When words fail, dance can still tell an eloquent story. But how satisfying it is when words and movement are mixed in just the right proportions (for me, three parts dance to one part language) to present complicated ideas about personal history, emotional truth and the sad/funny foibles of the human condition. Dancer/choreographers Heidi Strauss and Darryl Tracy (aka Four Chambers Dance Projects) are the engineers of just such a hybrid creation with (a)round 2, running through September 13th at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.
Strauss and Tracy worked with four choreographers — Guillaume Bernardi, Lesandra Dodson, Sarah Chase and Marie-Josée Chartier — as well as a host of design and music artists to create an evening of diverse duets. Both physically and emotionally challenging for the performers, (a)round 2 also offers ample riches for the audience. Heart-wrenching content here is presented within a formal equation of mathematical precision. “so often in vagueness” features choreography by Lesandra Dodson with spoken text in German excerpted from work by German poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Dodson’s background in architecture has clearly informed the shape of the dance, Strauss and Tracy moving diagonally through a slash of light or performing dances with small idiosyncratic gesturing — fingers pointing, slappy hands, shaky hands — in circles or rectangles of illumination. The duet progresses along an axis of growing tension — anger gives way to laughter, gives way to recovery then growing aggression — until Tracy abruptly leaves the scene. Though perhaps a commentary on disharmony in relationships, “so often in vagueness” does highlight the compatibility of Strauss and Tracy as dance partners (both are strong and delicate at the same time, though in very different ways), a trusting symbiosis that is only reinforced throughout the rest of the program.
Guillaume Bernardi is a well-established director of theatre and opera who makes his choreographic debut with “Qui connait le chemin de son coeur?” This piece begins with a pulsing red light and an unrecognizable masked figure unrolling a sheet of plastic. Something of a study in animalistic movement, the work assigns different vocabularies to Strauss and Tracy. He is more upright and deliberate in his movement while she crouches low to the ground and moves with jittery rodent-like quickness. When she straightens, her body seems cramped, disabled though striving ever outwards. His steps become less stilted as the pair come together and he manhandles/supports her less confident animations. It’s an odd, feral work with an odd score by John Sherlock and odd vocalizations from both dancers. One is thoroughly drawn into this strange world of quirky beings, however, even as one futilely ponders possible narratives.
“Contralateral Duets” features the trademark humour of choreographer Sarah Chase with considerable textual input by Strauss and Tracy. Dressed in hospital gown and greens, the pair performs a hilarious teacher/student riff on the physiology of the body (Tracy is a registered physical therapist in addition to being a dance artist). This segues suddenly into a snappy campy dance routine that recaps in movement the lessons learned. The choreography itself is fairly banal compared to some other work on the program but Chase’s gift is for juxtaposition and the way storytelling and movement can impact and enhance each other. When Tracy and Strauss stop moving completely to relate personal anecdotes from their respective pasts, the scene colours the dances that came before and the ones that come after, a not inconsiderable feat. Though funny and effervescent, “Contralateral Duets” is far from lightweight and comes at a point in the show when the audience has become genuinely curious about these two performers.
In the conclusion to a complicated evening, veteran choreographer Marie-Josée Chartier contributes “LA LOURDEUR DES CENDRES” (the weight of ashes). Where before we’d been seeing dancers moving in tandem or in opposition to each other, here is a dance of incredible physical closeness. Strauss and Tracy use their bodies as weights on each other, as propping devices and as triggers for each others momentum. When apart, they seem to fall apart, their limbs disjointed and fractured as they struggle to re-connect. The work builds with incredible tension to a scene where Strauss walks a crumbling Tracy back and forth in silence to the periodic crashing guitar and percussion chords of Toronto composer Allison Cameron’s truly remarkable score. Release comes when the pair begins a large running circle, his hand on the back of her neck. This is a fascinating yet tough piece to watch; it must be extremely challenging to perform. Fully warmed up by the preceding dances, Strauss and Tracy don’t waver. Chartier knows that very bad things can happen to the very good people we love. But sometimes it’s through adversity that partnership achieves the sublime. This is the profoundly sad yet also hopeful truth of the matter that “LA LOURDEUR DES CENDRES” perfectly captures.