It’s hard not to expect a lot from Vancouver’s Out Innerspace Dance Theatre and its co-artistic directors/choreographers David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen. Their last piece, a duet for the two of them called Me So You So Me, knocked the socks off critics and audiences alike across the country. Their latest work, Major Motion Picture, does not feel as integrated or complete, but it has enough moments of breathtaking originality to make it a must-see.
Major Motion Picture premiered in Victoria, BC, January 29 and 30, and will be touring nationally later this year. It takes the focus of Me So You So Me — the complex relationship between two startlingly original characters — and repeats it, only this time with two groups. David Raymond told me in an interview that within the company (but not mentioned in the program), the two groups are known as The Innocents and The Others.
The Innocents start off as a happy band of black-clad, close-knit villagers, rarely breaking contact while supporting each other physically, as if in one body. But look, behind them on the right, there is an Other, dressed in a wildly striped knit jumpsuit and balaclava, spray-painting his own ladder on the back wall to enter their world. The Other then disappears, but someone else soon arrives: an ominous, headless figure called The Representative wearing a huge black overcoat. He, she, or it is watching The Innocents (and The Others, too, both in the wings and when they eventually make their move into The Innocents’ territory), recording their actions through an infrared surveillance camera that occasionally turns its flat gaze on the audience. It becomes increasingly apparent that the happy villagers will not remain happy much longer.
It is a tale often told, about insiders and those who come from outside to disrupt their peaceable kingdom. There are ideas here that we have seen before, onstage and in books, like Orwell’s 1984. The familiarity means that some of Major Motion Picture feels a little heavy-handed, as when a dancer intones into a vintage microphone, right before the piece starts, “We do this for you. This is for good,” or when one of The Others writes on the back wall, “There are others.” But then there are the wildly original bits.
The seven dancers — Tregarthen and Raymond plus Renée Sigouin, Elissa Hanson, Arash Khakpour, Ralph Escamillan and Laura Avery, all of whom graduated from the couple’s Modus Operandi training program for young dance artists — are exceptional movers and you can tell that they have studied each other closely and worked together intensely. The attention to detail, particularly in the hands, is extraordinary.
To create The Representative, for example, three dancers occupy one massive black coat. We can see their six legs, but dressed in black pants and socks, they fade away enough that when two sets of bare, pale hands emerge from each sleeve for the first time, it’s whimsical and startling, graceful and menacing, all at the same time. When a third set of hands reaches up through the collar of the coat, too, it’s hilarious.
In another sequence, Innocents in black hoods (beginning their descent to a darker side?) stand behind Escamillan and use their hands to cover and uncover his face, close around his neck and band his chest. The hands retreat and re-shape over and over, creating alternately threatening and beautiful, incredibly intricate designs of hands and fingers above and around his head.
Another brilliant moment appears in Tregarthen’s closing solo with the black overcoat. The coat is sitting empty on the stage before her arm slips through one sleeve and she becomes half herself and half The Representative. They joke together — at one point, Tregarthen plays dead and the hand in the sleeve slaps her cheek to bring her back to life — and, apparently, make love as well. Their relationship results in a child, created by Tregarthen out of the folds of the overcoat. It is the final, slightly off-key, image of the production.
For the most part, Major Motion Picture blends the dark with the humorous in equal measure, but the overall feeling is of a nightmarish, dystopian world, complete with music from Hitchcock thrillers for The Innocents and rave-style electronica for The Others. Hope, in the shape of a newborn, does not sit right at the end, especially since The Representative so recently, in a fiercely funny moment, ate one of The Others whole. We had just become quite attached to that Other, as she slowly moved from the wings to stare, with huge, sad doe eyes, directly into the surveillance camera; then she disappeared in one bite. You will have to see for yourself how they did it.