Sunday, January 28, 2018

PuSh 2018: Endings at the Roundhouse

The concept of Tamara Saulwick's Endings, on at the Roundhouse as part of this year's PuSh Festival, sounded so interesting on paper: record players, reel-to-reel tape recorders, live speech and song, all combining into a mix-tape of voices speaking about and with the dead and departed. But the content and execution of the work felt directionless and somewhat trite.

Saulwick, working with singer-songwriter Paddy Mann and composer and sound designer Peter Knight, spends much of her time moving sound and lighting equipment about an otherwise bare black stage, and one of the things that did compel me about the piece was its subtle choreography of objects and bodies. This extended to Saulwick and Mann's downstage, on-the-floor dual DJing of a series of vinyl recordings with interview subjects reflecting on the passings of loved ones. But what surprised me about the mixing and overlaying of these voices was how conventional was the cutting between them. Saulwick would spin one record, we'd hear a snippet of conversation, and then she'd press a finger on the record to stop it. This would be the cue for Mann to lift his finger from one of his records to let us hear a snippet from another voice. And then we'd return to Saulwick's interviewee, and so on. Surprisingly, however, the cumulative effect had less to do with the formal counterpointing of multiple voices than with Saulwick's apparent desire to have us clearly distinguish the continuities between individual narratives. I was frankly surprised that Saulwick didn't exploit the capacity of her technologies to manipulate and synthesize and distort the different voices she'd recorded. When it comes to death and voices from the beyond, it seems that for Saulwick the message clearly supersedes the medium.

Which is where that other kind of medium comes in--that is, the spritualist variety. We learn that Saulwick herself has consulted one in connection with her own father's death--which seems to be the impetus for the entire show. Clearly Saulwick is aware of the connections between analog recording technologies and nineteenth-century seances focused on the transmigration of voices from the spirit world. But whereas back then the gramophone was often used as a feint, or a means of deception, here the deployment of the record and tape players is utterly--perhaps even overly--sincere.

Endings has one more performance this afternoon at 2 pm.


Friday, January 26, 2018

PuSh 2018: Meeting at Performance Works

Meeting, presented by the PuSh Festival at Performance Works through this Saturday, is a collaboration between choreographer and dancer Antony Hamilton and composer and instrument builder Alisdair Macindoe. It's also a collaboration between the two men--who both perform in the piece--and the percussive objects that Macindoe has designed for it. These objects, tiny wooden blocks with pencils attached via levers to their sides, are arranged in a large circle on the floor of the stage. Outside the circle are an array of other objects: small round and larger rectangular tin dishes; some chunkier pencilless wooden blocks; what look like a couple of miniature didgeridoos. On either side of the downstage lip of the circle are two music stands.

At the top of the show, Hamilton and Macindoe walk from the wings and enter the circle. Nothing happens. Then, after a time we hear a tapping. It echoes around the circle and then repeats as we struggle to locate the block from which it emanates. Just as we do, all 64 of the blocks erupt into a cacophony of sound and the performers start to move. At first the choreography is angular and precise, almost like robot-style breaking as the dancers pivot and twist and turn and extend their arms joint by joint in response to the rhythm of the instruments. As this rhythm grows faster and increasingly complex, so does the choreography, with Hamilton and Macindoe moving in and out of unison and also every now and then interrupting their mostly staccato and vertically-oriented gesture phrases with more bendy and fluid torso ripples and head ducks, like they are Neo and Trinity from The Matrix slowing down time to dodge a bullet.

The synching of the physical and sound scores is a bravura feat (and also perhaps explains the presence of the two music stands, which otherwise do not move). There are many moments in the first part of the piece when the audience gasps or claps in delight at different displays of syncopated virtuosity, as when the men slice the air with their hands over and over again in a mind-boggling game of non-touching patty cake, or later when they start counting together in time to the instruments' beats. But in the second part of the piece, after the performers do a slow-mo retreat from the centre of the circle (this time looking very much like Neo and Trinity), they let the objects take over completely, deconstructing the circle block by block and moving the other objects in such a proximate manner as to produce, on cue, a whole symphony of taps and chimes and bongs.

After a moment of worshipful reflection (and a bit more choreography) before the idols they have thus arrayed, Hamilton and Macindoe exit the stage. The rest of the score is produced solely by the instruments. To be sure, there is someone in the tech booth sending wireless signals (I'm assuming) to produce said sounds. Nevertheless, we are left with an image of non-human agency that resonates quite powerfully with larger philosophies of vital materialism currently circulating in performance theory.


Thursday, January 25, 2018

PuSh 2018: The Events at the Russian Hall

David Greig's The Events, currently being mounted by Pi Theatre at the Russian Hall as part of this year's PuSh Festival, is inspired by Anders Breivik's 2011 mass killing of young camp goers on the island of Utøya in Norway. In adapting those horrific events for the stage, the Scottish Greig has at once made the story more particular and more universal, focusing on an individual survivor, but also refusing to specify her nationality or where she lives. With the aid of composer John Browne, Greig also incorporates a series of rotating community choirs into the play's mise-en-scène, ensuring that wherever the play is staged it will have direct local resonance.

Claire (Luisa Jojic) is a liberal lesbian minister and choir leader who is struggling to come to terms with a random act of violence that has resulted in the deaths of most of her flock, and that has made her question the very foundations of her faith. This aftermath is framed by an opening scene in which we see Claire, in the middle of conducting her choir, welcome a young boy (Douglas Ennenberg) into the church. "You don't have to sing," she says by way of encouragement. "Nobody wants to sing every day." What follows is Claire's desperate and soul-shattering struggle to make sense of the actions wrought by this boy, and to make her way back to a place where she herself might one day be able to sing again. Along the way she seeks but fails to find answers from a host of characters who are either concerned for her own well-being (her therapist, her partner) or who knew the boy (his father, an acquaintance from high school, the leader of a far right party whose ideology the shooter briefly flirted with). All of these characters are incarnated by the same actor playing the boy and Ennenberg's loose and easy physicality, combined with subtle modulations in voice and tone, makes each of them both distinguishable and believable.

It is, of course, belief that Claire is looking for--something, anything, to explain what, as a woman of God, she can't bring herself to accept is unexplainable. But Greig wisely resists offering Claire, or us, pat homilies. In scene after scene, Claire chases after that which will confirm her worst convictions about the boy: that he was abused as a child; that he was picked on at school; that he was blinded by extremist ideology. But in these encounters what Claire is actually forced to confront are the limits of her own naïveté and rigidly moralistic worldview. To her expression of unknowing horror at the protocols of bullying, the high school acquaintance of the boy says that she was obviously extremely popular growing up. And she is flummoxed by the fact that the leader of the far right party whose meetings the boy occasionally attended is a family man who completely disavows what the boy has done. Greig also ramps up the dramatic tension by slowly revealing that Claire's obsession with the boy's motives masks a far more painful self-examination that would force her to confront the rightness of her own actions on the night of the shooting. In this, it is worth noting that performance and trauma share a similar structuring principle: repetition. Every time we see Claire replay the events of the shooting, Jojic's increasingly manic desperation--which director Richard Wolfe, working with movement designer Jo Leslie, cannily externalizes in physical actions that have no purpose, or that go nowhere--inches us at once closer to and then away from the horrible truth of what happened in the music room, where Claire and Mrs. Singh find themselves staring down the barrel of the boy's gun.

As is often the case in these situations, the truth after which Claire and the audience have been questing for most of the play ends up being banal--or, rather, "silly," to quote the boy, whom Claire eventually visits in prison. She has gone there with the express purpose of poisoning him (the only implausible note in the play), her nihilism now so total and complete as to be a match for his own. But the emptiness of his answers to her repeated queries of "why?" once again upends her certitude--this time in a bottomless well of pure evil. Not that Greig leaves us with an Arendtian equivocation on the singularity of remorse (or lack thereof). For into the void of the boy's culpability and Claire's own guilt, Greig and Browne fill the performance hall with the collective catharsis of song. Here, as Wolfe writes in his program note, the play's creators are taking us back to the very origins of Western tragedy, with the Chorus in Greek drama functioning as "both spectator and performer."

Thus it was that last night Vancouver's Cyrilika Slavic Chamber Choir, under the direction of Emilija Lale, at once completed the fourth side of Wolfe's in-the-round staging and also seamlessly melded into the action of the play. Each of the twelve volunteer choirs participating over the course of this production's run receive a copy of the script and musical score in advance. But they rehearse on their own, meeting with music supervisor Mishelle Cuttler only once, and only encountering the actors (and vice-versa) on the night of their scheduled performance. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking this is for all concerned in terms of coordination; at the same time, watching the choir watching what we were watching had the reverberating effect of binding us all in an act of witnessing that apportioned some of the weight of Claire's trauma to the other bodies in the room. This is, of course, the power of song: it travels through time and space, and from body to body, actively moving us with its force and energy. Physically registering this sense of connection and obligation--a choir per force being the sum of its individual voices--is what makes this production of The Events so eventful.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

PuSh 2018: Songs of Insurrection at the Fox Cabaret

After a night off on Sunday, it was back to all things PuSh on Monday, with the North American premiere of American composer Frederic Rzewski's Songs of Insurrection at the Fox Cabaret. This was a co-presentation with Music on Main, who actually co-commissioned the work back in 2015 as a showcase for the virtuoso Flemish pianist Daan Vandewalle.

For Songs, Rzewski has taken classic protest tunes from around the world (Germany, Russian, the US, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Korea) and rewritten portions of their melodies. In so doing, he wrests the songs from the dustheap of history and makes them new again, showing their continued relevance for our present age. Indeed, the Civil Rights-era Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around seems especially pertinent in an America that's even more racially divided than ever.

I confess that I couldn't always distinguish one song from another, nor determine where one ended and the next began. As Music on Main Artistic Director David Pay writes in his program notes, Rzewski permits the pianist to improvise between movements, "improvisation being the greatest form of freedom and personal agency in music." And on this front Vandewalle--who is an exceptional post-classical interpreter--got progressively bolder as the program progressed, moving from flourishes on the keyboard to tapping the side of the piano and eventually standing up and plucking its strings.

For if in this work Rzewski turns the grand piano into a political instrument, then Vandewalle's performance showed that this includes all parts of it.


Sunday, January 21, 2018

PuSh 2018: Radio Rewrite at the Norman Rothstein Theatre

At last year's PuSh Festival, Turning Point Ensemble Artistic Director Owen Underhill put together an amazing program of music that situated the compositions of rock star Frank Zappa alongside the work of Edgard Varèse and John Oswald. For this year's festival he's done something similar, pairing work by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood with pieces by Olivier Messiaen, Christopher Butterfield, and Steve Reich. The concerts just concluded a two-evening run at the Norman Rothstein Theatre last night.

I had no idea that Greenwood had such an interest in classical and orchestral music, let alone that he had composed numerous pieces for the ondes martenot, an early electronic instrument invented in France after WWI that Messiaen favoured, and which looks like a keyboard and sounds a bit like a theremin. Two ondes martenots were on stage last night and guest TPE artists Estelle Lemire and Geneviève Grenier were featured soloists on all but three pieces. These included a world premiere, Short Room, by local composer Christopher Butterfield, and a new arrangement by Lemire of a 1937 piece by Messiaen, Dieuxième Oraison.

I was most taken with the sound of the ondes martenot when it was paired with the wind instruments, especially the lone french horn in Butterfield's piece. It really is a remarkable instrument and once again I am grateful to Underhill and TPE for bringing to audiences' attention its unsung musical history and influence.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

PuSh 2018: MDLSX at the Roundhouse

Enrico Casagrande and Daniela Niccolò, the co-artistic directors of the Rimini-based Italian company Motus, have been making acclaimed theatre together since 1991. Much of that work is adapted from classic texts (including works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Genet, Cocteau, and so on), and is built on a large ensemble. For the past twelve years Silvia Calderoni has been a key member of that ensemble. However, in MDLSX, the work Motus is currently touring to the PuSh Festival, and which plays the Roundhouse through this Sunday, Calderoni is alone on stage, and the story she tells is mostly based on her own life.

That story is one of the terrors of gender binarism: about how Silvia grew up as a tomboy; about her parents' and medical practitioners' struggles to diagnose and understand her condition clinically; about how she eventually ran away from home, cut her hair, and lived for a time as a man; and, finally, how she decided to refuse the straitjacket of gender identification altogether (despite still answering to female pronouns). While much of this is narrated to us by Silvia (in Italian, with English surtitles), two additional--and dramaturgically essential--elements of the production design are the soundtrack of songs that Silvia plays (twenty-two tracks in all, starting with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ending with REM), and the video projected onto a circular portal in the upstage screen with which Silvia interacts.

For the music, Silvia acts as both DJ and interpreter, each song cued to a stage of shameful discovery or political enlightenment in her life, and with the movement that accompanies it on a triangular bit of shiny cloth placed between her console and props table and the audience at once playing to and confounding our desire for bodily legibility (as when, early on in the show, doing her best Iggy Pop, the hipless Silvia shimmies out of her buttoned pants without the help of her hands). This deliberate thwarting of the standard spectating protocols for how we read performers' bodies within a proscenium staging is augmented by the fact that for much of the show Silvia acts with her back to the audience--an "affront" that is all about scrambling the traditional dramaturgy of social interaction, which in turn is all about how we present to others (to paraphrase Erving Goffman).

Much of the video footage is taken from home movies, and features images of Silvia as a young child and teenager growing up before our eyes. As Enrico said in the talkback following the performance that I was privileged to moderate, this archive of old VHS tapes proved a goldmine for the creators, its projection and overlaying with a live feed of Silvia's on-stage image as she interacts with or stares down her younger self producing an uncanny palimpsest of identities in which sum and parts are neither collapsable nor wholly separable. That video footage of Silvia singing with her father both begins and ends the performance is also a very moving testament to the fact that part of the tyranny of a binary gender system is that it doesn't just divide individuals, but also families.

Not that this show is on-stage therapy for Silvia--or the audience, for that matter. In print, and again last night at the talkback, Silvia and Daniela confirmed that it's designed to be a party, a celebration, an emancipation even. To that end, mixed in with the first-person testimony, we also get excerpts from Silvia's reading in queer and trans theory, in particular Paul B. Periciado's Contrasexual Manifesto. And, finally, while it is not announced officially anywhere in the print materials associated with the show, a main intertext for Silvia's story is Jeffrey Eugenides' 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex, about the unforgettable Detroit-born intersex character of Callie/Cal. Passages and plot points from the novel are woven liberally into the stage show's 80 minutes. The fact that the creators make no effort to distinguish what is Silvia's story and what is Cal's is an apt metaphor for the entire fiction that is gender. As I suggested at the end of the talkback last night, the problem of fit between bodies and categories is a problem with the categories, not the bodies.


Friday, January 19, 2018

PuSh 2018: Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster at The Dance Centre

A man with two children throwing stones at a duck along a canal in Ghent. A woman running along said canal who is outraged by what she sees, but also uncertain about whether she should intervene. This moral conundrum is the starting point for Melbourne-based Nicola Gunn's remarkable work of dance-theatre, Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster, co-presented by the PuSh Festival and the Dance Centre, where it plays through this evening.

Gunn is a virtuoso storyteller, taking everyday incidents and observations from her own life and crafting them into compelling, but also wickedly hilarious, commentaries on social relations and the human condition. She also has a way with the finer points of narrative, introducing what you think are throwaway descriptive details or meaningless digressions (Hercule Poirot actor David Suchet's secret heart surgery, her art world encounter with Marina Abramovic, a synopsis of the plot of the film Brief Encounter, the fact that she told her friends on Facebook that she was out for a walk rather than a run), only to bring those various threads together into a most surprising and satisfying conclusion at the end. And she does this all while moving non-stop, Gunn having collaborated with choreographer Jo Lloyd on a physical score that sees Gunn cycle through a series of gestures and phrases as she unspools her story. The movements are relatively simple, an accretive vocabulary of arm swings and leg pulses and step-touches and swivel jumps and all manner of floor crawls. That doesn't mean that they don't become increasingly taxing to perform, nor that their execution doesn't require incredible powers of mental concentration on the part of Gunn--not least because their abstractness bears very little direct explanatory relation to the story being told (except insofar as they might punctuate a point for emphasis).

However, the movement does relate, conceptually, to Gunn's concern with necessary and unnecessary actions. Indeed, there is a direct philosophical through-line between asking why Gunn is moving her arm such-and-such a way while speaking to why the man is throwing stones at the duck to why Gunn feels compelled to intervene to why all of this is grist for an art piece and, finally, to why we take pleasure in watching said art piece. Gunn doesn't attempt to answer definitively any of these questions. Rather, she eschews black and white problem solving for imagining so many more shades of grey: speculating, for example, on what might be motivating the man (who seems to be an immigrant) to throw the stones and what effect her crazed intervention might have on the future mental health of the daughters who are with him; gradually copping to the fact that her run by the canal that morning is not itself unmotivated; and implicating us in an art historical tradition--from Bruegel to Abramovic to Gunn herself--that seems to place no limits on what is acceptable representationally, and that catches us in the act of looking while also looking away. On this latter front, there is a moment in the performance when things shift and Gunn, who until now had been performing at a safe remove from the audience on a strip of white marley that is oriented more upstage, wades into the audience, using all available surfaces and limbs to balance herself while asking if we mind her pelvis gyrating in our faces. We don't say anything, just titter nervously: because this is contemporary performance--right?--and anything goes. Maybe, and maybe not: when Gunn returns to the stage, we're perhaps not wholly on her side anymore, and as she starts adding even more shades of grey to the story, lighting and AV designers Niklas Pajanti and Martyn Coutts also create effects on the upstage screen that start to make Gunn seem a lot more threatening.

And what about that ghetto blaster in the title, also for much of the piece the only additional prop on the stage? It, too, is somewhat unnecessary. At a certain point Gunn moves it stage right and turns it on and her movements now become additionally syncopated with composer and sound designer Kelly Ryall's beats. It's oversized, early 80s design puts one in mind of the kind of devices used by breakers and B-boys to claim public space--which is not irrelevant to the story Gunn is telling. But, technically speaking, the ghetto blaster doesn't really need to be there. Except perhaps as an object-oriented ontological reminder of who else might be missing from this two-sided story. And, indeed, at the end of the piece the non-human ghetto blaster becomes a key interlocutor for the non-human duck, who up until this point has only been spoken about. Here music and movement combine to transcend the limits of language as a tool for (mis)communication.

It's a surprising and wholly satisfying conclusion to a deeply thoughtful work of performance.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

PuSh 2018: Reassembled, Slightly Askew at The Cultch

Reassembled, Slightly Askew, playing at The Cultch's Culture Lab as part of this year's PuSh Festival, is a cross between a radio play and an immersive sound installation. It is based on writer Shannon Yee's personal experience with a life-threatening medical emergency, her recovery, and the acquired brain injury that resulted.

SPOILER ALERT!!!: Do not read any further if you are planning to see the show.

The piece is divided into two distinct, though related, parts. In the first, eight audience members (the maximum capacity for the show) are greeted in The Cultch's lobby by a docent dressed in hospital scrubs. He asks us to fill out an admitting form (really, an audience survey for the production team), affixes each of us with a plastic bracelet, and explains the concept and performance parameters of the piece. Then he leads us into the Culture Lab, where we are told to remove our coats and shoes (and glasses should, like me, we wear them), and to climb into an empty hospital bed. This man then affixes each of us with a pair of eyeshades and headphones. What follows is a 50-minute acoustic journey inside Shannon's brain as she reconstructs her memories of her near-death experience as a result of a cranial hematoma, the painful nine-week hospital stay to treat resulting infections and rehabilitate compromised sensory-motor functions, and, finally, the slow process of readjusting to the world and a new disability once she is released.

Along the way, we hear not only Shannon's voice, but also the different voices speaking at her, including: her worried partner, Gronya; her attending physician; a succession of nurses trying to find a vein to insert an IV drip or from which to draw blood; and a concerned neuropsychologist who is key to climactic breakthrough in Shannon's post-release therapy. We also hear the voice(s) inside Shannon's head as she struggles to understand what is happening to her, and as she chastises herself for the slowness of her recovery. In essence, during these moments Shannon is having a conversation with her own brain, which for all intents and purposes becomes another character in the piece--and which for much of the piece is, physiologically speaking, partially exposed due to a recurrence of abscesses which the doctors are struggling to treat.

The sound mixing and audio overlaying is absolutely brilliant. For example, when the doctor tries to treat the left side of Shannon's body, which for a time remains partially paralyzed, his voice is muffled and indistinct. Later, on a post-release trip to the pharmacy for some toothpaste, Shannon is overwhelmed by a cacophony of crying babies. All of this makes sensorially visceral the experience of sound sensitivity that is one of the lasting consequences of Shannon's injury.

The second half of Reassembled is a documentary that recounts the making of the piece, including interviews with both the production team and the medical staff that treated Shannon at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital. That the work has since been taken up as an educational tool for both brain trauma survivors and medical practitioners is a wonderful testament to Shannon's creativity.


PuSh 2018: Inside/Out at Performance Works

I've seen and admired Patrick Keating's work as an actor about town (including as a memorable Fitz in Rumble's 2013 production of Enda Walsh's Penelope) for many years. He's also had a long and successful career in television and film. His current starring role is in a work--his first--for which he is also the playwright. Inside/Out had its PuSh premiere last night at Performance Works, in a co-presentation by Touchstone Theatre, and produced by Neworld Theatre, Main Street Theatre, and Urban Crawl.

The play is an autobiographical solo reflection on Keating's ten years in and out of prison, starting when he was sixteen and continuing off and on until his mid-30s. Most of that time was spent in the Quebec penitentiary system (Keating grew up in Montreal), but during his last sentence--which coincided with the first Quebec referendum--Keating requested a transfer to Matsqui prison in BC. (Keating's account of his hand-off at the Vancouver airport--a Kafkaesque whirl of paper-signing and briefcase-opening and closing--is hilarious.) It was while at Matsqui that Keating enrolled in his first theatre class, which focused on clown, and the end of which happened to come after his scheduled release. He requested a five-week delay in his release so that he could complete the course.

Preceding that climactic revelation, and following a brief opening set-up recounting his teenage problems with authority and drug use, we are essentially treated to a series of anecdotes about life on the inside. In the richness of their documentary detail, these stories offer fascinating insight into the different ethnic and cultural rivalries between inmates, as well as the surprisingly tender affective relationships that can sometimes form. Keating's affectionate relating of a trans prisoner's love affair with her body-building boyfriend, her heartbreak at his release, and then her anger at him when he reoffends and they are reunited put me in mind of the wonderful Queenie in John Herbert's Fortune and Men's Eyes.

On their own, these episodes are frequently compelling and build to satisfying narrative payoffs. Collectively, however, they do not combine into a dramatic structure that has a parallel overarching emotional reward at the end. Stephen Malloy's direction is also surprisingly static, with Keating essentially moving back and forth from downstage to upstage, and from sitting to standing, to tell each successive story. Noah Drew's sound design and Jaylene Pratt's lighting design occasionally add additional sensory texture. But for the most part Inside/Out relies for its theatricality on the instrument of Keating's voice--which, to be sure, is what he eventually found by doing time.

The piece is bookended by Keating's reference to a box of files that he carries with him onto the stage at the outset--his life history as it has been documented and recorded by a series of officials. For most of the play it remains stage right, unreferenced. At the very end, Keating opens it and sifts through the colour-coded files, reading off their titles. They can't possibly explain, let alone compete, with what we have just heard. As a framing device, it feels a bit contrived. But as that which helped to unlock Keating's playwriting voice, I can understand why it's necessary.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

PuSh 2018: Some Hope for the Bastards at the Playhouse

I have renewed my love affair with Montreal choreographer-musician Frédérik Gravel. I fell hard for him following the premiere of Usually Beauty Fails at the 2014 PuSh Festival. But when he returned to the city in 2016 for the Dancing on the Edge Festival, I found the piece he presented, Thus Spoke..., to lack coherence and to border on self-indulgence. Some Hope for the Bastards, which opened this year's PuSh Festival last night at the Vancouver Playhouse, showcases Gravel at his most sublimely seductive, constructing an epic dance marathon in which the point of the party is less who's left standing at the end than the summation of highs and lows along the way.

When we enter the auditorium, Gravel's nine dancers are already lounging on the stage, sipping from bottles of Corona. They watch us as we take our seats, sometimes interacting with us (SFU theatre student Nicola Rough somehow made it on to the stage itself and was handed a beer), coming and going at random, but definitely aware--and maybe even amused--by our presence. At a certain point, with the house lights remaining up, the dancers' apparent pre-show casualness morphs slowly into performance mode, their poses slipping into stylized and increasingly exaggerated contortions, like time-lapse versions of drunken partygoers falling off their chairs and into a stupefied tableau. Which is in fact how this sequence ends, the dancers ranged with splayed legs and outstretched arms and rubberized heads and torsos among the plastic chairs that line the stage. It is at this point that guitarist Gravel, who in the middle of this sequence had emerged from the stage right wing with his fellow bandmates (a drummer and keyboardist/singer) to ascend the upstage bandstand and take up instruments, addresses the audience. He welcomes us to the start of the festival, worries about the responsibility of opening it, that that's a very adult thing, that after the assumption of such adult responsibility all there is left to do is die. Then he tells us the show is pretty long, that he doesn't mind if we leave before it's over, and that now they're going to start over because in making the show he couldn't decide how to begin.

This second beginning takes place to a recorded excerpt from what I think is a Bach misericordia, to which the dancers ever so gradually start to pulse their pelvises as Gravel gradually overlays more propulsive electronic beats. The sonic and kinetic marrying of sex and death, coming after Gravel's speech about adult responsibility, suggests that if all we do is live to die, then we might as well try to enjoy ourselves along the way. Indeed, the metaphor of life as an all-night dance party--filled with ecstatic highs and crashing lows, pockets of stillness amidst a non-stop whirl of movement--is what sustains this work conceptually, tonally, and stylistically. It explains, for example, the almost-but-not-quite hook-ups that occur as the dancers' gyrating hips lead them towards and then away from potential partners; the look-at me solos that occur soon after as different members of the ensemble preen or crash about the stage, or monkey wildly behind one another; and those moments of tender connection when couples do manage to form, even if only tentatively. That happens, for example, in a beautiful stuttered, bone-bending waltz between the tallest female and male dancers (the latter an incredibly willowy Ichabod Crane figure who nevertheless has utterly fluid liquid limbs) early on in the piece, and also later during a largely stilled rehearsal for touching among eight of the dancers as the ninth performs a reaching solo around them.

As with dance parties, there are also in Some Hope various time-outs, in which both the band members and the dancers take breaks and leave the stage, or else sit off to the sides watching as others work to sustain the energy. These moments, in which we in the audience also get a chance to catch our breaths, are juxtaposed to the relentlessly propulsive group movement sequences, with Gravel using a series of staggered canons to throw his dancers in and out of syncopated unison. And I do mean throw: the dancers fling their bodies onto the floor; whip themselves into twisted lunges; fall to their knees. My head exploded just thinking about the complexity of the dancers' counts, and one could forgive some necessary spotting among members of the group. Because absolute precision is not the point. Indeed, when a version of this choreography repeats at the end of the piece--in a coda I'm not entirely sure is necessary, especially after we arrive back at the core beat pulsing through their bodies with which we started--the dancers seem to be given license to fall into and out of rhythm when and with whom they see fit. That's part of the entrainment of life itself. Sometimes we're in step with others, and sometimes we're not. Sometimes we move this way, and sometimes that way.

The point is to not stop moving.