Friday, March 9, 2018

VIDF 2018: Dancers Dancing and EDAM at the Roundhouse

The Vancouver International Dance Festival continued last night at the Roundhouse with a double bill of works by local companies that were linked by themes of memory and reconstruction. The free seven o'clock show in the exhibition hall was choreographed by my colleague Judith Garay, whose company Dancers Dancing celebrates its twentieth anniversary next year. In Confabulation, Garay is joined on stage by former students and DD company members Jane Osborne and Bevin Poole. In them, Garay appears to be watching versions of her former self, and after beginning the piece with a simple gestural hand sequence that somehow managed to combine feelings of both supplication and worry, Garay roams the stage in her long brown coat watching from both the inside and the outside as Osborne and Poole make their progress through space and time. (Garay quotes Tennessee Williams on memory in her program note, and there is definitely a sense in which she is functioning, like Tom in The Glass Menagerie, as both narrator and character in this piece.)

As for the progress of Osborne and Poole, it begins in the upstage left corner of the stage as a gorgeous slow motion and on-the-spot run. To recorded sounds of street noise and muffled conversation and babies crying and the general hubbub of life, the two women--at first together, and then separately--lift one leg and extend it in front of themselves, while the other kicks out behind. Garay has always been meticulous about the technique of her dancers, and one of the pleasures of this simple opening is revelling in the detailed articulation of feet and toes, and the striving, unhurried reach of pumping arms. Much of the rest of the piece operates as a duet for Osborne and Poole, with the similarly dressed dancers working in counterpoint, and often at different vertical and horizontal axes, but also coming together in moments of effortless unison. But Garay does more than just circle the stage. She has a stationary solo that sees her stretching for the sky, and she joins Osborne and Poole on a bench for a highly satisfying reprise and extension of the her opening gestural sequence. Soon after this, Garay exits the stage; but she reappears at the end of the piece in a most unexpected way to offer a final benediction on those whom she has so wisely mentored.

The mainstage show last night spotlighted EDAM and was a mixed program featuring highlights from company director Peter Bingham's choreographic career. It began with Hindsight, from 1995, a duet here featuring company veteran Olivia Shaffer and Kelly McInnes. It is set to songs by Berlioz and Richard Strauss that are sung by Jessye Norman, and begins with the two dancers standing upstage, fluttering their arms up and down like they are birds trying to fly. But thereafter most of the movement takes place on the floor, with an extended opening sequence in which Shaffer and McInness roll back and forth across the stage, simultaneously moving towards and away from each other, and managing to locomote from upstage to downstage by every now and then launching their rolls on a diagonal axis. But it's the coming out of and the pauses in between the rolls that are the most captivating, with the two dancers arresting their momentum with an amazingly graceful placing of their hands on the floor, their bent elbows and bowed heads suggesting a prayer of repair for broken wings. Equally amazing is how Bingham has essentially constructed a non-contact work of contact in this piece. Not that Shaffer and McInness don't eventually come together or make it to vertical (once downstage, positioned against two oppositely placed door frames); but even here the contact is fleeting and the piece ends with McInness back on the floor and Shaffer executing a painfully beautiful series of fluttering changements, desperately willing herself to lift up off the floor and soar through the air for both herself and her partner.

Sinking SuZi is a solo for Ziyian Kwan that was originally commissioned in 2002. It is the perfect showcase for Kwan's technical artistry and compelling stage presence. Beginning upstage left, and with her back to the audience, Kwan moves horizontally across the stage, arcing one arm out from her torso and then upwards into the air. This will be followed by a diagonal series of tilting pirouettes, at first with Kwan's hands resting on her thighs, and then circling about her body. But the most beguiling--and also the most extended--of the repeated movement sequences choreographed by Bingham for Kwan is the one in which she sinks to the floor in a deconstructed lotus position, one leg in front, the other behind, from which she then propels herself upward, turning once around as she lifts one arm upwards in a hail hello and places one foot over the other. I could have watched that one move go on forever.

The final piece on the EDAM program is also the most recent. Engage the Feeling Arms is a trio from 2016 that I first wrote about here. In this iteration Diego Romero (replacing Farley Johansson) joins Shaffer and Walter Kubanek in a dynamic display of virtuosic contact, but one that begins as a quasi-Orientalist shimmer of floating and ever-shifting intertwined arms before exploding into the dynamic physicality of thrown bodies and caught and distributed weight that is Bingham's signature. Watching this work again in combination with the other pieces, and also thinking about the different generations of dancers represented on stage, is to register just how instrumental Bingham and EDAM have been to the dance ecology of this city. Kudos to VIDF for showcasing these contributions in this mixed program.


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