Upintheair Theatre's annual rEvolver festival is in full swing over at The Cultch, and last night I cycled over to see The Saddest Girl at the Party, a dance-theatre duet by Francesca Frewer and Erika Mitsuhashi. The piece takes place in the Greenhouse, which is in the basement of the newly renovated green house (hence the name) just to the west of the The Cultch's main building. While there are two support pillars that cut into the performance space (and that at times obscured my particular sightlines for the projected surtitles used by Frewer and Mitsuhashi in their piece), it is otherwise a very inviting and intimate studio venue.
Following an impressive pre-show set-list that included Petula Clark, among others, The Saddest Girl begins with the performers, both decked out head to two in grey, arising in turn from their seats in the front row of the audience, walking purposefully onto the stage, and then freezing mid-stride. There follows a quick blackout, during which the performers return to their seats, and then repeat the same action over again. It's as if they're rehearsing their respective entrances to a party to which they maybe haven't been invited, or perhaps to which they really don't want to go. Then again, the freeze frame effect is also suggestive of memory, the stilled bodies and lighting combining like a flashbulb to produce the ex ante documentary traces of that which has yet to happen.
There then follows two versions of what one--a sad girl or otherwise--is presumably meant to do at a party: dance. In the first sequence, Frewer and Mitsuhashi contract and then extend their bodies joint by joint in a pair of complementary solos, Mitsuhashi's loose-limbed crumpling and spontaneous springing forth into space matched by the power and intent of Frewer's athletic marching, lunging, and rolling across the floor. Here are two women--not girls--intent on claiming and taking up space with their own kinetic vocabularies: dancing for themselves, and each other, rather than any other watchful eyes. This, however, is contrasted with what is likely a more familiar scene from parties: Mitsuhashi and Frewer, their bodies now glued to a single contained spot on the floor, cycling through a series of stop-motion poses as a metronome counts out time and the lights flash slowly in a deliberately bad strobe-like effect. The slow widening of eyes and the drawn-out flashing of overly animated smiles as the performers mime interest in what their imagined--and presumptively male--dance partners are saying is alone worth the price of admission.
Following this scene, the performers retrieve from backstage a series of clothing items and props, all in the same impressive grey palette, which they lay out in tidy piles stage right and left. Changing costumes, the performers now adopt two distinct--and distinctly theatrical--personas: Frewer that of a motivational speaker, and Mitsuhashi that of a nervous party planner. We move back and forth between Frewer trying to get through her speech and Mitsuhashi arranging a series of party hats on a chair. While I appreciated the dramaturgical impulse behind this exploration of other kinds of parties--including professional ones--at which girls might be sad, this part of the work seems not yet fully formed. Indeed, following one final transition between the two tableaux the piece ends rather abruptly when Frewer joins Mitsuhashi on her chairs, a final blackout cued to the party hat that will not stay atop the former's head. At a compact 35 minutes or so, there is room to flesh out more fully and complexly this part of the work, and I look forward to future iterations of this very thoughtful piece.