Kokoro Dance’s “Sheepman Dreams” is an hour-long submersion into the deep, dark consciousness of a long sleep. The slow, earthbound movement traps the dancers and audience in its own unnaturally extended sense of time and space. While that space often feels suffocating, it is also compelling and, once surrendered to, surprisingly restful. The charcoal drawings that mysteriously appear and then fade from the Japanese screens at the back of the stage are like messages from an oracle, indecipherable yet important. The chocolate brown tunics of the performers are transparent in the light, revealing smooth curves of flesh: this sensuality is fecund and fleshly, with arched backs and open chests that could be ecstatic, but instead seem sacrificial. There is a higher consciousness lurking on the boundaries of this underworld, but whether good or evil, present or absent, is unknown.
In “Sheepman Dreams”, choreographers and Kokoro Dance’s artistic directors, Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi, have created another of their striking, atmospheric depictions of the more troubled side of the human condition. Hirabayashi is the Sheepman, who according to the program note “dreams and conjures up everything. Everything except time. Time pulls the past into the present and pushes it into the future.” If the Sheepman is the power behind everything, who is the Sheepman? God? A cultural reference that might have been explained in a program note? Or just random matter whose consciousness is mere evolutionary distraction, incidentally shaped into the form of a man?
The Sheepman, in the muscled, mature body of Hirabayashi, enters one side of the stage and crosses during the hour over to the other side, naked and white-painted, completely covered by a transparent, brown shroud, the colour of a monk’s robe. His movements are achingly slow, like a dreamer trapped in time and unable to move forward. Yet by the end he has traversed the stage, posing powerfully in front of the upstage screens, moving with painstaking deliberation, his body at times exposed, but never his face or his motives. The sleeping, dreaming Sheepman does not reveal his desires, although Bourget, who both begins and ends the piece, seems to be the knowing, active force who makes things happen.
Bourget, also white-painted, wears a long white tunic. With her brown hair piled on top of her head, Bourget looks variously like a goddess, a crone, a demon or a wide-hipped fertility figure. She opens the work standing centrestage, with knees bent, circling her hips heavily. Her grasping fingers reach out to the emptiness and reel in the four dazed souls performed by Kevin Bergsma, Carolyn Chan, Salomé Diaz and Jennifer McKinley.
The quartet of lost souls glide uneasily around the stage with cautious, alert faces, as if listening and looking for danger or guidance. They are bent, and push forward as if through heavy mud. At times, they leap free, sometimes in a hasty, turned-in arabesque, or with arms flapping, but the movement doesn’t take them anywhere. They touch their faces, their genitals; they pair off and explore the other; singly, at different times, they mirror Bourget’s movements.
The different groupings of this chorus, who at one point vocalise by gasping in short, sharp breaths, are well-staged, although the choreography in general did not grow and evolve, so much as endure. Bourget’s character at times seemed aimless, and the choreography inarticulate: who was she, and why was her finger pointing upwards so precisely as she swivelled her hips? One movement motif shared between Bourget and the quartet, of pulling something out of the open, gaping mouth, suggested a gift of speech, or a birthing of some kind, but no new energy or action appeared.
The team Kokoro has assembled for “Sheepman Dreams” contributed stellar work, from Loraie Tylor’s costumes, to Gerald King’s lighting design, with its stunning use of light and shadow, or red and blue spots that shine eerily on the white-painted bodies. The music by Lee Pui Ming suggests eons of geographic upheavals through its dark thuds, high-pitched ringing and meteoric accents. And Thomas Anfield’s live drawings were thick and hieroglyphic, showing inventive stagecraft to great effect. Anfield, unseen by the audience, drew from a position behind the Japanese screens, using only water, which caused his brushstrokes to dry and disappear, or to soak through into new shapes. All told, “Sheepman Dreams” was a visually gorgeous, disturbing reverie by two mature artists.
“Sheepman Dreams” had a six-day run as part of the Vancouver International Dance Festival, with the evening opening with two different guest choreographers. For the first half of the run, Vancouver’s Alvin Erasga Tolentino presented “Flesh and Blood (part 1)”, another of his intensely personal, inward-looking pieces, this time for three women in red (Delia Brett, Anne Cooper and Caroline Farquhar), while Montréal’s Danse Carpe Diem’s “M” provided the opener for the final three evenings.
For the Montréal company’s first appearance in Vancouver, Danse Carpe Diem presented a choreography by artistic director Emmanuel Jouthe, performed by Jouthe and David Pressault. This forty-minute duet had a refreshingly playful naturalness, with Jouthe and Pressault simply dressed in casual pants (jeans for Jouthe) and white shirts. The two men meet and compete, in some great, martial arts-based self-flagellation; Pressault confesses his weaknesses in a low-key monologue; the duo sit entwined, then boogie wildly to Led Zeppelin’s rock-powered song about a woman who needs love; they catch their breath, laughing. Both performed with a relaxed presence, showing the kind of cinematic performance skills that can withstand close-ups, and it was this ease and accessibility that made “M” so different and enjoyable to watch.
For this third year, Kokoro Dance’s Vancouver International Dance Festival had performers from Germany and the United States via Japan, as well as from Montréal and Toronto and, of course, Vancouver itself. There were pre-show events on a specially constructed stage in the exhibition hall by local artists, including Ziyian Kwan and a gang of hip-hoppers led by Jheric Hizon. Master classes and workshops were led by some of the performers, as well as by the Polish artistic director of the Silesian Dance Theatre, Jacek Luminski. Houses were well-sold the nights I attended. Overall, after an eerily quiet event in 2001, there was a real sense of both festivity and internationalism in 2003.
~ by Kaija Pepper