In a co-production by DanceWorks CoWorks Series and dance: made in Canada/fait au Canada (d:mic/fac), presenter Yvonne Ng brought together Toronto’s Andrea Nann and Quebec City’s Lydia Wagerer in an intimate evening of choreography, entitled “INKCrossfade2AIR”, that explores both grace and intimacy in their extremities. In all three pieces, the audience witnesses the process of engaged transformation.
“INK” by Andrea Nann
As the audience filters into the intimate Winchester St. Theatre, Nann’s opening piece, “INK”, has already begun. Dancers Kate Holden and Alison Denham move slowly, from one reflective posture to the next. Two large stones wait impassively against the dark floor, offering a weighted presence to the stage. In the centre of the scrim hangs an enormous scroll, inked with three large dark characters, that unrolls across the stage toward the audience. The soundscape of water burbling over rocks, created by composer John Gzowski, is interrupted only by the exaggerated inhales of the two dancers and the murmur of the audience settling into their seats.
Leaning against sharp elbows,
they watch the earth
that holds the language of water
inscribed against rock.
Their hands fade low against belly
with palms spread as stone,
water pouring itself gone.
The lights fade and the dancers leave in the darkness, to be replaced by Samm Higgison’s documentary projected beside the hanging scroll. In this short film, visual artist Wayne Ngan speaks about the art of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy. He reflects on the meditative quality of making ink, of transforming inspiration into form through brush strokes on page, of uniting the head, the heart and the body in the act of creation. His musings are layered on top of the repetitive and circular sound of a mortar stone grinding ink. Against the dramatic backdrop of British Columbia’s Hornby Island, with its glorious forests and expansive ocean, Ngan introduces choreographer Andrea Nann’s initial inspiration for the piece. His philosophy of simplicity and wholeness, combined with the physicality of the place in which he creates, foreshadows the artistry and physicality embodied in the choreography that soon fills the stage.
Nann then begins a sensuous solo that translates Ngan’s approach to creation into movement and accompanies his philosophic musings about calligraphic art. Long reaching limbs translate the experience of ink against page onto bodies in space. She offers a three dimensional experience of Ngan’s calligraphy as she breathes deeply and audibly, establishing the connection between movement and breath. Nann creates the illusion of a vast physical environment through an expansive outward gaze. Her movement is also expansive as she moves alongside the centre scroll, inking a vocabulary with her body and painting the space with a dynamic sensuality.
She dresses herself in shadow
and gathers skyward,
throat splayed against swallow.
And against the stillness, she draws a breath
inscribes a single sentence
on the long line of her naked throat
and inks this sentence against the soft white screens of lungs.
The lights fade and as Ngan’s voice speaks over the blackout, Holden and Denham re-enter and begin a duet centred on the rhythm of breath. Inhaling, they knot their bodies close together; exhaling, they spin themselves in explosive jumps and capricious turns, pausing on the ebb and moving with physical abandon on the flow. They are both acutely aware of each other’s presence and make contact in counterbalanced shapes. The technical skill of both performers accentuates the inky fluidity of their three-dimensional calligraphy.
In a tangle of two,
palms splay as wings that do not fly but speak instead
and speak in circles.
They breath deep,
breath in a song of sad,
a rolling song traced as a single word
that grows thick
and grows dark below them.
After another video installment of ink layering in thick, abstract drops against the screens, Nann joins Holden and Denham and they begin a trio, connected by their long deep breaths. With lyric tension, the dancers ground themselves against the floor, while allowing their chests, their arms, their throats to open skyward. Joining earth and sky, moving with fluidity and a dynamism that reveals flashes of red featured in Cheryl Lalonde’s costumes, the dancers unite the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This final elemental movement of “INK” paints a three-dimensional sentence — as the trio of dancers create an embodied compliment to the three inked characters on the hanging vertical scroll.
a single name flung against the space
as ink against page.
Shadows multiply thick against the floor
as they roll their spines round
and rise their mouths of words,
their hands of words,
looking to sky for language,
carving their questions with bones against the earth.
“Crossfade2” and “AIR” by Lydia Wagerer
The world premiere of Lydia Wagerer’s first of two solos, “Crossfade2”, explores the concept of simplicity and honesty through a structured improvisation. The soundscape that accompanies Wagerer’s journey, created by Sam Auinger and Rupert Huber, establishes a surreal quality through the contrasting sounds of industrial rhythms alongside a young woman’s voice recounting her dreams. This union of opposites is a concept that pervades the entire piece.
In the far corner of the stage to the audience’s left, Wagerer begins exploring the embodiment of extremes. The weightlessness and agility of her movement contrasts the great swell of her bare pregnant belly. She extends this play between opposing qualities of movement using fluidity and sharpness in direct juxtaposition.
She stands without speaking
stands without listening,
wings broken at elbows
and feet loose as strings.
The second phase of her three-part improvisation takes her to the centre of the space where she dances far downstage, almost upon the audience. Her gaze is internal throughout the work, reaching out only occasionally to draw the audience into her world. This limited focus enforces the internal experience of the performance. Wagerer’s movement still explores contrasting qualities as she is caught between a funky, stylized reality and a lyrical, fluid dreamscape. In the third and final phase of the improvisation, Wagerer moves to the third panel of the stage where she continues to assert her attention to minute movement detail and the range of disjunction and isolation within the body.
In this work, Wagerer successfully exposes her fine attention to movement detail and her ability to isolate and offer various experiences within one body. However, the overall structure of “Crossfade2” lacks momentum both physically and emotionally. Though the staging choices within the improvisation are predictable and the work needs development, the intimate experience of viewing her pregnant belly remains compelling throughout the piece.
She folds herself tight as a letter
and tries to speak,
looking over her shoulder
and pointing south
with one finger,
and then with two.
In her second solo, “AIR”, Wagerer explores a much less introverted process of self-discovery through a needy, in-your-face and overtly sexualized character. She enters the stage fearlessly, chewing and snapping a wad of gum with a rudeness that fully establishes her obnoxiousness character. She is costumed in a small knit shirt with deflated balloons tucked into the gaps in the stitching, her pregnant belly bared again. The peculiar humor present in the reams of small balloon lips that stretch across her pregnant torso like rubber nipples sets the tone for the rest of the piece.
Wagerer’s character expresses a manic desire for both pleasure and for pleasing others, alongside an overt and exaggerated self-consciousness. An empty vacancy defines the character as much as the balloons she is both dressed in and plays with. Unfortunately, this quality spills over into the choreographic structure of the work as well, and I felt that the piece and character development fell short of its potential.
She walks without thought,
feet as big as dinner plates,
belly as big as dinner.
“AIR” is driven by the presence of circles, both within Wagerer’s movement choices and within the set itself. After pulling balloons from her shirt, she blows them up and mimes sexual encounters with them. In one of the most witty and exact postures, she stands in profile with a blown balloon held as an enormous breast.
The most redeeming part of “AIR” arrives two thirds of the way through, after Wagerer snaps a balloon defiantly at the audience and pulls two audience members on stage, placing them in hokey poses. After passing out several bottles of soapsuds with plastic wands, she encourages them, along with members of the sitting audience, to create a set by blowing bubbles onto the stage. She then dances a clunky and ironic ballet-inspired dance as she demands her bubble-blowing audience members to “create romance”. The stage then fills with circles — floating bubbles and falling balloons (dumped from overhead and poured onto the stage from a cardboard box). Wagerer’s waltzing turns rebellious as she begins to kick the balloons and the piece ends abruptly, as though the illusion she has created is as small and flimsy as a balloon. Wagerer’s commentary on the fabrication of illusions is evident in this final and most convincing section of “AIR”.