Yesterday was a pretty special day. I got to sit in on rehearsals by two amazing Vancouver dance artists who will be premiering new work in July. And while very different in scale and tone, it was interesting for me to note that both works are consciously being constructed as dance-theatre performances, not least in their combining of text and movement. The pieces also share the distinction of having well-known local actors move (quite literally) outside their traditional comfort zones on stage, partnering with professional dancers to tell a story via kinaesthetic as well as narrative means.
The first rehearsal was of Tara Cheyenne Performance's How to Be, which will play the Firehall as part of the Dancing on the Edge Festival in three weeks. TCP Artistic Director and choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg is working with the amazingly talented Kate Franklin, Josh Martin, Bevin Poole, Kim Stevenson, and Marcus Youssef on what will be her second group show after the highly successful Highgate. However, this current work--a scaled down excerpt of which Friedenberg showed as part of Boca del Lupo's Micro-Performance Series at the Anderson Street Space earlier this spring--eschews Highgate's overt theatricality in favour of a deliberately toned down, non-spectacular and process-oriented exploration of themes of subjectivity, authenticity and relationality. The performers, all playing versions of themselves, are modelling for us in their individual movement styles and ways of being in their very different bodies, as well as in the coming together--sometimes harmoniously, sometimes more fractiously--of those styles and bodies, how all of us as human subjects must move through this world at once singly and as part of a larger collective.
All of this makes for some amazing comic set pieces (which I won't spoil before the piece opens), but also moments of truly poignant intimacy and vulnerability--what Friedenberg described as "hilarious heartbreak." It was also such a privilege to watch Friendenberg, who is not dancing in this iteration of the piece, work with her performers, at one point trying out three different spatial configurations of a sequence with Poole before very naturally and organically landing on what felt like the right fit. And all of this while keeping up a steady stream of witty banter and trademark one-liners. I know from experience what a joy it is to work with Friendeberg, and this studio visit (to Stevenson's shiny new space, The Happening, on Fraser at 39th) only confirmed that fact. I look forward to the DOTE show, as well as the full-scale version of the piece at the Cultch that Friendeberg is working towards for April 2017.
The second rehearsal visit took place at Progress Lab 1422 on William Street, where Kidd Pivot's Crystal Pite was working on a sequence from her new work-in-progress Betroffenheit. A co-production with PL 1422 co-tenants Electric Company Theatre, the piece will have its world premiere in Toronto at the end of July as part of the Panamania Festival that runs in conjunction with the PanAm and ParaPanAm Games. Vancouver audiences have to wait until next February to see the finished work; however, the presenters of that staging, DanceHouse, arranged yesterday's sneak peek as a perk for subscribers and donors. What we saw was an excerpt of a complex and highly physical duet between actor, ECT founding member and Betroffenheit co-creator Jonathon Young and dancer Tiffany Tregarthen. Betroffenheit is one of those composite German words that manages to encompass a complexity of meaning that seems inexpressible in anything other than a full sentence in English; in this case, it refers to the state of shock and bewilderment that befalls one in the wake of a disaster. It is, I am assuming, just such a state that Young's character finds himself in when he encounters the creature played by Tregarthen. It's not clear whether this creature is a magical being from another dimension or a product of Young's character's imagination; whatever the case, both Young and Tregarthen appear to be simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by each other, and the part of the duet we witnessed unfolds as at once a solicitous sharing of each other's bodily proximity and weight and as a desire to extricate oneself from the other's potentially threatening grip.
All of this results in some pretty acrobatic partnering, with Tregarthen at one point poised in the air over Young's prone body as she balances her knees on his raised hands and her own arms on his forehead. From this position she must then somersault backwards, while somehow also managing to pull herself and Young up to sitting position, so that they are both facing each other with legs extended and intertwined. It was fascinating to watch Pite work this particular bit over and over again, making minor adjustments (like having Tregarthen grab a bit of Young's shirt or getting Young to help out with momentum by giving Tregarthen a little shove) in order to refine the timing. Equally interesting to me was Young's running commentary as all of this was going on, bringing an actor's characterological "motivation" for his actions (e.g. "I have to get this thing off of me") to the specific physical tasks he needed to perform.
I couldn't stick around afterwards to mingle as I had to dash to the last of my Mountain View Solstice rehearsals. But a perfect day became even more special as I was exiting because I ran into Pite, who was ducking out to get a bit of air. I reminded her of who I was ("that annoying academic who wrote the article about your work"), and she was so gracious, saying how much she appreciated my interpretation of her work, and suggesting that we work together some day (!!!). Even if that never happens, it's enough of an ego-boost just thinking about the possibility. And all of Vancouver is richer for Pite's decision to pursue her career from here.