When Bygones Won’t Let Go

The newest work from Out Innerspace Dance Theatre By Kate Morris
  • Tiffany Tregarthen and Renée Sigouin in Out Innerspace Dance Theatre's Bygones / Photo by Alistair Maitland
  • David Harvey in Out Innerspace Dance Theatre's Bygones / Photo by David Raymond

November 27-30 at Agora de la Danse, Montréal

To “let bygones be bygones” means to let go of negative elements of the past and get on with things. In its simple directive, “let,” the saying elides the difficulty of doing so, as if the conscious will were what clung to the bygone. As if we need only to be reminded to let go. The saying assumes that any given bygone actually wants to be dislodged or dismissed. But Out Innerspace’s Bygones invites us to consider how negative experiences persist in the present and the ways we might cling to them, even at our own expense.

A past that clings and coheres in the present is announced early, in one of the opening scenes, using tactile, everyday household objects (a book, clothing, a teacup, a table, a chair) that both stick to and flee Tiffany Tregarthen’s body. Even as these objects are propelled to flutter away by some force beyond sight (by clever prop design and performers dressed in black), they clamour back, unable to be set free. The teacup crumbles apart and then gathers itself up into its former shape and sticks to a hand; clothing peels away from the body and then battens down.

As the objects animate this teasing interplay between release and return, Bygones demonstrates the extent to which the body is caught in the mix of attachment – thrown off-kilter, surprised by and obliged to respond to these things, their movements and propulsions, their weightiness and levity, their nonsense and their complexity. This idea of the body as caught in a web of will and self-abeyance becomes most obvious when bodies, revealed with light from above, appear as if in an underwater ballet, moving slowly and smoothly. The body here is both weightless and heavy, submerged in a viscous substance and suspended in mid-air yet unable to escape without risk of either drowning or falling and possibly both.

At various times, the choreography draws outward and gives form to this battle raging inside (Out Innerspace, indeed!). In David Harvey’s interpretation, movement originates somewhere deep in the body and is merely flung outward. His movement appears to lack intentionality (though this is part of it of course) and doesn’t usually arrive at anything resembling natural movement. Harvey’s wrist rises from the ground only to be felled by the weight of the fingertips as they careen back towards the floor with a knuckle-jamming thud, pulling along with them the hand, the wrist, then the arm and even the shoulder. All goes back down with dead weight and a resistance to anything but the inert. The mic’d floor is particularly effective in conveying the heaviness of the body as if, which each thud, it asks “Why even try to move, let alone move on?” Each movement, however slight, risks bringing the whole thing down. But Harvey does try, and the incredible effort of his body to move, to reclaim momentum from an elemental crawl, chasing transformation despite the desire to remain passive, inactive and unchanged is stunning and beautiful and terribly sad.

In a different way, Renée Sigouin also shows this dilemma. When she first appears onstage, the choreography and costuming, in contrast to Harvey, suggests fluid movement, using a lot of spinning, rotating actions that move quickly, roving over the stage. But on closer inspection, the spins also stammer along, halting and turning abruptly back on themselves. Unable to move through and beyond, she spins her wheels frantically but to no end.

But repetition is not hermetic. Even as the phrase repeated over the PA, “Yes, I believe we are about to begin,” tries to place us at the beginning of a process, each repetition fails to locate the beginning and so grants some distance and some traction to what has already been going on. The promise of transfiguration (the transformation of something into a more beautiful or elevated thing) is there throughout. James Proudfoot’s lighting design reinforces the idea that these transformations will be brief compared to the ongoingness of what must be overcome. A body part passes into a ray of light, stays for a moment then gets sucked back into the darkness from which it was borne or is pushed right through into darkness on the other side.

Although hugely effective at first, the overreliance on this lighting technique meant that at times the choreography literally got lost in shadow. Maybe that’s part of it, that everything gets lost in the muck and mire. At any rate, transformation is a fleeting state; when the head or heart are ready, the body can lag far behind, resisting momentum, like an anchor. Or vice versa. Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders came to mind during a poignant scene given entirely to Sigouin who pushes a chair slowly across and around the stage, mic’d to pick up the sounds of the chair sputtering along and resisting the simultaneous downward and forward forces that play upon it. Recovery doesn’t always look like yoga and salad, sunlight and haircuts; sometimes it is absolutely excruciating, and it is so for a very long time. An astonishing part of the movement vocabulary throughout was its reliance on a sickled foot, so that even while the dancer would step with some intention, the ankle would lead and the foot would merely trail behind, heavy with neuropathy. It looked like a movement that hesitates and is unsure of itself. The dancer in me found it cringy, almost nauseating.

In various duets throughout, we are given a sense of how communities come together to support and mitigate a negative event. We also see how these events are shared and embodied. When one dancer cannot go forward, another breaks down the movement task into its component parts and moves each part of the body along piecemeal, merely keeping things going. But it is enough; it moves. And finally, the culminating image of the piece is that of care provided by a community, bringing the necessities of life, while the body endures until the bygone is actually gone.

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