Running Wild 

By Debbie Blaire

Running Wild

The Holy Body Tattoo  

May 13-22, 2004

“Running Wild” by choreographers Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras was an evening of postmodern angst, featuring short dance performances created by Holy Body Tattoo artistic directors and dancers Dana Gingras and Noam Gagnon for themselves and dancers Day Helesic and Blair Neufeld. The Holy Body Tattoo is internationally known for their multi-media performance work, yet these performances were shorn of props. Music selections, basic white lighting and dry ice swirling discretely were the only physical additions to their exploration of fragility, surrender and broken elegance. This was an evening of dance.

Noam Gagnon’s “Gone (remembering where you came from)” was the most satisfying and moving piece. The innate sparrow-like quickness of Gagnon’s physical movements is highlighted in this stark piquant solo. The stage is dark and unadorned, with only one light and a suggestion of smoke lingering close to the ground. Gagnon plays upon this visual representation of alienation. At the start of the piece he stands, tiny and still, just this side of the black curtains hanging against the back walls. Gagnon is a slight man, all muscle and bone on a small frame. Barefoot and bare-chested, he wears only a pair of low-slung, torn blue jeans. He looks very vulnerable. Is he a waif, standing on the fringes of society looking towards us? Is he one of the half-human, otherworldly creatures that Canadian mythic writer Charles De Lint places in his urban landscapes to represent humanities devoid of hope? 

The majority of Gagnon’s dance occurs in intimate, small trembling movements of his body, both syncopated and independent of the grinding soundscape by Jeff Corness. The beauty of these jerky trembling movements is emphasized by the occasional languid lifting of his left arm with the hand held loosely out towards the audience, poetically undulating like the gentle swelling of the ocean. His hand looks the way the soft quality of a spring breeze would feel kissing your neck. The beauty of the outstretched hand against the jerking body creates an image of fragility and desire. Gagnon sweats quickly and heavily on stage. In this piece it adds to the poetry of the dance. When he drops to the floor and spins around, the sweat marks left swirled on the floor are traces of the anguished moment.

The elements of darkness, harshness and loneliness, contrasted by a mechanical grinding dominance and touched with almost forgotten gentler emotions, are also predominant in the duets by Day Helesic and Blair Neufeld and the solo by Dana Gingras. I found that these pieces were built with broader and more traditional Holy Body Tattoo strokes, and were less emotionally sublime.

Gingras’ solo “Crave” uses the lighting to great theatrical effect. The lights are brought out, set up, turned on and coldly pointed toward her near the beginning of the piece. Then, near the end, all the lights but one are mechanically turned off, leaving her alone and crumbled on the floor. It was a highly dramatic and effective touch to an otherwise banal performance.

The duet “Running Wild” danced by Gagnon and Gingras, has an opium-like surreal quality with the performers staggering, clinging and rolling together in a dream-like manner on the dimly light stage. The only colour is Gingras’ full, dark wine-red skirt. Both performers are otherwise wearing black, which contrasts highly with their pale complexions. I was reminded of the melodramatic elements in Anne Rice’s gothic style novels, The Vampire Series. The Vampire novels are lush and opulent, with pale vampire characters interacting with each other and humans in underlying currents of violence, decadence, disinterest, boredom and need. “Running Wild” is a lush, purple, tropical personification of those feelings. 

There is an unexpected and interesting dichotomy in the dance. “Running Wild” is most powerful when seen from the main floor, yet the balcony allowed for a wonderful view of certain unusual elements in the dance. One was the powerful beginning, with Gagnon lying on his back holding Gingras horizontally in the air in a still tableau of her running. Near the end of the dance, Gingras again embodies this motif of frozen running while Gagnon twirls her above his head. These frozen pictures of speed are very noticeable and powerful from the balcony.

From the balcony I could also see the resemblance between the positioning of Gingras’ body and the publicity photos for the program. In the media materials, the pictures of Gingras and Gagnon running together hint at a sense of danger and violence. On stage, these running motifs have elements of real physical danger. Gingras depends entirely on Gagnon’s ability to hold her. The final tableau of the two dancers – sitting still on the ground, nestled but slightly adjacent, together but not together, each with one leg simulating running – was a thoughtful and ambiguous moment and, again perhaps, more noticeable from the balcony. Why would they be running sitting up?

“Running Wild” is an unusual dance with strange hints of danger, isolation, trust, disinterest, and syncopated movement crippled by unusual tilts and presented with a drugged surreal quality. The evening’s program was quite uneven with great strengths and weaknesses. I look forward to seeing which of the many emotions and ideas that were suggested in this evening’s performance will be continued in the full-length work “monumental”, premiering in 2005. 

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