Watching is Not Seeing

Rebecca Margolick and Andrea Peña & Artists By Lucy Fandel
  • Rebecca Margolick and Austin Tyson in Margolick's birds sing a pretty song / Photo by Maxx Berkowitz
  • François Richard in Peña's Untitled I / Photo by Bobby Leon

September 13, 2018 at Place des Arts, Montréal

This is one of three reviews of Festival Quartiers Danses, which animates Montréal annually with performances and events in theatres and public spaces and took place this year from September 5 to 15, 2018.


A video projection of swaying torsos opens New York-based choreographer Rebecca Margolick’s birds sing a pretty song. Belonging to Austin Tyson and Margolick the torsos slowly turn and cross in front of one another, arms loosely wrapped around themselves. At opposite diagonals onstage, Margolick and Tyson stand and sway in person, creating a tensile connection that is sustained throughout the work. What follows is a duet in which each touch and fall and which seems to raise the stakes without defining them. Layers of intensity and reactivity are added without becoming sentimental. A constant drone fills the air, along with a soft haze of smoke. Sometimes synchronized and other times whirling past one another, Margolick and Tyson’s movements are in constant dialogue, sustained by the live electroacoustic performance of Maxx Berkowitz.

When the projections return, this time in black and white, they create a hypnotic pause from the action. Then the dancers are back, this time with a rock duet in the form of a social dance, pushed and pulled by invisible forces and one another’s momentum. Such shifts from projections to physical dynamism and back fragment the arc of the piece, activating a sense of alertness. At one point, Tyson crouches at the front of the stage and speaks into a hidden camera feed, his face transformed into shimmering red and yellow lines projected on the back screen. “You’ve been watching me,” he says, his voice distorted and resonating deeply. “You’ve been watching yourself, falling in love with hundreds of eyes.” It feels like he is accusing both the audience and himself of monitoring this strange reality. Everything seems to vibrate in this hyper-stimulated universe, including the performers who fly through it, dispassionate but tirelessly reactive.

Where birds sing a pretty song bursts outward, Andréa Peña and Artists’ Untitled I plunges inward. Untitled I is a stark study of the transformations of a single moving body, framed by a stripped-down stage, stark lighting and the unwavering presence of Peña’s collaborator and dancer François Richard. Richard, who received the Quartiers Danses Performance Award for his interpretation, begins the piece by removing his clothes until he is nearly naked, as unadorned as the stage on which he stands. Free of urgency, he begins to repeat and gradually evolve one movement, deeply intentional but without a sharp beginning or end. His task defines itself through its iterations. Then, Richard uneventfully stops and begins different movement, letting another transformation to take place. Every cycle of repetitions reveals the mechanics of the movement as it is progressively redefined.

Peña’s choreography leaves space to arrive at the full expression of each proposition, sometimes staying a step longer than expected. I felt my focus narrow with each cycle, becoming restless and stretched, until it broke through to a new way of seeing, buoyed by subtleties in the relationship between the space, the body and the time unfolding. What might begin as a simple arc of the knee becomes all about the distinct rhythm of the sole of the foot hitting the floor. The repetition is relentless, but never robotic. Richard’s humanity and intentionality clears a space for the audience to do more than watch. They are asked to look closely, to see and to imagine the feeling and future of each movement.


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