Like tumbleweeds along an old dirt road, the dancers hobble, slide and crawl across the stage as strobe lighting gives us glimpses of their movement. The world of the cowboy is the setting for an exploration of good and evil. “There are only three kinds of citizens: heroes, villains and nobodies,” says an ominous voice-over, explaining that villains are heroes in their own minds, and sometimes the only difference between them is who’s telling the story.
While the central character in this piece is the cowboy, the idea that hero and villain can be a matter of perspective applies to us all. “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” says the voice-over before changing tone with “Now, back to our show!”
The quick cut that then takes us from a serious subject to a lighthearted saloon scene exemplifies the show’s duality in tone. Wanted includes comedy alongside philosophical musings, and campy cowboy gestures alongside carefully crafted contemporary sequences.
CAMP (Brenna Metzmeier, Eowynn Enquist, Isak Enquist, Ted Littlemore and Sarah Formosa) is a dance collective that emerged out of and represents the next generation of the Vancouver dance scene, and their style is refreshing. Their work is thoughtful as well as deliberately enjoyable. In a contemporary dance scene full of serious works, they are embracing entertainment, comedy and, well, camp.
Wanted includes comedy alongside philosophical musings, and campy cowboy gestures alongside carefully crafted contemporary sequences.
But that doesn’t mean the show is superficial. There is a chilling scene in which Isak Enquist sprawls on a couch while mouthing along to the voice of Charles Manson: “People here are your reflections, your mistakes as a society.” A charged duet follows, playing with the idea of reflection and duality. The exaggerated facial expressions and the use of integrated text are reminiscent of Crystal Pite’s recent works.
Oscillating between dark contemplations of social evil and campy comedy, the action moves along at a good pace. One of the funniest scenes involves Eowynn Enquist interviewing Horse Cunningham for Horse News as the other four arrange themselves into a horse figure seated across from her. Full of puns, it’s a send-up of talk-show and celebrity culture.
Developed during a recent Dance Victoria residency, Wanted was originally conceived as an in-person show. With the opportunity to present a livestreamed version at the Vancouver International Dance Festival, the collective decided to use the strengths of the medium to enhance their work, and I think it paid off. A bird’s-eye view of a card game allowed for some intricate card shuffling choreography and a perspective we wouldn’t have if we were sitting in a theatre. Close-ups of a slow-motion brawl scene also add to its impact. The dynamic camera angles, quick cuts to different set pieces onstage and cinematic transitions add to the overall quality of the work and distinguish it from a simple recording of a stage.
Riding the fine line between campy and cool, as they explore the line between good and evil, they seem fully committed to the work and each other, finger guns and all.
While each part is enjoyable and finely crafted, it feels like a pastiche of multiple inspirations that needs stronger connections and transitions between scenes. From what the group said during the talkback, the work seems to be in development, and the group will be adapting it for an in-person performance.
When the collective comes together for group sequences, full of swagger, swinging their imaginary lassos, that’s when the true magic happens. Riding the fine line between campy and cool, as they explore the line between good and evil, they seem fully committed to the work and each other, finger guns and all.
The ending leaves us with a hopeful message as the group gathers on the couch with guitars and an upright bass to sing Home on the Range. Despite our varied perspectives of good and evil, we can all dream of a place without a cloud in the sky where never is heard a discouraging word.