TransFoRM is part of the Movement Research Festival and played at the University of Calgary’s University Theatre on Nov. 24-25. The festival runs from Nov. 24 to Dec. 2.
TransFoRM, an evening of dance pieces by both Canadian and international choreographers, launched the University of Calgary’s inaugural Movement Research Festival. The festival was created to connect the university to the wider dance community and, as their website states, “celebrates the depth and breadth of dance research.”
Intro, choreographed by Michèle Moss, is a strong piece to start the evening. Moss is a pillar in the Calgary dance community, and in this piece, she demonstrates her skills as a choreographer by showcasing both athleticism and dynamism in the performers. She uses call-and-response and emphasizes an internal sense of rhythm to create a highly energetic piece that is truly inviting.
The work evolves into overlapping choreographic phrases, an infectious groove permeating all of them. The energy exchange created by cypher circles, where each dancer takes a turn being featured, easily extends to the audience; we join in the clapping and cheering, helping to build a shared sense of community and celebration where play and discovery are paired with nuance.
River is Kin by Rufi Oswaldo comments on the politics of water – how the commodification of a substance that can never be controlled affects our relationship to the land. Dancers embody the multi-layered facets of water through movements that range from sensitive and expansive representations of a calming pond to crashing, percussive rhythms reminiscent of rapid waves.
In the program, Oswaldo notes how the piece explores the “absurdity of capitalism.” While capitalism as a concept was difficult to draw from the piece, it was interesting to see how each dancer attempts to embody the concept differently.
How Oswaldo portrays the commodification of water is highly structured, using carefully choreographed unison phrase work, including vocalizations mimicking the military-like monosyllabic “HUH!” and partnering focused on bodily and spatial containment. One example is when a dancer is caught in the middle of unwavering bodies and struggles to escape.
As the lighting fades to black, two dancers sit side by side and gesture towards each other. This last image reminds me that a relationship between humans and the land is an ongoing process of respect and reconciliation.
With a sense of storytelling that conveys joy and inclusion, Bharatnatyam: A Historical Journey, choreographed by Roma Thakore, Kajal Dattani and Parvathi Nair, guides us through the evolution of the dance form. Through projected text and voice-over narration, we are treated to a sensory experience as we learn about the lineage of the Devadasi system and bharatanatyam.
The movements in this piece evolve from simple, technical movements involving deep pliés and subtle eye shifts to highly choreographed blocking that gradually increases the level of difficulty, precision and energy required of the performers.
Effect8 by Zaria Rajha and Mario Obeid is a piece I was excited to see; I have seen their work in Calgary many times, where I became familiar with their heavy use of props, music with a visceral and driving beat and curiously devised choreography that encourages a focus on the playful nature of dance.
In Effect8, dancers explore the concept of their subconscious through non-linear movement pathways in both duets and solos, such as when a dancer jumps into the air only to be redirected mid-air by their partner, evoking a thought frozen in space.
The piece eventually descends into complete chaos, involving wigs, whiteboards and the dancers drawing nonsensical patterns onto each other in a flurry of movements. With so many different elements to focus on, I found myself wondering how successful disarray can be as a choreographic choice. While I can appreciate the idea of spectacle, the movement disappears completely against an ever-changing landscape. One could say it reflects the changing nature of our thoughts; however, we are left in a clouded, confused state.
Closing the evening in style, glamour and all things ballroom culture is Outro – The Nights We Fight Best, by Kevin Shawn. This piece depicts a love story between a musician and a dancer, and they illustrate all the feelings one can have when running into an ex at the club: elation, sadness and embarrassment.
I was happy to see a ballroom included in a traditional theatre space and a contemporary dance festival; it subverts what is traditionally presented in a university’s theatre, challenging what is usually defined as contemporary dance.
Choreographically, I appreciate the narrative approach; however, I feel the heavy-laden humour that each speaker utilizes ultimately shifts the focus away from the innovative choreography.
As a whole, TransFoRM feels inspiring and transformative. Coupled with the fact that it includes both established choreographers and emerging artists, I hope it is well on its way to becoming a staple in the Calgary dance community.
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