The Dance Deck Trois is the perfect way to enjoy a summer afternoon, blending music, dance and the warm August wind in an intimate and casual performance. This sweet little Vancouver performance series is curated and produced by Sylvain Senez and his wife, Alexis Fletcher, both long-time members of Ballet BC. Senez’s seventeen years as rehearsal director of the company (from which he recently retired) has given him all the expertise for this sort of venture, not to mention their backyard is just the right size for it.
True to its name, The Dance Deck Trois on August 27 transformed Senez and Fletcher’s back deck into a stage and their yard into an audience. It was the third of the Dance Deck series, the first of which took place last summer. As we gathered on folding chairs and blue wooden risers, I eyeballed the simple yet effective construction of the space. The deck was framed in three sides by three lovely knotted trees and covered with black Marley dance floor. At the back of the stage, there were wooden steps leading up to the house where green, yellow and red fabric was hung as an entrance. A complex rigging system between the trees and house had the whole place covered with white tarps — rain must always be planned for in Vancouver — but the August weather was perfect: warmly overcast with spots of sun and just enough breeze.
As Fletcher introduces the show, she describes The Dance Deck series as “a place where artists feel free and supported to take risks” and explore work that is meaningful to them. When I spoke to Senez later in the afternoon, he called it a “labour of love”: a tremendous amount of work where the payoff is the art itself. The rich two-hour program moved between dance performances and classical music, divided by an intermission for drinks and mingling.
A Thousand Thanks (Tusen Takk) started the show. It is a meaningful solo by Odette Slater inspired by a Sanskrit mantra and personal pieces of her own story. In the work, Slater moves her hands in calculated gestures, rolling her wrists and crossing her fingers to form shapes that direct her around the stage. The fusion of Indian dance with contemporary was mesmerizing at first, but as Slater’s dancing became more energetic — stomping and move down to the floor and up again — her breathless recitation of Sanskrit words seemed to take away some of the work’s intensity.
The Waiting Room followed and was choreographed by Ballet BC dancer Kirsten Wicklund. The duet skillfully weaves together a looped soundtrack of breath, words and a harp with smooth, sculpted movement and just the right amount of stillness. Andrew Bartee (another young Ballet BC dancer) begins with an introspective solo, twisting between lunges and one-leg balances that end with his hands over his face. Throughout, Wicklund’s voice describes an inner thought process: “defense mechanism, block out words.” Later, the two engage in an intense duet that uses physical manipulation and repetition. Wicklund’s fierce gaze out to the audience kept me absorbed until the very last moment.
A duet between a violin and viola called Passacaglia from Harpsichord Suite No. 7 in G Minor composed by Handel took us into intermission. It was performed by Jennie Press and Jill Way and had a sad melody, full of back and forth with the occasional playful section. The garden setting was an ideal venue to experience classical music. The song left me thinking of joyful memories, sweet but sad since they are out of reach.
At the intermission, the audience filled the reception area with energetic chatter. I spent some time reflecting on the show with Emily Molnar, artistic director of Ballet BC. Molnar said she loves to watch the way the elements interact with the performance, further shaping the experience. The venue was truly a defining part of Casa Om — outdoor sounds all part of the backdrop such as wind rustling the leaves on the trees and making the tarps buffet, the distant traffic moving on Commercial Drive and the gravel crunching in the alleyway as neighbours walked past. These sounds all create a sort of tension, knowing anything could interrupt us at any moment, while adding a special authenticity to the experience.
As the audience found their seats again, Livona Ellis took to the stage with unmoved, a short piece inspired by a friend living with the difficulties of various debilitating diseases. Ellis has a strong and fearless presence, commanding our attention with a strong technical physicality to a soundscape of water bubbling and rumbling thunder. She moved with twitches, ripples and convulsions around the stage as if something was affecting her from within. Her movement embodied the words of the poem in the program with clarity: “Bones on top of bones … Draped in muscle, limp languid motionless muscle, ravenous for revival.”
After this sobering work, a string trio No. 5 in C minor, Op. 9 No. 3 composed by Beethoven was performed by Press on violin, Jill Way on viola and Cristian Markos on cello. The work had me thinking of high-society parties where people drink wine and drift through well-furnished rooms, clicking across polished floors in heels. I enjoyed fixating on the way the musician’s bows moved up and down in unison, and how the cellist’s head dipped with each emphasis. There was one comical moment when the audience began to clap only to be told kindly by Markos that that was just the first of three movements.
The final work of the evening was 1745 Napier St. Performed by Katherine Cowie and choreographed by Fernando Hernando Magadan, it explored the idea of home and those who leave “a piece of their spirits” behind there. Cowie begins by hurriedly exiting the house with a coat and suitcase and placing them in one of the front corners of the stage. Wearing a yellow dress, she fills the stage with extensive movements synchronized to an evocative piano score. While gesturing back to the suitcase, the contemporary ballet vocabulary showed off her ability to finish each arabesque and reach. A radio interview layered into the soundtrack added a personal touch to the solo, describing the fog and old-growth trees in Tofino on Vancouver Island. During the final repeating piano notes, Cowie finally manages to pick up the suitcase, which opened to spill red maple leaves all over the stage.