Sunday, November 8, 2009

DanceHouse Launches Second Season

DanceHouse's second season got off to an explosive start at the Vancouver Playhouse this weekend, with two works from the red-hot choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter.

Uprising begins with rock-star lighting flooding the stage. Seven men emerge from the shadows and adopt a static pose reminiscent of classical ballet: right foot bent to left knee and arms stretched in a port-de-bras. But with Schecter's furiously percussive score (he composes his own music) pounding away in the background, such passive gentility will not hold, and soon enough the dancers' legs slip, their backs and heads slouch forward, and their arms--still touching--now start to break from side to side in time to the beat.

A study in martial masculinities, Uprising, while an all-around kinesthetic marvel that makes excellent use of its dancers' physical virtuosity, focuses much movement and meaning into the men's arms. At times they are held aloft, fists clenched, pounding at the air (and presumably an invisible enemy--the piece ends, as per its title, with a witty visual allusion to Jean Valjean and his comrades at the barricades in one of the more iconic images from Les Miserables). At other times those arms are turned against each other in combat, or offered in embrace. And then there's the pose that's lingered with me most powerfully, an inverse of the opening port-de-bras: the men's arms, at separate times, stretched behind them like a bird's wings as they run, seemingly off-balance, and yet in full control, across the stage.

Several of the same arm gestures recur in the second piece on the program, In your rooms, which is performed by a mixed company of 11 dancers, and with live musicians on stage recreating Shechter and collaborator Nell Catchpole's combination chamber-hip hop score. The piece actually begins (and then begins again) in fits and starts, with a voice-over (Shechter's perhaps?) ruminating on order and chaos, and with spots fading quickly in and out on the entire company worrying their arms before them while sitting with legs outstretched on the floor, and then on break-out clusters of dancers improvising more frenzied whole body movements. A seeming rumination on both the pleasures and perils of group identity, the 40-minute piece is filled with amazing mass choreography and more intimate encounters.

Shechter danced under Ohad Naharin at the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel before relocating to London to pursue a solo music and choreographic career. One can definitely see the similarities in their styles, and DanceHouse organizers Barb Clausen and Jim Smith certainly knew what they were doing in programing each of these men's work in launching their first two seasons. Talk about high-energy dance!

Next up in the DanceHouse season is Vancouver's own Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot, with the new piece Dark Matters at the end of February. It's a bit of a wait, so for those craving a dance fix in the interim, consider the Surfacing event programmed by the still-struggling Ballet BC for next weekend. Featuring new work by Rob Kitsos, Joe Laughlin, Simone Orlando, and Donald Sales, it takes place at the Dance Centre from Nov 13-14.

Finally, the Vancouver International Dance Festival is on a critical fundraising drive this month, hoping to raise $10,000 in order to offset losses due to cuts in BC Gaming funds that have imperiled so many companies throughout the province. Please consider donating through the link they've set up at the Vancouver Foundation.


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