Montrealers received a singular invitation to the dance last month from Rafik Sabbagh, artistic director of Transatlantique 2005 (September 19th through 24th). The six-day moveable feast featured some leading lights of the past decade, including the Wally Cardona Quartet (New York); Jacquette de Bussac (Paris); Sol Pico (Barcelona); and the premiere of Suzanne Miller and Allan Paivio’s stunning new work, “Speed”, danced to transcendent perfection by the unforgettable duo of Magali Stoll and Karsten Kroll, whose impassioned dedication and luminous presence lit the stage and carried the work with the gravity and fierce intent it merits.
The Miller/Paivio team have been delighting audiences since 1985, with more than thirty collaborative works to their credit. Partners in life and work, they have achieved an understanding and synthesis of disciplines that is exceptional by any standard. In “Speed”, they explore the kinaesthetic, psychological, dramatic and biodynamic effects of tempo variation on movement and sound. Paivio’s score (an extraordinary “conversation” between traffic and strings) deconstructs our preconceptions and brings authority back to the ear; Miller’s choreography disappears the projected ground and summons naked feet back to a blue planet. Out of this poignant and seminal place, they speak from the heart to terrified humanity above the traffic of daily struggle.
They appear, he and she, a backlit silhouette in the upstage left corner. From the first limbic moment, there is urgency — a terrible urgency — in delicate balance upon the thinnest ribbon of light linking their bodies and rising subsonic from the shifting ground. We will seek that ribbon again, throughout the dance, stumbling toward that golden cleft, groping for a lifeline in deep space. The image is a perceptual query. The mind’s eye flies to the protective limit of embryonic embrace, but we will be jolted from that notion (and others) as the drama unfolds. For this cloven moment vaporizes instantly in the protracted hold of gesture, as her hand moves with infinite slowness to his collarbone and we are made part of and party to the hologram we witness through successive de-moorings. By that time the cello is moving from the deep of your belly and your feet are tingling timeless to the shape of its siren call.
They move so slowly and with such cool intent, it’s almost menacing. The dance’s erotic charge serves only to heighten the sense of expectancy and we are transfixed. We begin to hear sounds like the hold of a ship or the breathing of some huge mechanical beast. They are physically enjoined now, but still without the bond of understanding. For no matter how slow they go, or with what centripetal caution they proceed, they do not meet; they alone, in all the time yet to be unfolded and all the space not yet expanded, are two.
And then — the cello … a viscous, driving undertow … irrepressible, undeniable …
The beast is breathing harder now and the dancers’ feet cling to the surfaces with sliding motions as though they’re navigating a planet made of ice. The beast’s breathing becomes the wind of an icy planet. And as he suspends her in the frigid air, a floating tether, her limbs begin to thaw, to spasm in the watery rhythms of the sea anemone. He carries her back upstage
… for they must begin again. Again and again. Faster and faster. The effect on the viewer of the tempo changes, of the shapeshifting and merging of rhythms, textures and perspectives is so counter-intuitive, we are compelled to look again — deeper, further, risking (and investing) more.
All the while, the cello … through all the mirrored repetitions, false starts and tender refractions of their twinned journey, the cello remains, heavy with all that remains unsaid between them. In its gentle rocking, like an almost forgotten rhyme, or its staccato drive to an impossible horizon, or (especially) in its absence, Paivio’s cello speaks in a voice so human, we remember it deep in the fragile orbit of the inner ear.
As the wind grows metallic, he carries her downstage, ringed about his shoulders in closed flight, an encircled serpent. Turning slowly about the vertical axis she has relinquished, he deposits her with infinite care in the place where now together they forget, again, and begin again.
Amid the sounds of car ignition and jet engine take-off, they cling to each other. They are so self-involved in the middle of the screaming street, and we want so much to believe they’ve found a place small enough to be safe in, when they suddenly break apart and walk crisply upstage where he dons the blue shirt, and she, the red.
She is so hot, this red girl, so insistent, a fierce woman with valkyrie limbs and precision guidance. Will she be the one to spin faster than the mind’s eye, to see past the clockwork?
The staccato cello line answers to the surrender of verticality, and delicate chaos ensues. On the repeat cycle, blue boy joins her from the upstage wing and through the cycles that follow, spatial, rhythmic and conceptual dissonance increase, finally leaving blue boy facing us at downstage centre and red girl perched upstage, looming like some prehistoric bird of prey.
At that moment, and out of that stillness, he turns his back to us, faces her, and, placing the street between them, changes everything …
They move like lightning now, further and further apart with a white-hot ecstatic, desynchronous energy, but we are strangely removed, feeling the distances and not the heat.
He is so deep, this blue boy — so silent — with his dreamy gaze and tempered core. Will he be the one to break the sound barrier and hear the rolling first?
Blue boy’s orbit grows more erratic as he picks up momentum. He forgets red girl, the race, the distance. His own limbs become an encumbrance and he seems to want to abandon them in one blind leap to some more singular point of reference.
But he is caught like a deer in the headlights, pinned between the lanes of traffic, between the worlds, beyond the notes, trapped. His body is angrily buffeted, limbs a-spasm as he is rooted helpless to the glowing spot. His fractured movements are scored by the tinny echoes. Later, as he is swept back upstage by a huge draft, and red girl swoops to take his place on the splintered, sparking ground, we hear tiny bells and glass breaking far away.
Suddenly, he is there, launching her ecstatic flight, tracing the orbits, slipstreaming through the spaces in between and finally setting her to ground …
… but it is shifting. They have come too far, and we with them, to stop now. Now we must relinquish whatever perspective has served us thus far and proceed mapless to the place of naked knowing, going faster, faster, faster than we think. Their poignant weightlessness and luminous abandon converge as hurried whispers erupt between them. In that singular and fugitive moment, and across the vastness, they chance a human voice.
On that still, small voice rest our hopes for the contrary flight patterns of that naked, wingless songster called human. When their voices break through flesh, their separateness (and ours) is sundered, the light of their journey exceeds the heat of their efforts, and they cohere (co-hear). Later, we will feel our cheeks wet with tears; now is the time for knowing in our bones.
The whispers give way to voiced discord, and while it allows the audience a temporary relief, it is no solution for the lovers — they must find a way to meet. The frame freezes for an agonizing moment before they break audibly apart, and away. Regrouping upstage, facing each other they enact a business-like sequence (checking their watches, waiting for the bus). They are in perfect visual sync and totally divorced from each other. They try it faster and faster, but it is never fast enough. And never slow enough.
Red girl leaves first. Facing upstage, she hangs suspended in air, her arms encircling the emptiness where his body once has been. She is forlorn and utterly courageous … staring into the void, she waits, she draws him home. He slips into the embrace, inhabiting the ghost that haunts them both, and carries her solemnly and tenderly back to ground. A delicate, rolling, womblike floor sequence ensues, and we are tempted to believe they have found the answer. But no … the answer is in the answering. So they must continue. And so must we.
Two set out alone one dark and distant night, into the gears of a large machine — but they are not successfully processed.
Two set out afraid one night, alone into the dark. But they are not eaten.
Instead, they have in-sinew-ated the very air of the blue planet with a spiralling, exultant, yes. They have illumined the night, which holds them back and isolates them, hallowed the present moment with their dragon-fire, and freed themselves from the prison of their separateness.
Magali Stoll is nothing short of a pure delight. The definition of grace, strength, beauty and talent …