“Status Quo” by Shay Kuebler and Amber Funk Barton
Firehall Arts Centre By Sarah Todd
Dancing on the Edge 2010 hit the ground running with Amber Funk Barton and Shay Kuebler’s 2008 piece “Status Quo”. The glossy set of solo and ensemble works for three men and one woman is an evening-length meditation on the distractions of mash-up culture – the playlist, the mixed tape, sampling and channel surfing. “Status Quo’s” jerky hybrid movement, an astoundingly athletic mix of urban and modern vocabulary, effectively expressed the pop culture–clash thematic. The piece brings to mind “Twitch City”, a brilliant but short-lived CBC show about a television addict. While the sitcom wallows in the surreal malaise of media saturation, “Status Quo” is a spectacle of unrelenting information, especially during the tongue-in-cheek moments that seemed to reference MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew”. “Status Quo” is by turns neurotic, seductive and humorous, and seems to be best at its most frenetic, such as in Shay Kuebler’s outstanding, anxiety ridden opening solo.
EDGE One: “Caesura” by Justine Chambers for The Contingency Plan; “Blood” (excerpt) by The Chimera Project; “a pocket full of questions” by Science Friction
Firehall Arts Centre By Mary Theresa Kelly
“Caesura”, choreographed by Justine Chambers and danced by Vancouver’s Vanessa Goodman and Jane Osborne from The Contingency Plan, offers an exceptional opportunity to witness intelligent and integrated movement that incorporates thoughtful gestural detail. The short hypnotic loop of bell melodies by Oval’s “Do While” creates a trance-like minimalist rhythm that matches Goodman and Osborne’s calm, strong performance. Gorgeous still points that somatically transmit a deep feminine energy punctuate the duet, which is danced in the form of a bodily conversation. Vancouver ex-pats Farley Johansson and Shannon Moreno of Science Friction performed an equally inspiring duet, “a pocket full of questions”, that involved a full deck or two of playing cards. Dancing in socks, Johansson and Moreno pull cards from sleeves, pants, pockets and hoodies, flicking them into space, all the while moving through beautifully sequenced phrases of lifts and rolls. Johansson and Moreno both land their falls and jumps with a weightedness that yields into the floor while conveying a sense of incredible softness. A humorous storyline structures the piece, and a mock play-wrestling scene works as a satisfying ending. Separating the two duets, four dancers from Toronto’s Chimera Project (Amy Hampton, Tyler Gledhill, Ryan Lee and Malgorzata Nowacka) strive to deliver full-throttle, masculine physicality in a style perhaps inspired by La La La Human Steps. In this excerpt from “Blood”, choreographer Malgorzata Nowacka’s exploration of aggression maintains such a consistently harsh mood that I begin to feel numb to the heroic ballet technique and unrelenting pulse.
“Sold Doubt” by MOVE: the company
Vancouver Playhouse By Eury Chang
Set to the music group Sold Doubt’s greatest hits, this show of the same name was conceived as a spoof on rock concerts and the cult of personality. From Cori Caulfield’s entrance in a large red dress – which brings back memories of her signature solo “Bought and Sold” – the whole evening is doused with wit and humour. Nuances of changing relationships are revealed in many of the short vignettes, and choreographer Josh Beamish showcases his dancers’ technique and interpretive gusto well. Though dance sequences are highlighted with youthful exuberance, the use of so many songs (thirty-four in total) results in a somewhat fragmented structure, akin to channel surfing. But “Sold Doubt” is so successful in its mockery of the entertainment industry that we just laugh aloud and revel in the mayhem anyway. When was the last time you saw a fresh orange punctured by a six-inch stiletto heel on stage?
“Mal de mer” by Susan Elliott/Anatomica and Tanya Marquardt/ProximityArts
CRAB Park at Portside By Kaija Pepper
This sea-themed duet opens with Susan Elliott and Tanya Marquardt in waders and cream dresses, waist high in the ocean, arms swaying, surrounded by blue sky, mountains and the colourful containers of a working port. It moves to a grassy slope decorated by Jesse Garlick with several large sails, where the duo – now in high-waisted pants and striped tops – stand on firm ground and create full body waves, and then to an unsteady platform on which they slip, slide and somersault. The movement was too minimal and repetitive to hold its own against the glorious location and nifty outfits (by Nita Bowerman). But the final jig, performed on a dock, was as dashing and shipshape as the white sailor suits the gals changed into. Emma Hendrix’s sound design – vague rumbles and storytelling about humans evolving from aquatic creatures – was heard on individual headsets.
“Quell” by Lin Snelling
EDAM Studio Theatre By Sarah Todd
The program notes for Lin Snelling’s “Quell” state a lack lustre objective – the “linking of two solos through music and light”. The solos, performed by Snelling and Peter Bingham, seem to be more concerned with exploring the tensions between choreography and improvisation, speech and silence. This is particularly apparent as Snelling paces up and down along a dark line in the hardwood floor, recounting fragmented stories of interpersonal conflict. Water emerges as an inexplicable leitmotif through symbolic swimming, drowning, raining and boating. Despite the nuanced quality of movement performed by the exceptionally skilled Bingham and Snelling, the dance becomes less than compelling. As interest in movement ebbs, cellist Peggy Lee’s accompaniment, ranging from melodic to atonal, easily pulls focus. Subtle lighting by James Proudfoot becomes apparent, blending seamlessly with the studio’s natural light and large windows. Perhaps this give and take is the nature of interdisciplinary collaboration. “Quell” is part of a larger constellation of works in which Snelling investigates collaborative practice alongside visual artist Shelagh Keeley, musician Michael Reinhart and others. Alone on this program, “Quell” struggles under the weight of it’s own imprecision, but within the larger project it does contribute to addressing the complexity of collaborative and interdisciplinary work.
“Schreibstück” choreographed by Thomas Lehmen, directed by Sara Coffin (Vancouver), Cory Bowles (Halifax) and Dan Safer (New York)
Scotiabank Dance Centre By Kaija Pepper
In “Schreibstück”, three teams interpret twenty-nine one-minute “instructions” devised by Berlin’s Thomas Lehmen. The piece opens with the relaxed, free-style energy of Vancouverites Jennifer Clarke, Daelik and James Gnam, who are soon joined by no-holds-barred New Yorkers Abigail Browde, Sebastián Calderón Bentin and Randy Thomspon (Witness Relocation), and finally by the warm-hearted wit of Haligonians Jacinte Armstrong, Susanne Chui and Sara Coffin (SINS Dance). In the section titled “Nothing”, the dancers all stand and do nothing in pretty much the same way (this oft-repeated instruction kills the energy level), but in “Disco” and in “Fucking” the movement is hilariously unique. It’s most fun when all three groups are on stage together, stopwatches in hand, dashing about. The work, seen around the world since 2002, made its Canadian premiere here under Coffin (the Project Catalyst).
“Move It” and “Dusk” by Joe Laughlin/Joe INK
Firehall Arts Centre By Alana Gerecke
The informal mood of “Move It”, the outcome of a two-week-long community dance workshop, was confirmed by an audience-participation warm-up: we stood, rolling our hips, our heads and our wrists. From there, “Move It” proceeded as a light and fun series of improvisation exercises linked together in sometimes interesting ways. The most striking image: two parallel lines of dancers advance toward each other from opposite sides of the stage with their index fingers outstretched; after what feels like a long stretch of time, they meet and pair up in the middle of the stage to share a “finger dance duet” – index fingers touching – before separating and retreating into their two lines and back across the stage. The shift to Laughlin’s work-in-process, “Dusk”, with its trio of professional dancers (Laughlin himself, along with Tara Dyberg and Jeannie Vandekerkhove), was marked. The self-conscious sense of humour dropped away and solemnity set in. A repeated embrace ties together the sometimes tumbling, sometimes sweeping, often twitchy and unsettled movement-scape. The piece ends almost as it begins: with one woman alone on stage, facing the audience and being moved, it seems, by an unseen outside force. Taken together, Laughlin’s works raise some important questions about audience access to dance and the relationship between professional dance and the world beyond it.
“The Vision Impure” by Noam Gagnon/Co.Vision Selective
Firehall Arts Centre By Alana Gerecke
Alternating between furious physicality and taut stillness, Noam Gagnon’s “The Vision Impure” – a nearly hour-long self-performed solo – is divided by structure: it opens with a linear, almost yogic movement study characterized by abrupt transitions that seem to freeze, perched, in one pose after another. The driving and upbeat music accentuates the repeated arrests of this stop-and-go dynamic. A costume change (from formal black to ripped blue jeans and Gagnon’s signature bare chest), and a brief stage-sweeping interlude signal a shift in tone. The remainder of the piece is fiercely physical: quick-fire floorwork that circles around itself; jolting, back-bending arabesques that disappear almost before they register; full-out running around the circumference of the stage – all this broken by Gagnon’s periodic collapses into a tired (and sweaty) heap. Laced through with old black-and-white bull-fighting footage and driven by a dominating sound score, Gagnon’s evening of dance had an air of frenetic urgency, lightly steeped in a kind of writhing melancholy.
“Le Recours aux forêts” by Serge Bennathan for Davida Monk
Firehall Arts Centre By Mary Theresa Kelly
Black box, white floor, bright light. Nothing more is necessary when a master like Serge Bennathan choreographs on an artist like Davida Monk. The product of this union is a rare pearl; Monk radiates presence, simultaneously inhabiting the empty space and letting the audience sink in to her somatic world. The sound of water and cicadas accompany Bennathan’s choreography, suggesting a nature environment. The structure and timing of the work give us time to sense Monk’s fine nervous system: lightning quick falls that collapse from stillness; fluttering arms and hands that seem to animate from another dimension; and creature-like crawls across the diagonal on all fours. How is it that Monk’s little jumps in first position with arms raised overhead speak so much? As a virtuosic, mature artist, Monk opens the way for the viewer to see beyond the physical movement and directly sense her self as a person and her experience as a performer. As such, Monk deepens the whole dance enterprise.
“Room” by Lin Snelling
Luxe at Western Front By Eury Chang
As part of a larger “Remembering ROOM Residency” with EDAM (Experimental Dance and Music), Lin Snelling’s “Room” casts Katie Ewald, Sarah Wendt and Kathy Kennedy in an interdisciplinary dance research work that brings together diverse elements such as spoken text, dance, live music and singing. Snelling asks her performers to use every nook and cranny of the Luxe Theatre, essentially breaking the fourth wall and challenging audience/performer dynamics. As such, the show acts as a comment on space itself, and more so, the rhythms of people as they navigate through surroundings and relationships. The string plucking of musician Michael Reinhart, echoing the flower petals being tossed on the ground, produces a wondrous kind of intimacy. At one point, two performers reminisce about music from the eighties, sharing memories about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and even Prince; however, the performers’ delivery of these lines is excessively melancholic, which unfortunately overshadows the potential of the scene to achieve a level of pure or pleasant nostalgia. But Snelling knows how to take everyday objects like a vase of flowers and infuse them with symbolism and depth. She does this by having performers use flowers in different ways: as microphone, wand, and an item that brings both comfort and distress. Then, in the most tragic moment of the evening, a bouquet of flowers is smashed on the floor, scattering petals and pollen about like crimson fairy dust. Overall, “Room” eschews any clear narrative in favour of strong imagery and witty, reflective moments.
EDGE Two: “A Matter of Life and Breath” and “Zeroes and Ones” by Roger Sinha/Sinha Danse; “Hero/Heroine” by Amber Funk Barton/the response.
The Firehall Arts Centre By Eury Chang
Roger Sinha’s exploration of breath pairs dancers Tom Casey and Tanya Crowder. “A Matter of Life and Breath” deconstructs the balletic pas de deux into something more organic and primal: dancers hissing like snakes and moving sensually as the air currents enter and exit their bodies infinitely. Then in “Zeroes and Ones”, Sinha pays homage to Silicon Valley of the east: India. Here, outsourcing meets Hanuman meets rap music. Mature as he is, Sinha transforms into a b-boy/rapper half his age, commenting on global culture itself. Enter the digital, twenty-first century. 0/Zeroes.1/Ones. Binaries like east/west, here/there, he/she, abound. Who’s there? Computer wo/man, at your service. “Hero & Heroine” is just that – a man who wants to be epic, yet intimate, and a woman who wants to be great, but loved. At first asleep onstage within imaginary, rectangular-shaped beds created by the white lights from above, Amber Funk Barton and Josh Martin’s twisting and turning bodies collide under a midsummer’s eve moonlight. Barton’s choreography is clean and minimal; even when she and Martin are giving their all, a quality of smooth whimsy emanates through the theatre. At once, we see competition and resentment, then confusion, curiosity and eventually tenderness. The two performers share a particular chemistry onstage, and this is apparent as they journey through the trials and tribulations of being in a complex relationship.
EDGE Three: “Calm Abiding” by Jose Navas for Nova Bhattacharya; “Auslander” by Martin Inthamoussu
The Firehall Arts Centre By Eury Chang
At its best, dance is moving meditation and intelligence-in-action. While dancing, Nova Bhattacharya captures these qualities through her graceful yet highly controlled body. But more than intricate foot-stomping and deliberate mudras, “Calm Abiding” is a portal into another world, one where meaning is conveyed strictly through movement and just a few words. Without a doubt, Jose Navas is successful in his role as choreographer, bringing together traditional dance with modernist staging. Clearly, he encourages Bhattacharya to maintain the authentic and sometimes stationary quality of bharatanatyam, while placing these percussive rhythms within a strikingly angular choreographic framework. Each time Bhattacharya changes her rhythm and direction, she does so with such clear commitment that we’re easily transported into another realm. White marley floors mimic the contemporary gallery, but the mythic spirit of Shiva is with us tonight. “Auslander” is a journey from one country to another – a comment on migration and the challenges of finding oneself within a complex cosmopolitan world. The first image we see of dancer Martin Inthamoussu is stark: he emerges from under a mound of rich, brown dirt. From this metaphoric homeland, he pushes out with his feet and hands, and then his whole body emerges from the depths of this earth, only to arrive in a media-maze of illusions and projections of urban landscape. Inthamoussu’s quirky but relatable sense of humour is augmented by a broad, social awareness. He rolls around on the floor beside a projection of himself and we think he is enjoying the play, but a deeper, critical commentary is happening here. The prowess of the dancer’s body juxtaposed with the illusory, digital images seems to comment upon the ways in which humans are forced to navigate through an increasingly global and technological world. The dancer is troubled by constantly disappearing images of himself, and is left ultimately to deal with his own fleshy existence. This is playful, subversive, interdisciplinary work.
“Gathering Light” by Michelle Olson, Raven Spirit Dance
Chapel Arts Centre By Mary Theresa Kelly
Performed to four directions, “Gathering Light” by Michelle Olson was well placed in the Chapel Arts Centre, where the audience experienced the work sitting on all sides of the intimate theatre space. As a whole, the dance transmits a subtle state of awareness of the interiors of the bodymind; it is visceral and intensely emotional with no hint of sentimentality or excessive drama. Olson takes risks with long pauses and silences, demanding the audience settle, follow and allow the unfolding of connection with the performer. The opening is paced slowly; the four dancers (Daina Ashbee, Julia Carr, Sylvie Mazerolle, Starr Muranko), all crouching, exhale forcefully through their mouths in rhythmical turns. Like all aspects of this work, the exhalation transmits a sense of the mouth, throat and esophagus as well as a parallel energetic feeling, in this case exhaled, stale energy. Two solos, danced by Julia Carr and Sylvie Mazerolle, are particularly strong. At one point, Carr crawls across the performance space repeatedly coughing, nearly choking. Her final collapse relieves the tension Olson and Carr are able to construct in the scene using the body in this deep way. All four performers live up to this task of “presence-ing” the interior impulses of their bodies.
EDGE Four: “Everything Is All Right” by Edmond Kilpatrick; “Hazel (1954)” by Katy Harris McLeod; “Beside Each Other” by Andrea Nann
Firehall Arts Centre By Mary Theresa Kelly
After many years of dancing with Ballet BC, Edmond Kilpatrick’s body is inscribed with ballet. In his solo “Everything Is All Right”, Kilpatrick explores the experience and process of finding a movement impulse and contemporary expression that is his own, rather than a derivative of classical phrases. As it turns out, Kilpatrick has nuanced control of his body at almost the cellular level, and his capacity to generate rhythmical isolations all over his body is remarkable. Kilpatrick’s ‘character’ struggles to expand beyond a ballet vocabulary, exploring popping and locking-inspired movements, and occasionally he abandons his new style, indulging an arabesque, pirouette or equally grand classical statement. In constructing his new dancing self, he uses voice to communicate the internal conflict, sometimes muttering inaudibly, at other times letting us hear the internal judge who comments, “No, that’s not it, that’s not right.” Quite frankly, Kilpatrick’s masculine dancing strength and obvious love of movement is a joy to watch.
The other two choreographers on the Edge Four program also incorporated the use of voice in their work. Katy Harris-McLeod wrote an ironic narrative that she delivers in her theatrical solo dance “Hazel (1954)”, a humorous commentary on gender stereotypes. I am still not certain whether the pregnant state of her character (clad in a kitschy apron) was also her real-life condition. Andrea Nann’s excerpt from “Beside Each Other” is a romantic duet danced by she and Brendan Wyatt to music by Gord Downie of Tragically Hip fame. Nann opens her work speaking to the audience, and demonstrating the relationship between the moon, the earth and the sun with a melon and two other fruits. Nann and Wyatt also address each other casually at various junctures in the piece. Overall, Wyatt’s wonderfully relaxed dancing style, (especially the way he folds through his knees and melts into the floor so effortlessly), is far more compelling than the extensive visual media or vocal strategies in this piece.