Wednesday, July 11, 2018

DOTE 2018: Mascall Dance's OW at St. Paul's Anglican Church

Yesterday evening I trekked to the West End to take in one of Dancing on the Edge's "Edge Off" presentations, that is, works not taking place at the Firehall or Dance Centre. The piece was Mascall Dance's latest ensemble creation, OW, created by Jennifer Mascall in collaboration with 20 (yes, that's right, 20!) incredible dancer-performers, and presented as always at Mascall Dance's home base at St. Paul's Anglican Church on Jervis Street.

OW is a study of the relationship between sound and the body. Working from a libretto made up of vocalized syllables, cries, noises, and utterances that are deliberately non-sensical--similar to improvised scat singing in jazz music--the piece is made up of a series of interconnected vignettes that explore how, why and from where our bodies produce sound, and how that additionally reverberates in movement. (The vocal coach for OW is DB Boyko, and additional musical composition is provided by Stefan Smulovitz.) While Mascall takes pains in her brief program note to explain that OW is non-narrative, structurally it is styled like a work of musical theatre, at least in its groupings of dancers (the soundtrack playing before the start of the work is also a clue).

Our would-be romantic principals are Billy Marchenski and Molly McDermott, although the mostly hissing sounds that emanate from their mouths when they are near each other, and their wary circling of each other on the in-the-round stage floor--not to mention the way Molly climbs over Billy's body during their climactic duet--mostly suggests a tonal dynamic of repulsion rather than attraction. Comic relief comes by way of a quartet comprised of Anne Cooper, Walter Kubanek, Vanessa Goodman, and Eloi Homer, who banter back and forth with each other in an exuberantly demonstrative phonetic glossolalia, their strung-together plosives and fricatives and diphthongs and glottal stops accompanied by a range of popular dance styles, from a virtuosic tap sequence to a chest- and shoe-thumping folk dance circle in which the dancers' vocal communication is now filtered through kazoos.

Finally, there is a large chorus of younger dancers whose mostly unison and canon choreography is complemented by an enunciated score of call and response: with each other, and also with the other groups of dancers. Here, especially, it was fascinating to take note of the ways in which certain sounds seem intuitively to call forth distinctive styles of physical expression, with harsher noises (guttural cries and shouts) often accompanied by more martial movements (marching and foot stomping), whereas softer sounds (coos and whistles) seem to produce kinetic ripples that are more flowing and undulating. On this front, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the impressive cameo appearance made by Eowynn Enquist, who together with Molly McDermott and Vanessa Goodman forms a gorgeous trio, one whose sinuous arm waves and buffeting back and forth in space of each other's bodies is held aloft through a softly sung three-part harmony. (That Enquist thereafter becomes a kind of avenging angel, moving between different chorus members and miming a series of eye plucks that produce from each a version of the work's title is a whole other matter.)

Watching OW, and how much fun the dancers seemed to be having (despite the obvious complexity of having to learn two different scores), I was reminded of those moments of pure kinetic joy one experiences on a dance floor, when the feeling of being transported by the energy and rhythm of movement and music can only be answered by a whoop of delight. Kudos to Jennifer Mascall and her entire ensemble for reminding us so brilliantly and blissfully of the somatic connection between sound and movement.


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