I regret that for various reasons I have not been able to attend more of this year's Vancouver International Dance Festival. Last night Richard and I finally got to our first show. S'envoler, which has one final performance at the Roundhouse this evening, is choreographed by Estelle Clareton, in collaboration with Kathy Casey's Montréal Danse. Originally created four years ago with the research and performance participation of twelve dancers, this version features ten, including Clareton herself.
Inspired by the migratory patterns of birds, Clareton structures the work around the spatial and kinesthetic motifs of group and solo movement patterns and shapes. The dancers begin in a tightly massed clump, twitching and fluttering across the stage, a head or a hand occasionally poking out. The clump eventually unfolds into a horizontal line, birds on a wire who jostle and bump into each other and shift positions in a comical version of an avian chorus line. Three of the dancers break away to form a trio, which unleashes different versions of individual and partnered flight in the rest of the group, the stage now a riot of restless, venturesome bodies that come together and move apart in ways that are at once intensely physical and surprisingly tender.
In the talkback following last night's performance Clareton remarked on the relationship between set movement structures and improvisation in the piece, noting that while most of the work is choreographed, within different sections the dancers are free to explore their own expressive impulses. This keeps things fresh and alive, but also helps to advance Clareton's conceptual and practical goals of exploring the relationship between the individual and the group, as out of the chaos and jumble of distinct phrasings and eccentric gestures will suddenly emerge a gorgeous bit of unison.
Clareton and the dancers also talked about the two rubber boots filled with water that lead to the work's slip-and-slide finale. Clareton said that she knew early on she wanted some representation of oceanic flight in the work. And the dancers talked about how, when it became clear they'd be moving on and through a wet surface, managing that risk simply became about mastering a new technique: how to weight one's body to move safely, what to do at the end of a slide, etc. A fascinating glimpse into the creation of a very rare bird.