Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dance Weekend Roundup: Noam Gagnon, Lesley Telford, Donald Sales

What do the Bionic Woman, Leigh Bowery and Michel Tremblay all have in common? They're all influences on Noam Gagnon's ambitious new dance-theatre piece, This Crazy Show, which ran at The Dance Centre this past weekend. The Vision Impure choreographer and performer, working with a team that includes composer, sound designer and on-stage accordionist James Coomber, rehearsal director and outside eye Danielle Lecourtois, lighting designer Stéphane Ménigot, and performer Ken Blaschuk, among many other collaborators, has created a collage of kinetic, visual and sonic set pieces. This allows Gagnon to move in and through a range of different personas, all of them further refracted and multiplied in the sixteen disco balls suspended within Bryan Kenney's amazing set, and which are themselves spun or swung like pendulums at various points by Blaschuk, who enters in a series of increasingly elaborate and ornamental costumes (always, like Coomber, with his face covered, which is not the only curious, gender-bending and slightly problematic allusion to the veil over the course of the evening). The always charismatic Gagnon addresses the audience at the top of the show, inviting us, if we feel like it, to get up and dance at any point. However, the audience on Friday evening mostly left that to Gagnon, who in addition to a funky bit of interactive partnering with the disco balls timed to a series of glitches in Coomber's score, also later donned a pair of heels and a succession of wigs to perform a kind of off-balance stumbling slip-and-slide mop dance as Coomber played his accordion while lying prone on the floor.

In the talkback I led after the show with the Gagnon and his aforementioned collaborators, we were given further insight into the process behind creating the signature craziness of this particular show; according to Gagnon this mostly involved him abandoning the way he usually works, which is alone and pushing one, largely physical, idea to the max. This time, he took on whatever his collaborators threw at him, trusting that they would eventually find a way to put it all together. Gagnon was also asked about that invitation to dance he issues at the beginning, and what his response would be if someone took him up on his offer. Grinning broadly he said he would love it.

Earlier this afternoon, I also took in New Works' latest addition to its Dance Allsorts series at the Roundhouse. It was a double bill featuring work by Lesley Telford and Donald Sales for his company Project20. Telford's Only who is left is a reworking of the large-scale ensemble piece that she created for Arts Umbrella's Season Finale this past May, and which I wrote about here. Working this time with just seven dancers (many of whom are helping out with the choreographic process on Long Division), the effect of her opening play of having the dancers move into various heroic poses and then retreat affectlessly and almost listlessly into a kind of non-presentational on-stage embodiment registered much more powerfully--especially as this dialectic was both amplified by and served to undercut the very martial music she was working with (the name of which I should know). In the more intimate space of the Roundhouse and in this scaled down staging, I was also able to appreciate the way Telford is working with deliberately broken lines and an aesthetic of what I'll call anti-virtuosity: it's there in the bent leg extensions, the pirouettes that don't quite finish, the series of stutter steps and incredibly loud foot thumps all the dancers engage in, even the torpid way the lone male dancer whistles into his bullhorn. Who and what is all of this for is the question undergirding this piece, and it's one that can be asked not just of dance as a species of live performance, but of any human enterprise.

The latter theme is taken up by Donald Sales in his preview of Gates of Hell, a new work in development for his company Project20. Throughout this 30-minute work we hear in voiceover excerpts from two different British sociologists commenting on the conundrum of humanity, of how to a certain extent we are hard wired to be selfish, but how we also need to work together if we--and our planet--are to survive. This paradox is initiated in movement at the top of the show by having the six women dancers engage in a succession of brief duets that register at once as territorial provocations and invitations to share space. The theme of competition versus collaboration plays out elsewhere in the piece through the juxtaposing of individual solos and some gorgeous unison. The last piece I saw by Sales was gR33N, which I thought was weighed down by a confusing narrative structure and too much gimmicky stage business. It was a delight to see what is in effect a pure movement piece by the former Ballet BC dancer; that the work was set to a score by Long Division composer Owen Belton only made it that much better.


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