Rob Kitsos: For dance artists in Vancouver, Dancing on the Edge is a destination. Regardless of where an artist is in a new project, the Edge is always in the back of the mind as a time to unveil or test an idea. For audiences, this is what makes the festival exciting – the possibility of seeing polished premieres mixed with works in development. In the end, what moves you is never predictable. It is also a time when the community engages in critical discussions about composition and choreography. We all chat about the works throughout the festival after shows, in rehearsals and on the bus. It’s a time of cultivating ideas about what makes great dance.
The twenty-first festival of Dancing on the Edge in Vancouver featured over thirty artists in ten days. The lineup included the seasoned Paul-André Fortier, Serge Bennathan, Deborah Dunn, Tedd Robinson and Peter Bingham as well as many emerging collectives and artists.
Twenty days before the official opening night, Fortier began a thirty-day run of his site-specific work “Solo 30×30”. The solo, performed 270 times since 2006, took place at 5:15pm every day at the Vancouver Public Library Plaza. What I loved about Fortier’s performance was his formality. All in black, he moved inside a black taped square, walking along diagonals, simply stretching his arms to reflect the lines of the steps, windows and sidewalks. The commitment in his body permeated the environment and caught the attention of everyone passing by. While he would take in the buildings, sky, traffic and people through his intense eyes, he wasn’t indulging in his ideas, he was only embodying the formal elements of the city. It was Fortier’s deep experience as a creator and performer that made it work.
Did you see Peter Bingham’s improvisational response to this work on the last day Kaija?
Kaija Pepper: Yes, it was a wonderful finale to the Edge and a great way to make Fortier’s 300th performance special. Bingham wore black, too, and as both men are similar height and age (around sixty), and both shave their heads, at first it was like seeing Fortier’s brother. But once Bingham began moving, it was clear he is his own man. In his familiar, friendly way, the veteran Vancouver dancer riffed on the space defined by the tape, on Fortier’s choreography (which he had seen several times) and on his own body – trying something out with his shoulder or with his hands and seeing where it led him. The city itself – pedestrians, cars, birds – gave them a million-dollar set.
Bingham was also at Edge One – not physically on stage, but through Ziyian Kwan’s elegantly grounded performance in sweat pants, to Brahms and Bach, of Bingham’s 2001 choreography, “sinking suZi”. This first mixed bill began with a politically retro work by another, much younger Vancouverite, Josh Beamish, whose “Mermaid Parade” is an angry man duet, with Cristina Graziano as his female victim in pointe shoes, from which she continually falls (think La La La Human Steps). The evening ended with a more dynamic partnership between Toronto’s Yvonne Ng and Robert Glumbek, in Tedd Robinson’s wildly musical and endearingly spirited “Stone Velvet”.
RK: I really appreciated Robinson’s work. Not only the whimsical performances by Ng (great subtle facial expressions) and Glumbek, but also the structure set to Bach’s “Violin Concerto in A Minor”. The style of the work reminded me of Mark Morris, a master of musicality, who embodies the music so well in his dances it is as if he is playing. Robinson’s work was refreshing in its reverence to the early developments in compositional forms – building from the clear structures in musical scores like ABA. I think Doris Humphrey was on to something ….
The following evening I was back outside the Roundhouse to see PARADIS/PARADISE, beautifully performed by Alvin Erasga Tolentino and French composer Emmanuel de St. Aubin. On a small square-panelled floor, Tolentino starts a rhythm in his hips, arms or hands until it changes into a new direction or suddenly stops. St. Aubin would at times follow Tolentino, but would often find his own trajectories into screeching vocals and the nostalgic sound of his old record player. Over the course of the performance, Tolentino became more intense with light and focus as the sun went down outside the Roundhouse.
Back at the Dance Centre, my colleague at SFU Henry Daniel presented his work “T2”. Through a live video feed, this work linked performers at the Scotiabank Dance Centre with performers at the Interurban Gallery on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which was projected throughout the performance.
KP: That was the fun part of “T2” – to have dancer Chengxin Wei physically distant yet appearing before us on a screen that filled the back wall of the stage. The image was a little jerky and not crystal clear, though, so the reality was not virtual (there was no sense that he was actually present). There were also cute little roving robots that looked like bugs or mini-vacuum cleaners, with purple lights, wandering about the stage. The four live dancers’ personal stories of identity and place tied most of the work together (not those little bugs, though, whose purpose remained mysterious). Also, at the start, Scheherezaad Cooper, Livona Ellis, Brenna McLaud and Olivia Schaffer tell us their backgrounds in movement, which we then see influence Daniel’s choreography. Cooper’s background in Odissi dance is directly referenced through the art form’s graceful curved arms and torso (she is credited with “additional choreography”), while Ellis, McLaud and Schaffer present a more athletic modern dance style. Neelamjit Dhillon plays tabla live from an upstage corner, adding a rich sensuous sound to what was billed as “a telematic dance performance and installation”. For those who don’t know, telematics is defined in the program as “the use of computers in concert with telecommunications systems”.
The emerging artists of the 605 Collective went the other way in their full-length, collectively choreographed “Audible”; the stage was bare but the movement invention was intense. “Audible” opens with Lisa Gelley, Sasha Kozak, Shay Kuebler, Josh Martin and Maiko Miyauchi in black suits and runners working together as a tight, well-rehearsed ensemble, powering through an impressive variety of hip hop-styled steps, with barrel leaps, karate kicks, football style crouches and a plank pose in which the body is held aloft on one arm, almost parallel to the floor, an exclamation point that is dropped into the flow of movement with bright ease. But “Audible” is really two, and maybe three, works in one. Toward the end, by the time the performers have lost the suits and wear t-shirts with a tie sewn on, along with red boxing headgear that features heavily padded ears, I drifted and couldn’t appreciate the physical humour. This involved a kind of follow-the-leader copycat movement and some dexterous back-to-back partnering, and I did hear chuckles around me.
The other full-length work I enjoyed was Deborah Dunn’s solo, “Four Quartets”, to TS Eliot’s long poem, which is heard in voice-over in the liquid English tones of British actor Sir Alec Guinness and with a beautiful lush frankness in the last section by Stacey Christodoulou, one of Dunn’s rehearsal directors. Dunn has an androgynous presence in a man’s brown suit, her body thrusting itself out in space in long straight lines that often soften and curve into intensely decorative poses. Toward the end, Dunn, always a great visual stylist, wears a white body suit decorated with exuberant clumps of red appliqué, and by the very end has added a period skirt with panniers. It’s a bold interpretation of Eliot’s formal yet heartfelt and sensual poem.
RK: Back to the 605 Collective, I agree that it didn’t gel as a whole work. Who the characters were and how their relationships related became increasingly disconnected. But more than any company I have seen, with their particular backgrounds in hip hop and substantial talent as athletic movers, the collective managed to incorporate great compositional devices and vocabulary. The visual surprises and virtuosic musicality sustained my attention throughout the work. As their first full-length work, they should be commended.
Another full-evening work was by James Gnam, entitled “endORPHIN”. Beautifully performed by Natalie LeFebvre Gnam, Alexis Fletcher, Kathryn Crawford, Jacqui Lopez, Connor Gnam and Clinton Draper, this intense work sustained a cool dark tone. The dancers wear dark hooded rain gear (North Face) and inhabit the space in linear boxes of light – moving in and out of duets and trios with sudden washes of movement from the ensemble between sections. Although the lighting seemed dark for most of the piece, there were some beautiful sequences designed with light by Gnam and Kimberly Plough. Early in the work, two dancers perform a duet with only small lights attached to several joints in the arms and legs. It was hard to see which body part belonged to which dancer as they puzzled their way through the space like battling transformers. The texture and dynamic of the vocabulary remain the same for most of the piece with sensual carving lines, tactile extending legs and partnering with elements of contact improvisation. The sound score by Phil Thompson also had relatively the same feel throughout – base techno tones and broken text that repeated layered sentences and words like “no energy” “tired for no reason” and “how do I stop”. While there was plenty of beautiful dancing and imagery, in the end I longed for more contrast. I wanted a break so I could replenish my attention – perhaps a bright-lit stage or a moment that wasn’t in cool control. Perhaps that was the effect intended by the “contemporary dysfunction” or “physiological by-products of consumer culture” in the description of the work – we never get a break.
KP: I have to admit that “endORPHIN” wore me down: by the time the lights came up and the parkas and pants were off so you could see the dancers (that must be past the half-way mark), I was too disengaged to muster interest.
I’ll just mention another full-length show, Wen Wei Wang’s remount of “Three Sixty Five” from 2007, a work for six dancers, including Wang, set to Giorgio Magnanensi’s electronic score inspired by Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. I enjoyed revisiting “Three Sixty Five’s” cool white opening and the red-lit duet between Edmond Kilpatrick and Alison Denham, but the arc of the piece is still mysterious: there is a narrative, or at least a dramatic tension, that remains elusive. Wang’s work was the only presentation at the mid-size Vancouver Playhouse.
And now, back at the Firehall, I’m going to indulge myself with three highlights from the final mixed bills, Edges Two and Three. First, Marie-Josée Chartier in Dan Wild’s “A Simple Statement for this Mosaic”. This is a duet for the two of them, but it’s really her piece: his opening monologue, delivered seated, about “no going back” and how “living can cause death” is background for her solo, which follows. In a sleek dark dress with sparkling earrings, the elegant Chartier glides tensely around the stage, both pursued and pursuing. Her movements are simple, restless: arms pass through fifth, then throw and catch and open wide. Once she’s on the ground, Chartier holds her hands up in front of her face, as if she’s looking into a mirror that reflects a whole life.
Second, the younger Amber Funk Barton, in a knee-length khaki skirt, gives a similarly committed performance in “heroine (… without her hero)”. Forget the fussy, sentimental title: Barton has created a whirl of passion that feels broader than that. The work is personal – she touches herself all over, falls repeatedly and obsessively rubs her hands on her thighs – but the distress is put into formal dance terms and there is musicality and attention to shape throughout.
Finally, the even younger Vanessa Goodman, Jane Osborne and Leigha Wald, who met at SFU and have now formed The Contingency Plan together, were equally engaged in Serge Bennathan’s “SLAM2”. All three magnificently fulfilled his vocabulary of spidery fingers, athletic rolls and gorgeous arches.
RK: Yes, The Contingency Plan did an outstanding job with Bennathan’s “SLAM2”. While I was happily caught up in the visceral poetry in the movement, I felt like the choice of text, a story about a gypsy returning home, took me out of the work. With such strong imagery in the vocabulary, I wondered what the piece would have looked like without the text.
Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg brought her latest character to the festival in an excerpt of “Goggles”. The full-evening work will premiere at the Cultch from November 17th through 21st. Friedenberg has such a great way of pulling us into her world and making us care about the character, even through the cartoon-like humour. Her excellent sense of comic timing keeps us waiting for the next line. As a geeky kid obsessed with CSI-like murder case procedures and a deep distaste for princesses and “Pocahontas” (which her dad seems to like), she takes on an investigation of a double murder case. While the theatrical qualities are the strength of her work, they also set up challenges for the movement sections of the piece.
In the second half, Friedenberg seemed stuck in the centre of the stage – moving between the two imaginary dead bodies of the crime scene. Had these bodies been moved to another spatial location, plane or level, or perhaps played with through silhouette or projection, Friedenberg would get closer, compositionally, to matching the strength set up by her character.
Also presented in this years Edge was the 12 Minutes Max Sampler with works by Katherine Single-Dain, Justine Chambers, Bret Owen, Christine Watson and myself. In Justine Chambers’ duet “Idle”, Chambers and Sylvain Senez slip through the space together, gently falling and catching each other in a flow of innovative partnering and simple gestures. As seasoned performers, Chambers and Senez are a pleasure to watch. Even in the simple still moments, both performers bring their own layers of meaning to the developing relationship.
Dusk Dances, another series of works, was performed at Queen Elizabeth Park by the duck pond with dances by Meghan Goodman, Amy Hampton, Keiko Minomiya AKA Dance, Santee Smith, Kate Franklin and Meredith Thompson.
I am always inspired to see so much happening by our local dance artists. In the short five years I have been here, I have seen the community of dance grow in new directions and emerging talent make new tracks while the seasoned continue to inspire us. It was a pleasure to be there with you this year Kaija.
KP: Thanks, Rob. It was fun, though I do think emerging choreographers should be encouraged to make shorter works, for their benefit and the audiences’: why not make two thirty-minute pieces? Three at twenty-minutes? Who doesn’t enjoy short stories as well as novels? That aside, there were many nights when something wonderful happened, and I would think how lucky I was to be present at that moment, watching dance at the Edge. And now it’s over … till next year. Bye for now!