Believe it or not, there are some perks to getting older. For most of us, achieving a semblance of peace of mind finally seems possible after the sometimes-inappropriate mania of youth has passed. For artists, continuous creation over a long period results in work that can’t help having depth; the palette is at its broadest, the decision-making process is at its most refined. Confidence rather than cockiness prevails.
There is a whole generation of choreographers in Canada who are entering this rarefied career bracket. Chief among them is Montréal’s Ginette Laurin, whose company O Vertigo just celebrated twenty years. Laurin recently brought her newest full-length work — “Passare” or “Another Shape for Infinity” — to Harbourfront Centre’s Premiere Dance Theatre. The work has been touring extensively since its premiere in Europe in 2004 and will finally have its Montréal debut at the end of February.
In her program notes, Laurin describes the work this way: “A quest that delves into the realm of infinity, “Passare” explores the marks left by human beings in time and space: the infinitely large and the infinitesimally small &The only reality is the mark of passage: like the trace of light that comes to us from an already dead star, memory reverberates upon the trajectories of our lives.” It’s a big, complex and somewhat melancholy theme. But Laurin has used all of the weapons in her considerable creative arsenal to create a work that, though lofty in concept, is full of humanity, and all the funny, goofy, poignant and sensual moments that implies.
The seventy-seven-minute work begins in stately fashion with two dancers, wearing sculptural rings-of-chrome “gowns”, slowly crossing the stage as a digital counter high in one corner keeps track of the time left in the performance. In the other corner of the stage, a platform tower of similar shiny rings is topped with a small overhead projection screen. A much larger video screen dominates the middle area. Various live feed video cameras are arranged throughout this rigorously architectural setting. The proceedings are “monitored” by a type of ringmaster (performed by Simon Alarie) who some in the company refer to as “the architect”. This character counts while the dancers move, poses questions to them as they rest, still panting from their exertions and, eventually, climbs the tower to help deliver one of the more arresting images of the performance. As a camera mounted overhead captures the dancers à la Busby Berkeley and projects the patterns they make on the large screen, “the architect” superimposes lines and angles drawn with a straightedge over that projected stage with its tiny players. The effect reveals the geometry of the dance by highlighting a perspective not usually available to the watching audience.
“Passare” is full of revelatory moments like these. My favourites revolve around Laurin’s treatment of the idea of memory, its simultaneous power and porousness. In a section which the dancers helped write, a series of anecdotes are told and re-told, the elements becoming fractured and re-mixed in increasingly absurd combinations. It’s a hilariously object lesson in the inaccuracies of recall. Another, more poignant section sees dancer Robert Major reciting a story about visiting an uncle dying of cancer while on the big screen his dancing self performs an elegant solo. The story ends, another dancer says “Rewind!” and both the story and the dance run backwards. Laurin’s treatment of text makes it a key element in the multi-faceted “Passare” and the seamless delivery by members of her company suggests that as much care has been lavished on the literature of “Passare” as there has been on the technology and on the movement.
That movement is vintage Laurin yet it’s both more and less than we’ve seen in previous shows such as “La chambre blanche” (1992) and “Déluge” (1994). As one observer wondered during a Q & A with Laurin following one of the Toronto performances: “Where’s the explosion?” It’s true that the movement passages are more subdued than we’re used to seeing from the hyper-kinetic Laurin, the choreography gaining heft instead from repeated phrases and imagistic elements. But here there’s an enhanced lyricism to Laurin’s mostly pedestrian movement style — “Passare” is full of tenderly rendered duets in which flying and kissing are portrayed. Enormous ideas such as Nature and the vastness of the cosmos are referenced in dance by Laurin’s company of nine dancers as they whip theirs limbs and heads in expansive movement phrases. Much has been said about her period of pre-creation research with astrophysicist Claude Théoret but this exploratory work has been fully distilled into the movement rather than presented in a less integrated way as we’ve seen in many theatre and performance productions.
Like any good dance critic, I’ve tried to find some little criticism of “Passare” that would prevent this review from being a complete gush. Rapturously received by audiences, the criticisms of the piece that I’ve seen to date read like quibbles. I just don’t think there are many derogatory points to be made about this exquisitely rendered work of performance art. You might find it too long, or too cold, or too something, but Laurin, in the maturity of her intelligence and creativity has made something of a bulletproof dance.
Ultimately “Passare” didn’t get me excited in that heart-pounding way that seems to happen so seldom, but I did leave the theatre completely won over by the poetry and passionate craftsmanship that went into its creation.