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Review

"An Orgy of the Ordinary" 

By Rebecca Todd
  • Susan Elliott in "Volio" / photo courtesy of DW Communications 

Volio

Lola McLaughlin

Toronto October 25–26, 2002

As a victim of the hyped-up Toronto lifestyle, I’m grateful when artists have the courage to make works that slow time and open space. As a case in point, I went to Lola McLaughlin’s “Volio” tired and hassled and not at all in the mood for contemporary dance. To my surprise, the combination of the spacious set (by Andreas Kahre), engulfing sound score (by Owen Belton), and repetitious movement — its oscillation between presence and absence of mind — was like a balm. It is, as a dancer whispers at the end of the piece, an orgy of the ordinary. It allows room for the contemplation of everyday things, which I found very satisfying.

According to the program notes “volio” is a word, in a language invented by twentieth-century linguist Otto Jesperson, which means “(the act of) wanting something.” The piece opens with the image of a dancer standing on a ladder with her back to the audience, looking at a wide projection of sky. She then moves downstage and stands next to two neatly trimmed shrubs, makes a slow, sensual picking gesture, and then repeats it over and over again. The speed of the repeated gestures accelerates until it becomes first mechanical, then frenzied. The solo becomes a duet and then a trio danced by Susan Elliott, Andrea Keevil and Kathleen McDonagh. Most of the time that they’re onstage together, the dancers move in private worlds, thinking and acting in parallel rather than interacting with each other in dialogue.

Little orgasms of repetition, like the first reaching sequence, recur throughout the hour-long work. Functional gestures of pulling, gathering and pushing – which seem to relate both to the idea of wanting and to concrete tasks in the world – are performed first with a sensual presence of mind, then repeated almost mindlessly until they look to be the spastic outward manifestation of extreme agitation. At these moments the dancers seem dissociated from their actions. At other times they pause in the middle of an action, stare off into space and dream so that you can see the thoughts cross their faces like the clouds projected in Kahre’s film. At these moments, watching them is like watching people on the subway at unguarded moments, lost in their own worlds and unaware of how their faces are exposing their thoughts.

Interestingly, the occasional frenzy of individual dancers doesn’t seem to interfere with the sense of ample time and space. There is always the opportunity to get acquainted with each movement, however frantic in intent. And as the minds of the dancers (or their characters) wander, there’s room for our minds to wander as well. After a while, the recurring pattern of repetitions and the hypnotic score put me into a trance-like state. I began watching the stage with a soft focus, and became more sensitive to the vibrations of sound and movement in my own body. In this state, I felt as if I was more part of the dance than spectator — a feeling that lasted until the first soloist’s recapitulation of the opening phrases signaled the end of the dance.

Using gesture as sparely and efficiently as “Volio” does takes courage in a world where performing artists feel pressured to win audiences by overtly dazzling them. With “Volio”, although the title means “to want,” you just might find — you get what you need. 

Production Credits 

 

“Volio” by Lola Dance Oct 25 & 26 Presented by DanceWorks du Maurier Theatre Centre, Toronto Choreography by Lola McLaughlin Featuring dancers Susan Elliott, Andrea Keevil, Kathleen McDonagh Video and set design by Andreas Kahre Sound by Owen Belton Lighting by James Proudfoot Costumes by Heather Young 

 

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