Method Dance Society and Mocean Dance perform a double bill at Dancing on the Edge (DOTE) Festival, July 12 and 13, 2023
Edge Four at the intimate Firehall Theatre in Vancouver presented two out-of-town companies premiering works about water.
River Work by Method Dance Society has a delicate quality, with perceptible depth—like the gentle movement on the surface of a fast-flowing river. A short film at the start positions us in a tangled history of Indigenous peoples and settlers in the region of Prince George/Lheidli T’enneh territory. We learn by way of a narrator that a forced relocation in 1913 burned homes and moved an Indigenous community away from a sacred waterway.
Despite this heavy topic, the piece has a gentle tone. Three dancers in blue dresses (Sara McGowan, Jenna Magrath and Sam Presley) kneel in front of wooden bowls as a fourth with a long dark braid (co-choreographer, Keilani Elizabeth Rose) addresses the audience directly. Her tone is light but firm as she says, “Tonight, we dance in honour of resilience.”
Water sounds are perceptible as the others splash water in their bowls, wiping their hair as if washing. When they start to dance—dropping into deep lunges, arms arriving in brief classical lines interrupted by curves and torso contractions—the sound of a plucking instrument (similar to a harp) complements the varied movement.
Overall, River Work has a pleasing combination of elements. A multimedia projection behind the dancers—a moving landscape of water, smoke, birds and the rounded forms of Indigenous art—creates a sense of spaciousness. The choreography oscillates between group unison and vignettes where dancers connect their heads or reach through and around each other’s limbs with a sense of urgency. When an inky black liquid pollutes the projection, I think of oil spills and engine exhaust. Repeatedly, the dancers return to the bowls of water upstage as if kneeling at the edge of a river to cleanse.
Though individual performances are strong, relationships feel undeveloped; the abrupt exit of one dancer (Rose) leaves me wondering about its significance. The trio that follows, however (a breathy travelling sequence, punctuated by interesting turns and shapes), is a highlight.
Program notes call it a collaboration of Method’s artistic director, Shelby Richardson, and three Northern artists: Rose, Shoshanna Godber and Diane Levesque. Perhaps it is the multitude of perspectives that makes the piece feel like it skims the surface of several experiences rather than diving deeply into one. Though it ends on a hopeful note, I am left craving lower lows and higher highs in a story that feels like it has more to reveal.
Mocean Dance’s Utawtiwow Kijnaq – Our Mother’s Road has a simple yet effective set. White fabric drapes from the ceiling grid upstage like a waterfall, spilling two-thirds of the way across the stage to where a woven basket sits. The dancers begin by diving through the fabric waterfall with halting steps to the rhythm of an Indigenous song.
Sara Coffin and Sarah Prosper, co-choreographers and performers, are an interesting pair. The cross-cultural, cross-generational duet has spiritual undertones. Incorporating moves from Indigenous dance and contemporary canon, their full-bodied commitment to the investigation and mature curiosity is captivating.
Though visually distinct—Coffin in a long blue dress and Prosper in a single-sleeved blue top and pants—throughout the work they find ways to entangle themselves, forming a bond of mutual reliance. Linking arms with their backs to the audience, they perform a lively toe-touching phrase on the bed of fabric. Upstage, next to the basket, they twirl hands rapidly down to one leg and flick the other foot behind them, exhaling sharply. The dynamics of their movement stands out against a score of natural sounds including excerpts of Indigenous songs and drumming.
The work builds to a memorable ending, where the performers engage in an elaborate braiding (or weaving) routine of the swaths of white fabric under blue and orange lights. This starts with skipping, a playful game of diving through the gaps, and slowly settles into what feels like a ritual. When the task is complete, the lights go down on Prosper cradling the fabric close like a small child, as Coffin gently braids her hair—leaving the work on a touching and human note.
That final weaving of a waterfall leaves me reflecting on our interdependence with water. Whatever its spiritual, cultural or emotional significance, it is our source of life in an ecosystem that hangs in the balance.
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