If Serge Bennathan’s selected artists relied on contemporary exploration to create their works, venturing audaciously right to the edges of convention (see Brittany Duggan’s review of Benjamin Kamino’s Nudity. Desire. and William Yong’s Steer), Yvonne Ng (programming in honour of the late lighting designer David Morrison’s contributions to the festival’s inception) and Cylla von Tiedemann’s chosen choreographers dug into different, though still fertile, ground.
The Morrison Series featured two works that were undeniably female in tone and content, at antipodes to the Bennathan Series’ palpable male energy. First on the program was Hybrid Human by Winnipeg-based Jolene Bailie working as Gearshifting Performance Works. If the piece takes for impetus early 1990s sketches from visual artist Wanda Koop whose imagery is transferred effectively to the stage with the assistance of Hugh Conacher’s media design and Anne Armit’s stickmen costumes), one can’t help but simultaneously notice Winnipeg’s distinct flavour in the piece’s movement vocabulary and execution, infused as it is with the legacy of Rachel Browne, beloved pioneer of Canadian contemporary dance, who died in 2012. Interestingly, the influence of modern master Merce Cunningham is also at play in Bailie’s Hybrid Human – they can be seen in the floor patterns the dancers describe, in their limb-initiated, far-reaching motion and in their seeming emotional disconnect from one another.
Next up – in chromatic and stylistic contrast – was The Water’s Edge from the Toronto-based aerial dance ensemble Femmes du Feu. Choreographed by Sabrina Pringle, it’s a tale of connectedness between seas and sky. Holly Treddenick impersonates a wise woman living on the moon, here symbolized by the white hoop on which she perches high in the vertical space. Lara Ebata is a mermaid, sea bound and mostly interacting with a large low hanging anchor apparatus and a set of aqua-coloured silks. The visuals are soft and soothing but would have perhaps been displayed more favourably in a smaller space. Due to the predominance of the vertical axis during the piece, much of the Betty Oliphant stage is left unvisited: it ends up looking like dead space to the audience. However, this is compensated for by the performers’ skilful execution of the aerial choreography, a testament to the two women’s physical strength. A strong narrative arc and some explicit relational choices permeate the work. Here, compared to the experimental tendencies of the Bennathan Series or to the modernist influences in Jolene Bailie’s work, the genre reads as undeniably lyrical.
Louis Laberge-Côté, whose new piece …et même après opens the Von Tiedemann Series, also takes a narrative approach to compose his work. It’s a duet created for his life partner Michael Caldwell and himself. The study is based upon the couple’s real-life experience and explores the antagonist notions of geographical distance and intimacy. What strikes me most about the work is the connection between the two dancers, their chemistry and movement symbiosis. A close second would be their deftness in executing the choreographic material. Caldwell, who assumes the larger part of the dancing, is revealed to his full potential – precise, fluid, versatile. Phil Strong’s musical composition fits the work’s theme and tone like a glove.
A no less virtuosic Lucy Rupert follows with a remount of her 2006 self-choreographed solo The Speed of Our Vertigoes. Seven years and a baby later, Rupert remains light, sharp and engaging, her presence sufficient to fill the large proscenium space. The piece is energetic, busy, frantic at times, an exploration of what might have been going on in Albert Einstein’s brain.
If photographer Cylla von Tiedemann’s curatorial choices made sense so far, the visual connection was reinforced tenfold with Halifax-based Mocean Dance who closed the program with a Tedd Robinson commission, Canvas 5 x 5. Here, what is becoming Robinson’s signature sculptural use of draped fabric and headpieces comes in white. As the piece opens, each of the four dancers is adorned with a large semi-rigid fabric square in lieu of a dress, with a blank canvas, worn flat, as a hat. Over the course of the work, the dancers create a series of striking black-on-white tableaux to traditional Maritime songs. A bagpiper, traditionally dressed, plays live towards the end of the work, framing the dancers in an upstage parabola. The red of his attire is in sharp contrast to the stark black background and white cloths.
Beyond respectively providing d:mic’s audiences works of high artistic merit, the artists curated by Bennathan, Ng and von Tiedemann collectively achieved a larger purpose. The juxtapositions between and within each of the three MainStage Series programs served to highlight the stylistic diversities that make up the patchwork fabric of contemporary dance in Canada. It prompts us to an ongoing reconsideration of the genre’s constituents, in both mandate and content.