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Review

The Dedication of "Edgers" 

By Kaija Pepper, Mary Theresa Kelly, Lori Henry, Pia Lo
  • Helen Husak / Photo by Lisa Hebert 
  • The Lost Art of Girl Guiding by Meredith Kalaman and Sophie Yendole / Photo by Yvonne Chew 
  • Inheritor Album by The 605 Collective / Photo by David Cooper 
  • They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? by Troy Emery Twigg / Photo by Marc J. Chalifoux 
  • Alison Denham in Amongst by Alvin Erasga Tolentino / Photo by Steven Lamay 

Dancing on the Edge 

605 Collective, Robin Poitras, Troy Emery Twigg, Helen Husak, Deborah Dunn, Meredith Kalaman, Sophie Yendole & Various

July 5 – 14, 2012 

Dancing on the Edge began at the same time as the west coast summer, but dance held its own next to the sun and houses were good – not full, but bustling. Dedicated “Edgers” forsook the outdoors in favour of at least a few of the festival’s six full-length shows and six mixed bills, which were mostly at the Firehall Arts Centre, the festival’s home base. (The 605 Collective were featured at the Playhouse and adelheid dance projects at Studio T at Simon Fraser University’s Woodward campus.) Many of us stayed for the Firehall double bills running each evening at 7 and 9pm. I even passed on the back patio one night – a favourite spot in between shows – to head to the upstairs studio for a well-attended talkback (offered after each premiere).

On opening and closing night, Karissa Barry staged her fresh urban duet with Alex Tam, 3 Places… (presumably referring to the three levels of the patio) prior to the late show, giving people a great reason to linger outside. So did the site-specific What’s the Idea?, several blocks west at Victory Square mid-festival. Brad Muirhead stood at the centre of the downtown park conducting a whopping twenty-two musicians (mostly horns) spread out on the outskirts, while Farley Johannson and his team of six male dancers rambled and roared (physically speaking) on the grass. Both were free and fun, and spread the Edge well beyond the indoor stage.

Below, read about a quartet of those indoor shows – one full-length and three mixed bills – that The Dance Current assigned for review. ~ Kaija Pepper 

Women Exploring Dreams, Myths and the Senses: Edge One
soft foot by Robin Poitras The Karolina Sisters by Caroline Liffman and Lina Fitzner peeling away like a bubble in wallpaper by Vanessa Goodman Firehall Arts Centre: July 5 and 7, 2012
By Mary Theresa Kelly

Edge One featured three works by four women choreographers, highlighting the breadth of women’s creativity in contemporary dance.

The recently formed Light Box group, consistingof dance artists Lina Fitzner and Caroline Liffman, and composer-musician Lee Hutzulak, presented the quirkiest work on the program, The Karolina Sisters. Surely, Vancouver-based Fitzner and Liffman must have a second home on Mulholland Drive, next door to David Lynch on a street where the dark side of the human psyche intersects with parody in a cascade of dream images. Costumed in black evening dresses, the women radiate a strangeness, poised and steady, as they walk in slow diagonal passes, one “sister” leading with her hand on the nape of the other’s neck, coaxing an upper back bend. The vulnerability in this travelling gesture imparts a quality of impending doom, and on one pass Liffman’s receiving hand transforms into a neck throttle, dragging Fitzner into the wings. The strangest image is created by Fitzner, who re-enters dressed in a full-length black billowing dress; the skirt is so immense that Liffman can vanish under the folds of fabric carrying an eerie prop dollhouse, accompanied by Hutzulak’s comedic sound effects of crashing and thrashing. The strength of The Karolina Sisters is in the creation of a liminal space; as these artists develop their voices, it will be interesting to observe whether they retain this dream-like style.

Robin Poitras’ soft foot, commissioned and performed by Ziyian Kwan, is marked by Kwan’s gifted kinesthetic intelligence. The work is dedicated to the memory of Amelia Itcush, renowned for incorporating into dance the principles of Mitzvah Technique, a therapeutic system of body mechanics that emphasizes the correct relationship of the pelvis, spine and head in movement sequencing. Appropriately, Kwan’s upper body is nude, allowing us to observe a well-aligned spine, and her movement clarity practically inspired my own vertebra to subtly adjust. 

While somatic approaches inform the movement, the mythology of Ursa Major, also known as the Great Bear constellation, informs the themes. Kwan, a white stripe painted vertically on her torso, appears as a warrior, signifying cultural myths that depict the stars in the constellation as hunters chasing a bear. In many sections, she works with two extremely long bamboo poles, manipulating them with ease as extensions of her spine; I read them as symbolic references to the “pointer stars” in the Bear constellation that orient one to true north. Projecting guttural syllables from her body’s depths, Kwan somatically and imaginatively enacts her transformation from woman to bear. Conceptually, Poitras and Kwan seem to parallel the spaces deep in the body with the deep space of Ursa Major.

Despite Kwan’s committed artistry to the movement and text, I felt distant from the performance at times, especially during sections located in the extreme upstage right, which left a wide space between Kwan and the audience. Although I am familiar with some of the myths connected to Ursa Major, for audiences without this background, the work may have felt a little obscure.

Vanessa Goodman’s peeling away like a bubble in wallpaper is performed downstage, and this choice conveys an immediacy and connection. Goodman, co-artistic director of The Contingency Plan collective, credits the choreography as a collaboration with the four performers. She uses no objects or visual media, instead focussing on movement phrases supported by segments of recorded conversation between individuals about their illnesses. For instance, a man’s voice says: “I was diagnosed with a detached retina. Legally, I’m blind.” Michael Kong, Erika Mitsuhasi, Jane Osborne and Bevin Poole are a tight ensemble; Osborne’s quickness and lightness, Poole’s octopus-like fluidity, and Kong and Mitsuhasi’s sensitive partnering effectively evoke a sense of wonder from a work about the human senses. The dancers grab the rhythmic pulsation of each phrase, gathering in, consuming and metabolizing the space around them. The work is graced by the feeling that here, in these young artists, is the next generation of contemporary dancers. 

Reflecting on Human Interaction
Inheritor Album by The 605 Collective Vancouver Playhouse, July 6–7, 2012 
By Pia Lo

Contemporary dance. It can go either way. It can spur a feverish reaction of adjectives such as “fierce”, “moving”, “inspiring”, or the mere idea of it can smash into a wall of blank stares. As well, it may not be readily entertaining like a music video, nor necessarily based on a widely recognized narrative. In InheritorAlbum, the newest piece by Vancouver-based contemporary dance company The 605 Collective, the dancers dynamically interpret abstract themes of inheritance and succession in an entertaining way, presenting a power-packed performance that inspires reflection on human interaction.

Inheritor Album was performed by company members Lisa Gelley, Shay Kuebler and Josh Martin, and guest artists Laura Avery, Justine Chambers and David Raymond. The sixty-minute work contains solo and ensemble vignettes set to separate songs like tracks on an album. The electronic sound score is composed by Kristen Roos and animated design projections are by Miwa Matreyek.

Interaction between people is fundamental to the themes of inheritor and successor, and the ensemble pieces are undoubtedly the strongest. In the most memorable section, one by one the dancers rest a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. Pushing and pulling one another, mimicking each other’s gestures, they showed the dynamics of control between a leader and a follower. When the dancers collapse into a mound of bodies around Martin, who is standing, their arms reach toward him. He hoists each body up, draping a couple over his shoulders, while others cling onto him as best they can. He walks upstage carrying this load, before the bodies slide heavily back onto the ground. 

Other “tracks” show various interpretations of Inheritor Album’s themes. Dancers chase, cling to and mimic one another. The exchange of energy between them is strong and clear, and numerous shifts in momentum keep the pace stimulating. However, the solos lack clarity, though the dancers bring as much gusto to each one as they do when dancing in a group. The athleticism, precision and commitment, realized at an equally high caliber by each dancer, are the real treat of the performance.

Matreyek’s animation consisted of black and white images projected onto the stage floor or onto the back wall. Some were abstract and some were large shadows of formations made by the dancers while onstage. These projections were little more than complementary designs that, thankfully, did not detract from the performance, but that also did not amplify what the dancers accomplished themselves on an otherwise bare stage.

The performers wore ordinary pants and t-shirts, which made it easy to relate their actions to everyday life. Who can’t recall a moment similar to the final scene? The ensemble dances as if in a packed nightclub, then disperse one by one, leaving a solo and self-conscious Avery to decide whether she will continue or exit.

The interaction between the dancers, at times forceful and at times gentle, recalled to me the push and pull in relationships. During the post-show talkback, someone next to me said that the mood of the dance reminded him of a sci-fi movie. These personal interpretations reveal the different ways a performance can impact an audience and can make talkbacks as interesting as the show itself. 

Buffalos and Girl Guides: Edge Three
They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? by Troy Emery Twigg The Lost Art of Girl Guiding by Meredith Kalaman and Sophie Yendole Firehall Arts Centre July 10 and 12, 2012
By Lori Henry

The wild buffalo in Yellowstone National Park were decimated atthe turn of the century, going from a herd of sixty or seventy million and slaughtered down to less than 3000. Around this time, aboriginal people’s culture in the Americas was being massacred through the banning of their languages, traditions and dances.

It is with this history in mind that Alberta Aboriginal Arts produced They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? presented as part of the Edge Three double bill. Ryan Cunningham, who conceived the idea for the piece, used his research of the buffalo slaughters in Yellowstone to spark the imagination of Blackfoot choreographer Troy Emery Twigg, who is also one of the three dancers.

The work opens with a red spotlight smouldering on the dancers at centre stage, all wearing buffalo masks, burlap wrapped around their torsos and black pants rolled up under their knees. As the lights dim and blaze in different areas of the stage, the dancers create vignette-like scenes of the buffalo slowly coming to life.

The first mood shift comes when dancers Alex Twin and Richard Lee slowly take off their masks and place them on the floor. As they roll up to standing, we finally see their faces, wild-eyed and fierce. The tone turns violent when Lee begins unravelling Twin’s burlap: Twin was forcefully spun out of it before grabbing Lee’s and doing the same. Fragments of fabric are left scattered across the stage.

The partner work of the now bare-chested duo resembles fighting buffalo, complete with guttural moans. At one point Twin drags Lee on his side as if carrying a carcass home. In the background, there is the sound of intermittent Blackfoot language that most in the audience probably couldn’t comprehend, just as the settlers to the Americas couldn’t understand the indigenous populations they found when they arrived.

Eventually, Twin and Lee descend upon the “last buffalo”: Twigg, still wearing his mask. They unravel the burlap covering his torso while he writhes on the floor; they tear off his mask, gag him and then bind his wrists and feet together. The buffalo masks strewn all over the stage are like the lost voices of those who were silenced.

They Shoot Buffalo, Don’t They? is missing a clear dramatic arc that would have made the piece more accessible, though it made up for this in physical intensity and sheer guttural power.

Edge Three opened with a very different and amusing work by Sophie Yendole and Meredith Kalaman, performed with gusto by Kalaman. In The Lost Art of Girl Guiding, Kalaman’s ballet training and Yendole’s years as a Girl Guide are used to create a dance-theatre work exploring how girls are shaped through their childhoods by the rules of these organized activities.

Over the fifteen-minute piece, Kalaman uses monologue and dance to bounce between her “obedient and cheerful” self and into the wild person who wants to break out. Her dancing, interspersed between the text, features fast, staccato segments; a zany explosion of moves like those of a young girl dancing alone in her room; and finally a softer section that hints at her passage out of childhood.

Kalaman’s stage presence throughout is glowing and her voice – from singsong to matter-of-fact – is an effective storytelling instrument. While her and Yendole’s exploration of growing up is easy to relate to and sometimes poignant, the piece as a whole is almost too light-hearted and doesn’t delve deep enough into the minefield that is a girl’s childhood. 

In Praise of Three Smart Shorts: Edge Six
Fight or Flight by Helen Husak Amongst by Alvin Erasga Tolentino Yin Fetish by Deborah Dunn Firehall Arts Centre: July 13–14, 2012
By Kaija Pepper

The final mixed bill at this year’s Edge featured three short pieces that each mined their own small territory to great effect. In the festival’s early years back in the nineties, there were many more miniatures – some only a few minutes long – and it made the mixed bills really fun to watch. In honour of the spirit of brevity, I’ll review the Edge Six trio in order of their length, starting with the shortest.

Alvin Erasga Tolentino’s ten-minute Amongst, performed by Alison Denham, was a dynamic work, danced dynamically. Denham wears only black underpants, sitting, squatting, briefly standing or lying flat in the upstage right corner under a light. That light creates the shadow that in turn creates the main texture and theme of the piece: the rendering in the public sphere of the private, hidden world of her ribcage and spine, which the light and dark together sculpt into high relief, and the play of breath in her belly. Denham sits, legs shooting high into the air above her, or stands on extreme tiptoe before falling in a fierce spiral to the floor, her interior world of bone and breath bravely exposed. Sometimes percussive, sometimes languid, Tolentino set his physical study to the confident yet calm beat of the world music by Dody Datya Ekagustdiman.

For the fifteen-minute Yin Fetish, Deborah Dunn – an ex-Vancouverite, now-Montréalaise – returned to work with her old colleague, Delia Brett. Their dear and deranged homage to moms (the yin, or female principle, of the title) begins with sound: a recording of a woman talking to a young boy. “Men drive the trucks,” he asserts. Though agreeable to the idea that women can, too, what’s more urgent to him is his desire to drive one. With the work’s territory of gender stereotypes established, lights come up on stage. Brett, in a polka-dot bodysuit, is visible behind a strip of fabric hanging from the flies as an assembly of body parts: limbs undulate at the sides of the fabric; a foot pokes through a hole. Later, revealed in full, she’s a pregnant woman lurching on her feet (the big belly is achieved through physical contortions alone). There are more featured body parts (a breast, of course) and, driving home the mommy-theme, Brett passes a bowl of strawberries to the audience, admonishing us not to spill. The finale is an awesome surrealistic scenario that somehow ties the sense and the nonsense together: lying on her back, Brett neatly lifts a silver pitcher with her dexterous feet and pours a refreshing stream of milk on her belly. Moms are amazing, eh? 

Finally, the evening’s opener: Calgary’s Helen Husak in Fight or Flight, a solo that begins with simple count: One, two, tri, ctyri… Okay, maybe not so simple, because the count alternates English with Czech, the language of the Eastern European country where Husak’s family originates. The piece also begins with a box placed upstage right, out of which Husak emerges, continuing the count. She’s never free of the box for long: she upends herself within it, legs flying high above, or wears it on her head. Dancing in frazzled, desperate circles around the stage, she either struggles to get the Czech words out or fights to keep them in. “I don’t speak it very well,” Husak confesses, and therein lies this work’s territory: the difficulty of knowing your roots when they’re not an active part of your life. Although the twenty-five minutes could have been tightened or, alternatively, the choreographic ideas developed, Husak’s performance was strongly fuelled by believable inner drama, and I was drawn to this woman and her very Canadian identity crisis. 

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