Thursday, July 19, 2018

Oh What a Beautiful Morning! at The Russian Hall

Last night I attended Fight With a Stick's opening of their latest performance, Oh What a Beautiful Morning!, at The Russian Hall. Frankly, I don't know what to make of the experience. Partly that's the point, as in their latest scenographic scrambling of our perceptions director Alexander Lazaridis Ferguson and his team of collaborators--especially video designer Josh Hite--are interested in taking what is in the background (and also off to the side) of the 1955 film version of the classic American musical Oklahoma! and moving it to the foreground. This results in some stunning visual effects, but at a scant 50 minutes the work feels a bit like a strung together series of scene studies rather than a fully realized deconstruction of the sensory and social environments of the film.

Placing the audience on risers that climb up the stage of the Russian Hall, and working with two scrims and a series of moveable walls, the piece begins by reproducing the widescreen opening shot of the film's cornfields. And then leaves us there. As the stuck first bars of the overture repeat on a loop, the video projection appears to start glitching, slowly advancing frame by frame as we plunge deeper and deeper into the thick rows of cornfields, a mash-up of genre tropes that makes one think that the creepy kids from the horror film Children of the Corn might leap out at us at any moment. Instead, we eventually are made to focus on a lone figure off in the distance toiling in the fields (a black sharecropper perhaps?), someone whose invisible labour is what helps to sustain not just farm girl Laurey Williams' romantic aspirations, but the entire state's territorial ones.

While I tend to be cautious about the aims of exposing an iconic work of art to contemporary critical scrutiny, I do want those aims to be clearly identified. Instead, I couldn't quite tell last night if Oh What a Beautiful Morning! was meant to be a study in performative decolonization (we hear stage directions referencing "Indian territory" in voiceover), a critique of capital accumulation (a windstorm blows the contents of Aunt Eller's farmhouse across the screen), or a Hitchcockian take on female hysteria. Here I refer to the fact that the piece's longest--and concluding--scene puts us in the kitchen with Laurey and Aunt Eller, the projected wallpaper on the back scrim seeming to advance on, and eventually absorb, them, as performers Hayley Gawthrop and Hin Hilary Leung slowly melt into the adjacent side walls. It was captivating to watch; I just don't know what purpose it served.

There are lots of similarly fascinating moments in Oh What, most of them abetted by Hite's uncanny video compositions: Shirley Jones dancing with herself courtesy of front and rear projections; the mirroring of live and recorded hand movements; and Gawthrop and Leung interacting with different screen avatars from the film like cutout figures from a carnival. Again, I found it difficult to figure out the connection between these moments and when the end credits and exit music from the film appeared I think everyone in the audience was a bit surprised. Oh, I guess that's it, was my response as the performers (which also include Logan Hallwas and Jessica Wilke) came out to take a bow. I'm still guessing.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

DOTE 2018: Edge Seven at The Firehall + Transverse Orientation at 395 Alexander Street

The 30th anniversary edition of the Dancing on the Edge Festival concluded last night with a 9 pm replaying of the Edge Seven program, a suitable study in contrasts featuring two distinctive approaches to movement and sound.

My colleague Rob Kitsos, together with collaborators Yves Candau and Martin Gotfrit, lead things off with their Real-Time Composition Study. Based on their shared interest in improvisation, the performers compose our perceptual environment in the moment, moving their bodies and sound through the space in response to each other, and to shifting geometric patterns of light that play across an upstage screen. While lighting designer Kyla Gardiner is in the booth overseeing all of this, much of the manipulation of light also happens from the stage, with Rob repositioning and partially shuttering and unshuttering a series of small LED spots in order to frame different areas of bodily focus. The result produces some uncanny trompe l'oeil effects, in which the shadows cast by the performers merge in such a way as to make one doubt whose limb is whose. Likewise, sound is often made to travel through space in a what initially appears to be an "unsourced" or acousmatic way, with Martin--and sometimes Rob--starting to play an instrument offstage that one thinks one can identify, only to emerge with something percussive or stringed or wind-based that totally upends such expectations.

The second piece on the program was Pathways, by Vision Impure's Noam Gagnon. Reworking a series of past solos into a large ensemble creation that Noam has set on eight young dancers whose ranks collectively represent some of the best talent to emerge from Vancouver's three main pre-professional dance programs (at Arts Umbrella, Modus Operandi, and SFU's School for the Contemporary Arts), the piece is performed to a pounding industrial score by Guillaume Cache. Clad all in black, and wearing matching knee-pads, the dancers hover outside the taped-off square of the main stage space, eyeing each other up and down like they are gladiators--or professional wrestlers. And, sure enough, once Eowynn Enquist (who has certainly been busy this festival) takes a running start and throws herself diagonally across the square, sliding to a stop on the other side, we are off on a non-stop contest of pure physicality. This is classic Gagnon choreography from his Holy Body Tattoo days: extreme, high energy, and punishingly visceral. We register the speed and impact of every body roll, the repeated jolts of limbs being thrown over and over again into the air (that five of the six women have long loose tresses that Noam shakingly exploits gives everything that much more of a rock and roll feel). The relentless kinetic and aural assault on our senses is almost overwhelming, but at a certain moment Noam shifts registers, with the dancers who seemed previously to be in competition, or just trying to run away from each other, now seeking each other out in a series of duets whose vocabulary of bodily climbing suggests that in this world even intimacy and tenderness can only be expressed in a similarly intense way.

Following some mixing with friends and artists in the community at DOTE's closing party, Richard and I (and several others circulating throughout the Firehall lobby and on its patio) headed north a few blocks to a warehouse space in Railtown owned by designer Omer Arbel to take in a midnight showing of Transverse Orientation, a new work of dance by Rachel Meyer. This is the second work of original choreography from the former Ballet BC dancer, who has only recently come back from maternity leave, looking impossibly lithe and limber. Based on the flight patterns of moths, and in particular how those patterns are oriented by and towards different natural and artificial sources of light, Transverse Orientation features: fellow Ballet BC alum Christoph von Riedemann as a lone moth-man figure, whose slow, calendrically-marked progress down a vertical runway frames the beginning and end of the piece (we move from watching his initial improvisations in a pre-show anteroom to the main playing space, from which we can track his progress towards us through a canny use of lighting and mirrors); Stéphanie Cyr, Ria Girard and Maya Tenzer as a trio of moths whose various bodily metamorphoses--from bumpy, fluttery proximity to grander, more swooping arcs of circular movement--are tracked through accompanying costume changes; and Meyer herself as a kind of queen moth figure (if I'm not mixing my insect metaphors), whose oversight of the proceedings progresses, transversally one might say, from semi-removed metteur-en-scène to fully engaged primum mobile, around which the others now must move--including violinist Janna Sailor, whose live playing is a key ingredient of the piece, and also eventually von Riedemann, who joins Meyers for a concluding duet that read a little too obviously as a mating dance.

For a self-produced show, Transverse Orientation has certainly spared no expense (including on its programs). Rigging up the lighting (by James Proudfoot) and configuring the set design (by Meyer herself) requires ample resources, and the apple budget alone must have been significant. As per the dramaturgical function of those apples, Meyer certainly has some sharp choreographic instincts. Fragments of the piece are individually compelling, particularly when Meyer is working with smaller, almost micro-movements: I'm thinking especially of von Riedemann's opening gestural sequence, and also Meyer's own fluttering responses to Sailor's improvised plucking and bowing--the way she can pulse a single shoulder blade, or infinitesimally shift the position of a bone in her foot is kind of amazing. That said, the fragments don't add up to a coherent whole and in seeking to interpret different aspects of moths' behaviours (why, for example, in their nocturnal attraction to artificial light, they frequently end up bumping against transparent surfaces, leaving a trail of dust from their wings), the movement comes across as mostly mimetic. I think the piece as it stands is also too long. But just as I always looked forward to what Meyer could do as a singularly virtuosic dancer on the Queen E stage, so do I anticipate great things from her in her new career as a choreographer.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

DOTE 2018: Volcano at The Firehall

In the spring of 2010 an Icelandic volcano with an intimidatingly Norse-sounding name, Eyjafjallajökull, erupted, spewing ash and billowing smoke all over Europe. The resulting flight cancellations and delays constituted the largest disruption of air travel since World War II. This is the background to Liz Kinoshita's Volcano, a 2014 work of dance-theatre conceived and directed by the Canadian-born and Belgian-based choreographer that is receiving its Canadian premiere at this year's Dancing on the Edge Festival.

Created and performed by Kinoshita and fellow dancers Salka Ardal Rosengren, Justin F. Kennedy, and Clinton Stringer, the piece is structured as an intricate investigation into the vocal and movement-based rhythms shared by popular musical and dance idioms from the middle of the twentieth century, in particular bebop and tap. As with Mascall Dance's OW (also playing this year's DOTE, and which I blogged about here), Kinoshita and her fellow performers have had to learn two fully integrated scores, cycling through a songbook's worth of co-composed a cappella numbers (a print copy of which is available upon exiting the theatre) alongside fifty minutes worth of almost non-stop soft shoe syncopation. The voices of all four performers are extraordinary, pitch-perfect and harmonically rich, handling changes in tempo and the complex asymmetrical phrasings that blend in and out of different melodies with as much virtuosity as they move through their different unison and non-unison tap routines. It all starts with a bit of freestyle scatting to a classic horizontal shuffle-toe-bang formation. Thereafter the songs self-reflexively address the mechanisms of performance itself, from pre-show routines to the pressures of time to the machinery of touring, including negotiating the security line at the airport: in a number called "Wall" that fittingly unfolds against the Firehall's exposed backstage, and which sees the dancers take turns passing each other over its surface via a series of proffered limbs on which to climb or lean against for support. This section of the piece culminates in an ode to the audience that sees the four performers wading into our ranks, each seeking out a different spectator to serenade (I was one of the lucky chosen ones).

The beginning of the second half of the piece is signalled by the one song that addresses Eyjafjallajökull by name; it starts with a haunting atonal sounding of the volcano's multiple syllables before melding into an elegant four-part harmony. This then leads into an extended floor sequence, in which the dancers' silent and slowed down diagonal dragging of their tired bodies, heavy limb over heavy limb, across the stage serves as a seductive visual and kinetic contrast to the faster tempo of the rest of the work--and to the accelerated pace of daily living more generally. "I am being propelled" is the refrain we hear most often throughout Volcano--and it comes back especially here in a solo number sung by Ardal Rosengren. But what might it mean to "suspend momentum," even just for a minute?

Answering this question, Kinoshita uses the occasion of a volcano's "untimely" eruption to create a smart and rhythmically embracing work of art that shows us all that can and does happen when time is out of our control.


Friday, July 13, 2018

42nd Street at Theatre Under the Stars

After skipping last year, Richard and I returned to Malkin Bowl last night for our annual pilgrimage to Theatre Under the Stars. The production we were seeing was the classic Depression-set toe-tapper 42nd Street, one of Richard's all-time favourites. Despite the era in which it is set, 42nd Street was only first produced on Broadway in 1980, directed by the legendary Gower Champion, who dropped dead on opening night; and in terms of current trends on the Great White Way, it is interesting to note that 42nd Street is both a jukebox musical and an adaptation of a movie. That would, of course, be the famous 1933 film directed by Lloyd Bacon (based on the novel by Bradford Ropes), and with its eye-popping choreography for the camera by Busby Berkley. Those routines are hard to reproduce on stage, but nevertheless one of the signature pleasures of watching this musical remains its mostly all-tap dancing, and in this TUTS production veteran choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt finds a number of innovative ways to showcase the hoofing chops of director Robert McQueen's very talented cast.

The musical's star-is-born plot concerns would-be chorine Peggy Sawyer (Paige Fraser), who after initially missing her audition finds herself cast at the last minute in director Julian Marsh's (Andrew Cownden) latest blockbuster entertainment, Pretty Lady. The work is meant to be a vehicle for the aging star, Dorothy Brock (a very fine Janet Gigliotti), whose mobster boyfriend is bankrolling the production, but who is also seeing Pat Denning (Matthias Falvai) on the side. When Dorothy injures herself in an out-of-town tryout, she blames Peggy. Marsh immediately fires her and announces that the production will close and that audience members will have the cost of their tickets (a whopping $4.40) refunded, a nice meta-theatrical moment that brings us to intermission. In the second act, Peggy's fellow chorus girls (all splendid, especially Jolene Bernadino as the polkadot-wearing Annie) hatch a plan to avoid unemployment and the bread lines, scheming with the show's junior tenor lead, Billy Lawlor (the velvety-voiced Blake Sartin) to get Peggy rehired as the show's replacement lead. Peggy has only 36 hours to learn all of Dorothy's songs, dialogue, and dances, with Marsh reminding her at every turn that the fate of the show, 100 jobs, and a one-hundred thousand dollar investment are resting on her tiny shoulders.

Of course, she triumphs and the climactic title number is, in McQueen's and his designers' hands, a rousing spectacle of eye-popping colour (the costumes are by Christina Sinosich) and razzmatazz movement. Interestingly, the lyrics of "42nd Street," the song, are all about the mixing of different classes and social demographics ("where the underworld can meet the elite") and in a little bit of subtle stage business off to the side, McQueen makes it clear that Marsh still depends on mob money to make the confection-within-a-confection that we are watching fly. And while Marsh is a mostly benign and soft-hearted impresario who just wants to make the best musical he can, it is interesting to consider his bullying of Peggy in light of our present #MeToo era. No matter their singing and dancing talents, the chorus girls in Pretty Lady fundamentally owe their jobs to their abilities to match that description, and whether or not they are able to eat very much depends on the whims of men like Marsh and Dorothy's mobster boyfriend. Which is why the scene that is most affecting for me in the show is the one in which Dorothy, hobbling but now happily married to Pat, confers with Peggy in her dressing room just before the curtain of Pretty Lady is set to rise. Here we get not the usual Hollywood scene of bitter female rivalry, but rather a tenderly shared duet ("About a Quarter to Nine") between two assured professionals.

As always, the TUTS orchestra was in excellent form, with the hard-working music director and conductor Christopher King here doing double duty as the on-stage pianist Oscar. And while I missed hearing the musical's usual penultimate number, "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" (despite it being listed in the program), the production--and the splendid open-air summer evening--more than lived up to my expectations.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

I Miss Doing Nothing at Left of Main

Hard to believe, but plastic orchid factory turns ten this year. Rather than marking this milestone with a bold, forward-looking new production, or throwing a celebratory party, pof principals James Gnam and Natalie LeFebvre Gnam are using the occasion of their company's anniversary to intervene in what theorist Elizabeth Freeman has called "chrononormativity": the yoking of time and bodies to a neoliberal emphasis on productivity through work schedules, appointment calendars, deadlines, even show opening and closing dates.

In I Miss Doing Nothing, James and Natalie, together with collaborators Nancy Tam, James Proudfoot, and Vanessa Goodman, attempt to interrupt the serial- and output-oriented logic of time and labouring bodies in two ways. First, rather than using their rehearsal and development process to make a "new" work, they have chosen to play with the kinetic repertoires that continue to linger within their bodies, re-calling over the course of this piece bits of choreography from past works, and seeing how this movement in, through, and across time can create different kinds of affective rhythms and flows. Watching James and Natalie feel their way into how something felt, the slow and often surprising real-time discovery of where an arm was positioned, or in what direction one is meant to be facing, imbues time with a layered, ludic quality, in which the past and present can be made to touch. As with the reverberating echoes and feedback loops of Nancy's live mixing of sounds--a combination of field recordings, rearrangements of old pof music scores, and miked noises from outside the Left of Main studio--such uncanny perceptual relays are also available to the spectator, as an energetic bounce up and down by James or a bit of subtle finger work by Natalie will trigger flashes of memory for those audience members familiar with the company's repertoire.

And it is in their invitation to audience members to self-curate how they wish to be with them in this space experiencing this work that James and Natalie and company have made their second intervention against the organizational march of time-as-usual, not least in terms of how dance and performance works are often shoehorned into hour-long presentation slots. As with Digital Folk, there is no obvious beginning or end to I Miss Doing Nothing. Subtitling the piece "a lived retrospective installation for experiencing time differently," the work unfolds durationally over a three-hour period. Upon entering Left of Main, the first thing one is invited to do is pause: sitting down on the steps up to the studio and affixing a pair of headphones to listen as Natalie gives instruction in what it might mean to open up an interval--even a small one--in the routine pace of our daily lives. Thereafter, and with a lazy mid-afternoon spritzer mixed by David McIntosh in hand, we are free to watch and linger with James and Natalie in the studio for as long as we like, lounging in various states of languorous repose against a chosen bit of wall (as I and most other attendees yesterday opted to do), or moving freely about the space, or coming and going as we see fit. In this respect, it is not as if time stops completely. Whether or not we choose to look at our watches, we are made aware of time's passing via the movement of sunlight and shadows in the space, a choreographing of natural illumination that is slowly revealed via James P and Vanessa's expert manipulation of a set of louvered vertical blinds on the west-facing windows, and the successive removal of the shimmery panels and wooden frames initially covering up the south-facing windows. These panels and frames, together with additional rolling screens, are moved about the room and configured into various architectural formations by Vanessa and James P, whose purposeful--and purposefully timed--activity contrasts with the seemingly more unplanned and aimless progress of Natalie and James G.

And yet it is precisely in the different kinds of attention solicited by these parallel movement scores that we discover that being "in time" together does not have to be reduced, if you'll forgive the boy band metaphor, to being "in sync": with each other, or with the prescribed rhythms of daily life. At different moments yesterday I was alert, sleepy, bored, stimulated, contemplative, anxious, worried, bewildered, absorbed, distracted, and transported. At no moment, however, did I think there was anywhere else I would rather be. Watching Natalie move in and with the last slat of light from the middle of the west-facing windows as its slow disappearance marked the approach of six o'clock (yes, I stayed for the whole three hours), I thought of how productively this time doing nothing had been spent.

In arguing for a more longitudinal approach to time, especially as it relates to the historical survival of different collectivities, Freeman invokes the term belonging to refer not just to identification with a group, but to denote a way of "being long," of a group persisting over time. Artistically and affectively, pof and its extended family of collaborators are definitely peeps I want to grow old with.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

DOTE 2018: Mascall Dance's OW at St. Paul's Anglican Church

Yesterday evening I trekked to the West End to take in one of Dancing on the Edge's "Edge Off" presentations, that is, works not taking place at the Firehall or Dance Centre. The piece was Mascall Dance's latest ensemble creation, OW, created by Jennifer Mascall in collaboration with 20 (yes, that's right, 20!) incredible dancer-performers, and presented as always at Mascall Dance's home base at St. Paul's Anglican Church on Jervis Street.

OW is a study of the relationship between sound and the body. Working from a libretto made up of vocalized syllables, cries, noises, and utterances that are deliberately non-sensical--similar to improvised scat singing in jazz music--the piece is made up of a series of interconnected vignettes that explore how, why and from where our bodies produce sound, and how that additionally reverberates in movement. (The vocal coach for OW is DB Boyko, and additional musical composition is provided by Stefan Smulovitz.) While Mascall takes pains in her brief program note to explain that OW is non-narrative, structurally it is styled like a work of musical theatre, at least in its groupings of dancers (the soundtrack playing before the start of the work is also a clue).

Our would-be romantic principals are Billy Marchenski and Molly McDermott, although the mostly hissing sounds that emanate from their mouths when they are near each other, and their wary circling of each other on the in-the-round stage floor--not to mention the way Molly climbs over Billy's body during their climactic duet--mostly suggests a tonal dynamic of repulsion rather than attraction. Comic relief comes by way of a quartet comprised of Anne Cooper, Walter Kubanek, Vanessa Goodman, and Eloi Homer, who banter back and forth with each other in an exuberantly demonstrative phonetic glossolalia, their strung-together plosives and fricatives and diphthongs and glottal stops accompanied by a range of popular dance styles, from a virtuosic tap sequence to a chest- and shoe-thumping folk dance circle in which the dancers' vocal communication is now filtered through kazoos.

Finally, there is a large chorus of younger dancers whose mostly unison and canon choreography is complemented by an enunciated score of call and response: with each other, and also with the other groups of dancers. Here, especially, it was fascinating to take note of the ways in which certain sounds seem intuitively to call forth distinctive styles of physical expression, with harsher noises (guttural cries and shouts) often accompanied by more martial movements (marching and foot stomping), whereas softer sounds (coos and whistles) seem to produce kinetic ripples that are more flowing and undulating. On this front, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the impressive cameo appearance made by Eowynn Enquist, who together with Molly McDermott and Vanessa Goodman forms a gorgeous trio, one whose sinuous arm waves and buffeting back and forth in space of each other's bodies is held aloft through a softly sung three-part harmony. (That Enquist thereafter becomes a kind of avenging angel, moving between different chorus members and miming a series of eye plucks that produce from each a version of the work's title is a whole other matter.)

Watching OW, and how much fun the dancers seemed to be having (despite the obvious complexity of having to learn two different scores), I was reminded of those moments of pure kinetic joy one experiences on a dance floor, when the feeling of being transported by the energy and rhythm of movement and music can only be answered by a whoop of delight. Kudos to Jennifer Mascall and her entire ensemble for reminding us so brilliantly and blissfully of the somatic connection between sound and movement.


Sunday, July 8, 2018

DOTE 2018: Edge 2 at The Firehall

Dancing on the Edge's second mixed program, Edge 2, serves as a showcase for a powerful group of strong women dancers in Vancouver.

The first piece is by Lesley Telford/Inverso Productions. Lesley first presented IF in Vancouver at The Dance Centre in April 2017, and I have previously blogged about the work here. An exploration of the triangulated relationships between three identically clad dancers (Karin Ezaki, Ria Girard, and Eden Solomon, all excellent), the piece operates through a dynamic of displacement/replacement, with different bodies' successive occupations of a lone chair positioned stage right suggesting not just a redistribution of space but the sedimentation of time. Key to this is the exchange of looks that is sustained by the dancers as they repeat a circular pattern that serves as the work's structuring movement phrase, with one dancer passing in front of her seated other just as she is about to be upended from the chair by a third dancer moving towards her from upstage: the act of watching someone watching herself being watched completes a feedback loop of physical presence in which the conditions of existence are reduced to basic matters of proximity and distance. One difference in this iteration of IF is that it is being performed without the text by Anne Carson that originally accompanied it (long story). Lesley mentioned to me before the performance that she was very worried about how the work would now read, but afterwards I assured her that this version had succeeded in supplanting my own previous memories of how text and movement had played off each other. In so doing, it actually focused my attention away from the more sedentary action involving the chair and towards the bolder physicality that gets played out in a series of solos and duos that unfold stage left.

Amber Funk Barton's For You, For Me is a solo she has composed as a gift to DOTE on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. Amber arrives on the bare and fully illuminated Firehall stage in black shorts and top, and wearing a pair of runners. She looks around the space, taking it in, and then registers how it reverberates in her body kinetically. She reaches a hand out into space, traces a line along the floor, tests her balance by leaning over the sides of her shoes to the left before falling to the ground. Part of the joy of this piece comes from watching Amber remember all that she has done on this stage, and also what she can still do. When she lifts one leg above her head in full extension and then pivots 360 degrees on the other, a smile of "wow" lights up her face and it is instantly contagious. As is how Amber mixes the different movement vocabularies that reside in her body, a pirouette and jeté, or a walking line on demi-pointe, contrasted--sometimes instantly--with a body roll or a bit of floating and flying. Even the way she rearranges her top from front to back through a quick and dextrous shifting of her arms is utterly captivating. Amber performs all of this without music. All we hear is the squeak of her shoes and her breathing, effort here being another of Amber's gifts to us and this space. Hence her perfect ending. Bending backwards to the floor as the intensely bright lights slowly fade to black she moves the square she has formed with the thumb and forefinger of one hand from her heart centre to the ground beside her: everything she has, she has left on the floor.

Wen Wei Wang's Ying Yun is also performed mostly in silence. A tribute to the memory of the choreographer's mother, this excerpt from a larger work-in-progress features five incredibly talented young female dancers: Eowynn Enquist, Sarah Formosa, Ria Girard, Daria Mikhaylyuk, and Stéphanie Cyr. At the top of the piece they are clumped together as a group centre stage, rocking from side to side as they breathe audibly and in unison in and out, like they are a single lung. Following a brief blackout, we next find the dancers with their backs to us in a staggered formation upstage. They hold this pose for a time before suddenly, and on Enquist's split-second cue, shifting their weight backwards onto one leg and twisting their torsos slightly. This move is repeated and then added to, Wang building a repertoire of strong, heroic poses--a reach to the heavens with both hands, a deep plié, a lunge and calf grab to the side--that the dancers start to cycle through at a faster and faster rate. Mixed in with this looping score are also more gestural phrases that the dancers count through together, always stopping on the seventh beat. The exquisite unison is completely beguiling, and as a study in virtuosic synchronicity I could have watched these patterns repeat forever. However, Wang slowly builds in a counterpoint to the unison by having each of the dancers break off at certain points into solos, all of which showcase the unique talents and physicalities of these exceptional young dancers. This shift is also accompanied by the introduction of music composed by Amon Tobin. It's not clear to me at this point how these two aspects of the work fit together, and while I appreciated the note on which this current version of the work ends--a return to one of the signature poses from the beginning--the way it was arrived at felt a bit awkward. That said, I very much look forward to how the rest of this work unfolds.


Saturday, July 7, 2018

DOTE 2018: Lara Kramer, Dab Dance Project, and Company 605

This year's Dancing on the Edge Festival, its 30th anniversary, opened yesterday, and I had tickets for both of the evening performances at the Firehall. The 7 pm show showcased the Vancouver premiere of Lara Kramer Danse's Windigo. I have not seen Kramer's work before, but I have read a lot about her 2013 work, Native Girl Syndrome, a difficult and viscerally affecting examination of the inherited intergenerational trauma of cultural genocide. In the program notes, Kramer refers to Windigo as NGS's "masculine counterpart, where trauma is externalized through different ages and bodies, individuals and objects." Two of the main objects that dominate the quasi-installation-like set are a pair of mattresses on which performers Peter James and Stefan Petersen (replacing Jassem Hindi) are sprawled as the audience files into the auditorium. Kramer sits between the men, engaging both in quiet conversation. Another mattress, still in its protective plastic, is positioned against the upstage left wall, and in the upstage right corner is a huge pile of discarded clothes, toys, and other objects. Pictorially, this tableau suggests any number of possible scenarios, including the aftermath of a terrible violence and an ongoing struggle for survival.

Soon after Kramer moves to her laptop and audio console to live mix the striking sound score for the piece (composed by Kramer and featuring field recordings of crackling fires and other natural noises overlain with conversations between Kramer and her children), Petersen removes a switchblade from one of his jeans pockets, and all of a sudden the relationship between the two men takes on new stakes. In fact, the knives in the piece--for we eventually learn that James has one as well--are only ever used on the mattresses: the slash marks Petersen makes on his bed perhaps represent his own psychic wounds (at one point he eats a bit of the mattress stuffing); James, on the other hand, is intent on secreting away clothes and other personal belongings into the holes he has created, whether for safekeeping or added comfort it is unclear. Either way, both the hollowed out and overstuffed mattresses become key dance partners for both men; despite the knives, their attention to the mattresses is solicitous, almost tender, turning them into ceremonial objects, with the slash marks on Petersen's and the peekaboo bits of coloured clothing emanating from James' recalling, in some ways, the residual traces of carving and beadwork traditions, respectively. Later, Petersen will wear his mattress like a polar bear skin and James will ride his like a sled, and suddenly the scenographic landscape we are wont to read as evidence of urban blight and decay turns into a northern topography whose ancient cultural magic can transform what is potentially threatening and strange into something protective and even hopeful--which is how I read the shaggy pink puppet that James dances around the stage towards the end of the piece.

After the performance I had a conversation with the woman sitting beside me, who wondered how what we had just seen in Windigo was any different from what we might see on any given day on a street corner just a few blocks from the Firehall. But as PuSh Festival Interim AD Joyce Rosario and I agreed in a shared cab ride home, walking by two men on mattresses on Hastings Street we have the option to do just that: walk on by. Framing that scene aesthetically on stage, Kramer forces us to sit with what we might otherwise choose not to see, to deal with its complicated layers of history and, perhaps most importantly, our own discomfort. This is not an easy work, but it is incredibly powerful, and I was never less than compelled.

The 9 pm show was a double bill featuring South Korea's Dab Dance Project and Vancouver's own Company 605. Dab Dance's Bomberman is a trio that takes place inside a plastic box. Three men (performers Hoyeon Kim, who also choreographed the work, Jungha Lim, and Gunwoo Jun) introduce us to their quarantined environment via illuminated fluorescent tubes. The cooperation they must enact physically in order to form the tubes into a triangle that frames each of their bodies becomes a metaphor for working together within this enclosed space. For when they are moving on their own in different competing displays of virtuosity, as happens soon after this opening, there is always the possibility that one of them will suck up all the available oxygen. By contrast, when they move in unison, often in striking acrobatic formations, there seems to be more air to breathe--for them, and for us. Indeed, the atmospheric connection between performers and audience is made manifest at the very end of the piece when, from the now foggy inside of their translucent box, one of the dancers breaches the plastic, making a hole in it and reaching his hand through.

Company 605's Loop, Lull is an excerpt from a work in progress by Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin that explores repetition and transformation. Dancers Sophia Wolfe, Laura Avery, Bynh Ho, Jessica Wilkie and Francesca Frewer cycle through a range of iterative movement patterns, testing out different individual starting positions and bodily combinations, and even taking turns adjusting light and sound levels (via two downstage consoles; the striking sound design is by Matthew Tomkinson). At first the staggered entrances of the dancers (several carrying water bottles and snacks) and the instant replay of their struck poses makes it seem like we are watching a rehearsal warm-up, something reinforced by the casual banter back and forth, as well as the occasional on-stage documentation via a mini-Polaroid camera. But following a duet between Ho and Wilkie in which they ask each other how their attempts at perfecting their partnering sequence feel, the choreographic looping gets more complex, with Gelley and Martin pressing the reset button through a group pattern in which the dancers take turns spelling each other in the middle of a phrase. Like binary code, the different bodily integers produce a movement algorithm that is always morphing and shifting, a pattern we think we recognize, but that is also simultaneously reshaping our perception.