Forget the fourth wall. In the world premiere of The Sensationalists, a collaboration between 605 Collective and Theatre Replacement, the first, second and third wall is also up for grabs. Featuring 605 Collective Co-Artistic Directors Lisa Gelley and Josh Martin, and dancers Jane Osborne, Walter Kubanek, Lexi Vajda and Laura Avery, and directed by Maiko Yamamoto of Theatre Replacement, the seventy-five-minute piece explores the relationship between performer and audience, using dance, physical theatre and text while exploring every configuration that a proscenium stage with a lobby can provide.
The piece is based on autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a perceptual phenomenon characterized as a distinct, pleasurable tingling sensation in the head, scalp, back or peripheral regions of the body in response to visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or cognitive stimuli.
The work began in the lobby with the dancers dressed in Gap-like clothes, joined by extra participants who curled and moved around the chairs, the walls and each other. Headphones clamped on, they danced to a sound that only they could hear. With their expression internalized, the fact that they were being watched seemed irrelevant. Experiencing their journey through the sensory input, members of the audience could be imagined wondering: What are they listening to? What are they feeling when they all sit on each other in a caterpillar row? Gee, I hope they’re wearing deodorant.
Moving into the theatre space, the audience found themselves on the stage with the performers moving and speaking around them. Sound designer Gabriel Saloman’s score played throughout, offering an atmospheric touchstone.
This section was definitely more physical theatre, with gesture scores, text used as a propellant to action and exercises in changing the audiences’ perception of space de rigueur. The usual reluctance of audiences to participate was dashed through a welcoming and inclusive focus and energetic direction. Without using words, the performers directed the audience to help, move or react in an effort to join in the art-making.
Though the transitions were seamless, clearly a well-thought-out strength of the collective, the reasons for transitioning within this section needed to be clarified. Often it seemed like a series of cool exercises that perhaps should have been edited instead of a section that moved the storytelling forward.
After we all got used to the idea that we were in this together, lighting designer James Proudfoot had tall moveable lights wheeled on that gave the sense of a performance space and less of a playground with a jungle gym.
Finally, we were placed upstage while the dancers faced the house downstage. Here is where Proudfoot’s magic took place. Red lights lined up on the floor along the front of the stage were lifted creating a wall of red delineating the space, signalling that a sizable transition was occurring.
Encouraged to move to the seats where headphones were placed, the audience began to experience the exciting dance that we’re used to seeing from 605.
Marrying the grounded power of street dance with the resisted flow of contemporary dance in an authentic ability to express their inner worlds, Gelley and Martin’s dancing is emotionally moving and kinesthetically breathtaking.
Osborne’s articulated shifts, Vajda’s fearlessness at being tossed about, Avery’s abandon, and Kubanek’s assured partnering all show an intrinsic understanding of the 605 vocabulary. Using contact improvisation partnering, aggressive floor work, quick and seemingly erratic shifts in direction and non-stop athletic physicality, the dancers made the dance section a joy to watch.
The Gelley/Martin duets were simply gorgeous. The level of risk in the falling and catching of their body weight was impossibly beautiful with a distinct level of trust that mere mortals can only aspire to.
From the first time we saw the dancers in the lobby to the end of the pedal-to-the-metal dance section, our senses were engaged and that attunement lingered after the performance. Out of our heads and into our bodies and emotions, The Sensationalists did just that — turning the audience into living, feeling humans.
Tagged: Choreography, Contemporary, Performance, Urban, BC , Vancouver