Last evening's Edge 2 program at the Dancing on the Edge Festival was an immensely satisfying mix of very different, but equally strong, short works. Natasha Bakht's Blessed Unrest, a solo danced by Monica Shah, led things off. Bakht, who just happens to have a side gig as an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa (!), is trained in bharatannatyam, and in this work she gives the classical Indian form a contemporary twist, not least through her choice of music. In the first and most extended section, Shah's intricate footwork, knee bends and hand gestures are performed to a bracingly fast piano composition by Alexander MacSween, and are additionally set against a projected backdrop of the blankly white looped end of a film reel. However, at a certain point the piano music cuts out, an inky black projection of what looks like a river bed comes up, and Shah slows things way down. Indeed, this section begins with the dancer splaying the toes on her right foot in such an unhurried yet utterly compelling way that I would have been content to watch this one gesture for the rest of the piece. In this fusion of tempos and tones, Bakht shows that contemporary Indian dance is as exciting and complexly varied as any western concert dance form.
An excerpt from Jennifer Mascall's work-in-progress, Quartet, was shown next. Mascall, subbing for Vanessa Goodman, served as on-stage intermediary for the audience, announcing from a downstage right stool that what we were watching was a lecture-demonstration about a process concerning what we know, and what we don't know. An exploration of voice as much as movement, dancers Anne Cooper, Eloi Homier and Walter Kubanek sing, grunt, breathe, and speak with varying degrees of intelligibility, while simultaneously and/or in counterpoint interposing their bodies between or alongside each other. Within these circuits of vocal and kinetic communication, the performers are variously in and out of sync with each other, Homier's off-beat syncopation in a tap sequence, for example, or his slightly different tonal inflections in a virtuoso grunting session with Cooper and Kubanek, indicative of the ways in which sense-making is inherently sensual. As slyly funny as it is sharply intelligent, this excerpt is hopefully the first of many iterations of Quartet.
Finally, demonstrating that she can go compositionally maximalist when she wants to, Yvonne Ng, whose spare autobiographical solo is also included in this year's Edge 1 program, serves up a boldly expressive (and even expressionist) trio with her excerpt of Zhōng Xīn. Superbly danced by Mairéad Filgate, Irvin Chow and Luke Garwood to a booming score by Max Richter, the work plays out, on one level, as a love triangle in which none of the points can connect. Indeed, it was surprising to me just how little actual partnering there was in the piece. Instead, like sub-atomic particles colliding in space, the dancers are as repelled as they are attracted by each other's energy, and the moments that registered most powerfully for me were the ones in which each performer obsessively repeated a gestural or movement pattern in his or her own isolated world: Filgate, otherwise standing still, windmilling her arms wildly in the air; Chow running from point to point on the floor like he is playing tag with himself; and Garwood, at both the top and the end of the show, waving his hands in front of his face. As with the excerpt from Quartet, what Ng showed here only wets one's appetite for more.