Provocative Impressions

Skeels Danse’s Rose of Jericho By Philip Szporer
  • Alisia Pobega and Brett Andrew Taylor / Photo by Damian Siqueiros

Cinquième Salle, Place des Arts, Montréal, October 10-14

Next-generation choreographer Andrew Skeels’ provocatively impressionistic dance Rose of Jericho successfully reshapes ideas about dance and current realities in our midst. For some, the decision to tackle the world’s ills may seem like a dated pursuit. But stories and images of intrepid individuals forging lives in new lands, migrating from places of terror, are imperative in this time of debilitating degradation, when many populations struggle to maintain cultural and environmental sustainability. Skeels’ commitment to a creative expression of these crises, and the global reach of these destructive policies and events, reads as urgent and timely.

It’s noteworthy that Skeels’ abilities are not locked into one style of movement: the ex-Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal dancer has roots in ballet, jazz, kempō karate, as well as a fascination with street dance styles such as electro dance. With his production team, he merges the sensibilities of varying cultural perspectives, placing emphasis on the collision that occurs through imbalance and the encounter with violence and hatred. By cultivating scores of intricate geometric patterning throughout the piece, Skeels engages in a fusion of aural and design components. The collaborative team of Sussan Deyhim (who once danced with Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century) and Richard Horowitz’s ambient music compositions layers the work, with Deyhim’s rich, textured vocals, suggesting recollection and the passing of time.

Skeels conceives of his subject in metamorphic terms, building choreographic structures that emphasize breaking points in the body – arms that fan out, torsos that sway and bend, legs that crumple, then bound back. The theme of the ebb and flow of migration and loss is ever-present, from the opening images of figures caught in the maelstrom of uncharted territory, to the work’s concluding image of connection and union. Rose of Jericho is an eloquent paean to migration and the changing memory of the landscape. Set designer Sunny Doyle utilizes symbolic soft piles of sand-coloured fabric as reminders of lives dispersed and thrown together, as well as a nod to the sand dunes in which the fiercely resilient rose of Jericho plant thrives, cast about across the ranges of a desert’s expanse. Wilber Tellez’s costumes and Rasmus Sylvest’s lights use variations on the same warm palette.

Above all else, Skeels has mastered the dynamics of fluid partnering and group engagement. With his seven dancers (Alexandre Carlos, Etienne Gagnon-Delorme, Jessie Lhôte, Alisia Pobega, Odile-Amélie Peters, Lila-Mae Talbot, Brett Andrew Taylor), he successfully explores sinuous circling actions, displaying the richness of his dance background and research. He takes an additive approach to building sequences, incorporating flexibility, economy of movement, rapid counterattack and the blending energy principles, plus flow and communal connection. The highly coordinated multiplying arm and hand movements employ an almost cinematic form of superimposed delayed actions. Subtler dramatic heft is needed for theatricalized sections in which the dancers shriek or run into clusters.  

Rose of Jericho stands as a resonant and powerful metaphor for the relentless urgency of our collective call for action. In this new work, Skeels’ stated desire to explore “the struggle for survival” evokes the potential of transformation that humans possess through memory, instinct and expression.

Find the inital review of this work here

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