East Vancouver’s EDAM Dance premiered the six-show run of Threshold — the first in its choreographic series for the 2014-2015 season — with a sold-out evening at their intimate studios. Threshold is a presentation of three works — just words choreographed by Serge Bennathan, Liminal Spaces choreographed by Peter Bingham and bite down gently and howL created by Ziyian Kwan in collaboration with Barbara Bourget, James Gnam and Vanessa Goodman.
A heavy black-velvet curtain drawn across the studio transformed the space into a stage on one side, with the audience on the other, at times less than one metre from the performers. Such an intimate space can give performers greater personal interaction with the audience if they can delicately balance the need to approach the audience and the need to let the audience observe. Threshold experimented with this dichotomy to varying degrees of success.
just words opened the evening with Bennathan standing centre stage under a spotlight, narrating his meandering thoughts out loud. Dancers Karissa Barry and Hilary Maxwell spring around him like manifestations of his thoughts. Although he has a commanding presence, he lets the viewer observe the scene by directing his gaze afar when lost in his thoughts, or looking at, thereby directing our attention to, the dancers. Barry and Maxwell, dressed in simple black tank tops and pants, are well matched in their physicality and style. Their unity is established immediately, with moves borne out of amplified pedestrian mannerisms, and they are most dynamic when in confrontation with one another. Eventually, a dialogue begins as Bennathan speaks directly to the audience, as if in conversation with us, and reads a piece of poetic text. This marked shift in the performer-audience relationship seemed to suggest an impending crescendo to the piece that, alas, was not fully expressed. The closing was nonetheless memorable, with Maxwell under a spotlight, seemingly hypnotized by her frantic hands, waving to keep up with the tinkling piano notes composed by Bertrand Chénier. Barry is left wildly gesticulating around Maxwell, who is lost in attempts to reconnect with her.
bite down gently and howL is loosely based on the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” Of all four performers in the piece, Ziyian Kwan stands out for the ease of her seductive presence that bids us to follow her journey. Sporting a blond pixie cut, Kwan invitingly slides into a bear suit that is the threshold to a world of encounters with dancers Barbara Bourget, James Gnam and Vanessa Goodman. Each of the three presents his or her own state of loss, loneliness or helplessness to songs of Nancy Sinatra and narrative text of John Parish. It would have been a somewhat superficial experience if not for Goodman’s commitment to her role as a naïve young girl, whose heightened sensitivity to the surrounding chaos is poignantly conveyed to the audience. From her seizure-like fits to the way she reacts so honestly to the others on stage, she succeeds in pulling us into her psyche.
Liminal Spaces was the highlight of the evening, a delightfully harmonious piece that evokes the cadence of the West Coast environment. The soundtrack included the comforting sound of rain and a recording of Bingham’s soothing voice reading text, which Bingham said, in the talkback after the show, he recorded after a walk in Vancouver’s Pacific Spirit Park, part of the region’s temperate rainforest. The strong technical training of the dancers Chengxin Wei, Olivia Shaffer and Walter Kubanek brought clarity to the choreography. Individually, each hints at greater virtuosity than what was seen that night, but it’s the way they direct that energy into the collective composition that makes the piece come alive. They formed graceful designs with their bodies, climbed on top of one another like a totem pole, and caught and released each other’s limbs in fluid partnering work, all the while glancing at one another to ensure they were moving together. The choreography pulled the dancers like a school of fish, who twist and turn effortlessly through water, but before the audience settled too comfortably in the rhythm, the piece brought subtle surprises. Suddenly, Bingham’s description of tree roots is interrupted playfully by the words “armpit” and “shrink-wrap.” That the dancers don’t acknowledge this absurdity made me doubt the occurrence and question what I had heard. In another change of pace, the dancers stand downstage in front of the audience and command our attention by staring directly at us. This momentary confrontation wakes us from the trance of observation and with our captive attention, we follow the dancers to the conclusion.
Threshold is a refreshing sample of Vancouver’s contemporary dance works that tease the audience’s role as an observer and as a participant in the dancers’ world. ~