A third modern dance company, Choom Hanna, made its Vancouver debut this season with “Closer to the Audience”, choreographed by artistic director Hanna Kiel (the other two are Wen Wei Dance and Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot). Choom Hanna is based both in Canada and South Korea, where Kiel is from, and where she also returns to work. “Closer to the Audience,” which ran just over an hour, was made up of five solos performed by five emerging dancers, including Kiel.
The evening opened with the introductory solo after which the evening was titled. “Closer to the Audience” begins in a flood of emotions, with performer Samantha Lyn in a short black dress and pixie haircut, announcing and dancing each one. “I dance to communicate with you, to tell you a story,” she finally says. Yet this dance communicates not a story but a succession of emotional states that are too easily identifiable — such as extreme loneliness and anger — and hardly need to be announced. The program note states that this use of movement and text is combined “to explain the basics of modern dance.” But the basics are not what a company debut should give us; that should be saved for an educational program.
I was glad when the talking stopped, the music (an unidentified piece by JS Bach) started, and Kiel put her choreographic intelligence to work. A little heavy on the sudden break-into-quirkiness so beloved of modern dance, the solo nonetheless had a good measure of backbone in its exploration of space and vocabulary, with arabesques of all kinds putting Lyn through her paces on the bare stage. As in all the solos, there was no set and only basic, somewhat clunky lighting throughout. No costume or lighting credits were given.
“No Need To” was a firm, grounded expression of anguish, with Linda Jacob enmeshed in lengths of white rope over arms, legs and torso. She whips herself around, hands fisted; she kicks one leg forward, restricted because of the rope. I liked how she moved within the steady pulse of the Philip Glass score (no titles were given for any of the music), and the way this movement, though constrained by the rope, was often firm and strong. In fact, if the anguished expression had not been there the piece could almost have been an inspirational study in strength.
Shannon Fitzgerald, costumed in an elegant black dress and red, elbow-length gloves, shakes and shudders with fast, impressive precision in “Simply With Music”. A demanding modern string score by Osvaldo Golijov calls the shots, but the dance keeps up with style. Again, there is quirkiness in the shaking hands and in more unusual movements, like when the foot is lifted towards the mouth as if to suck it.
A little wilder, with touches of punk and a whiff of drug-induced euphoria, “When She’s Down” was set to a fascinating song by Xtatika, an alternative rock band with traditional Korean music overtones. Lindsay Prentice, in nondescript pants and t-shirt, alternates convincing states of tension and release in a tight, wound solo. Kiel gave her an interesting dilemma: how to portray excess anger and angst while still fulfilling the choreographic flow and hitting the shapes. Once she begins to have fun on stage, the reserved Prentice will no doubt make this solo fly.
Insecurity was the surprising subject of the final solo, danced by the choreographer. In “Walking Away From”, Kiel stands still for long stretches of time almost as frequently as she moves. Wearing a short, pleated skirt, with black, rubber-soled shoes that occasionally squeaked, she faces the audience, and waits. Much of her dancing (to a gentle Olivier Messiaen score) is obsessive, with her head down, her long, loose hair hiding her face. The program makes the subject clear: it describes “Walking Away From” as revealing “how an artist tries to avoid the pitfalls of her craft”, including “the fear of the critic and the critique”. These fears must surely be banished — f*** the critic or at least recognize who should be on top here (the artist!) — before a brave new choreographer will be born.
Kiel graduated from Vancouver’s MainDance Bridging Program in 2000, and has been showing short works around town for some years now, at venues including the Dancing on the Edge Festival. Generally, these have been well-danced, carefully crafted, gently romantic pieces. Kiel’s grasp of the formal qualities of theatre dance has been exciting: she seemed to be in control of the choreography, rather than swooning or swanning about in muddy self-expression. These works were commendable for an emerging choreographer, and the romanticism — rose petals strewn on the stage in one piece, for instance — was surely understandable in one so young.
In “Closer to the Audience”, however, Kiel doesnt seem quite ready on a personal level to take her place on the main stage. Hints of this are found in the confessional program notes. As well, in the very first solo, she has the dancer whisper: “I want to be honest.” At first, we can hardly hear her, but then she shouts the words out more loudly and firmly. Not “I will be honest” only “I want to be &”. Yet honesty with the self and with lifes many romantic and other realities is surely necessary if art is to have any meaning.
It was disappointing that Kiel chose a succession of solos for her first full evening show. We have already seen her working in “short story” form, and for this occasion, a full-length piece with ensemble dancing would have been welcome. Maybe the solos could have been interconnected: what would have happened if Prentices bad girl had crashed Kiel’s insecurity?
While Choom Hannas debut was a muted one, with Kiel on her best, most cautious behaviour, there were many strong, satisfying moments from a choreographer who in the past has expressed her ideas less self-consciously and with far more effect.