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.


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