Génération bigarrée: a new title for a favourite series within Tangente’s programming. What does this new name suggest? Formerly Danses urbaines (an ambiguous title that became politicized as some artists resisted the fit), this series highlights artists working with high-energy movement forms referencing youth culture. In her introduction to the evening’s presentations on Friday night, Artistic and General Director Dena Davida petitioned the crowd for a more satisfactory English equivalent: for now they have settled with Generation Versatile. I consulted my Collins Robert dictionary for more insight: the word “bigarrée” is coupled with words such as “motley”, “heterogeneous”, “gaily dressed”, and “rainbow-coloured” (allusions to homosexuality unintended I’m sure!) The programming for this event focussed on work marrying contemporary dance and other “youthful” forms: hula hoop, hip hop, Latin dance, breaking. Three pieces filled the menu for this four-day run: “Sit back ya’ll” by Julia Gutsik and Raul Guevara, 4EverFresh; “Text Messaging…” by Patricia Iraola; and “pi.r.squared” by Rebecca Halls.
Most people’s hula hooping experiences are limited to playtime competitions between friends where the goal is simply to keep the hoop at the waistline for as long as possible. Schoolyard antics are a far cry from the night-club hooping scene that choreographer Rebecca Halls referenced in the post-show discussion, and the corporate and cultural gigs noted in her biography, not to mention this, her first contemporary dance piece. While Hall’s mastery of the hoop is obviously highly evolved (she even teaches classes in ‘hoopdance’), her creations prior to this were described by her in the post-show discussion as short flashy pieces relying on the novelty and size of the hoop to excite and impress an upright and active crowd, rather than to carry an emotional impact to a seated audience.
In reality, Halls’ “pi.r.squared”, performed last on the evening program, was impressively resonant on both somatic and emotive levels. As the meditative undulations of the dancers’ torsos and the rotations of the hoops mesmerized my mind, my body couldn’t help but empathize on a physical level to the waves of movement projected from the stage. Minimalist in movement and accompanying soundscape (by Anthony Tan), the circular gravity-lifting movements created an undercurrent to the piece, a baseline that rarely changed, where subtle shifts became captivating. An otherworldly place was conjured, with the dancers coming to resemble creatures existing between animal and automaton. The hooping technique, while impressive, did not come across as sensationalist. Moments of release allowed for other techniques — such as interpreter Kiani del Valle’s explorations in corporeal vocalization to come into play. For the most part, Hall crafted these transitions as smooth and logical extensions of the baseline.
In contrast to the other two pieces, there was no characterization or obvious dramas between dancing individuals in “pi.r.squared”. The dancers and hoops were simply and purely shape in motion, a study in form and design — as someone noted in the discussion, the quality approached graphic design in the way the hoops drew circular lines around the bodies, as if by traced by a pencil. And somehow, this spoke more strongly than the other two pieces of the evening. The only hiccup was the final motif, in which Hall employed interpreter Forty Nguyen’s skill as a b-boy in a standard breakdance move, the windmill. Although the parallel was logical (the movement inscribes a circle in space with the feet in the air while the torso rolls in a circular path on the floor), the brief section was rather out of context. Overall, Hall’s shift from spectacle to emotive choreographic use of the hoop was successful; it seems here, though, that she couldn’t help drawing on another spectacular movement form, breaking, to create an exclamatory punctuation at the end.
The dynamic duo of Raul (4EverFresh) Guevara and Julia Gutsik (the duo itself also called 4EverFresh), took their breakstyles to the contemporary stage with self-assurance in the first piece of the evening: “Sit back ya’ll”. The couple’s dance experiences converge: Guevara is a battle-winning b-boy with a few recent experiences working in contemporary dance, and Gutsik is a jazz/contemporary dancer with recent success battling in the cypher. With street-credibility and a palpable connection, these two dancers present a winning combination. Their generosity as performers infused the theatre.
The action began with a playful scenario of two strangers meeting at a movie theatre, exploring the body language of finding seats and developing attraction, even as the real audience was settling and the house lights dimmed. Movement segments progressed from this introduction as they partnered and moved in unison in a hetero-romantic encounter. Their slippery twists and level changes stroked the smooth and even texture of the wooden theatre floor. Their fluid motion and elongated limbs mutated stock break moves in a style reminiscent of Rubberbandance Group; however, the varied, upbeat music was punctuated with a stronger and groovier emphasis. Gutsik’s sassy, playfully defiant gaze (à la Solid State, another Montréal dance company that fuses break and contemporary dance) matched Guevara’s Latin flirtations and movement inflections, although their respective solos revealed Guevara’s superior mastery of breaking’s more acrobatic vocabulary. Although somewhat derivative and lacking depth, “Sit back ya’ll” was a solid first piece, and I hope to see these artists evolve as they claim some space as part of Montréal’s second generation of break/contemporary choreographers.
Of the three pieces on this program, Patricia Iraola’s piece “Text Messaging…” was perhaps the most polished, but also the easiest to dismiss. With a stunning use of lighting — credit to designer Tim Rodrigues — and slick video segments by Jean-Marie Petit-Homme/LoadedMedia Productions, the piece looked (too) good on the surface. A solo with many off-stage collaborators, this piece is the result of Iraola’s reflection on love in the age of techno-permeation. Unfortunately, her analysis reads like a self-help textbook on the stages of infatuation. The intermittently projected chapter titles, such as ‘confidence’ and ‘abandon’, added to the pop-psychology tone.
Iraola is a lovely mover, and she demonstrates potential as a movement designer. The initial sequence — a minute and careful dance of the toes in the shine of a corridor of light stands out in my memory. Another section had her moving in clear lines with geometrical patterns. However, the constant segmenting of the choreography through the use of blackouts and projected interludes distracted this viewer from understanding a movement theme threading the sections together. Iraola’s approach here seems to rely on specific visual motifs that relate through thematic content, but not through movement.
“Text Messaging…” might have been taken as a parody on the idolization of love and beauty from the perspective of a young woman. Framed differently, this could have been charming, if not insightful. Instead I was wondering whether the choreographer herself has not bought into the cult of romance novels. Ultimately, I was left with the sense that Iraola herself is undecided on the role of irony in her work.
It is always exciting to witness the blossoming of emerging choreographic voices and new hybrid movement forms. While this Generation Versatile or ‘bigarrée’ was not necessarily an explosive foray into groundbreaking work, it highlighted choreographers who are on that tremulous road to finding their distinctive signatures. On a shared program such as this one, comparisons are difficult to avoid, and yet each of these artists merits the constructive critique and praise they are due.