Friday, March 16, 2018

VIDF 2018: iyouuuswe at the Roundhouse

I liked the music a lot (the mostly original score is by composer Ki Young). And there was some great dancing, particularly by company members Jesse Obremski and Guanglei Hui. But overall I found last night's Canadian premiere of WHITE WAVE's iyouuswe at the Vancouver International Dance Festival to be structurally incoherent, with choreographer Young Soon Kim providing little to no connection between the different sections (there were nine of them)--beyond the multiplication or subtraction of dancers on stage. That I was counting entrances and exits more than I was concentrating on the movement tells you a little bit about my difficulties with this work, not least its caginess about when and how to end. There were about three different possibilities that I noted, and the less said about the one that Young chose the better.

That said, I was taken by the opening. It featured a duet by Jesse Obremski and Katie Garcia that showcased some strong side-by-side unison choreography. However, Young's vocabulary shifted noticeably in the second section, with the partnering by Lacey Baroch and Mark Willis mostly comprised by a series of acrobatic lifts. This points to another minor (or perhaps not) issue that irked me about the performance: the costumes. The five men in the piece were all dressed similarly and non-descriptly in casual pants and untucked dress shirts. The four women, however, wore shiny pants, leggings, or short shorts, accompanied by sleeveless tops that were either sequined or backless or flowing. Fine, that's a specific dramaturgical choice. But if this piece is, as the program notes state, about "developing relationships by which we struggle to find a sense of 'i' as part of a 'we,'" why emphasize so starkly the gendered differences of your dancers? Or another way of asking this is why, in accessorizing the women on stage, turn them into danced accessories of the men? This question was in my mind during most of the opposite-sex partnering sequences, but was perhaps most starkly on display during the first sub-section (!) of the penultimate section 8 sequence, in which the tiniest of the women dancers, Michelle Lim (she of the short shorts and sequined camisole), is helped to step from chair to chair by Mark Willis.

I haven't yet mentioned the chairs. There are nine of them arranged in a row upstage at the start of the piece. During the first two duets they are mostly ignored. However, an ensuing sequence of structured improvisation featuring the entire company is punctuated by the dancers' mass retreat upstage to the chairs. I freely admit that I have a weakness for choreography involving chairs (having written a play on the subject); but in this case it was hard for me to engage because I found much of the choreography to be overly familiar: a step-up and down here; a slouch to the ground and hip swivel there; throw in some retrograde; etc. There was also the fact that the dancers didn't seem to have enough room to give themselves over fully to the movement. The distance between the chairs was indeed tight, with some space no doubt lost to the many curtain legs Young was employing for added wing space (cue all those entrances and exits). Then, too, the upstage line of chairs, combined with the backstage curtain meant that the Roundhouse stage was unusually shallow. When the full company was on stage things got quite crowded, and some of the downstage dancing was additionally obstructed by the annoying bar in front of the first row that has been added to the new seats at the Roundhouse.

The latter, I gather, is for safety reasons, but last night it was just one more annoyance to my spectating pleasure.


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