Thursday, March 2, 2017

In Penumbra at The Dance Centre

In astronomy, penumbra refers to a space of partial shadow between full illumination and full shadow, as in an eclipse. And so perhaps it is to be expected that audience members are handed sunglasses upon entering The Dance Centre's Faris Studio for the world premiere of In Penumbra, a new work by Paras Terezakis' Kinesis Dance Somatheatro (which is how the choreographer is now branding his company in this, its 30th anniversary year). A co-presentation with the Vancouver International Dance Festival, the piece does feature a stunning lighting design by the incomparable James Proudfoot. Much of that design is an active and agential part of the larger scenography, including a hanging net of hundreds of incandescent bulbs, several plastic fluorescent tubes attached to long cords and lying on the stage floor, even a bunch of wearable LED headlights. Combined with the fact that the audience is seated in the round, it is hard not to be caught in the direct beam or refracted glare of one or more lighting sources over the course of the hour-long piece. (That said, the sunglasses pose a practical challenge for those of us who wear regular glasses, and so I ended up dispensing with them pretty quickly.)

The entire design concept for In Penumbra is incredibly sophisticated and integrated, starting with the unique banner-style program that we are handed in the lobby (yeah for challenging the hegemony of the DC's boring white one-page fold-overs!). Kudos as well to the rest of the design team, including sound designer Nancy Tam (who does wonders with a reverberating microphone stand), costume designer Natalie Purschwitz, and video designer Josh Hite (though the non-proscenium seating in this case somewhat worked against the projections, as they only played out on what would normally be the upstage wall, and so one only registered them when one or more of the dancers moved in that direction). The piece also features perhaps the most original and effective entrance and exit of its performers that I've ever seen in the Faris Studio, with dancers Arash Khakpour, Elissa Hanson, Hyoseung Ye, Diego Romero, and Renée Sigouin descending and then later ascending a ladder propped against the lobby-level tech booth.

As for what happens movement-wise in between these bookended coups-de-thèȃtre, things are much more inchoate, with the "grey zone" of kinetic exploration and discovery in relation to the objects and other material properties on stage sometimes going on too long and feeling a bit self-indulgent. That said, individual moments were utterly compelling, including the group waltz that opens the piece, a mechanical kissing duet between Khakpour and Hanson, each of the wildly careering solos by the men, and Sigouin's dragging of the microphone against the upstage wall. In between, however, it often felt like many physical actions were functioning more as stage business than as fleshed out movement ideas (a case in point being all of the taking off of and putting back on of clothes). And as far as I could tell the dragged out ending to the piece--in which audience members are coaxed out of their chairs, which are then removed along with other freestanding items on stage--seemed more like an expedient way to strike the set than as meaningful concluding statement about the dark spots of enlightenment.


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