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Review

Encounter Overflow 

By Marie Claire Forté
  • Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie in “15 Heterosexual Duets” by James Kudelka / Photo by Michael Slobodian 
  • Julie Anne Ryan, Holly Deline, Jacqueline Ethier, Maureen Shea and Kate Hilliard in “flots” by Sylvie Desrosiers / Photo by Peter Fritz 
  • Paul-Andre Fortier in his own work “30 x 30” / Photo by Martine Doucet 
  • Karine Denault in her own work “Sokrat” / Photo by Éric de Larochellière 
  • Mathieu Campeau in “La pudeur des icebergs” by Daniel Léveillé Danse / Photo by Marian Alonzo 
  • Carlos Rivera, Albert David, Earl Rosas, Matthew Pheasant in “Shimmer” by Red Sky / Photo by David Hou 
  • Hiromoto Ida and Catherine Lubinsky in “Man Within” by Karen Jamieson / Photo by Robert Tinker 
  • Natasha Bakht in “Triptych Self” by Shobana Jeyasingh/ Photo by David Hou 
  • Esther Gaudette in “Vortex II” by Isabelle Van Grimde / Photo by Michael Slobodian 
  • Farley Johanssen and Karissa Barry in “Unbound” by Wen Wei Wang / Photo by Chris Randle 

Canada Dance Festival 2006: Environmental Encounters 

Canada Dance Festival

Ottawa  June 2-10, 2006

OVERVIEW “Encounter great dance,” announced the 2006 Canada Dance Festival (CDF). Returning from a pared-down 2004 edition, Artistic Director Brian Webb presented a full program, complete with theatre performances, Dance Dialogues (a series of morning discussions and presentations) and Environmental Encounters (outdoor performances). He succeeded in assembling different aesthetics by artists from different cities and I encountered many great dancers on the festival stage. This land of plenty brought to light some trends and questions.

Two afternoon performances showcased professional training programs, with performances by students from contemporary dance schools across the country. Before the first program, Webb underlined the importance of involving youth in the CDF. I am unclear as to whom the target audience was in this case. Much of the professional dance community could not attend as they were in meetings. I believe dance would benefit more from inviting youth to professional performances rather than from inviting youth to perform.

This festival edition highlighted outdoor performances, framed as Environmental Encounters. I was intrigued by the variety of reasons artists work outside, from Paul-André Fortier’s abstract encounter with a city, to the more traditional performance presented by Fujiwara Dance Inventions and the Grasshoppa Dance Exchange’s neighbourhood events. In all cases, awareness in the community at large was drawn to dance.

Hopefully, this countered the strange festival publicity and marketing. The poster was not obviously dance-related, the brochure did not provide a summary calendar of events and the website was difficult to navigate. Further, I was upset to see a CDF publicity truck around town; this seems a most environmentally unsound way to attract audiences.

There were a remarkable number of solos on the program. After watching over ten solo performances in a week, I am unsure that the form’s current popularity stems from an authentic creative need. Is it a reaction to funding and selling constraints? Montréal choreographer Karine Denault answers affirmatively to this question in her program notes.

I was intrigued by the solo phenomenon as I performed a brief one in the first two of three Dances for a Small Stage, a cabaret-style mixed program presented by the CDF and Vancouver’s MovEnt. As an insider, I venture that Crystal Pite is a very funny folk singer, Mark Shaub beats a mean rhythm on the snare drum, and Tara Cheyenne Freidenberg can be a very believable sleazy man.

I did attend all of the theatre performances save the opening one by Toronto Dance Theatre and the closing Kudelka program presented by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. Below are glimpses of the various programs as I saw them. 

PERFORMANCES

“Flots”, premiere, CDF commission, Sylvie Desrosiers (Ottawa) June 3, 7:00pm, NAC Studio

Abstract sail boats that resemble coat hangers float above the space. To a soundtrack littered with whispers, five women struggle in a dark universe using a vocabulary centered in the upper torso and arms. Most of the movements travel on a vertical plane, there is a breathy attack to extension and the phrasing is monotone. Desrosiers’ vision comes across loud and clear, particularly when the dance is suspended and the dancers verbally explain it. This lack of subtlety unsettles me, as do some of the costume choices. Although the ample dresses worn near the end produce a lovely sound and give an interesting dimension to the movement, they remind me of bridesmaids’ dresses.

Fluid Stability, mixed program with three premieres, Margie Gillis (Montréal) June 3, 8:30pm, NAC Theatre

Here is Gillis’ recent repertoire; the earliest work is from 2001 and there are three new works on the program. Gillis is forever a treat; I am always touched by her joyful ease, disarmed by her unapologetic authenticity. In each dance, a costume, one piece of music, distinct lighting (always by Pierre Lavoie), an idea. Transitions are seamless, choices are clear. I am especially moved by “When Skin Separates from Bone”, a new work. Gillis is robed in a dark, rock-like strapless dress, designed by Anne Dixion, the fabric bunched here and there. Lit with spotlights from the top and from one side, Gillis moves in tiny increments, in distress; little breakdowns happen in her neck, her wrists and her shoulders. The dance is quietly poignant, accompanied by high-pitched chords of a minimal piano score composed by Gordon Monahan. The six solos take me through Gillis’ incredible range and artistry; she skips and runs, free as a child, she breathes life into sharp edges and jagged movement. This performance will stand above and beyond the solos I will see throughout the week.

“0101/Work in Progress”, premiere, CDF commission, Lynda Gaudreau (Montréal) June 4, 4:00pm, La Nouvelle Scène

On the empty white stage floor, a basic drum kit. Enter Ken Roy, Anne Bruce Falconer and drummer Luc Paradis, dressed in beige and brown, each wearing a different coloured t-shirt under their shirts. The drummer consults large cardboard cue cards and wears a headset that likely feeds him the even tempo he plays throughout. The stage is not polarized. The performers, the gestures, the costumes have equal value. There follows a series of small games, each with a distinct sound, an even rhythm played differently with set pauses. Pointing, jumping, reaching, resting, abrupt turning, resting again and swatting. The artists acknowledge each other and the audience; they reorganize between segments. Small things stand out: the inclination of a head, the speed of blinking eyes, the crack of a spotlight during a silence on stage, the softening of a hand as the extended arm returns to neutral, the sound of the ventilation system, the manipulation of a drumstick, the shadows, and the direction of the performers’ focus. The game is repeated three times, with slight staging and speed variations. The atmosphere is both funny and serious, especially in the last section where the performers play the tempo with their voices: Roy, with a lovely “boum”, Falconer with a “tsk” and Paradis with a “tsh”. I feel like I am participating in a closely monitored science experiment that could produce theatrical magic or fall flat. I am quite enchanted and look forward to the finished work.

“Schatje” and “Reservoir”, premiere, CDF commission, George Stamos (Montréal) co-produced by Neighbourhood Dance Works (St. John’s) June 4, NAC Studio, 7:00pm

The environment is busy and gritty: imposing video screens, a DJ spinning on stage, clear plastic platform stilettos scattered about, performers dressed in navy and white undershirts and red and white boy briefs, a bass case lying in the middle of the floor … “Schatje” (“sweetie” in Dutch) was first created in 2002 and inspired by the choreographer’s experience as a go-go dancer. A series of vignettes runs surprisingly smoothly, as the comings and goings seems random, almost disorderly. A sexy and armless Raggedy-Anne flops here, bumps and grinds there. Masked superheroes wrestle, their attacks punctuated by some serious record scratching; the wrestling masks become arguing puppets. In one delightful duet, two high-heeled beauties writhe around on the floor, bums, legs and crotches everywhere, and I catch fragments of their conversation about beans: “What if you can’t cook them?” A dancer zipped up in the supple bass case concludes with a little phallic dance. Although the piece drips with sex, the performers’ casual delivery is refreshing, entertaining.

The video images of winter and the sound of ice cracking and water trickling set a cold tone for the more sober “Reservoir”. Stamos’ contorted but fluid movement vocabulary is further developed in this work. Among the textures of a plush white carpet, a black carpet, a bubble wrap carpet, pastel-coloured sweaters and white long-sleeved t-shirts, the performers travel in what feels like a nostalgic landscape. I am floored when Stamos starts dancing, a clear blur of fast, twisting motions that fold into the floor and rise again. The DJ, Owen Chapman, sings a U2 song at the end and, while I imagine we are on the cusp of something cheesy, beauty transcends.

“Conference of the Birds”, Fujiwara Dance Inventions (Toronto) June 5, 12:15pm, Confederation Park

On this hot and sunny day, performers converge slowly in the park, as does the audience, which includes a lot of school children. The dancers congregate shyly, recognizable by their bashful and light step, fantastically coloured costumes and feathery headpieces. They finally get together, the music begins and the dancer-birds “muster the courage to embark on a journey to seek enlightenment”. One at a time, the dancers pull away and gesture briefly and theatrically. They follow each other, stepping nervously; they melt together, form a line and resolve to fly together. While I am often distracted by the general activity surrounding the dance, I keep coming back to the beautiful costumes. I wonder about dance outdoors and the possibility for the audience to maintain focus. 

“Solo 30X30, thirty minutes – thirty days”, Paul-André Fortier (Montréal) June 5, 1:00pm, Wellington Street sidewalk I saw this solo three times, and on this occasion, something happened which brought the privilege of dancing outside and free movement into sharp perspective. There is something odd about watching a solemn, darkly dressed man – Fortier – use contemporary dance to encounter the city. He defines his dancing area so that even the most uninvolved passer-by avoids walking through it. His articulate limbs move around his stable torso, he creates angular shapes in space and his hands are expressive. As I watch, I listen to the different shoes making different sounds on the steps beside me, the groaning of motors and bus brakes on the street. Today, as Fortier is crouched, head down, swishing his hands around his head, a young intoxicated man walks up and makes as though to kick him. Quickly, another audience member forcibly escorts the young man away. Fortier carries on, honouring his work in an environment that has been unpleasantly changed. I was not engaged by his daily thirty minutes of intimacy with the city until an outsider tried to take it away. 

Mixed Program #1 June 5, 7:00pm, NAC Theatre “Sokrat”, premiere, L’Aune/Karine Denault (Montréal)

A large projection screen is mounted against the scrim and a plush white carpet covers the dance area. Originally a group piece, reduced to a solo by lack of funds, this dance is inspired by a “poem book” about money by Christophe Tarkos. A French voice-over gives us excerpts of the text as the English translation appears on the large video screen. “Money is the sublime value”, “Money saves everything”, “Money is all encompassing”. Denault is at ease performing her vocabulary. Brief gesture phrases are mostly frontal, stationary and upright. I am interested by how she plays with timing and size of movement, going from a little hand movement to a full body scoop. However, the work loses tension because of the many long pauses and of her apparent nonchalance. Is this a statement about money? How is the dance related to the text? I crave longer, edgier phrases, and wonder what the group piece was like.

“DjembeFola”, BaKari Eddison Lindsay (Toronto)

From stark and abstract with Denault, I fall into stark and narrative with Lindsay. From the program, I learn that this is the “physical and spiritual journey” of “one who will master the skills of playing the Djembe [an African hand drum]” to become the Djembefola. Lindsay begins the journey slowly, his spine rippling, his brow furrowed. An even drumbeat accompanies the deliberate movements. The rhythm gradually changes and he dances around the space, electric impulses throwing his limbs here and there in time with the music. Lindsay moves with skill and sustains his character from beginning to end, but the work suffers from a slow, predictable progression.

“laughter and forgetting”, premiere, Helen Husak (Calgary)

Husak’s solo begins with a compelling mystery: only her upper torso is lit and she seems caught in a whirlwind of soft thoughts or memories. She collapses into awkwardly angled shapes, exploring different directions of rebound and release. There is a touching hunch to the shoulder, desperation to the whipping back and forth of her head. Nothing feels resolved, one section bleeds into the next and I get lost trying to follow the logic. So do the other stage elements, it seems. The lighting by Brian Mac Neil consists in crude delimitations of space, the costume by Tracy Murray changes a few times for unapparent reasons and the score by Amir Amiri is as scattered as the dance. The end echoes the beginning, providing striking bookends to a mish-mash library of movement. 

“La pudeur des icebergs”, Daniel Léveillé danse (Montréal) June 5, 8:30pm, NAC Theatre

I had not yet seen Léveillé’s work but had heard much about it and his choreographic material: the naked body. The very slow fade-out of the lights in the audience and fade-up of the lights on stage set the unhurried pace. There is a “home base” line upstage, a little left of centre. The two or three dancers on stage at a time return there between their short, very purposeful movement sequences. As striking as the nudity is at the top of the show, it soon becomes normal, then beautiful and compelling. I am mesmerized by the difficult tasks the dancers perform. They sometimes grunt in effort during the unforgiving lifts, and they land heavily from their jumps – I worry about their joints. My favourite moment is uncharacteristic of the piece and is one of the few unrepeated sequences: a dancer bows over and his head twitches frantically. Occasionally, Chopin’s “Préludes” play softly in the background, sometimes the same one over again. The audience and the choreography seem ready for an end when the dancers pile one on top of the other and the light softens in on them, but the dance starts again and even changes tempo near the end, when sequences start happening simultaneously. A strange calmness resonates in the audience when the lights finally fade out.

Portrait Solos, Coriograph Theatre (Vancouver) June 6, 7:00pm, NAC Studio

Cori Caulfield presents six solo works created between 1998 and 2003. The program is a jumble of foggy transitions, multiple music changes, as well as unclear lighting and sound cues. Caulfield’s unique vocabulary is well showcased in the opening “Bought and $old”. She is a bionic bird-like seductress dressed in a sexy white dress and white platform shoes. Lightning fast, she changes her focus, the angle of her torso and the position of her hands and wrists. She develops this quirky vocabulary throughout her solos and at times, inserts what feels like a classical dance “move”, such as a very high leg extension or a perfect pirouette. I am startled by these lapses into traditional vocabulary and flexible goings-on throughout the show. “Faith” is a presentation of misogyny in the Christian faith; dressed as little girl, Caulfield recites scripture while balancing on red bibles, playing with her doll and gesturing. The title of her company suggests that she is working at the intersection of dance and theatre. Unfortunately, her vision lacked cohesion and had an unfinished feel. 

“Shimmer”, premiere, Red Sky Performance (Toronto) June 6, 8:30pm, NAC Theatre

Under the direction of Sandra Laronde, Australian choreographer Albert David and Canadian choreographer Michael Greyeyes worked with an all-male aboriginal cast to “honour the diversity of the Canadian and Australian Indigenous experience, and shine new light on the sentient nature of our world”. A circle of darkly clothed singers sit around a large drum upstage right. They begin to sing, each beating the drum with one stick. Their voices, like wailing, rise and become very loud. The sound is unreal, magical. Indeed, I am disappointed the singers do not sing more throughout. The soundtrack of percussion, nature sounds and some quite pronounced string sections fall short of the intensity of the singing. Some dances are quite literal, like that of t e young bird in the large nest coming out of its shell. Some are traditional indigenous dances, in spectacular full costume, a cloud of colour and movement to the rich voices of the singers on stage. The traditional dances are most popular; the audience claps after some of them. There is so little emphasis on transitions that I wonder if there was enough rehearsal time. The rhythmic, upbeat sections are compelling. In comparison, some vocabulary in the lyrical sections is lacklustre. When I stop looking for a through line, I begin to appreciate the rhythmic precision of the dancers, the softness of the soles of one dancer’s feet as he quietly circles around the stage, the very different way each interpreter approaches the movement. The piece closes with whispers and a slow fade out. It is only then that the title makes sense.

“Vanishing Point”, EDAM (Vancouver) June 7, 4:00pm, La Nouvelle Scène

With the previous afternoon’s show cancelled, I look at the long line-up trickling into the theatre and I get the feeling we are at a CDF hot spot. Upstage, a white wall with a door at each end; a couple of feet in front of each door, video projectors. On the floor, parallel dark lines run up quarter stage and angle onto the wall to meet at the horizon line, the vanishing point. The lighting designer is set up downstage right, outside the dancing space. After a simultaneous video sequences of Crystal Pite and Peter Bingham each dancing in front of a door, projected on the actual doors, they enter casually and banter. Pite explains, “I think it’s an improv but Peter doesn’t … But if there is choreography, I don’t know what it is!” They agree to start formally, simply in a formal position, and we all jumpstart into this juncture of styles, Pite is liquid and leggy, Bingham soft and strong. The bodies articulately collapse, soften into the floor and melt up again. The improvised dance is punctuated by sparse dialogue, songs in the soundscape and poetic lighting, such as the light pouring in through fictional windows, creating patterns on the floor. There are also set video moments. Pite cleverly plays with the projected and real doors, interacting with her projected self, and Bingham interviews a video of himself during the process (one year, three months give or take a week). What lingers is the last dance to an a cappella folksong. In the dimming lights, Bingham mouths something, gesturing anxiously, while Pite silently tries to agree, to reassure him. After a brief dance of support and hovering around each other, they walk off together into the vanishing point. I am not surprised that two experienced improvisers create a special moment of dance.

Mixed Program #2

June 7, 7:00pm, NAC Theatre

Nova Bhattacharya (Toronto), “Calm Abiding” by José Navas (Montréal), premiere

I have somehow never seen Bhattacharya perform, which I quickly realize is a shame. From the instant the lights rise on the naked white stage, I am drawn in to her strong energy. I feel like I am watching the bharatanatyam module of Navas’ “Portable Dances”: the white floor, the atmospheric lighting by Marc Parent (making the rest of the program lights relatively uninteresting) and Alexander MacSween’s score of the dancer’s voice built into different rhythms. Bhattacharya’s sculptural upper body gestures and focus are alarmingly precise. From beginning to end, Navas’s choreography alternates between slow and fast movement sections. The aesthetic and intention are clear, the dancer sustains the tension, but I admit that I hoped for more of an integration of the contemporary and bharatanatyam vocabularies. 

“Man Within”, Karen Jamieson Dance Company (Vancouver)

As a dancer lumbers slowly on stage with another dancer on her back, I remember a picture of this 1989 piece I had seen long ago. The carried dancer manoeuvers around the body of the supporting dancer. Movements are deliberate and the symbolic vocabulary is interesting despite the odd soundtrack of electronic instruments and a child singing slightly off key. The dancers eventually part and my focus wavers when some classical vocabulary appears. The deliberate manipulations of the beginning return and there is an unusual moment of unease in the audience when the man crouches on the woman’s stomach, a hand at her throat. Inevitably, they come full circle, the man clings to the woman’s back, and she walks on, slowly.

Randy Joynt (Winnipeg), “Edge” by Paul-André Fortier (Montréal)

Joynt appears on the bare stage wearing navy runners, jogging pants and a tank top; he looks ready to lift weights. Alain Thibault’s loud and monotone techno beat flattens, I feel, the nuances in tone the choreography might have. Building on supple arm swings, Joynt gradually works himself from a square of light to the whole stage with Fortier’s vocabulary of articulate hands carving space, classical legs and a quiet torso. The dancing is interspersed with neutral stillness. This is about movement in space, nothing else. 

Natasha Bakht (Ottawa) June 8, 7:00pm, NAC Studio Bakht, a dance artist trained in bharatanatyam, performs her first solo show. The beginning sequences of “Triptych Self” by British choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh are some of the strongest. Bakht enters, executes a brief movement sequence – a gesture, a lunge – and exits immediately. This happens again and I soon miss the breath of these first moments. Vast quantities of movement accumulate, each one seemingly unrelated to the next, regardless of it drawing on bharatanatyam or other shape-oriented dance.

After what seems like a very long pause, Bakht enters via the audience to perform the premiere of Ottawa-based Yvonne Coutts’ “Still”. The stage is framed by a long suspended scroll of paper on one side and a white screen on the other. Bharatanatyam is left behind for a broad vocabulary with deep pliés, hip circles, slithering on the floor and other quirky little gestures. In a dynamic section, Bakht counts to seven over and over, covering the entire space, reaching out, up and down, pulling herself to every end of the stage. In the last section, she counts again, this time to nine, but gets stuck on certain numbers, repeating and retrograding big movements that follow the rhythm of her voice. The work is abstract but elegant.

The evening was interrupted by an excerpt from Philip Szporer and Marlene Millar’s film “Moments in Motion”. The short profile of Bakht is informative but inappropriate. I wonder if I am watching this because the artist needs to rest after two very demanding performances.

Bakht closes with “Obiter Dictum”, her work previously explained in the film excerpt. Playing with bharatanatyam vocabulary, she moves continuously, tracing circles with her arms, her hands and her trajectory in space. I notice a similarity with “Triptych Self” in that I do not grasp the logic between movements. Bakht is beautifully precise and sculptural. The finite quality to her movement becomes a weakness by the end of the program, which is nearly ninety minutes – too long for her to carry on her own.

“Temps de chien”, CDF commission, Sylvain Émard (Montréal) June 8, 8:00pm, NAC Theatre

A man and a woman struggle in an embrace, a light between them splashing shadows on a brushed stainless steel wall that tracks up and down stage. One word to describe Manuel Roque’s dancing: wow. During an opening solo by Laurence Lemieux, I am amazed by her leg extensions and articulation as much as I am by the oil-like splash on the wall behind the solo and then I realize that this is the video, by Effe. Combined with the lights, the music, the wall and a perimeter of sheet metal on the floor, the video creates a charged atmosphere in which the dance evolves, sometimes blurring the edges of Émard’s movement, dense with gesture, turns, leg extensions and flexed feet. After watching many a solo this week, it is a relief to watch six dancers leaping together. I appreciate the craft of the transitions and the rhythm of the work. When I hit my saturation point with big, dynamic dancing, the lights brighten and two women come out, mirroring each other’s soft, sweeping motions. The darkness returns. I am struck by a man dragging himself on one arm, writhing. There is a delicious calm at the end of this torrent of movement, and beautiful images of dance linger.

“Parade”, The Grasshoppa Dance Exchange (Ottawa) June 9, 3:00pm, Elmvale Acres

The Grasshoppas conventionally perform unannounced for unsuspecting audiences. This CDF commission is an exception: they performed five movement scores over five days in five different locations, announced in CDF publicity. Under a menacing sky, I make my way to their last “Hop” in Elmvale Acres neighbourhood. I happen upon a group of brightly costumed dancers and musicians gathering in front of a high school, attracting stares from students and a few cars passing by. When the parade begins, Maureen Shea, a cap of baby blue feathers on her head, yells “QUIET!”, hides under a sheet and sets out on the road. Everyone follows her lead, hiding under different articles of clothing and fabric. They tiptoe conspicuously about, sometimes lying down and resting. After a time, Shea waves her hand above her head and starts to yell and whoop, while everyone, drummers included, join to make a wild party, throwing off make-shift shawls, jumping wildly. Eventually, Shea yells “QUIET!” and it all begins again. Little children climbing a tree soon convince their guardian to follow, at a distance. Numerous neighbours peek through their windows, others stand on the street, hands on hips, watching the parade go by. A few photographers follow the group, crouching here and there to take pictures, making it look like a weird anthropological study. Watching, I feel a kind of freedom that I do not understand until I see two teenage boys passing by, trying not to smile: it is difficult not to be moved by such an accessible display of joy and community. 

“Vortex III and Vortex II”, Van Grimde Corps Secrets (Montréal) June 9 and June 10, 4 :00pm, La nouvelle scène

The space in both performances is similar. A rectangular white stage is surrounded by three rows of risers. In one corner, a music ensemble is on stage. Thom Gossage and Other Voices, a contemporary jazz band, plays for “Vortex III”, while the contemporary music ensemble Le Nouvelle Ensemble Moderne (NEM) performs a score by Gérard Grisey for “Vortex II”. The performances share an improvisational movement score. Choosing from what appears to be an encyclopedia of very dynamic vocabulary, the dancers organize space. A hand twists on a trunk, a head flips, a hand swats around a neck, an arm reaches behind a back, limbs fold in and out in different directions or slice the space, a leg flicks up in a stationary jump. There is an obvious concern for close proximity. This is engaging and risky, given the high speed and force of the movement. The score is so clearly defined that both shows are quite similar. I am exceptionally intrigued when two of the musicians from Thom Gossage and Other Voices walk across the stage playing saxophones, the dancers leaping and lunging around them. The interaction between music and dance is clearer to me, in fact, in “Vortex III”. In “Vortex II”, the Grisey score is quite manic and masks some of the softer nuances of the dance. The NEM plays beautifully but the conductor stands in front of the musicians to lead certain parts of the score and this obstructs the interactive element that gives “Vortex III” part of its magic. I am awed by the physical and mental endurance of the dancers.

The Chimera Project (Toronto) and Rubberbandance Group (Montréal) June 9, 7:30pm, NAC Studio

The great energy of a nearly full house meets these companies, probably brought together under the large, vague umbrella of “urban dance”. “Light Explorations of a Darker Nature” by Malgorzata Nowacka kicks off the show. Dancers are slick, dressed in black, the lighting is white and the stage is smoking. A loud pop/techno beat drums on throughout this twenty-minute piece in which there is much drama but not that much movement. Dancers fail to connect, often literally, walking by each other, chins jutting forward. They walk into lifts, they walk into jumps, they walk to sit, and they walk to create movement around the action, which is often a duet. The athletic lifts are broadcast before they happen, partly because the movement’s momentum is constrained by the even beat of the music. Amid the stage fighting and staring out at the audience, I am vaguely reminded of a dark musical without the singing.

The atmosphere changes completely when Rubberbandance Group begins Victor Quijada’s “sHip sHop Shape Shifting”. Break dancing to hip hop music, Quijada and Anne Plamondon are fish in water. They glide around the stage with soft knees and slightly bent elbows. Their weight shifts like liquid between feet, hands and shoulders. Timing is everything in this dance, as hooks, weaves, balances and spins happen so quickly that a movement is over just when I begin to understand the physics of it. From hip hop, the music changes to Bach, unnecessarily proving the strength of the dance outside of its musical counterpart. Quijada and Plamondon are joined by two other dancers for “Mi Verano”. Set to Vivaldi and Verdi, this is a commentary on classical ballet. The movements highlight the orchestral score. Promenades are executed in oddly contorted shapes, and the men mime hurt backs after performing difficult lifts, some of which recall pair’s figure skating. The crowd leaps to its feet as the lights go down. 

“Unbound”, CDF commission, Wen Wei Dance (Vancouver) 
June 9, 8:30pm, NAC Theatre
 

There is a buzz about this artist, a palpable expectancy in the audience. Classical dancer turned choreographer, Wen Wei Wang presents a work inspired by shoes used by female Chinese Opera artists to make their feet appear bound. These red shoes are part of the work, sometimes displayed and lit on the stage, sometimes worn by the performers. Some sections are decorated by suspended red lanterns, others by light patterns on the floor that evoke Asian woodworked panels. Wang’s neo-classical ballet style is accented by sexual and sexist imagery. Leggy women whip their limbs and upper backs everywhere, sticking out hips and elbows. The men do a lot of lifting. One man-and-woman duet goes beyond this, as the man dances with the woman, not only lifting her but also using her as a support to execute his own movement, and balancing on his hands. Too many sections are thrown together with little craft; the black-out is over-used. More than once, all action stops before the end of the show, leaving the audience in tedious darkness. The music, an eclectic collection of strings, bird song, bells, and other sounds, fades in and out as randomly as the dance. I eventually stop hoping for coherence. 

WRAP-UP 

Approximately half of this festival edition presented works by emerging and mid-career choreographers. This is risky, because while a few of them have clear, strong voices, most are still honing their creative skills. I was disappointed to miss Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s Kudelka Project that I previously saw in Montréal, in January. Aside from the project’s great performers, “Fifteen Hetersexual Duets” is such a tightly woven dance that integrates sound, space and movement flawlessly. And while I encountered great dancers during the festival week, I left feeling that there was a shortage of great dance works. 

Part of this was programming: the mixed programs lacked cohesion and triggered inappropriate comparisons, and some artists’ work was not strong enough to warrant an entire performance. A larger part was the choreographies themselves. Too many transitions were left uncared for, too many works seemed long and there were too many solos. Perhaps this is par for the course in a festival format, and perhaps I sat through too many shows. Judging by some of the bleary-eyed festival audience members, there may have been too many shows. Despite the strange festival publicity, attendance was very good and several shows were sold-out. 

I was touched by the strong commitment of the artists on stage. I was also impressed by the successful integration of video in performances by Stamos, Émard, and Bingham and Pite. Overall, a few strong images resonate: Gillis’ fingers, reaching to touch; the slow blink of a dancer’s eye; a DJ singing U2; a naked dancer running upstage and jumping into a seated lift; two improvisers stumbling forward, arms wrapped around heads; a solo dancer walking slowly into the light beside a stainless steel wall; the leg of dancer whipping past a saxophone player and his instrument. 

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