Friday, July 18, 2014

The Orpheus Project

It makes sense that Orpheus, who with lyre is said to have been able to charm all living things (with the notable exception of the Maenads, which would be his undoing), should be such an inspiration to musicians. However, his story is so gripping--losing his wife, Eurydice, twice; eschewing women for men following this; angering those Maenads as a result--that he has also inspired countless other artists working across a range of disciplines, including those with a queer sensibility, like Rainer Maria Rilke and Jean Cocteau.

Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus and Cocteau's film Orphée are two of the main sources of inspiration for Music on Main's The Orpheus Project, an ambitious immersive musical and theatrical experience conceived by Artistic Director David Pay and on through this Sunday at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Divided into four colour-coded groups, audience members are lead throughout the Cultch complex, including its two main performance spaces, the Historic Theatre and the Culture Lab, but also its underused wine bar, a downstairs dressing room, and various nooks and alcoves. There we encounter nine musical "installations" (ten counting the spoken word oracles offered up by Colin Browne and Jocelyn Morlock) arranged around various aspects of the Orpheus myth, and as derived from different source texts. That seven of these installations are original compositions--by James Maxwell (x 2), Jocelyn Morlock, Cassandra Miller, Barry Truax, Veda Hille, and Alfredo Santa Ana--commissioned especially for this work is just one of the most thrilling aspects of the evening. Another is how seamlessly those compositions' different styles--from the wistful wind and harpsichord lyricism of Maxwell to the electroacoustic sounds of Truax and the cabaret songs of Hille--go together.

Of course, credit for this must also go to the wonderful ensemble assembled by Pay for this project, who come together at the close of the evening, with all the groups now assembled in the Historic Theatre, to perform Music on Main Managing Director Santa Ana's "For Pity Divine." This gorgeous concluding piece brings all of the different musical and thematic threads of the evening together. A splendid finish to a magical evening.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Edge 2 at DOTE

Richard and I ended our 2014 Dancing on the Edge Festival by taking in the final Edge 2 mixed program. Not only were we looking forward to each of the pieces, we were grateful to escape the heat.

First up was Natalie, a solo (of sorts) for plastic orchid factory's Natalie Lefebvre Gnam that serves as a companion piece to the company's earlier James, about husband James Gnam's relationship with The Nutcracker (and about which I have previously blogged here). As Lefevbre Gnam explains via a series of oversized title cards at the top of the piece, in a conceit reminiscent of the famous black and white video of Bob Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, both works were born out of the detritus of what was to have been a duet choreographed for the couple by Lee Su-Feh. However, when Natalie sustained a knee injury just two weeks prior to the premiere, the work went ahead as the aforementioned solo for James. The plan was then to create a companion piece for Natalie, also choreographed by Lee; however, after a series of delays, Lee eventually dropped out, and the work on the program is now the result of a creative collaboration between husband and wife and brothers Jacques and Gilles Poulin-Denis.

Like James, Natalie adopts a discourse of theatrical representation reminiscent of what we find in the work of Jérôme Bel (especially his [auto]biographical dancer portraits) in order to expose the institutional frames of dance and the dancing life. Also as in James (not to mention Bel's Véronique Doisneau), one of those frames is classical ballet, with the music from Adolphe Adam's Giselle swelling at various moments throughout the piece as, for example, Lefebvre Gnam rounds her arms into first position and demonstrates with her hands and fingers an expert arrondi. Mostly, however, the piece is concerned with the funding institutions that govern--and put limits on--the creativity of contemporary dance artists. A digitally manipulated voiceover loop of emails to Lefebvre Gnam from various government agencies detailing their application, disbursement, and reporting requirements plays throughout the piece, accounting (in more ways than one) for both its form and content. To this end, a series of hula hoops are employed in increasingly clever and comic ways throughout the piece, with Lefebvre Gnam not just jumping through them, but also playing games of hopscotch and pick-up with them, encircling her body with ring after ring in a telling visual metaphor for everything else she is balancing in her life in addition to her creative practice (husband James and son Finn figure at key moments). By the end of the piece, however, Lefebvre Gnam is able to turn this plastic bureaucratic enclosure into something aesthetically beautiful and potentially liberating, the hoops eventually arranged along her arms and back in such a manner as to suggest the fairy wings of Giselle or, even more powerfully, the entire celestial sphere that the Titan Atlas holds up with his shoulders. On such a tiny frame as Lefebre Gnam's, the latter image speaks volumes about how much artists can achieve with so little.

The second piece on the program was Starr Muranko's Spine of the Mother, a solo excerpt from a larger work-in-progress by Starrwind Dance Projects involving Indigenous dance artists in Canada and Peru. The gorgeous and charismatic dancer Tasha Faye Evans begins downstage left, her back to us, and with her right arm stretched out to the wings. No music plays, but we hear a clicking sound, and eventually it is revealed that she holds some talismanic stones in her hand. A source of energy, the stones unleash in Evans a torrent of movement, including an opening series of spiraling turns that I could have watched go on forever. Eventually two of the stones get placed at different points on the stage; a third is offered, at the close of the piece, to an audience member, a gift that via Evans' powerful kinesthetic connection with her audience we are all able to share.

Finally, the evening closed with Ziyian Kwan and dumb instrument Dance's a slow awkward, a duet created in collaboration with James Gnam (who has certainly been busy this DOTE Festival). The piece begins with Gnam entering upstage left, dressed in overalls and carrying an old blue suitcase. He walks towards the centre of the stage on tip toe. There he is met by Kwan, who has emerged from the wings upstage right, also in overalls, but on her knees pushing a bright orange suitcase and, crucially, wearing red high heels. For, among other things, the work is an exploration of gender, one that in the context of danced movement recalls the famous maxim about Ginger Rogers--that she did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.

Not that a slow awkward is so binaristic. When their respective suitcases eventually touch, the contact unleashes in Gnam and Kwan a tsunami of highly physical movement, with each picking up the other on their backs, or rolling about the floor in a style reminiscent of contact improv, or miming the fight and martial arts choreography of action films (there's even a High Noon-like whistle in the sound score and at various moments Kwan and Gnam cock their handss on their hips like guns). Eventually the overalls come off, revealing Kwan in a men's dress shirt and underwear and Gnam in a full-length skirt, a visual conceit that nicely highlights questions of cross-gender embodiment and the mix of masculinity and femininity within us all. Nowhere is this more compellingly staged in the piece than in the moment near the end when Kwan and Gnam step into the same set of overalls, threading their arms through the sleeves and dancing a slow waltz.

There is a final brief coda after this, which repeats an earlier sequence involving the positioning of the suitcases into a chair back, and leading to a tentative embrace (except Kwan is missing from the picture this time). As moving and conceptually integrated as this bit was, I think I would have preferred the work to have ended with that zipped up waltz. Regardless, a slow awkward was one of the highlights of the Festival for me and it's so exciting to see Kwan, such a compelling interpreter of others' work, move into this new phase of her career as a choreographer.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

solo/soul at DOTE

Karen Jamieson is a Canadian dance legend who has been making work under the imprimatur of the eponymous Karen Jamieson Dance for more than 30 years. This includes the legendary Sisyphus, named one of the ten Canadian choreographic masterworks of the 20th century. She was also an early pioneer in community-based dance and site-specific dance, bringing both together in The River (1998), about which my student Alana Gerecke is writing in her doctoral dissertation.

Now in her sixties, Jamieson has begun exploring the effects of aging on the dancing body, moving (conceptually and kinetically) from what she calls the muscular body to the energy body (Jamieson has long used yoga as a foundation of her dance practice). The result is solo/soul, premiering at this year's Dancing on the Edge Festival, and developed over three years in "danced conversation" with other leading talents in the local dance community, including Serge Bennathan, Peter Bingham, Margaret Grenier, Meredith Kalaman, Lee Su-Feh, Darcy McMurray, Josh Martin, and Jennifer Mascall. We see excerpts from these studio experiments playing on video monitors in the upstairs and downstairs lobbies of The Dance Centre before we enter the auditorium, with Jamieson drawing from what she calls the "generative power" of her dance interlocutors to anchor both the work's "process and [its] choreographic outcome."

For, as DD Kugler, the dramaturg on the piece, said to me at lunch earlier in the day, what we are seeing in solo/soul is essentially a staging of process. Encircled by freestanding spotlights, against a screen on which visual artist Josh Hite has projected a looping black and white negative of the video images we glimpsed in the lobby, and in both live and recorded dialogue with composer John Korsrud, Jamieson externalizes in performance not just the internal architecture of the body (its breath and energy), but also the internal rehearsal and workshop dynamics and energies of the studio.

It's a brave choice, but for those outside Jamieson's dual energy circles (the one she's dancing inside on stage and the one we watch on the screen) the results can seem at once opaque and overly literal. In other words, we are invited but at times struggle to "interpret" Jamieson's movement in light of the video footage and snatches of conversation (mostly from Lee) that we hear from it. Not that this effort is entirely misspent; the energy required is, after all, part of what we are (or should be) bringing to the conversation.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Veritas.trUth and Dance Machine at DOTE

Earlier this afternoon I took in two site-based works as part of the Dancing on the Edge Festival.

The first was Karissa Barry's Veritas.trUth, staged in the SFU Woodward's Cordova Street atrium and made in collaboration with students from the Modus Operandi Training Program. Six dancers, five women and one man, begin in the fetal position on the concrete plinths built into the brick risers leading towards the entrance to the Woodward's building. They are all clad in black and each sports a slash of orange paint down the length of their right arms. As a mix of house music (initially sounding quite Asian-themed) pours from two adjacent speakers, the dancers slowly unfurl their bodies, raising those orange arms skyward and gradually rising to a standing position. Weaving in and out of patrons sitting along the risers, the dancers eventually make their way to the accessible ramp running the length of the building, bopping up and down in a row behind it, almost as if they were in a studio inside practicing at the barre. Mixing hip-hop moves with parkour-inflected athleticism, Barry's choreography makes clever use of the built environment, with all the dancers eventually ending up on a single plinth, looking out into the courtyard and raising those orange arms in what one only imagines is a kind of group salute.

Then it was onto my bike for a quick ride through Strathcona and a final destination of battery opera's Hopbopshop at the foot of McLean Drive at Powell Street. There Lee Su-Feh, in collaboration with architect Jesse Garlick and dance artist Justine Chambers, has installed what she is calling the "beta version" of Dance Machine, a choreographic "environment" consisting of a series of bamboo poles attached to pulleys threaded through a central steel mechanism affixed to the ceiling; below the bamboo, on the floor, is a carpet of cedar boughs. Beginning yesterday and continuing through to the end of the DOTE Festival this Saturday, Lee and and her collaborators have invited several guest artists from the Vancouver dance community to interact with the machine. When I arrived today, the 605 Collective's Josh Martin was wrestling with the poles like a latter-day Samson (minus the hair): gathering them all up into his massive arms like spaghetti about to be thrown in a pot; carefully spreading them out from his back like wings; and bringing them horizontal so that he might wrap his legs around them, like the survivor of a shipwreck clinging to a makeshift raft. The smell of the cedar boughs as Martin trod upon them and ground them into his body while he was on the floor provided an added sensory element to the proceedings, as did the sound of the clinking bamboo, an extra bit of timpani to accompany the background music that was playing.

Josh Martin wrestling with the Dance Machine, The Hopbopshop, July 10, 2014

Chambers (who, incidentally, has an immersive work of her own--Family Dinner--at this year's DOTE Festival) said to me as I was leaving that each of the guest artists has been given some basic principles to work with in relation to the machine; apart from that, they are free to move and interact with it as they see fit. That the room--and consequently those of us inside it as spectators--is also made to move as a result is part of the quintessentially heterodox "dance-making" we have come to expect from Lee and her battery opera collaborators.

I bet, however, it's a pain to disentangle all that bamboo.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Body in Question at DOTE

What happens when you bring Christopher House, long-time Artistic Director of Toronto Dance Theatre, together with iconic postmodern choreographer Deborah Hay? The answer is The Body in Question, an evening of two solos by Hay adapted and performed by House as part of this year's Dancing on the Edge Festival.

House learned the solos News (2006) and At Once (2009) alongside several other dancers at one of Hay's legendary workshops. As dancer and scholar Megan Andrews noted in a presentation at last week's Canadian Society for Dance Studies conference--and as House reiterates in his program notes--Hay's method is to begin with a written score, which she invites dancers not so much to interpret as to engage with in finding what Andrews referred to as their "intention" for the piece. Next, Hay poses each dancer a series of questions about that intention, asking them to strip away their embodied histories as performers as they find new ways of capturing an audience's "attention." Finally, she offers a series of tools to aid her dancers in completing certain "actions." As both House and Andrews note, throughout this process, Hay is encouraging participants to find new modes of perceptual awareness of the body in time and space through paradox, loss, and negation.

At the end of her workshops, Hay signs a contract with each dancer, in which they commit to a fairly lengthy period of practice of the works they have learned and then, I believe, to at least three public performances of each of those works--none of which, as Hay's teaching method ensures, will ever look the same. What I'm assuming the different adapted performances of Hay's solos all do, however, is concentrate audiences' own perceptual attention on the individual performing body in ways that heighten our consciousness of the movement choices being made.

At least that was the case with me last night watching House move across the Firehall stage, which had been exposed to the back safety wall (through which House enters at the top of the first piece), and which was mostly fully lit and with house lights up throughout. Here was a dancer at the height of his abilities, and with a whole choreographic history stored within his body, executing a series of precisely wrought movements, but also demonstrating how situationally contingent are those movements: what it means to swivel one's hips to the right instead of the left, to pivot this way instead of that, to rise up onto and then tap one's toes with concentrated deliberation. There was no music for House to keep time to, only the internal rhythms of his own body, which I experienced in a kind of spectatorial slow motion, as if House were breaking down, frame by frame, not just each observable physical action, but also the invisible bodily impulses that go into performing those actions.

Paradigmatic in that regard was the moment near the start of the second piece, At Once, when House, having exchanged his slacks and Harley Davidson t-shirt for a kilt, starts clapping--or at least showing us (and himself) the combined sequencing of arm and hand motions that go into the gesture we call a clap. House is not interested in the sound that clap makes--indeed, his hands only rarely come together, and often noiselessly. Rather, he is showing us how, on a somatic level, that clap gets put together. And why that is meaningful.

I couldn't agree more.


Monday, July 7, 2014

Edge 1 at DOTE

Shit happens. We all know this, but perhaps no one knows it better than a performing arts festival producer. So it was that yesterday afternoon’s audience for the Edge 1 mixed program at this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival learned from Donna Spencer during her curtain speech that Brazil’s Paulo Lima was unable to make it to Vancouver (for the second time, I believe). However, we also learned that Sarah Chase and Andrea Nann, already on the program with their collaboration a crazy kind of hope, had together gone into the studio just a couple of days before and created a new duet, which they would share with us in place of Lima’s work.

A crazy kind of hope, which I first saw at last November’s Dance in Vancouver Biennial (and which I wrote about here), is built around Chase’s trademark overlaying of mathematically precise gestural patterns with lyrical storytelling. In this case Nann’s narrative builds from a funny anecdote about her Uncle Wayne transporting a carp purchased in Chinatown back to Hornby Island (and building a pond for it when he discovered it was still alive) to a moving account of the death of her first child, and how she is able to bring together her dead daughter with the brother she never knew. This is accomplished by Nann interweaving two looping arm phrases—seven gestures performed with her left arm representing her son, and eleven gestures performed with her right arm representing her daughter.

Chase has done an amazing amount of research on the brain and the relationship between kinesthesia and cognition (some of which she shared as part of a plenary panel with Tara Cheyenne Friendenberg that I had the pleasure of moderating this past Wednesday as part of the Canadian Society for Dance Studies’ bi-annual conference at SFU Woodward’s, “Embodied Artful Practices”); her interest in combining complexly countable movement loops with talk stems from the theory that motion affects memory, especially emotional memory, and that people become more eloquent—in their speech and in their bodies—if they tell a story while repeating linked movement patterns. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated for me yesterday than when Nann—already such a gorgeous and graceful dancer—repeats the arm loop combination described above 99 times while singing “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I could see this piece performed 1,001 times and I’d still be utterly captivated by its magic.

Coincidentally, 1,001 is the number at the heart of the duet Epilogue Study—Tribune Bay that Chase and Nann put together as a coda to the Edge 1 program. It begins with Chase explaining that as part of her daily practice on the beach at her home on Hornby Island, she repeats a series of movement patterns. She often starts with seven leg movements (which she demonstrates for us); she’ll then follow with eleven arm movements; and finally she puts both together, repeating each combination thirteen times while moving horizontally across the beach for a total of 1,001 gestures. As she says, this can take upwards of an hour and, depending on whether she’s practicing at low or high tide, the traces she made in the sand with her legs at the beginning might be washed away when she finishes. Fortunately for us, that inside story into Chase’s creative process is not the finish of this piece. Instead, Chase is joined on stage by Nann, with both dancers repeating separate phrases while moving towards a meeting point centre stage. Once there, they sync up their arm movements in a way that suggests those bodily trompe l’oeils of multi-armed Indian deities. Except there is nothing camp or kitsch about the resulting image. Instead, there is a definite logic and pattern to the repetition of the movement. And part of the joy in watching the work—as with the underlying beauty of mathematics—is discerning the pattern.

Also on the Edge 1 program—in fact, leading it off—was Michelle Olson and Raven Spirit Dance’s Northern Journey. I have long been a fan of Olson’s choreography; however, hitherto I have only seen it performed in a work of theatre (most recently as part of the Yvette Nolan’s 2009 restaging of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe). In this piece, set upon the very talented dancers Jeanette Kotowich and Brian Solomon, and with music (including live drumming) by Wayne Lavallee, Olson draws on a traditional First Nations caribou story in order to explore not so much the idea of the buried “animal-within” as the becoming “animal-without.” What makes the work so compelling is that Olson eschews depicting any of this in overly mimetic movement; Kotowich and Solomon aren’t “playing” caribou. Instead, Olson explores time-based structures of shape and support and rhythm and breath that suggest ways of being in the world other than—or supplementary to—the purely human.

That one of those ways is a form of ambulation that eschews mono-verticality in favour of a more grounded and distributed method of counter-balance is captured in two striking movement images from the piece. In the first, Kotowich and Solomon, each bent at the hips and dragging themselves along the floor with their arms, shuffle towards each other, offering their legs as ballast and their backs as surfaces from which to move successively to an upright position. Once there, however, they need their arms to support each other, demonstrated most strikingly for me in the tableau of the two dancers leaning their heads on each other’s shoulders, locking their upraised arms, and then propelling each other horizontally across the stage. Any route across the land, Olson seems to be saying, depends on remaining rooted in the land--something we would all do well to remember.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dusk Dances at DOTE and Bike Rave 2014

It was touch and go weather-wise earlier in the day, but the rain managed to hold off in the evening, which made the experiences of this year's Dusk Dances at the Dancing on the Edge Festival that much more pleasant. As was the case last year, this unique outdoor dance event (which originated in Toronto's Trinity Bellwoods ravine 20 years ago, and has been playing DOTE for eight of those years) took place in CRAB/Portside Park. Returning once again as host was the inimitable Tara Cheyenne Friendenberg. After a rousing opening set by Commercial Drive's pick-up Carnival Band, Friendenberg took to the stage in character as the chakra-obsessed yoga guru Arlene, from her recent Porno Death Cult. After inviting us to breathe in the park's positive energy and to get lost (conceptually speaking) in the wonder of the movement that was to follow, Friendenberg then led us to the setting of our first piece.

Body Narratives Collective's be graceful in the wind began as a solo choreographed by company co-director Meghan Goodman for her partner Julia Carr. The piece has since been expanded into a trio, with Susan Kania joining Goodman and Carr as tree nymphs using their bodies to at once honour and mimic the sapling around which they dance. To this end, the highlight of the piece occurs when the three dancers, all very fine movers, slowly and expertly unfurl their bodies into freestanding headstands, revealing the bright green foliage on the brown tights underneath their skirts (the costumes were by Lina Fitzner). They then begin to bend and twist their legs in a manner that suggests tree branches swaying in the wind.

Following Friendberg/Arlene's ringing bell, we next gathered back in the centre of the park, in front of a teepee, and looking out at the magnificent view of the north shore mountains and Burrard Inlet. Yvonne Chartrand's Cree Creation Story, excerpted from a longer work called Cooking It Up Métis, makes use of CRAB/Portside's beach in a way similar to last year's Incandescent, with Cree's four performers (Chartrand, Eloi Homer, Kat Single-Dain, and M.Pyress Flame) slowly coming into view from the "upstage" space of the beach, as if emerging directly from the sea. This is fitting given that the piece takes its impetus from a story told by an Elder (whom we hear at various points in voiceover) about the Cree peoples' relationship with the natural elements.

For the third piece on the program, we hiked up a ridge to a grove of cedar trees in the southwest corner of the park. This was the setting for Denise Fujiwara's Unquiet Winds, which features Dusk Dances founder and artistic director Sylvie Bouchard and Brendan Wyatt as two harlequin-like figures trying to come together in love. East meets west, however, as commedia traditions combine with Butoh-inspired movement (Bouchard and Wyatt are clad all in white and wear white face- and body-paint) in a delicate and very moving display of our inevitable, almost instinctive bodily trepidation in making a connection with another.

The final choreographer on the program was Julia Aplin, who was back this year with another water-themed duet. In place of the slip-n'-slide from Onward, Ho, however, Inner City Sirens, Part II, features two inflatable mini-wading pools. Dancers Mairéad Filgate and Brodie Stevenson, clad in old-fashioned onsie bathing suits, bathing caps, and goggles, eventually dive into the pools, demonstrating their synchronized swimming skills to the live musical accompaniment of Blake Howard and Jesse Baird. Needless to say, there's not a lot of water left in each pool by the end of the piece, especially when, as he is wont at several points, Stevenson goes rogue with his testosterone-heavy splashing.

All in all, I would say, this year's selection of Dusk Dances pieces made much more conscious place-based use of their CRAB/Portside Park setting (coincidentally, the subject of an essay I am working on). For much of the evening, however, I was worried that that setting would descend into riotous chaos as the performance drew to a close; this was because the park was also to be the meeting point (between 8:30 and 9 pm) for the start of Vancouver's 2014 Bike Rave. But I guess organizers of the latter event were alerted somehow that this would have seriously disturbed everyone's collective energy flow because my colleague and fellow raver Tiffany--whom I was meeting at the park--alerted me that the Bike Rave folks had moved the launch point to Science World. It was thence we pedaled, joining what looked like thousands of other groovy and glowing and ready-to-rave cyclists for a different kind of social choreography.

The whole thing was a bit ad hoc--when to ride, when and where to stop and dance--but also a lot of fun, with participants for the most part loopily chill and getting high (literally and metaphorically) on the music (a five hour house mix downloadable here) and the general vibe of being outdoors and moving along the seawall with so many people on a night without rain. (I only saw one incident of aggression, and it came from a pedestrian, who was clearly frustrated by his progress against the manic flow of bike traffic, and so gave the woman riding next to Tiffany a shove; mercifully our pace at that point was so slow that the woman's stumble didn't initiate a domino-like spill.)

After pit stops to shimmy and shake (bodies and bikes) at the Plaza of Nations, David Lam Park, and Sunset Beach, Tiffany and I cut out at English Bay to go for a drink along Denman (the entire route was, I believe, to have gone all around the seawall, eventually arriving back at CRAB/Portside). Sipping our negronis, we agreed that this is what we need for next year: more and better glow sticks for our bikes; costumes; a boom box so that we can hear the music on our own instead of chasing after or waiting for someone else; and, perhaps most importantly, a flask or two for liquid refreshment.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Ottawa Dance Directive at DOTE

The Dancing on the Edge Festival began its next quarter century last night at the Firehall with an opening performance by Ottawa Dance Directive (ODD). Founded in 2010 as an incubator and presenter of new work, ODD created a splash at the 2012 Canada Dance Festival with the premiere of resident choreographer Yvonne Coutts' Fracture and guest choreographer Tedd Robinson's Trembleherd Bells. Both of the works, slightly re-conceived, were on the program last night, alongside a new work for the company by Vancouver-based choreographer Noam Gagnon called sho me wut u gut.

One wonders if the development of the last piece influenced some of the choices made in the remounting of the first two. For, while all three works are very different with respect to their movement vocabularies, there is a tonal/thematic/narrative through-line to the evening that unfortunately casts something of a homogenous sameness over the proceedings: lots of hair being whipped around; lots of bodies falling to the floor for no apparent reason; lots of bare flesh. To be sure, we are alerted to such behind-the-scenes connections at the top of the first piece. Company member Riley Sims, munching from a bag of candies, walks on stage with Jasmine Inns and Marilou Lépine--both wearing full-length evening gowns--and announces that while we may have been expecting a duet (as Coutts had originally choreographed Fracture), the company recently received some more money; hence his presence. Sims seems mostly to have been added as a talking head, commenting not just on what we are watching, but (as per my earlier speculations) hinting at what we can expect to see later on in the program (via a reference to an earlier working title for Gagnon's piece). Indeed, Sims labours for most of the piece to insert himself within the closed intimacy of the female dancers' world: at first humourously by miscounting the beats of their unison movement (and getting his face slapped); then more aggressively by picking up and moving Inns' gyrating body about the dance floor; and at last sensuously by stripping to his underwear and attempting to mimic the women's swaying hips, languorous arm waves, and joyous jumps. However, the women never fully include Sims in their world, which reads like a compendium of the mysteries of sisterly bonds: from the virtuosic synchronicity of hand-clapping games, to the out-of-nowhere perplexity of mean girl shoves, and the restorative grace of womanly partnering. Given this, and given that the real dance focus of the piece is on the women, my question is why we need Sims at all. If one is trying to concentrate on the movement, he is mostly a distraction.

In Robinson's Trembleherd Bells, Sims, Inns, and Lépine are joined by Charles Cardin-Bourbeau and Simon Renaud. As the curtains part, the dancers, clad in white, are all clumped together upstage; downstage a collection of cowbells has been arranged. Renaud, shirtless and holding a book, appears to be the leader of the group, whom we are wont to read as cult-like followers in search of spiritual and physical direction. Inevitably, that search propels the dancers towards the cowbells; however, once the first bell is rung, the limited cohesion that seems to have existed in the dancers' collective aimlessness is sundered, as bodies disperse about the stage, resist each other's embrace and, eventually, descend into solitary paroxysms. In Sims' case, this means a full-body twitching downstage centre that can only be stilled by a final ringing of one of those bells. Needless to say, I was grateful for the blackout that followed.

The exploration of sexual and social bonds that I have, albeit retrospectively, been reading into the first two pieces owes much to Gagnon's concluding sho me wut u gut, which wears (quite literally) its in-your-face attitude on its dancers' well-cut sleeves. Mind you, the men's shirts and the women's blouses--along with their pants, skirts, dress shoes, stiletto heels, and of course underwear--will all eventually come off by the end of the piece, with the five company members engaging in various same-sex and opposite-sex couplings, bodily gropings, animalistic howlings and, just because, dry humpings of the floor. Not that we don't also see moving moments of tenderness, not to mention some sublime group dancing. Indeed, at times during the piece I was reminded of what so captivated me about Gagnon and partner Dana Gingras' trademark choreography for The Holy Body Tattoo: high energy and highly physical unison movement performed by talented young dancers to pulsating music. It's hard to concentrate on that or any kind of movement technique when dancers' clothes start coming off (as Arlene Croce has famously written, in what might be taken as a ballerina's credo for never removing her tights, on stage it is the arabesque that is real, not the leg executing it). Which is not to say that nakedness in dance doesn't have its place (Alistair McCaulay has written perceptively on the topic--referencing Croce--in the New York Times), or that it cannot also be referenced in a smart and self-reflexive way (as in Frédérick Gravel's Usually Beauty Fails, which played the PuSh Festival this past year, and which I wrote about here). But the nudity as an end point in Gagnon's piece was so belaboured and so obvious that for me it actually got in the way of seeing the movement. Like Sims in Coutts' Fracture, it was a distraction.