The audience chatters quietly in the steeply raked seating of the Roundhouse Performance Centre in Vancouver. Onstage, two hooded figures sit facing away from us on a wooden bench, angled toward each other in the low light as if they, too, are pre-show chatting. Around the stage lie curiosities: a square of sand featuring an altar-like tower of rocks, bowling balls and other sharp-looking, heavy objects; a stack of slate or tiles; and a large domed headdress with beads or rope trailing from the top. In the distance, it seems, we hear the musical address of a shofar, rising and falling.
It is a soft and meditative start to TRUST from 10 Gates Dancing, an Ottawa-based company directed by Tedd Robinson. The program describes the duet, created and performed by Robinson and Charles Quevillon, as a “requiem for wood and stone” — a “primitive mystery of vulnerability and transformation.” With or without these descriptions, the setup places us immediately inside some kind of ritual or spiritual journey, though its parameters and significance are unclear.
The dancers abruptly leave the stage. It’s dark except for a horizontal strip of white flooring glowing upstage. We hear Quevillon before we see him. Crouched and naked, he crawls like an animal along the glowing strip toward a large stone at the centre, while clicking and vocalizing loudly. Each expelled sound visibly affects his body — his bare back muscles convulse, ribcage expanding and contracting. A hanging microphone above him picks up even the faintest sound and reverberates it to suggest we are in a vast, vacuous space.
When Quevillon exits, a darkly robed and hooded figure (Robinson) enters from stage left. This new creature has a handsome white house (a dollhouse, perhaps) for a head. It staggers toward the audience with half-committed hand gestures, as if not quite sure what to say. A ticking sound has started, and it’s unclear whether it is coming from one of the performers or a backing soundtrack. When a hunched Quevillon re-enters, balancing a metronome on his upper back, the mystery is amusingly solved.
After the show we learn from Robinson that the setup at Vancouver International Dance Festival (VIDF) is meant to recreate the natural auditory resonance of the show’s original performance space at Diefenbunker (Canada’s Cold War Museum) in 2016. To achieve this effect, low-hanging drop mics are set to pick up the vocalizations and sounds made by the dancers, which layer over a pre-recorded soundscore. Because of this it’s difficult to place the source of particular sounds.
At one point, a wide-eyed Robinson addresses the crowd with a forlorn requiem, opening his mouth wide with each bellowing note. In the same moment, a naked Quevillon lies on his back centre stage, knees open and body covered in heavy tiles. As Quevillon uses metal spikes to percussively strike the tiles, the rising and falling of his stomach betrays that he’s the real source of the song.
The level of sound becomes almost unbearable when a gong is hung centre stage. The two dancers run at it from either end, flailing to strike it with mallets and collapsing on the floor. This energetic climax introduces a strange and humorous twist as the dancers run, fall and leap up to run offstage again. Small balls are thrown in from offstage and bounce around, adding to the general frenzy. In these moments it’s unclear how seriously we’re meant to take the work, which flips-flops between hyper-formalized vignettes and a strangely ludicrous and offhand physicality.
Costumes offer a myriad of intriguing visual options. The last robes worn by the performers are made of large white pillowcases with a curtain of fringe. When they fold their arms into the corners, they transform into strange ghostlike creatures with fluttering wings, like aliens or fragments of a dream. The white house headpieces convert into simple props, which sit around the stage and make the performers seem larger than life. By the end of the work, the stage is a graveyard of formerly used costumes and objects.
TRUST remains open-ended. What exactly is being discovered or conveyed about the subject remains unspecific. Over the course of the work, I didn’t develop a sense of trust in the work to deliver any predictable message or resolution. I did, however, feel taken in by a wave of possibility for the stage space to create a rich and transportational world, with the creative potential of a boundless mind and the power of the performing body — quivering, running, vocalizing — to express.