The idea for “Social Studies/Sciences Sociales” surfaced when, back in 2001, Danse-Cité director Daniel Soulières danced with Ziyian Kwan in David Pressault’s work, “Violet”. He came away from that experience with a tenacious desire to unleash a platform for contemporary dancers from Vancouver teamed with choreographers from Montréal. Then he met another terrific, fluent Vancouver dance artist, Susan Elliott. Fellow Vancouverite John Ottmann became the third artist to join the East-meets-West project. (The trio also became known as a new collective, Quorum.)
For this new Danse-Cité production, Kwan chose Pressault to create a solo work for her, Elliott selected Dominique Porte for her solo, while Ottmann collaborated with eminence grise Paul-André Fortier. It was the singular Benoît Lachambre to whom the trio assigned the ensemble work.
Porte’s piece, “From Zero”, opens the evening. Elliott enters a bare stage and, over the course of the piece, spends much time in various states of dress and undress. All this disrobing is kind of disconcerting, because the obvious metaphor to strip away to the essential is revealed rather quickly. Porte works with geometry and line, handily emphasized by the lighting design of James Proudfoot (who does the honours on all four works presented), and she’s crafted some fast-synapse movement for this intelligent dancer. Blackouts punctuate the piece, which ultimately makes for a jagged, broken feeling that accentuates the drops in energy in the choreography. Blackouts also indicate to me that some of the sections could potentially have been developed further. Elliott does have one particularly evocative section, when she moves forward to the audience, nude and exposed, for all to see. Her vulnerability engulfs the stage. Porte has created a questioning and abstract dance that unfortunately only tentatively skirts Elliott’s depths of interpretation.
Ottmann is up next with Fortier’s piece set to the electronica/rave music of his collaborator Alain Thibault. It feels like Fortier, here in “Chute libre”, has ripped a slice out of his piece Tensions (2001) — which he performed with Robert Meilleur (also with music by Thibault) — and cast it to Ottmann, who spends the entire time similarly wind-milling his arms or walking/running in prescribed configurations. Rectangles of light pattern the floor and define Ottmann’s dance space. What’s on offer is a showcase of the will that is employed to discipline the body. There is little pleasure in setting about the mastery of this objective, but it does pose the question of the conflict that exists between the mind and the body. Fortier is working one against the other. What we see are bursts of activity, preceded and followed by pauses and hold. Ottman’s face is expressionless, and in the manner of Cunningham, the dance and music are not submerged into each other. The work seems a bit ponderous; the end result lies flat, and the piece has doesn’t have the impact it could.
Pressault’s dance for Kwan, “In Vein”, sparks things up, if only because of its oddness. The two have a long-standing working relationship, and the choreographer knows how to push the marvelous dancer to new heights of expression. In this piece, we find her hyper-extending her legs and arms, suggesting automated space-age remoteness. At one moment, she breathes into a tube and it seems to inflate her weakening body. The spastic sounds that she utters seem to propel her in different directions. Kwan’s clothing is limited — she appears bare-breasted, with a jumble of tubing and paraphernalia as a necklace and also adorning the bikinibottom. There is a desperate, almost primal, pain of connection — of breaking out of oneself, and situating oneself in relation to another — that’s explored in the work. Pressault’s curious comment on humanity and isolation raises the bar for the evening, as do Kwan’s dynamic interpretative skills.
After the intermission, “Fully Body Empty Space” completes the program. Lachambre’s work is part installation, part performance piece. He unites the trio, and seems to be working on the interpretation of release techniques — not just how the dancers move, physically, emotionally and spiritually, but energetically. With the stage opened up to the windows and wings, and a square of twelve chairs that ring the space with piles of clothes on each, the dancers work their way through various states. We witness uncertainty, neutrality. We listen to internal conversations spoken aloud: one purrs like a cat, another bleats like a sheep. And at all times there’s the shedding of various skins to reveal something essential. The playful work delves into the unexpected and the unforeseen– for instance, a clothes steamer is a key prop in one scene, and yet it doesn’t function as one, it figures as more of an appendage. The force of feeling lies in the physical image, and yet it can be fleeting, replaced by another moment in which the spectator sees Elliott slumped in a chair, head back, legs sprawled. The moments exist almost as happenings that interpenetrate. In the final section, the trio interacts directly with the audience, shifting from one member to another with simplicity and moving emotion that warms the space agreeably.