The performance began outside the theatre. Conceptual pieces of printed, bent metal stuck on wooden planks were suspended along the corridor walls leading to the theatre. Inside, bent bicycles in tormented shapes hung from the walls and ceiling. Quite appropriately Peter Trosztmer’s “Synthesis as Composure: Painful but Unequivocal Truth” was presented in Tangente’s new “split stage” (or in French, “doubles territories”) arrangement. Curtains completely divide the theatre’s long rectangular black box into two separate and more intimate squared performance spaces. For Trosztmer’s show, the audience ringed the space on three sides. The result is that the dancer is up close, in your face, and as an added bonus, you can read the expressions of fellow audience members, and witness their shock, boredom and exhilaration, all with the glance of an eye. It’s a wildly exciting way to watch dance. Trosztmer’s show started with ambience — Eric Craven’s recorded guitar licks played, while the full house settled in. Having already begun in a way, the work takes off when Trosztmer comes on stage, bare-chested, in plaid trousers. He circles around, looking down, hunched over. Then, balancing on one hand on the floor, he pivots, spinning his body low-angled to the floor. We hear his breathing, see the sweat on the skin.
The premise of the project was to invite seven choreographers — Margie Gillis, Thea Patterson, José Navas, Martin Bélanger, Victor Quijada, Sarah Febbraro and Sharon Moore — into the studio with him. They’d set certain phrases or put forward certain ideas, and then Trosztmer would serve as a kind of DJ, sampling what information he liked, could use or offset against other material, and shifting the information around as he saw fit. No one choreographer’s movements were readily recognizable, although some in the crowd, whom I spoke to later, clearly identified certain signatures. All that was certain in the performance was that Trosztmer was performing with a charged intensity, a charisma, a definite charm and a virtuosity that flickered off and on, to great effect. Watching Trosztmer was a distinct pleasure, in part because I (along with Marlene Millar) had directed him in a Bravo!FACT short film called “The Hunt”, choreographed by Sharon Moore. I knew of his commitment to process, and his reserves of energy, and his low-key nature. I also knew that he could play to an audience. With “Synthesis”, his ability to bound from one source of material to another, and be inventive was in full evidence. In the first section, we witness up close his full use of body weight, the thrust and power of his frame and his agility, as evidenced in a phrase early in the piece where he skips forward, kicks his feet to the side and whips his arms around. Later, he leaps across the stage. At the same time, the music score is charged, like a locomotive barreling forward.
Trosztmer eats space with his body, moving at tremendous angle. He makes a kinetic connection that’s infectious, and there’s an aggressive bite to the movement. He’s got tremendous carriage. He does a pirouette. Then he breaks the virtuoso bit. It’s not really what the performance is about. He squats in an eager football stance. He hunches backward. We watch the muscled body. Some people, at intermission, comment on his physique. But I just watch his feet in action: the way they grip the floor and give him leverage when he erupts in anger, or the way they relax as he goes into repose on the floor. His body gives in to the time of the music’s rhythmic beat. The sweat glistens on his back. He picks up a towel from the stage “wing” (actually one of the metal sculptural elements) and wipes off. Then a little pause, as he puts on a snap-up powder blue shirt. He breaks into the skip again, briefly. He tells a story, kind of shouts it out, about his encounter with a woman in an alley, how he has a girlfriend already, but has sex anyway. He describes going back to her apartment, fills us in a bit on his drunk, stinky fuck. I look around and check my fellow watchers. Some folks aren’t eating this up. But I find it gutsy, cocky, and so different from too many safe performances I’ve been to lately. Later he becomes the rock star, and with arms spread wide, he exhorts his adoring, imaginary, public: “Ladies, lick my balls.” It’s very funny.
The question of who’s who, choreographically, occasionally arises in my mind. But I have no idea whose fragments I’m watching. Maybe it’s an amalgam of several of the named sources. But it’s all about Trosztmer. A little later, he takes a drink, wipes off again (the man can sweat!). He then repeats his sex story at double-speed. He hops about some more. Soon, he breaks into a primal “o-ah yes!!!”, the voice enjoying every consonant and vowel. He begins bounding about, “yes!!”, he shouts out. Some people in the crowd are chuckling. We watch his virtuosity, watch it crumble, and we see the narcissism shifting, revealing the zones and colours of a palette of emotions. Trosztmer has a great understanding of space. He knows how to use balance, stamina, endurance and equilibrium. He also knows how to strut like a peacock. But best of all we see vulnerability, intensity and a fierce need to communicate. He succeeds; that’s all.
Following Trosztmer’s performance, the audience moves into the second theatre space for the other work on the bill. “Turbulences internes” is by Ségolène Marchand, an emerging multi-disciplinary dance artist. In her room, Marchand has the audience sit on long bench-like platforms facing each other. Five women dancers (listed as her collaborators) are waiting for us near the back of the room, as we enter. They’re just standing clustered, focussed, but not aggressive. The dancer at the front of the group is wearing a zippered, hooded vest. Five low-level mounds of white Styrofoam flakes are sculpted in diamond shapes on a black floor. As the lights dim, the second dancer in the pack “awakens”, and reaches into the sleeve of the first dancer’s vest, takes it off, and transfers it to her own body. The woman in front falls to the floor, and then takes up the rear of the group. The sequence repeats, and each time the dancer in front falls after the garment is removed from her body. One after another they advance, walking. The impassive quality is effective. The dancers’ gaze is distant, removed. The pacing is constant, even poetic. The sound is silence. After a time, the single vest is thrown to the floor. The action becomes more emphatic. A hand is pressed to the head, a knee to the back of the knees.
The mass of bodies becomes more dispersed. One dancer blows another down, a featherweight. Soon, one climbs up on a mass of bodies; it’s reminiscent of Simone Forti’s iconic pedestrian “Huddle” performance, where a pyramid of bodies is the focal point, but where bodies cascade up and over and around the mass. Eventually Marchand’s bodies fall to the floor and onto the Styrofoam flakes. Crunch, crunch is the sound. They roll over and away. Each performer has a solo, danced in her individual pile of flakes, with an electronic score as background. As the extended solos roll on, the piece loses its intention and focus. The individual performers are not terribly strong, which doesn’t help matters. After all the diamonds are crushed by the weight of the bodies and the precise geometric forms destroyed, the five move again, in unison. Again the vest is picked up and worn, and it starts all over again. Unfortunately, by this time, Marchand has lost me. Trosztmer and Marchand’s worlds couldn’t have been more different. Both works benefit from the intimacy of the space — that’s the only link in the program, beside the fact that both are emerging dancemakers; however, the pairing was distinctly unequal.