Saturday, July 8, 2017

Edge 1 at DOTE

The offerings in the 2017 Dancing on the Edge Festival's first mixed program, Edge 1, were, well, mixed. Reversing the order in the printed program, the first piece presented was local choreographer Chick Snipper's Phasmida & Scorpiones: a study. Performers Jess Ames and Julianne Chapple wear matching coral-coloured lyotards with cross-hatched stitching on the backs, and also black leggings. While one of the dancers lies supine on the floor upstage right, with one hand stretched above her head, the other moves out of a lunge she is holding centre stage and into a deep plie, the first phase in her own eventual trajectory floorwards. Here she will begin a series of crawling patterns across the stage, her body low to the floor, her arms outstretched and bent at the elbows, feet flexed: in other words, an approximation of the morphology of the predatory arachnids in Snipper's title. By contrast, the other dancer's orbit is upwards, her physical vocabulary and locomotion more vertical, with her limbs tending towards a series of extensions: and thus do we discover (with the aid of a bit of post-show Googling) that phasmida are a class of stick-like insects. Of course, arachnid and insect must meet, and in Snipper's study they do so twice: once on the floor, rolling onto and over each other in some contact-inspired phrasing; and once while standing, leaning into each other's chests, entwining their arms, syncing two of their knees together, and beginning an approximation of a slow, three-legged walk upstage. I'm not sure if this meant that the scorpion wins out over the phasmid, but it did register to me as one more way in which this piece was a bit too literal and representational in the physical phrasing it was deploying.

Representational gestures also figured in Yvonne Ng's Weave ... part one, a solo in which she tells the story of her mother's complicated patrimony through speech and movement. However, for every rocking back and forth of Ng's arms to indicate a swaddling baby there was also a through-line bodily grammar of more formally repetitive and non-expressive gestural sequences, the patterning of Ng's limbs, when combined with her talk, putting me in mind of the mathematically-inflected work of Sarah Chase. Additionally layered over top of this is a meta-commentary in which every so often Ng will comment on either the appropriateness or the ridiculousness of the particular movement she is executing. The approach works, and not just because the petite Ng, artistic director of the Toronto-based tiger princess dance projects, is such a charismatic performer. The combination of deconstructed formalism and emotional lyricism captures the complicated story of Asian feminine identity that Ng is trying to tell, which we discover is as much about finding an anchor for herself where her mother had none.

Last on the program was Tedd Robinson's Logarian Rhapsody, a commission for the Winnipeg-based dance artist Alexandra Elliott. A duet that Elliott dances with Ian Mozden, it begins with the performers whispering offstage. Eventually they enter, their eyes rimmed in black kohl, and dressed like lounge singers from the 1970s in white leisure suits. Mozden appears to be holding some orb-like object in one hand. That object turns out to be a green apple and via snippets of the live whispering of the dancers, and also via the voiceover that eventually joins this whispering, we learn that both dancers wish to eat the apple. However, it takes a very long time for either of them to do so, and first we must cycle through a series of anticipatory tableaux: Mozden coming downstage to show us the apple and comment on how desirously delicious it looks; Elliott placing the apple on Mozden's shoulder for them and us to admire, or be in fearsome awe of; Elliott and Mozden trading the apple back and forth; Elliott rolling the apple on the floor; and so on. We go through variations of this sequence many, many times, and while I normally find Robinson's conceptual imagination highly engaging, here the conceit felt tedious. Adam and Eve: we get it. Just someone please bite the apple already. Spoiler alert: they both eventually do so, and the choreographic effect is decidedly anti-climactic. There is, however, a final saving grace: a fantastic lighting cue to end the piece.


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