with it, like "time." Knowing this, when the dancers then go on to repeat the gesture phrases, whether silently or while singing a John Denver song, we concentrate more intently, which fits with Chase's theory that the combining of verbal and physical scores in performance makes audience members as lucid in their reception as performers become in their expression. In a similar way, Carr and Goodman later show us some of the technique that underscores a few of the named moves they use in their aerial dancing (e.g. "Superman" or "The Bird"). It was fascinating to see what normally would be happening off the side of a building, with the dancers' harnessed bodies tilted 90 degrees and with our gazes tilted up, translated to a traditional proscenium setting: at the very least it was a reminder that aerial dancing is in fact dancing, and that just as we come to recognize the patterns of a story, so are we able, over time, to discern those that send--and keep--a body in flight.
Following a pause, we were treated to a solo by MOVE: the company's Josh Beamish. A choreographic collaboration with Toronto's Ame Henderson, Radios sees Beamish enter upstage left. He wears a baggy black jacket over a loose blue shirt and black skirt (with silvery shorts underneath); on his feet are green socks and black trainers. With bored nonchalance, Beamish slowly begins to move, folding one foot in on itself, then slowly lifting it up and letting it hover in the air before bending the other leg, twisting his torso and extending the raised leg in an off-axis and flexed arabesque that is as much a study in durational posing as it is an exercise in balance. The piece continues in this way, with Beamish slowly moving horizontally in front of the upstage white backdrop as he tests different movement possibilities: dropping suddenly to the floor with his legs splayed precariously behind him; or slowly arching his back and extending one arm behind his head, then letting the same arm upon its return first graze and then lazily drape along the back of his neck, fingers unconsciously tickling the fuzz of his buzzed hair. Mostly this is done in silence, but occasionally industrial-style rock fades in from what at first appears to be a speaker positioned in the wings. All of this suggests a club kid practising in his basement or his bedroom, and the pauses between the different poses, in which Beamish displays absolute indifference to his audience, frequently turning his back to us, were just as watchable as the Trajal Harrell-styled voguing riffs I was put in mind of by Beamish's pop preening and slow studied traversing of the stage. Near the end of the piece a stagehand wheels on that hidden speaker from the wings and the music returns; this is the cue for Beamish to ramp up his physicality and to become much more presentational in his movement, his now hyper-kinetic dancing veering suddenly towards more recognizably balletic technique, as if he and Henderson felt obliged to foreground the classical training underscoring a movement narrative they had previously seemed to be deconstructing. Even the speaker is revealed to be a chimera, with Beamish retrieving a small clock radio from his jacket pocket at the conclusion of the work and silencing the sound emanating from it.
Following the second pause I was getting restless. And it didn't help that the last piece on the program was a long conceptual work that in its durational slowness and repetitiveness tested my patience. Isaac y Diola, directed, choreographed and interpreted by Belgian artists German Jauregui and Anita Diaz, begins with the two dancers lying naked, one on top of the other, downstage right. In the shadows upstage are a number of overturned chairs. Juaregui begins to drag his (and, by proxy, Diaz's) body in the direction of the chairs. Eventually Diaz is discarded, like a second skin, and Juaregui begins the slow process of retrieving his clothes and then righting and rearranging the chairs about the stage. While he is doing this, Diaz starts crawling backwards to the chair positioned upstage left, upon which are draped her clothes. Quotes by Marguerite Duras, Jacques Lacan, George Orwell and Ayn Rand, among others, play in voiceover while all of this is happening. Only after this prolonged set-up do we get to the most interesting part of the piece: two paired solos that play off of the materiality and animacy of the chairs as objects of kinetic sculpture. That is, as Juaregui begins sawing the two front legs off of the chair upon which he is standing upstage centre, Diaz begins a gorgeous solo on her back. Then, after Juaregui tumbles to the floor, Diaz begins piling the remaining chairs into a stacked tower downstage left; following her delicate placement of the last chair, Juaregui begins his own solo. To the driving beat of a drum score, he throws himself about the stage in a remarkable off-balance and mostly backwards series of knee squats, at the end of which he places the final broken chair at the top of the ziggurat Diaz has made. Maybe because we did something similar in my play The Objecthood of Chairs, or maybe because I was just super-hungry by this point, I found this architectural culmination to the evening less impressive than it was clearly meant to be--at least judging by the response of the rest of the audience.