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Review

Vancouver International Dance Festival 2005

By Kaija Pepper
  • Wen Wei Wang in his own work "One Man's..." / Photo by Chris Randle 
  • Bergsma in "Fear's Physique" by Gail Lotenberg / Photo by Chris Randle 
  • Maureen Fleming in her own work "Axis Mundi" / Photo by Chris Randle 
  • Barbara Bourget in her own work "Skin/À fleur de peau" / Photo by Chris Randle 

Vancouver International Dance Festival

Vancouver International Dance Festival

March 8-26, 2005 

“Tutaj Tam/Here to There”

Kokoro Dance (Vancouver) and Silesian Dance Theatre (Poland), March 8-12

This collaborative evening, comprised of a three-part work, started off promisingly. Kokoro Dance’s co-artistic director, Jay Hirabayashi, began “Tutaj Tam/Here to There” with four, modern-dance-flavoured, waltzing couples. Later, the dancers exchanged smiles, and swayed dreamily, with an appealing warmth quite different from Hirabayashi’s usual butoh abstraction.

Silesian Dance Theatre’s artistic director, Jacek Luminski, was next. There was the same dramatic tension we saw last year when the Polish artist brought “Thoughts That Got Ruffled Much”, the same loaded encounters between individuals. His dancers look like men and women with stories to tell, whether he’s drawing from the pool of seven Polish or five Canadian dancers involved in this co-production.

Then it was Barbara Bourget’s turn to play – and boy, was Kokoro’s other co-artistic director determined to send everyone home crying. Inexplicably, the five guitarists and one drummer Bourget brought on stage became the centrepiece of her section, dominating through sheer decibels alone. The earplugs we were offered at the door inadequately blocked the band’s aggressive, industrial wash.

Also inexplicably, Bourget’s choreography – often looking like a kind of demonic funky chicken – used only the eight women. Why did the men disappear? On opening night, towards the end, the young dancers looked tired and were not fulfilling the energetic movement. I felt sorry for them, and for their eardrums.

“Tutaj Tam”, which has had four weeks of rehearsal to date, is slated for development in Poland this summer. It was disappointing to have what is very much a work-in-progress as a festival opener but, overall, houses for the six performances were good. 

“Vanishing Point”

Peter Bingham and Crystal Pite (Vancouver), March 9-12

Two Vancouver-based artists, master improviser Peter Bingham and dancer/choreographer Crystal Pite, (this year’s $60,000 Alcan Award winner for choreography) joined forces for a tightly structured, hour-long improvisation. This VIDF satellite event took place at the intimate EDAM studio theatre.

A stylish set was designed to give the pair well-prepared, interactive situations. On the white, back wall, four black lines converged to form a double triangle. The doors on each side of the wall opened to reveal two separate spaces: Bingham’s, with shirts hanging on a rack and a guitar, and Pite’s, filled with a large painting of a narrow, European street. From within their spaces, they carried on a playful dialogue. When the doors were closed, they functioned as a screen for projected video, which either gave the performers a break or provided images with which they could interact. Flattened against the wall, or on the floor space illuminated by lighting designer Jonathan Ryder, they danced.

Bingham flowed and spun with his signature, relaxed elegance, while Pite moved with her usual waves of broken, abrupt grace. Both are a pleasure to watch, although Pite was surprisingly cautious during the pure dance duets. She seemed happier in a busy, comic duet with her videotaped image, when she was occupied with timing and had much interaction with a prop. On Thursday, the night I attended, it was only at the very end, to a sad folk song, that the delicate, intense Pite fully opened to her partner, with whom she moved in close conjunction. It made those final moments, as they walked upstage, leaning closely towards each other, quite poignant. 

“One Man’s…”

Wen Wei Wang (Vancouver), March 15-16

Wen Wei Wang’s dance is always about two cultures – a fusion of East and West is in his movement vocabulary, sets, costume design and choice of music. In this new, hour-long solo, he makes his Chinese roots the subject matter, too. Yet, aside from the one childhood memory he shares about a pet chicken he had as a six-year-old, we don’t learn very much more than we do through his previous, more abstract works.

Wang is an elegant dancer with lively arms and hands that make his movement bright and alert. He is a little too serious in the present work, perhaps, with his focus often down. For the most part, the choreography itself is grounded, although there are a few leaps at the beginning, reminding us of the ballet training and career Wang had in both China and Canada before founding his own contemporary company. A grounded, wide stance gives him the base he needs for his quick swoops to the floor, and it allows him to stabilize his thrusting arms. In such a long solo, however, some airborne leaps and maybe even a turn or two would add texture.

To help the cross-cultural story along, Wang uses video by D-Anne Kuby Trépanier. The projections mostly shows Wang in his Canadian home going to bed and then getting up, with his face blackened and almost hidden through some kind of negative-image special effect, along with footage of people and places in China. Coincidentally, like Peter Bingham and Crystal Pite, Wang interacts with his projected image, in his case speaking briefly.

A final mention should be made of Giorgio Magnanensi’s varied, apt score. Beautifully, it tinkles and rattles, roars and buzzes, interspersed with bits of choral voices and strummed guitar. 

“Eye”

By Yoshito Ohno (Japan) for Lucie Grégoire (Montréal) March 17-18

You have to watch Lucie Grégoire closely in “Eye” (2004). The movement is intimate, mysterious, coming from a place deep inside. Grégoire is no athlete of God, but something more familiar – a human being filled with memories, aspirations and emotions.

Yoshito Ohno, son of the butoh master Kazuo Ohno, has choreographed a series of startling vignettes for Grégoire, who he costumes in a man’s dark suit. Typical of butoh, there are many excruciatingly slow, repetitive sections. While I loved the surreal image created by the small child’s chair strapped to Grégoire’s back, as she stood there for such a long time, my mind wandered.

At other times, when the performer faced us with her large, expressive eyes, I felt the greatness of this piece. Her dance to the music of Franz Liszt, for instance, is superb. Here, she moves like a strange amalgamation of Charlie Chaplin and Isadora Duncan, filled with awkwardness and hesitation, grace and flow. Throughout the piece, the music is important in setting a mood, although she seems to only partly attend to it, lost in her own world. Besides classical music, there are the electro-acoustic rumbles of Canadian composer Robert Normandeau and the romantic songs of Edith Piaf.

Despite often feeling that things needed to move on, I was surprised when the piece ended. “Where has she gone?” I wondered. Fifty-five minutes had passed, and I was sorry “Eye” was over. 

“Fear’s Physique” 

Gail Lotenburg (LINK Dance, Yukon), March 19-20

I love watching animals; even my own familiar schnoodle captures my attention with his mysterious doggy ways. But I can’t say I was overly stimulated watching four modern dancers impersonate animals for forty-five minutes in Gail Lotenburg’s “Fear’s Physique” (2004), which was inspired by her encounter with a caribou in the mountains of central Yukon.

Kevin Bergsma, Caroline Farquhar, Amber Funk Barton and Shannon Moreno were costumed in short black pants and tops, the one male bare-chested, with black caps clamped over the tops of their heads. The dancers cavort, sleep, attack and defend, seemingly over and over again, the subtleties of seal and caribou behaviour blurring into a wash of repetitive movement.

Eventually, the stage business with three, and then four, long white curtains began to interest me more. They are repeatedly raised and lowered by a trio of dark-clad stagehands, barely visible in their eyrie, patiently attending to their task. 

“Axis Mundi”

Maureen Fleming (New York), March 22-23

This is a beautifully presented meditation on the human body, gorgeously lit, with huge, engrossing film and photographic images projected on an upstage screen. At the centre of “Axis Mundi” is choreographer and performer Maureen Fleming, who most often moves like a slow, natural process – a flower unfolding or landscape shifting.

The work begins with a streak of silver-blue, just visible upstage centre, which is gradually revealed by the lights to be a slender woman seemingly balanced on one toe, her body a long ribbon of curves. The blue light gives her naked flesh an iridescent sheen, like the inside of a seashell. Fleming holds her pose, and then arches back until the ribbon becomes a circle. All this is set to a gentle Philip Glass score.

Between sections, Christopher Odo’s light and visual design utilised slide projections of seemingly abstract photographs that are, in fact, multiple, superimposed images of Fleming by Lois Greenfield. The video by Jeff Bush – projected to a solemn, mystical score by Henrik Gorecki – shows a slow-moving Fleming, with her mouth open, hands wide, torso bent and twisted, looking like a fabulous underwater, or outer space, creature.

In the final section, Loie Fuller’s light and fabric displays came to mind. Fleming, swathed in folds of white, runs and twirls, playing with extravagant lengths of fabric that swirl about her body, transforming her into a lily. Here, as throughout the work’s curving, feminine poses and movement, there is an organic art nouveau decorativeness that blends surprisingly well with the more austere and yet also organic butoh, with which Fleming is most often associated. 

“Social Studies”

Susan Elliott, Ziyian Kwan and John Ottmann (Quorum, Vancouver), March 24-26

What is most interesting about this mixed bill, a Vancouver premiere, is the different view it gives of three well-established local dancers, who are showcased in work by four Montréal choreographers. Susan Elliott, in Dominique Porte’s “From Zero”, has the most technically challenging piece and she devours it, investing every part of her body with its own forceful expression. I was somewhat perplexed by the nudity, with Elliott’s clothes continually coming off and on, and pondered how much of a cliché nude modern dancers have become. But Elliott’s passionately intelligent and highly skilled performance deserves international attention.

John Ottmann followed in Paul-André Fortier’s “Chute Libre/Free Fall”. A sweatshirt-clad Ottmann contrasts a masculine, natural body language with the spins and leaps of a trained ballet dancer in an accessible piece set to increasingly loud and fast rave music by Alain Thibault. I like the way “Chute Libre” is simply what it is – about the effort of lungs and heart and muscles, about the beauty of an arabesque tossed off with appealing nonchalance. Occasionally, Ottmann’s focus is unclear, which muddies the dramatic development.

Ziyian Kwan’s “In Vein” is by David Pressault, a choreographer we have seen her work with before. Exotically and minimally costumed in tubing and bits of flesh-coloured material, Kwan contorts and cavorts like a Barbie doll. I confess to finding the woman-as-living-doll (or cyborg or mannequin) metaphor just too retrogressive to endure.

Benoît Lachambre’s closing trio, “Full Body Empty Space” was disappointing. The three dancers fool around with such tedious high jinks as Elliott talking into the hood of a coat, and Ottmann in a parka and hood telling a long tale about removing wine stains from his carpet, delivered in a dull monotone. The ending, when the dancers use hand signals to request that a spotlight be directed to individual members of the audience and then offer a brief physical response, saved the piece. Suddenly, there was full involvement by them and us, and the energy level perked up. 

“Skin/À fleur de peau” 

Barbara Bourget (Vancouver), March 24-26

The same night as Quorum, with only ten minutes in between, Barbara Bourget premiered her hour-long solo, “Skin/À fleur de peau”. Bravo to Bourget for her bold presentation of a sexual, powerful, middle-aged crone. In classic butoh style – bald, white-painted, wearing only a fundoshi around her groin – Bourget boogied like a teenager one minute and hunched over like an old woman the next. Her angry indignation at the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as she thrusts her no-longer-firm breasts towards the audience and runs her fingers slowly over a long scar, was wicked!

Collaborator Lyse Lemieux provided the set, an installation of rust and flesh-coloured latex dresses mounted in the exhibition hall, where the solo took place. Marguerite Witvoet composed the smart and stylish score, featuring the poetry of Québec writer Anne Hébert. I would love to hear it again.

And with that, the fifth Vancouver International Dance Festival was over. A final mention must go to the exhibition hall shows which took place before most evening performances. These included audience-rousing displays of belly dancing, tap and flamenco. For this viewer, the highlight of these free shows was Desirée Dunbar as a beautiful, fierce witch in Judith Garay’s 2004 modern dance solo, “Ice”. 

By Kaija Pepper

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