You know a performance has captured you when it encourages you to explore your own emotions. Surfacing, a collection of four new solo works performed by Rebecca Sawdon of Winnipeg’s Sawdon Dance, had me on an emotional roller coaster — and at different points I was both disturbed and elated.
Sawdon premiered Surfacing, four shows at The Rachel Browne Theatre from October 23-26. The collection of completely unrelated works by different choreographers somehow fit perfectly together and showcased Sawdon’s immense talent as a performer.
Having never seen Sawdon dance before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was hesitant in the first few minutes of the opening work, bridled, when I realized Sawdon would remain stationary for the entire piece, only incorporating hand and body movements without any footwork. The piece is described in the program notes as “restrained and anchored, driven off axis, acknowledging present to advance.” It demonstrated a beautiful restraint, as Sawdon’s lower body remained planted in the same spot throughout, even as she displayed impeccable balance as she fell to the floor and quickly, yet gracefully, picked herself up again. The piece started off slow, but the choreography by Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers Artistic Director Brent Lott, coupled with the almost eerie music by cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir kept me intrigued. Sawdon uses props well throughout the four pieces, and in this particular piece, the grey tarp-like object that was rolled up around her feet reminded me of a cliff that she desperately needed to stay balanced on.
With only a few minutes’ pause for costume and set change, Sawdon was back onstage for the next piece, Fabulous Beast, choreographed by Davida Monk of Calgary. This strange work was not my favourite of the four, however I have to commend Sawdon for her theatrics. Her overly dramatic facial expressions, which changed again and again throughout the performance, added another layer to the piece. Sawdon’s ability to change her persona, embodying different characters multiple times throughout the choreography, was truly entertaining. Despite the program notes, which state that the “vocabulary for Fabulous Beast arises from the choreographer’s study of Japanese netsuke (miniature sculptures) that capture the expressive power of a fantastical array of beings,” and explains that the solo performer “brings the beings alive through juxtaposition and transformation,” I had a hard time following the piece from start to finish because of Sawdon’s multiple personas and the rapidly changing choreography. That said, the odd yet interesting music — by Robert Normandeau — paired with Sawdon’s well-executed performance, the evident juxtapositions and the interesting, circular patterned lighting on the floor (by Calgarian Steve Isom) was enough to make the piece a success.
Benched and Surfacing, the last two works on the bill, were my favourites of the afternoon. As soon as the music started for Benched (Otis Redding’s A Change Is Gonna Come, remixed by Tim Friesen) and the lights came on to reveal Sawdon sitting with her back to the audience, moving ever-so-slightly but enough to beautifully showcase every muscle in her back and enough to leave me in awe — I was hooked on this piece. And it only got better. The choreography picked up in intensity as the piece went on and every one of Sawdon’s movements centred around the piano bench. Winnipegger Odette Heyn’s choreography highlighted Sawdon’s flexibility, perfect lines and strong yet graceful presence. The piece was tantalizingly short — I don’t think it was much longer than five minutes — and it left me wanting more.
After a quick fifteen-minute intermission my desire for more was satisfied with the world-premiere of Surfacing, choreographed by Victoria’s Constance Cooke, with music by Reinhold Friedl and Michael Vorfeld, Ghislain Poirier and Deaf Center. This piece was hauntingly beautiful and I strongly identified with Sawdon’s internal struggle and transformation. The program notes explain the piece as the “effort and dynamics involved as evolution and construction progress. Another presence created a duet, private and integral. Ritual is essential, a vehicle for transition, a place for introspection and a necessary base to return to and release from, through this metamorphosis.” The piece truly showcased a metamorphosis with Sawdon’s transformation evident not only in the symbolism of shedding pieces of her costume, but with the emotions she conveyed throughout her movements. The use of a mirror perfectly suited this piece and convinced me that there was another presence, if only just another part of the dancer’s self. One element I found confusing, however, was Sawdon’s use of a marker to draw lines on her body as well as on a table on the stage. Throughout my notes I have written: “lines? what do they signify?”
I was thoroughly impressed with this premiere of solo works by Sawdon: by both her beauty and grace as well as her ability to convey such varying emotions in each of the four pieces. Sawdon should be congratulated for this strong, entertaining and stunning collection of works. I look forward to seeing more from her. ~