Cohorts in the Vancouver dance scene, Anne Cooper, Ziyian Kwan and Ron Stewart have known and worked with each other for thirty years. But creating a concert together, things near & far at the Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver, December 3-6, was a first. Choreographers Josh Martin (605 Collective) and recent Walter Carsen Prize winner Tedd Robinson (10 Gates Dancing) brought Dwelling, the title of both pieces, to fruition.
Martin’s piece opened with the three dancers exploring their own movement initiatives with pedestrian undertones. Dressed in flattering grey street clothes, costumed by Diane Parks, and set on a white floor surrounded by black, the three muttered under their breath, aware of each other but continuing on their own paths. Seeming to describe their individual performance history, the movement became more dynamic as their muttering became more audible. Finally recognizable as dance vocabulary, the words they were speaking to each other and to themselves were about missed cues, spacing issues and the searching through memory for movement phrases. Those in the know could pick out familiar choreography from their past dancing lives.
Showcasing what makes each of them unique through improvisational expression of their own practice introduced the evening well. All three are excellent dancers in their prime of expression: old enough to have something interesting to say, yet able to maintain the level of fitness required to express themselves.
Kwan’s petite frame is articulated with fluid transitions that see her effortlessly moving from floor to standing. A body well honed in technical exactitude, her rehearsal process must be a journey of going deeper into the movement while remaining authentic in her intention. Never was there a false move or an expression that wasn’t grounded in reality.
Stewart’s strength, overlaid with sensual flow, is gorgeous in a big man. Using the space with energy extending way beyond his limbs, he secures himself as a large presence.
Cooper’s idiosyncratic shifts of weight and half-finished gestures speak to an active imagination and a perfected physicality. Her connection with the group built a solid foundation.
Though unique in their own styles, when unison movement occurred, they danced like they’d worked in the same company for years.
French band Ceux Qui Marchent Debout’s song signalled a change out of the self-exploration. The funky beat propelled the three into rhythmic groove: kinesthetic joy.
The next mood shift, facilitated by lighting designer James Proudfoot, set the stage with striated ribbons of light turning the three into pebbles tossed by the tide. Stefan Smulovitz’s gorgeous music was an emotional undercurrent shifting the dream to reality. In this section, Martin’s choreographic signature use of the floor — with quick rolls and the body’s weight firmly placed on the upper body — embodies his style on the three able dancers. Using the floor like a partner, they each define modern dance’s use of the earth as a metaphor for life.
With a reverence of their own invention — Cooper’s mimed toast of champagne to the audience comes to mind — the piece ended saluting the audience and their art form so beautifully danced.
Tedd Robinson’s Dwelling juxtaposes the literal and the metaphoric. Both witty and profound, Robinson’s theatrical performance piece used movement as a means to communicate the investigation into the concept of “dwelling.” Created during a three-week period when the five artists, including rehearsal director Lisa Gelley, lived together, Robinson’s aesthetic is clear.
The piece opened with Stewart sawing a small piece of lumber in half, balanced on two ceremonial-looking stools, the sawdust caught below. Mixed with glittery sparkles, the particles fly through the air and settle when blown, connoting magic on the precipice.
Wearing keikogi-like costumes sewn up in an asymmetrical fashion, the dancers don plaid shirts when their inner carpenters beckon. A stage-right enclave filled with lumber looked like a monk’s cave ready for a building project. With butoh-like steadfastness, the three multi-tasking muses invite us into their world.
Cooper balanced crossed props on her head: two pieces of short lumber and then the two stools, and Kwan’s epic stillness balancing on one foot on the flimsy stool while the other foot dangled off speaks to the theme of “balance.”
Continuing with the theme, Stewart balanced four long pieces of wood on various body parts bringing the building blocks to centre stage.
At this point Charles Quevillon’s score turned to the sounds of a construction site. Brandishing power tools and wearing the plaid shirts, the performers got busy building their square structure.
Entering their home, a revelation of joy and orgasmic realization turns the dwelling into a safe place of transcendence so the soul can experience meaning in wondering ecstasy.