Sunday, April 23, 2017

Three Sets/Relating at a Distance at The Dance Centre

The three pieces included as part of Lesley Telford's first full program of dance to be presented in Canada under the auspices of her company Inverso Productions reveal some common preoccupations. First, all combine--to greater or lesser degrees--text and movement. IF, an earlier and shorter version of which was developed in 2007 for a Nederlands Dans Theater workshop, is set to a poem by Anne Carson, "Seated Figure with Red Angle"--and here spoken in recorded voiceover by Amos Ben-Tal. My Tongue, Your Ear, from 2011, features its two dancers speaking aloud excerpts from Wislava Szymborska's poem "Tower of Babel." And Spooky Action at a Distance, receiving its phase one premiere as part of Telford's residency at The Dance Centre, is accompanied by an original spoken word score by writer and musician Barbara Adler, who speaks the text live.

Then, too, all three works are concerned with patterns of attraction and repulsion, proximity and distance, action and reaction. In IF these impulses manifest as a roundelay of occupations of and displacements from a chair positioned downstage right. As the piece begins, dancer Maya Tenzer is perched on it. Behind her, all the way upstage, is Eden Solomon. Both dancers are lit in such a way that as Solomon advances toward Tenzer in the chair the former's shadow gradually overtakes and subsumes the latter's physical presence (the lighting, adapted from an original concept by Jeroen Cool, is by my colleague Kyla Gardiner, who does amazing work throughout). Meanwhile visible offstage right is Stéphanie Cyr, who begins a horizontal walk across the stage, her passing in front of the chair cuing Solomon to supplant Tenzer from it. Cyr then begins a solo centre stage, eventually arcing into the upstage vertical pathway of the chair, and with the enactment of her own kinetic claims upon it launching first Solomon and then Tenzer into successive retracings of the circuit she has just completed. In this, IF is like a game of musical chairs that no one can win, because within the feedback loop of Telford's choreography we gradually discover that each act of sitting constellates within it both past and future acts of sitting, a sedimentation of time within at once shared and separate physical states that is vividly portrayed at the end of the piece when all three dancers sandwich themselves onto the chair.

My Tongue, Your Ear is a duet that casts Tenzer and Graham Kaplan as two halves of a couple. And yet while their cryptic and elliptical patter throughout the piece suggests a pair of lovers whose wires of communication are hopelessly crossed, their matching white shirts and black shorts and socks also put me in mind of a vaudeville double-act or toy marionettes come to life. Such images may have something to do with the twitchy and floppy movement vocabulary that Telford employs throughout the piece, with both dancers windmilling their arms and buckling their knees at different moments, and with the tall, lanky and Gumby-like Kaplan repeating a series of rubbery jumps into the air, like he is being pulled by strings from above. For a while Tenzer and Kaplan seem to be working in concert to support each other, propping each other up by the shoulders, for example, as they begin a precarious walk downstage. By the end of the piece, however, the individual crumbling of their bodies begins to mirror the disjointedness of their speech, their physical proximity to each other in this case failing to buttress their relationship.

Following an intermission, Telford presented her newest work-in-progress. Spooky Action at a Distance is based on the quantum theory of particle entanglement (that, to summarize crudely, electrons separated by galaxies can still be affected by each other's movements). The choreography seeks to physicalize the matter of human interconnectivity, using the time/space properties of dance to show the eventness of all action--that, for example, a movement initiated in one body both ripples outward to be registered by and reacted to by other bodies and contracts inward as a result of that reaction. The piece begins simply with the hard-working Tenzer positioned alone on stage, her back to the audience. Adler begins intoning her text from the front row of the audience. She talks about believing that it is she who makes the world happen, that she has control over the weather, able to conjure clouds or sun or fog simply by closing or opening her eyes. But maybe in fact it's the weather that's making her adjust her gaze; when she mentions turning her face "to accept/the event/at a different angle" Tenzer pivots slowly to look at us. Indeed, one of the delights of this work is how it enacts the principle of action and reaction--what Adler elsewhere in her text refers to as the time and distance between x and y--at the level of the relationship between text and movement. Sometimes the dancers seem to be responding to the text, at other times Adler is clearly taking her cue from the choreography. In neither case, however, are the results reductively descriptive or mimetic; instead they combine in a way that would seem to fulfill Niels Bohr's theory of complementarity, in which the corresponding, reciprocal and mutually constitutive properties of wave and particle, or position and momentum, are known to (co)exist, but cannot be measured or observed simultaneously. Likewise with the movement patterns that follow this opening, the other dancers (Cyr, Solomon, Caitlynn Danchuk, Katie DeVries, Bynh Ho, and Brenna Metzmeier) at once prompting Tenzer to respond to their spatial presence on stage (including by whispering in her ear) and also embodying an opposing force. To put this into some of the terms employed by Adler, what we are witnessing in Telford's choreography is people "happening" to each other: sometimes "more" and sometimes "harder," especially in the complex partnering sequences that pepper the work; and sometimes simply, but with "attentive" purpose, as when Tenzer later orbits Solomon ever more closely in a gradually accelerating walk centre stage.

There is so much more I could say about this last work, which was a delight to behold. I look forward to becoming more entangled with its progress as Telford and her collaborators continue to develop it.


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