The One and the Many

By Mary Theresa Kelly
  • Josh Martin in Vital Few by Lisa Gelley and Martin for 605 Collective
  • 605 Collective in Vital Few by Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley
  • 605 Collective in Vital Few by Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley

Vancouver International Dance Festival

March 19-21, 2015

Vital Few, excerpts from a work-in-progress, is choreographed and performed by 605 Collective artists Josh Martin and Lisa Gelley, in collaboration with four other performers: Hayden Fong, Jane Osborne, Odile-Amélie Peters and Jessica Wilkie. The full-length work is scheduled to premiere next year, forcing dance lovers to wait to see how the work evolves.

The movement vocabulary and creativity 605 embodies is like an emergent species, retaining vestiges of past form and function, but whose DNA and nervous system has mutated into a novel form of expression, demanding new language and nomenclature. From the instant the six performers entered the space, lining up vertically at stage left, there was a quality of deep attunement in their presence. They focused intently on their own tasks and movement pathways, while maintaining acute awareness of the others’. From the outset, as a viewer, I was riveted, feeling the individuality of each performer, their connection to the group, and a smoothness in the transitions in and out of unison or ensemble phrases.

The dancers move at mid-level much of the time, performing rhythmic isolations and short phrases that shimmer from their bodies, like pulses of light emitting from an empty sky. There is a reliance on constant weight shifts, transfers of weight from one side of the body to the other, sometimes small and on the spot, sometimes large and initiating movement through space. These weight shifts enhance the underlying sense of pulsation. At one point early in the work, the performers execute independent phrases, but their spacing and rhythmic resonance speak to interdependence, like one giant breath cycle, the emphasis falling on the pause between the inhalation and exhalation. For me, the company became a giant heart system, dispassionately pumping blood, oxygenating the entire body, perfectly timed, without yearning for anything more. At another point, I feel I am witnessing a complex, holistic system of parts working independently, but in nested unison, as though everyone is a star with an interconnected function in the galaxy.

There is a wonderful section when Martin and Wilkie stand downstage centre with their backs to the audience performing a series of phrases together. They are almost androgynous in character, the isolations and patterning too fast for me to recall, but I remember I wanted this duet to last longer and develop into more.

The style of 605 is described as a hybrid of urban street and contemporary dance, however, both styles are highly diverse. In this work, there is very little rounded “feminine” movement (for instance, the arms are never curved), but neither is the movement totally angular: it is precise, intense and the hip hop technique gives it a certain liquidity. The contemporary foundations encourage travelling through space in varied ways. At the same time, familiar aspects of contemporary dance are vanquished: the rise onto demi-pointe is gone, as are extensions of fully elongated limbs. For a brief instant, in the opening section of the work, Wilkie tilts off-centre, one leg extended in parallel second, and the body, unexpectedly elongated in space, assumes ever more impact. There are no gravity-defying lifts, catapulting bodies through space, or splashy solos – this would be incongruent with the artistic attitude of this work. But there is nonstop dancing from six performers who make intelligent and athletic choices, dropping into the floor an infinite number of times and falling swiftly into full body rolls.

The performers find creative ways to play with the notion of interdependence versus individuality. Five dancers cluster, determined to push, (or is it support?), the lone sixth performer who leans back into the group’s stronghold. Osborne goes first, her hips pushed forward, body arced backwards, resisting the emptiness in front. As performers take turns being thrust forward, they inhabit different responses to the power of the group. A beautiful moment happens when Gelley threads her way inside the protection of the tight-knit group and following a flash blackout, is lifted into a bright spotlight. Her inquisitive and open expression captures the notion of emergence into something new until the group energy pulls her back into its thrall.

The movement foregrounds and contrasts against the music, never giving in to the seduction of the external rhythm. I enjoyed this choice and found it more interesting than marrying or matching up the movement and music scores. Most of the work is accompanied by electronic music with driving, rhythmic loops, almost tinny or cold in dynamic. It works by freeing our attention to stay fixed on the dance. A transition into the final section is signalled by piano notes, and we are gifted with the rich, booming voice of Italian opera tenor Enrico Caruso and the intimate sounds of a scratchy vinyl record from the 1920s. The romantic lament demands luscious movement and the performers indulge with lyrical, sweeping turns and wide, second position plié turns. Wilkie breaks away from the group, swirling her tall body in quicksilver pencil turns horizontally across center stage, her arms, for a second, almost curved and upright, but the image is fleeting, as though impulses from an extinct species surface for just an instant. 

This may be work-in-progress, but Martin and Gelley have achieved a gorgeous portrayal of collaborative interdependence, a unique and evolved movement score that, for me, also stands as a mature commentary on the fast-changing social arrangements of life in the twenty-first century. ~



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