One of the great things about the Vancouver International Dance Festival are the free 7 pm shows that artistic producers Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi have always programmed in the Roundhouse Exhibition Hall ahead of the 8 pm ticketed auditorium shows. Far from mere curtain raisers, these are fully realized shows featuring local, Canadian, and international artists. Last night Hungary's Ferenc Fehér was the featured attraction.
Tao Te is a duet for Fehér and fellow dancer Balázs Szitás, a physical meditation on being by way of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Lao Tsu (who are both quoted in the program notes). It begins with Fehér and Szitás seated cross-legged on the stage, looking out at the audience contemplatively. A loaf of crusty bread lies on a towel between them. One of the men picks up a bit of bread and begins to chew; the other man follows suit. Soon they both do a quarter turn inward on their sits bones so they are facing each other across the bread. They continue to eat and chew, until there is only one large piece of bread remaining. One of the men makes a sudden grab for the bread and this is the cue for the kinetic brinksmanship to move from mere mastication to dance as full-on (and full-bodied) contact sport. For over the next thirty minutes the dancers will: throw their bodies repeatedly--and with apparent abandon of both gravity and pain--at each other, and onto the stage floor; accelerate into barrel roles that stop just short of the two massive wooden poles around which the Exhibition Hall stage has been constructed; race each other on all fours to the edge of the stage; and circle warily before facing off against each other like boxers in a ring.
That the dancers weren't holding anything back became clear to me when, during a sequence in which the men remove their suit jackets and shirts, I saw from my vantage point in the front row a bloody cut on one of their elbows. And yet there are also moments in the piece that are downright tender, as when, having slipped back into their jackets, the dancers mirror each other in a simple two-step, traversing the stage in a manner that, though they never touch, approximates a waltz.
Indeed, to the extent that each man represents to the other both an acknowledgement of and a threat to his being, a support and an encumbrance, a force of forward momentum and an impediment to movement full stop, I couldn't help thinking of Fehér and Szitás as the Didi and Gogo of dance-theatre. Albeit with a lot more energy.