The following two reviews were developed in Kaija Pepper's Writing Dance Workshop, held during the Vancouver International Dance Festival 2007. The writers subsequently undertook an editing process. Excerpts were published in the "dance central" by The Dance Centre in Vancouver.
Capturing Live Performance (unsolicited)
“to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow” by Kokoro Dance and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra
Vancouver: March 11-12, 2007
By Andrea Downie
Kokoro Dance’s second collaboration with The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, “to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow”, demonstrated the inherent benefits and limits of technology in recording the performing arts. This multi-media evening was presented at the Roundhouse Community Centre as part of the 2007 Vancouver International Dance Festival. It took place in two locations simultaneously and confirmed that it is a challenging task to create a satisfying two-dimensional presentation of dance.
Jay Hirabayashi and Barbara Bourget, the festival’s Executive and Artistic Directors, and Kokoro’s co-founders, each choreographed two dance pieces to music curated by composer Jeffrey Ryan. Half the audience was seated in the Exhibition Hall watching the dancers perform live to an audio feed of the orchestra. The other half of the audience was seated next door in the Performance Centre theatre listening to the orchestra play live, while watching a video feed of the dancers. The musicians and the dancers (including Bourget) switched spaces for one of the four pieces. VSO Conductor Bramwell Tovey told those of us in the theatre that we were in the better of the two locations, an opinion that perhaps depends on whether you came for the dance or the music.
Why were the music and dance presented in different locations? There seemed no clear reason for this separation except, perhaps, a lack of space. The compromise made at the Roundhouse was to use technology to bring the dancers and orchestra together for their audience. This arrangement was less than ideal, but offered a look at how technology can enhance, change or diminish the experience of live performance. Dances choreographed for the theatre generally have elements and effects that cannot be accurately captured or reproduced in a two-dimensional presentation. Lighting, space and dimension can be distorted in a video image and it is difficult to portray both the overall picture and some of the details when attempting to capture a staged performance on video.
The first piece, “Idées fixes, reminiscences et résidus” choreographed by Hirabayashi, featured five of the Kokoro dancers painted white and moving in contrast to a dynamic musical composition of the same name by Nicolas Gilbert. Three cameras recorded close-up perspectives and wider shot coverage at various angles. Unfortunately, none of the cameras were far enough out to offer a good view of the overall picture, leaving me to guess where the dancers were located on the stage and relative to one another. Attempting to answer these spatial questions was near impossible because the vantage point was continually changing. Images I was studying kept disappearing before I was done with them and sometimes while the performer was mid-movement. My perspective was dictated by the camera person and the video mixer, Hirabayashi himself, who chose which camera output to present and for how long.
But looking at dance through the eyes of another had advantages, too. It encouraged me to view it in a new way. Having to surrender my need to understand the overall spatial picture caused me to pay more attention to the placement and movement of body parts. I noticed details like beautiful curves in slowly unfurling spines, sharp angles of pulled-back elbows, and the way hands placed on a supple rib cage ride the breath. And because Hirabayashi was video mixing his own choreography, one could assume that at least in this piece, we were getting some clues as to what he considered the most advantageous or important perspective.
Jeffery Ryan introduced the second piece, “Daydream Mechanics III”, by informing us that Bourget had set three sensual duets to Michael Oesterle’s composition for solo violin and two opposing string ensembles. The music, periodically interrupted by whispered bits of indiscernible text, was captivating and seemed to pair nicely with the movement on the screen. But while I could easily see “sensual” in the undulating torsos and bare legs flicking back beneath lifted chests, I often found it difficult to keep track of the “duets” due to the frequent changes in perspective. I could not see how the dancers in each pair were responding to each other: was it in contrast, in canon or in unison? Nor could I make out from the video image if all of the dancers were wearing black or just some of them. And it mattered to me in this case because I knew those audience members seated next door did know the answers to these questions.
For the third piece, the dancers and musicians switched spaces in order to allow those of us in the theatre an opportunity to view the dancers live. Hirabayashi choreographed a sombre dance, “In Memory”, to accompany the Canadian premier of Joan Towers’ music of the same name. Disparity served to recall the sense of disorientation and loneliness experienced while grieving the loss of a loved one. Soft lines and slow, sparse movements contrasted the complex, urgent, at times angry music. The dancers walked but did not travel, their white-painted bodies followed by a band of black shadows. Positioned closely together, they moved in unison, suggesting solidarity, and yet they did not interact and this heightened the sense of isolation.
I relished this opportunity to see the dancers performing live, and to choose where to look and for how long. Studying the quivering thigh of a dancer, a detail the camera would not likely have paused on for long, revealed the effort required to perform seemingly simple gestures at unnaturally slow speeds. Live viewing also afforded the opportunity to study the whole picture, to see all five dancers at once, from top to bottom. The bare torsos and slow, unison movement revealed how different bodies execute a single movement uniquely, just as members of a family might grieve the same loss differently. While I appreciated the relative luxury of seeing the dancers in three dimensions, the switch from one space to the other had less significance than it might have had in one of the other pieces. The dancers remained in a single, centre stage formation and moved together throughout. The staging was so simple that my earlier questions of spacing, formation and relationship would have been easily answered had I been watching the video feed of this piece.
For the final piece of the evening, “Monday and Tuesday”, the dancers and musicians return to their original stages. Bourget choreographed a light and lively dance for seven “fairies” to complement Michael Torke’s energetic music. Images of animated dancers sticking out their tongues, smelling their feet, convulsing on the floor and flirting with the audience played on the video screen. Near the end of the piece, the orchestra and some of the dancers finally shared one stage. Dancer Matthew Romantini carried Bourget into the Performance Centre and deposited her on the floor in front of the orchestra before wandering among the musicians. Unfortunately, the musicians did not respond to the presence of the dancers and this made what might have been a very satisfying moment fall short.
Though I would have preferred to watch the dance from the Exhibition Hall, watching the majority of it on a video screen provided an important reminder. The limits of technology are an issue no matter what the reason for attempting to capture live performance. The next time they mount this work I hope Kokoro will choose a different venue. Staging it so the dancers and musicians perform together in one space will ensure no one is disappointed with their seat, whether they have come for the dance or the music.
Myth in Motion (unsolicited)
“Sisyphus” by Karen Jamieson Dance Company
Vancouver: March 15-17, 2007
By Alana Gerecke
A highlight of the 2007 Vancouver International Dance Festival, Karen Jamieson’s evening-length dance, Sisyphus, left its audience at the Roundhouse Community Centre catching its breath. Sisyphus was comprised of four separate remounted pieces: “Crow”, “Elmer & Coyote”, “Man Within”, and the title piece, “Sisyphus”. These four pieces, two newer and two older respectively, combined into an exciting four-part evening of dance, myth and music.
“Sisyphus”, the final piece and the most satisfying, closed the show. Originally performed in 1983, “Sisyphus” has a buzz about it: in 2003, Canada’s Dance Collection Danse Magazine deemed it to be one of the top ten choreographic works of the twentieth century. The movement is expertly executed by a strong cast of dancers: Deanna Peters, Ziyian Kwan, Amber Funk Barton, Darcy McMurray (replacing Jessica Fletcher for some performances), Brian Solomon, Brendan Wyatt, and – the only dancer from the original 1983 cast – Jay Hirabayashi.
The piece hinges on opposition: stillness is juxtaposed with flurries of movement, weight with flight, silence with sound, group unison with solos and duets, and exhaustion with fierce physicality. With performers hefting one another, leaping into and onto each other, and throwing their own bodies into the air, onto the ground, onto the upstage wall, “Sisyphus” pushes at the edges of physical possibility.
After a long and vigorous jumping section at the opening of the work, the performers gather into a tired, sweaty clump near centre stage and, led by the sounds of heavy breath and sighs, they move their way lethargically into a humming, slow-stepping rhythm that allows them to recuperate before the next jumping section. The musical score, composed by David MacIntyre and performed live by Peter Hurst and Nick Apivor, supports this transition – moving from forceful beats to ambient sounds, and then to silence before it climbs back up the dynamic ladder again and again.
This pattern of exhaustion and recuperation repeats throughout: like the mythical Sisyphus doomed to roll a boulder up a mountain every morning, only to have it roll back down to the bottom at the end of each day, the dancers perform flat-out running, jumping and lifting, and then they gather in slow recovery before diving back into the fray.
Repetition frames the dance: two by two, the dancers in “Sisyphus” zigzag their way upstage and launch themselves against the upstage wall where they each hit the same position – one leg bent as if in mid-climb and one arm stretched urgently upward. In the moments between the jumps, as each dancer repeats this same pathway and reaches this same striking position, an image seems to linger on the wall. The stage becomes a swarming mass of bodies punctuated by the same stubbornly recurring hurtle.
Hirabayashi’s age infused the difficulty inherent in this fiercely physical piece with a new level of risk: whereas the quaking muscles and dripping sweat read as a good workout on a twenty-year old body, they take on a different nuance on a sixty-year-old frame. Although I quickly came to trust Hirabayashi’s strength and infallible ability to catch and hold the dancers flying toward him, the exhaustion read most clearly and urgently on his body. The cast of younger dancers who performed the 1983 original conveyed, I’m sure, the physical intensity of the piece, but this new combination of performers drove home a message about mortality.
The second piece, “Man Within,” shares an aesthetic with “Sisyphus” – and it is also from Jamieson’s 1980s repertoire. I was immediately pulled into the performance when the strong female dancer, Caroline Farquhar, entered carrying Brian Solomon around her shoulders. The physical and performative strength of the dancers is emphasized by the constant shifting of weight. Reaches, weight-bearing and obscured vision figure as central images.
The gender dynamic in this female/male unit is complicated, and shifts throughout the piece. Slow effortful movements, performed in exceedingly close proximity, raise but leave unanswered questions of relationship between the two dancers: are they lovers, kin or adversaries? The physical intensity of the movement, combined with its slow pace, blurs the line between support and combat: arms wrapped around each other suggest, simultaneously, a passionate embrace and a violent struggle. The image of Solomon’s body wrapped around Farquhar’s shoulders binds together the conflicting qualities of resistance, affection, aggression and support.
An intertwining of internal and external worlds is central to the first and third pieces, “Crow” and “Elmer & Coyote”. “Crow”, a solo performed by Jamieson, opens the show. This piece feels like the performance of a secret; it makes more of what is concealed or suggested than what actually appears on stage. Shadow play is central to the piece, as is the black mask that covers Jamieson’s face. She faces away from the audience for the first portion of the dance, and the accompanying sound-score, composed by Jeff Corness, cuts in and out with heart-wrenching and jarring sounds of disaster: crying, wailing and banging, which culminate in a dull, echoing thunder.
Jamieson also performs in “Elmer & Coyote,” a duet created and performed with Byron Chief-Moon. In the first and strongest part of the piece, Chief-Moon lies at centre stage and delivers a verbal account of a First Nations creation myth, while Jamieson dances out the role of Earth Woman with playful and animalistic movement. Resonating alongside “Man Within,” Chief-Moon and Jamieson maintain a dynamic that dances between combat and affection throughout the piece.
The difference between the movement in Jamieson’s two recently choreographed pieces, “Crow” and “Elmer & Coyote,” and her 1983 remounts, “Man Within” and “Sisyphus” is marked: the former seem to privilege narrative and character over choreographic ingenuity, while the latter focus on movement creation, staging and physicality. Judging by the rapt attention and enthusiastic applause the Saturday night audience offered to the performers, Jamison’s two different approaches were both successful.
The images that stay with me from the evening are of physical extremes: quaking, sweating, lifting, falling, throwing, catching, melting and breathing. Just as it successfully weaves together mythology and movement, Jamieson’s evening of dance also strikes a fine balance between new and old. The two newer pieces offer the audience a thoughtful place to settle in and slow down; they provide a point of entry into the vibrancy and power of the older works.