Propeller Dance in Ottawa By Mercedes Déziel-Hupé
  • Jessie Huggett in Drifting Up by Renata Soutter for Propeller Dance / Photo by Chrystia Chudzak
  • Robert Chartier in Drifting Up by Renata Soutter for Propeller Dance / Photo by doublespace photography


Propeller Dance

Ottawa  May 31-June 1

Propeller Dance’s Aqueous flows like water – “the most precious resource on Earth,” as stated by the narration at the beginning of this evening of four short works. The production pays tribute to water as a source of life and nourishment. It’s also a beautiful metaphor for dance, as well as for the company itself. Devoted to the concept of integrated dance – dance that includes performers of varying abilities – Propeller Dance perseveres with the strength and flexibility of the element.

In the dark Centrepointe Theatre, waves, ripples and starbursts are reproduced on stage and in the background. Transported by the lighting design of Benoit Roy, the opening film takes the audience through an underwater journey. We follow a young woman’s discovery of coral reefs, colourful fish and weightlessness.  Behind her wheelchair, which acts as a ship, we see her graceful arms and her flowing red hair, like an aquatic flame. If Jules Verne had made a short, it might look like this one.

Then, the dance begins with two pieces from Propeller Dance’s recreational classes performed by teachers and students: Shifting Currents (Renata Soutter) and Heart of Water (Shara Weaver).  Soutter’s piece uses many props that show how we relate to water, such as twirling blue umbrellas and sparkling fish. Weaver’s piece is a bouquet of spoken poetry and dance, blue and red, harmony and chaos. In both works there are varying levels of enthusiasm, of experience and of presence from the participant performers, but the results are compelling. As a spectator, you experience the dance in a very different way when you feel such raw emotions from performers. Some of them periodically shouted out of joy, others seemed less engaged but still very pleased to be among friends, dancing. The relationship between the instructors and the students is very beautiful to watch: they repeatedly connect using eye contact, and seem to be dancing together for the love of the dance.

While the first part of Aqueous was delivered by pre-professionals, the second part of the performance was performed by company members. Both Ebb and Flow (Shara Weaver) and Drifting Up (Renata Soutter) are diverse, dynamic and visually appealing dances.  As with most of Propeller Dance’s productions, they are true collaborations between choreographer and cast. A note should be made about Dominique Saint-Pierre’s music, which framed Soutter and Weaver’s choreographies with simple beauty.

In Ebb and Flow, the lifts by both men and women, the hip hop breaks (courtesy of Steve Wint), projected quotes and dance party are great fun. Performers in wheelchairs engage with other dancers by spinning them into shapes and gliding with them across the stage. Bottles, as if washed up on a shore, are used as a communication device. There is even a little comedy when two “genies in a bottle” fight over the crowd’s attention and praise. “How many wishes would you like?” they ask us, as they upstage each other with great panache.

Drifting Up closes the show, rocking us to cello and ocean sounds. Clothed in purple, teal and brown, dancers resemble mermaids swimming around Neptune (dancer Robert Chartier). The sirens (Melissa Addison-Webster, Kirsten Andersen, Amelia Griffin, Jessie Huggett, Liz Winkelaar) drift onto rocks, slide across the stage by hanging on to wheelchairs, using them as propellers. They are shaken by waves creating multiple lines and shapes. They pour water from metal bowls, creating soothing sounds. At times they throw the same bowls, skidding them across the stage like pebbles on water, they resonate like ripples. Neptune swings a lasso, and catching the sirens it tangles around them like seaweed. It slows their motion but spikes their combative natures.

Dance takes its audience through an underwater wonder in Aqueous; the dancers are as colourful as the seas, oceans and aquatic life that they honour.

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