Sunday, May 28, 2017

Convergence at EDAM

EDAM's latest choreographic series is on at the Western Front through June 2. It features new works by Peter Bingham, Vanessa Goodman and Noam Gagnon.

Talking to Bingham and dancer Delia Brett at different points during the evening's intermissions, I learned that Convergence, the work by Bingham that opens the evening, is structured around a series of restrictions the choreographer has given his seven dancers, including Brett, Anne Cooper, Elissa Hanson, Walter Kubanek, Diego Romero, Renée Sigouin, and Olivia Shaffer. The restrictions involve spending at least thirty per cent of the fifteen-minute piece hugging one of the studio's two side walls (which is how we encounter the dancers when the work opens), hewing closely to a specific individual line in space, and only engaging in contact with another body or bodies when those lines converge. Within those and a few other parameters, the dancers are free to improvise as they wish and what results is in part an almost slow motion breaking apart of some of the key principles of contact improvisation: that is, the finding of another body in space and what does or does not happen gravitationally as a result of that encounter. Indeed, some of the most enjoyable moments for me in the piece came when two or more dancers converged upon each other and humorously paused to decide who was leading and who was following whom.

Goodman's Accumulating is a trio featuring the choreographer and dancers Karissa Barry and Alexa Mardon, and showcasing an impressive sound and visual design by loscil (aka, local electro-acoustic composer Scott Morgan). The work opens with the three dancers dispersed in space upstage. Goodman is perched atop a speaker stage right. Barry is seated on a chair stage left. And Mardon hovers stationary in the upstage right doorway, her upstretched hands appearing to grip the upper lip of its inside frame. At a certain point Mardon lets go of her grip, crosses the threshold into the studio space and begins a dynamic and hyper-kinetic ten-minute solo, one in which her arms, tellingly, seem to function like antennae, propelling her forward as if in search of another door frame to attach themselves to. While this is happening, Barry is slowly crumbling forward in her chair and Goodman is turning this way and that atop her speaker, as if she is a stuck toy dancer in a malfunctioning music box. As part of the soundscore, we hear about the physiological make-up of the heart as an organ, and a video of what looks like smoke circles and rings slowly starts to creep up the backstage wall. Mardon eventually comes to rest and Barry, who by this time is slumped on the floor in front of her chair, begins her own solo, only hers is more fluid and languid, with the movement issuing more from the pelvis, hips and legs. The two dancers eventually join in a mirrored duet, their movements not quite in unison, but their hitherto distinct vocabularies now meshing in a complementary and mutually sustaining way. It's hard not to think of the figure performed by Goodman as having a hand in bringing the other two dancers together, especially when they come to rest in a seated position on the floor just to the left of her station and then collapse backward in exhaustion. This is the cue for Goodman to begin a contained mechanical sequence of movements atop her speaker, which in turn reanimates the other two dancers, who are given a final coda downstage before helping to disappear each other in a replacement series of poses in that upstage right doorway.

Gagnon's between us--what a difference a day makes is also a trio and likewise has a fantastic commissioned score, this time something a bit more industrial by James Coomber. To thrashing guitar sounds, Graham Kaplan, who is positioned downstage right, bends at the waist and grinds his shoulders forwards and backwards with such violence that I was sure one was going to pop out of its socket. Meanwhile, starting from her spot upstage left Lara Barclay begins a slow sinuous all-body crawl across the backstage wall. Positioned centre stage with her back to the audience, Heather Dotto moves forward and backward like a robot, her torso also hingeing with whiplash speed in either direction. Indeed, the extremity of each of the performers' bodily contortions and both the repetitiveness and physical force with which they executed them over the course of the piece's twenty minutes are what registered most with me in between us. At different points Kaplan partners both Dotto and Barclay, but each connection seems to be structured as much on repulsion as on attraction, with Kaplan and Dotto shoving their pelvises together like magnets, but then arcing their upper bodies away from each other like evil laughing clowns. The implicit violence in the lifts that Kaplan performs with Barclay is later completed when Barclay, chasing after Dotto and Kaplan, throws herself backwards on the floor, a discarded third wheel. And, indeed, it is possible to read the work through the lens of a love triangle. But, really, it is enough of a kinetic high just to absorb each new jolt and shock that emerges from this talented force field.


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