Thursday, December 15, 2016

After the Fall at EDAM

Last night I dashed from a board meeting to make it to EDAM's latest choreographic series presentation, After the Fall. Am I ever glad I made the extra effort to be there. Not only was the Western Front teeming with people I knew, but the program was excellent (albeit with minor caveats about one piece). It was just the restorative re-immersion I needed into the amazing performance work of this community after so many weeks with my head up my butt working on my own show.

First up was Julianne Chapple's Self Portrait, a work created and performed in collaboration with Maxine Chadburn and Francesca Frewer. With the windows on the western wall of the first-floor EDAM studios left uncovered, and thus admitting a degree of extra sparkle from the streetlights outside, a dancer enters from the open upstage left door. She is wearing black shorts and a white push-up bra; her long mane of hair tumbles down in front of her face. As she begins a slow journey across the width of the upstage wall, we gradually become aware of another figure seated downstage in shadow watching her progress along with us. And what fascinates about the upstage woman's slow and sinuous movement is that it is as much vertical as it is horizontal. That is, more than once she dips her torso downward and first raises one leg in a gorgeous arabesque, before resting it against the wall and then raising the other leg to join it and pausing there in a pose that put me in mind of all those surrealist photos of disembodied, upside-down mannequin legs by the likes of Man Ray and others (and the fact that all the dancers were clad in a similar underwear model-like manner and rarely showed their faces only reinforced this image). But the first dancer does not remain in this position; she continues her curious walk on/along the wall, exiting through the open door upstage left. Soon another dancer emerges from the opposite door and begins to traverse a similar gymnastic journey along the upstage wall, also observed by the downstage figure in repose. And so the pattern continues, with, on the third go round, the downstage dancer walking upstage to take her turn at the wall, and the other two dancers remaining on stage--one observing downstage, the other repeating a version of the wall dance along the floor upstage, and with all three dancers aligning themselves in a vertical centre column whenever the wall dancer reaches a resting point in the middle of her journey. This trio, so compelling in its spatial geometry when the dancers are apart, becomes even more watchable when the dancers swap each other's bodies for the surface of the wall, coming together in a series of fluidly intertwined configurations that combine the strength and balance and flexibility of gymnastics with the weight-sharing of contact. Every now and then during this sequencing the dancers will hold a shape, usually with one of them perched atop or supported by the other two, at which point the dancer being posed will sweep her hair away from her face and gaze out distractedly and maybe also with a touch of disdain at the audience: the one who is looked at looks back and, unimpressed by what she sees, continues on with the work at hand. Which culminates in one final walk on walls, this time begun horizontally along the stage left studio wall, before ending where we began, back on the upstage wall. This time, however, the dancer doing the walking is supported by the other two: so she can go even higher. And because all three women are working together we know she will not fall.

For the second piece on the program, Peter Bingham's Engage the Feeling Arms, the blinds had been lowered on the windows, though the slats remained open, which produced a nice constellation of light pinpricks along the upstage wall. The audience was treated to another trio, this one featuring EDAM stalwarts Farley Johansson, Walter Kubanek and Olivia Shaffer. In terms of Bingham's trademark contact choreography, the piece begins somewhat unusually. All three dancers are in a horizontal line upstage and remain vertical for far longer than we might expect: Johansson and Shaffer are engaged in a vigorous duet, but there is no offering of backs or legs to tumble over or slide down, just a complex intertwining of arms and cupping of heads that put me in mind of ice dancing or tango. Meanwhile Kubanek is off to the side, stage left, improvising a solo, his arms also extending with abandon about his head as he does a series of pirouettes on his feet and knees (the Indian-themed music made it seem at times that all the dancers were multi-limbed Hindu gods). Soon enough Kubanek bumps Johansson and begins his own duet with Shaffer, and then Johannson does the same with Shaffer, the two men partnering while Shaffer performs a solo beside them. Eventually the three dancers break out of this pattern, and their line, beginning a run downstage which serves as the initiation of a series of repeated lifts, contact with other parts of their bodies and, of course, those at once supremely athletic and graceful leaps and tumbles and rolls to/along the floor for which EDAM performers are known. It always takes my breath away to watch dancers trained by Bingham fall: there is a suspension and yet simultaneous giving into gravity that seems to defy the rules of physics, but as satisfyingly there is always such a beautifully soft landing. Such is the case here with these three expert fallers and the image that will stay with me longest from last night's performance is the sequence (repeated twice) in which each dancer falls successively into the outstretched arms of another who lies prone on the floor. Feeling arms indeed.

The final piece, The Way, was choreographed by Shay Kuebler and by this point in the program the stage blacks had been pulled entirely across the windows on the western wall. The lights come up slowly on dancer Nicholas Lydiate, who starts twitching centre stage. Dancer Lexi Vajda soon appears in the upstage right doorway, walks toward Lydiate with purpose, and begins pushing him about the stage. It was great to see the diminutive Vajda be the controlling force at the start of the duet that ensues, which gradually gets more and more physical, and ends up with the two dancers collapsed on the floor upstage. This is the cue for Kuebler to enter, stepping gingerly between the bodies of the other dancers, slowly lowering himself to his knees, and finally initiating a gestural sequence with his arms that the other dancers join in. The unison becomes more and more captivating as it picks up speed, but also because in so doing it begins to break down. Lydiate's twitches from the top of the piece are hear reintroduced as glitches, with first Kuebler and then Vajda and Lydiate splaying one leg jarringly to the side, or else knocking themselves over with a miscued arm. Extremity has always been part of Kuebler's aesthetic, which draws as much from martial arts as from hip hop and contemporary dance. Nowhere is this more evident in this work than the solo Kuebler gives himself in the middle of the piece: it begins as a pantomime of boxing moves and ends with Kuebler thrashing back and forth violently on the floor. There is a suggestion of self-parody in the "dudeness" of this scene as, at its end, Vajda begins a slow clap, as if to say "Good for you, what next?" But, in fact, rather then ending things there, Kuebler takes up the bait, rolling back and forth along the floor as the rhythm of Vajda's clapping--now joined by Lydiate--picks up speed. Wait, there's more! The piece ends with this final trio throwing their bodies against the upstage wall, each reverberating slap of skin registering as a wince in my own body. I so appreciate what Kuebler and his dancers can do physically; but because I worry about how much it hurts, I'm just not sure I support the philosophy of doing it. To that end, I left longing for a return to the silent tableau that concluded Chapple's piece.


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