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.


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