Friday, May 27, 2016

AUDC's Season Finale at The Playhouse

All through Thursday evening's premiere program of Arts Umbrella Dance Company's Season Finale at the Vancouver Playhouse AUDC Artistic Director Artemis Gordon sat in the back row of the orchestra section in tight conclave with Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar. This of course makes sense given the close ties between the two organizations, with AUDC's pre-professional program now officially serving as the training/feeder school for Ballet BC's apprentice program. Still, what was most interesting to me last night was to see how Molnar's programming choices and her determination to position Ballet BC aesthetically as a contemporary ballet company have clearly had a reciprocal influence on Gordon's repertory choices for this year's AUDC spring graduation program.

How else to explain Ballet BC Resident Choreographer Cayetano Soto leading off the evening with his PAU CLARIS, which puts the male and female members of AUDC's Senior Company in matching black jockey shorts and has them wag their fingers and thrust their hips cheekily to the strains of a Bach concerto? Or, following the second intermission (and continuing the Bach theme), the excerpts from Simone Orlando's Doppeling, first performed by Ballet BC in 2009, and which also features a pan-company costuming conceit in the dancers' matching bobbed wigs? Orlando's deconstructive approach to the gendered dimensions of classical ballet is echoed in the excerpts from Marie Chouinard's bODY_rEMIX/the gOLDBERG vARIATIONS that were performed following the first intermission. Gordon didn't send the women dancers out on stage topless, as Chouinard did in her original staging of the piece; nevertheless, judging by some of the reactions around me it was clear that the iconoclastic Montreal choreographer's approach to point shoes in this piece came as a bit of a shock to some of the ballet moms and dads in the audience. Indeed, in so far as classical steps were part of this mixed bill, they mostly came in the two pieces performed by the apprentice company: Andrew Bartee's Ballet Dance #6 and Monique Proença's Alone in the bright lights of a shattered life.

It wasn't an all Bach evening last night. Aszure Barton's BUSK is set to a pounding Israeli folk-rock score and featured relentlessly physical hip-hop inspired choreography, as well as an amazing concluding solo for stand-out dancer Zander Constant, whose incredibly fluid torso and longing arm reach combined to breathtaking effect at several points. The fact that Barton's piece reminded me a bit of the work of Hofesh Schecter and Ohad Naharin is notable given that another Israeli choreographer, Sharon Eyal, is included in the Friday and Saturday programming. That incredible get no doubt had much to do with Molnar's inclusion of Eyal's Bill on Ballet BC's season-ending Program 3 earlier this month.

I also very much enjoyed the senior dancers in James Kudelka's salsa-drenched (and self-reflexively titled) choreography, David Raymond's gothic Murmuration, and excerpts from Crystal Pite's Emergence, which notably focused on that piece's solo studies and duets rather than its large group unison sections--and, in so doing, allowed one to see Pite's remarkable attention to detail in, for example, a dancer's arachnid-like spread of her arms behind her bent back. Likely the choice of excerpts from Emergence had something to do with Pite's concluding contribution to Season Finale, The Paris Sessions, which together with Lesley Telford's Only who is left, was the highlight of the evening for me.

Continuing the method she employed with her award-winning Polaris, which she workshopped with Arts Umbrella, Modus Operandi and SFU student dancers before taking the piece to Sadler's Wells, Pite has been working with AUDC's Senior Company on studies for a commission from the Paris Opera Ballet. And judging from what we saw last night, this new work will also continue Polaris' experiments with scale, using upwards of forty dancers to redefine what group dancing looks like on stage. In Pite's hands, individual bodies don't blur into invisibility through homogenous unison; instead, they become part of a collective bodily unit, each contributing through precise spatial massings and intricately timed sequential micro-movements and ripples, tableaux and shapes that are visually arresting. Last night I saw a tidal wave, a whale spine, and so much more. And all, again like Polaris, undertaken with incredible sensitivity to the music--in this case a version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (by Max Richter) unlike any I've heard.

Telford also knows how to mass dancers' bodies on stage. But if Pite's work here is about harmonious flow, Telford leans (quite literally) toward the off-axis. In Only who is left, she sends her dancers out in matching shimmery shifts and has them strut and preen and pose in a horizontal line like so many Atlases come to life from a Greek frieze. Later she'll clump the dancers together and have them jerk and stutter step their heels noisily into the floor as they move as a unit across the stage, the thoroughly ungraceful and off-beat movements providing a compelling counter-image to how dancers are expected to move and sound. The corralling or herding of bodies in Telford's work is compounded even further by the fact that at one point Constant appears with a bull horn; he mostly just whistles into it whimsically. But the device's appearance, especially when read alongside the epigraph Telford includes in the program, reminds one that as is so often the case these days when bodies gather together in public--and often in protest--there is almost always someone who wants to disperse them.

For now, however, lets just celebrate the fact that Telford and Pite have both decided to make Vancouver their dance homes, and that these two talented home-grown choreographers are sharing their gifts with the city's next generation of dancers.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 16

Today was our first meeting in a few weeks: Justine has been rehearsing Family Dinner for the Canada Dance Festival; Alexa has been traveling; and I've been dealing with various academic matters. We didn't have an interview scheduled, so instead we mostly just caught up and talked about next steps.

But first there was some celebrating of Justine and Alexa's successful Canada Council application for the research phase of our project: woot, woot! We're not exactly sure of how we'll spend the money at this stage, but we certainly do appreciate the support.

Mostly, however, we had to come to terms with the reality that given our respective schedules this summer, coupled with the 50+ names on our list of targeted interview subjects, we would need to apply a divide and conquer approach, assigning each of us responsibility for conducting a bunch of solo interviews on our own time. Surprisingly, there was next to no fighting about who got whom--just consensus about whom we should ideally be in the room with together.

And then it was time to leave, which was a bit sad, as the next time the three of us will gather to work collectively on the project won't be until mid-August.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Revolutions at 3681 Victoria Drive

Because their usual performance space, the Russian Hall on Campbell Avenue, is being renovated, Fight With a Stick (formerly Leaky Heaven) is presenting its newest devised creation, Revolutions, at a former warehouse space on Victoria Drive. What's more, taking their cue from the space itself and invoking the principles of scenographic dramaturgy for which they are so well known (as well as the theories of Jane Bennett and other new materialists), FWS collaborators have built a show in which site is not just a container awaiting animation by human actants, but is actually the primary animating agent.

That said, the piece begins fairly traditionally. (***WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW!***) The audience, having assembled in an anteroom at one end of the warehouse's main floor, is ushered down a few stairs and invited into a jerry-rigged plywood performance space that appears to have been purpose-built. At one end there is a bed piled with mussed-up sheets and a desk and chair. At the other end there is a platform with risers for the audience. So far so proscenium. Following the curtain speech, the lights go down and ... nothing happens. Which is, of course, not true. As we wait expectantly, our trained perspectival gaze focused on the ambiguous domestic scene in front of us, Nancy Tam's atmospheric and vaguely foreboding sound score insinuates itself into our consciousness like a horror film soundtrack, the layered thrum of its synthesizers combining eerily with the ambient acoustics of the adjacent outdoor environment (including the swoosh of the passing Skytrain, which we learned during the talkback Tam purposefully picked up and amplified with two pencil mics hidden in bushes; she also recorded, reversed and delayed the sound of the Skytrain, and then pitched it on the other side of the interior room to make it seem like there was a train moving in the opposite direction). Then there is the damp and musty smell of the semi-subterranean space that we begin to notice. Finally, and crucially only after our other senses have been piqued, there is something to focus on at the front of the stage: slowly and almost imperceptibly the sheets on the bed have begun to move. So minute is the movement at first, and so amorphously shaped is the entire mass of sheets, that one is unsure whether there is a body underneath manipulating them or if they are moving of their own accord. Just to be clear, there is in fact a body, and it belongs to Delia Brett. Nevertheless, this perceptual doubt (and ethical philosophy) about the dividing line between subject and object, the material and the immaterial, is at the core of this piece, and it will be exploited elsewhere to amazing effect (especially in Josh Hite's video projections, where for example an animated picture of the surface of a concrete wall interacts with the very thing it is meant to be a representation of, making it impossible to determine where one begins and the other leaves off, and also creating a sense of doubled perceptual porosity).

But back to our domestic scene. Eventually a human actor--Sean Marshall Jr--does intrude upon our witnessing of the moving sheets. He emerges from a tiny corner bathroom upstage right and takes a seat at the desk, lighting a small kerosene lamp. He rubs his eyes wearily and taps his glasses mechanically, every sound picked up by a hidden table mic. He appears to take no notice of what is going on underneath the sheets on the bed--until, that is, a hand suddenly reveals itself and, rather dramatically, lays itself on the surface of the table. Shades of Thing from The Addams Family, or something out of the pages of Poe: whatever one's favourite gothic reference, it is the signal for Marshall to get up and fetch whoever is attached to the hand a glass of water--and a straw to drink it with. Not that these actions necessarily mean anything profound, beyond drawing out attention to the different objects which are ostensibly mediating the interactions between the two human bodies on stage--who legitimately should be the presumptive (and undivided) focus of our attention in traditional naturalist drama (and here it strikes me that FWS's work is productively in dialogue with the theatre criticism of someone like Andrew Sofer, both his book on The Stage Life of Props and his more recent Dark Matter: Invisibility in Drama, Theater and Performance).

Even the book that Marshall begins to read and take notes from refuses to offer up any wisdom in terms of its content; instead, the increasingly trite aphorisms that get repeated to us serve as a very real distraction from the physical action and changes in material form that we should be concentrating on. That is, trained as we are as good theatregoers to prioritize spoken language on stage, we are wont at first to miss the fact that Marshall is slowly moving his desk table and chair (both are on wheels) forward as he is reading his aphorisms and, even more importantly, that we audience members on our platform are moving backwards. At the talkback following the performance, several of my fellow spectators commented on experiencing feelings of nausea, which was their first sensory clue that something uncanny was going on; in my case, I admit to cottoning on to the visual trick very slowly--though when I finally realized what was happening it was one of the most astonishingly rewarding experiences in the theatre I have had in a long time, a live embodied version of a cinematic zoom out that happens so subtly and incrementally as to make you both doubt and become more hyper-attuned to your senses in relation to your immediate physical environment. Indeed, in terms of the expanding and contracting of space in Revolutions, I was very much put in mind of Catherine Deneuve slowly going crazy in her apartment in Repulsion.

The reference is not so far off, as the walls of our original performance space start breaking apart, with outside objects intruding, and with individual wall panels eventually taking on a life of their own, shooting across the floor of the warehouse (the entire expanse of which we can now see) like toy cars on a racetrack (the ingenious lego-like set is by Jay White). There are of course FWS performer-devisers (including co-directors and FWS co-ADs Steven Hill and Alex Lazaridis Ferguson) behind these panels manipulating them, just like they were behind our platform pulling us backwards. But that doesn't make the non-human ballet we are watching (which includes lighting design trio Kyla Gardiner, Gabriel Raminhos and Jaylene Pratt's trick of having the warehouse's built-in hanging ceiling fluorescents flicker on and off like they are extemporizing a conversation in morse code with each other) any less thrilling to behold. For what FWS have so brilliantly managed to do in this piece is flip theatrical frames mid-performance, turning a proscenium staging into an immersive experience in which space acts upon us rather than the other way around.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

5@50 at PAL Studio Theatre

Brad Fraser's 5@50, on at the PAL Studio Theatre through next Saturday in a co-production between Ruby Slippers Theatre and Zee Zee Theatre, does something quite radical in the theatre world: it puts five women of a certain age front and centre on stage and lets them be as complex, flawed, vulgar and outsized in personality as any male character from a David Mamet play (back when Mamet was actually writing good plays). Exposing the other side--and the ugly underbelly--of Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, 5@50 throws out the representational rule book for professional women on stage. Some spectators may not recognize what they see, but that doesn't mean that women like these don't exist.

The premise of the play is simple. Five women who have known each other since high school gather over the course of a year to celebrate each of their milestone birthdays. First up is office manager Olivia, played with characteristic force by Deborah Williams. Olivia lives with her pediatrician girlfriend Norma (Beatrice Zeilinger), who has invited freelance journalist Tricia (an excellent Veena Sood), real estate agent Lorene (Diane Brown), and homemaker Fern (Donna Yamamoto) to surprise Olivia with a party. Even before Olivia arrives a significant amount of alcoholic beverages are consumed and profanities uttered, often in combination (typical line, from Tricia: "Who do I have to blow for a bourbon?"). However, when Olivia bursts through the door, already plastered, things ramp up considerably, culminating in Olivia puking all over Tricia. And that's just in the first ten minutes of the play! Deliriously but also assuredly paced by director Cameron Mackenzie, the play careens from there from one booze-soaked and emotionally overwrought scene to the next as Olivia's drinking spirals out of control and her friends debate what to do about it.

For, thematically, Fraser's play deals with a topic that we also don't see discussed very often in relation to women: addiction. Most obviously there is Olivia's alcoholism, for which her friends eventually stage an intervention, sending her to a treatment centre. But there is also Tricia's drug use, which includes pot, cocaine and prescription pain killers; the latter are for a serious back injury that she is hiding from her friends, but the fact that she has a dealer for the other stuff should also tell us something. Lorene is a serial bride, currently on husband number four and apparently happy to overlook the fact that he's gay if that means she doesn't have to think of the children from her previous marriages that she has abandoned, or the emotionally abusive mother who is stuck in a care facility. Fern is a compulsive exerciser, addicted to yoga, which is partly her way of dealing with the fact that for almost half as long as she's been married to her husband she's been carrying on an affair with a neighbour. And then there's Norma, whose habit happens to be Olivia; worried that her partner, once sober, might stop loving her, Norma enables Olivia's drinking and is actively opposed to the other friends' intervention.

It is with Norma's character (underplayed to the point of virtual indistinction by Zeilinger) that I have the most trouble in this work. Not only are we meant to believe that a middle-aged doctor is fine with a diet whose fat, cholesterol, and sugar levels would likely kill any fit and healthy twenty-year old, but we are also asked to accept that Norma would actively encourage Olivia to fall off the wagon in order to keep her. This leads to a denouement that splinters the quintet apart, though in the final scene--which includes a satisfying scenographic surprise involving the drapery that is the primary feature of Marina Szijarto's set design--there is hint that some of those fractures might eventually heal. And, upon reflection, the counter-intuitive logic of Norma that leads to this point might in fact hint at any added layer of depth to Fraser's play: that affection can itself be an addiction, with friendship in this case providing a safety net from other of life's travails, but in whose familiar routines might lurk other dangers.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happiness™ at The Cultch

Self-help gurus are easy to satirize; it's far harder to make them a source of pathos (look at Tom Cruise in Magnolia). However, that's just the task that Ottawa's May Can Theatre sets for itself in Happiness™, on at The Cultch through this Sunday at part of Upintheair Theatre's rEvoler festival. Tony Adams and Cory Thibert play James and Peter, two salesmen who work pitching products for HPL™, a company devoted to spreading Happiness, Prosperity, and Luxury to one and all.

Framed as a self-help seminar, the production begins in the lobby with local Vancouver recruits (Linnea Gwiazda and Morgan Murray) administering happiness assessment surveys and hydrating interested parties with Happiness tea and a cooling skin spray called Optimist (the faux products the company has come up with, and the puns that go with them, are truly impressive). Following the curtain speeches Adams and Thibert emerge and begin working the audience, whipping up the energy with their dance moves, dropping some local Vancouver references, and gauging our susceptibleness to their boyish charm by asking how many of us have felt sad in the last year, month, week, and day.

And yet this dramaturgical conceit turns out to be a false frame. Just as quickly as the audience is positioned as the guileless dupes to James and Peter's in-the-moment hucksterism the house lights go down and the fourth wall is purposefully re-erected. Turns out we are only meant to be eavesdropping on the salesmen's pre-show rehearsals and warm-up, as subsequent interactions between each of them and their tech person, Ted, demonstrate. More to the point, we discover that despite having drunk the HPL™ Kool-Aid®, James and Peter are far from happy, or even emotionally stable. James is preoccupied with the fact that his nephew has just been placed into foster care, and Peter still hasn't gotten over the collapse of his marriage. As their increasing desperation bubbles to the surface, threatening to derail the start of their seminar, James and Peter settle on a definitive gesture aimed at excising all negative thoughts and feelings once and for all--a frankly clumsy ending that involves a pair of wire cutters, some fake blood, and a somewhat mistimed blackout.

Beyond these structural issues, the production mainly didn't work for me because I couldn't muster any sympathy for the two leads. Their back stories are too sketchily drawn for one to connect with their vulnerability when it surfaces. And then there is the whole matter of the rivalry/bromance between James and Peter, who go back and forth between making needling digs about each other's professional and personal mistakes to saying how much they love and support each other, with the latter statements often accompanied by a lot of physical touching. That one of the piece's product demonstrations--for the Happiness Hook-Up™, a mouthpiece designed to stretch one's face into a permanent smile--has the men playing a married couple only ups the homosocial ante. At the same time, because the work's exploration of the codes of masculinity only ever stays at the surface, it risks reinforcing those codes in a manner that can register as borderline homophobic. (The play is clearly influenced by Daniel MacIvor's Never Swim Alone, which not so coincidently both Adams and Thibert appeared in while students at the University of Ottawa, but which also balances the genres of allegorical satire and realism far more complexly.)

In the end, the play's ambitions exceed the company's grasp (the work was co-created and directed by the third member of May Can Theatre, Madeleine Boyes-Manseau). Had they stuck to a concept piece satirizing the self-help industry, the play likely would have been hilarious--as it is, they have created a whole infrastructure of online videos, testimonials, and trademarked products that hints at how far they have already gone down this rabbit hole. It's wanting to make James and Peter more than just types that trips the creators up. On that front, there is more work to be done.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Vancouver Dance History (2006-2016): Post 15

It's been a while since Justine and Alexa and I have had a chance to gather together at the Dance Centre for another interview--though J and A did meet up last Friday in my absence to do some additional work on scores and, as a result, toss about some preliminary stage designs.

In the meantime, we've also been corresponding electronically about the genesis of and impetus behind the project--the cumulative results of which have just been published on The Dance Centre's blog. You can read the full dialogue here.


Ballet BC's Program 3 at the Queen E

Ballet BC's 30th anniversary season comes to a close this weekend with its third and final repertory offering of 2015/16--aptly titled Program 3 (the utilitarian and self-evident evening descriptors are apparently an innovation that will carry over to next year). Paired together once again were Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo's I am I am You and Ballet BC Artistic Director Emily Molnar's 16+ a room, both of which audiences were first introduced to back in October 2013.

I previously wrote about both pieces here, so I won't go into too much added detail this time around, except to say that the works complement each other not just because they share a lighting designer (Jordan Tuinman) and a similar muted costume palette (by Kate Burrows). Each choreographer's choice of music also sets up an instructive contrast. Elo builds his piece around music by Bach, whereas Molnar opts for a contemporary electronic score by Dirk P. Haubrich. This, in turn, contributes to how the dancers are massed on stage in each work. Elo uses fluid transitions and elegant partnering to create vertical lines and tableaux. Molnar shoots her dancers like darts across the stage, purposefully missing each other and eschewing unison in favour of their different singular rhythms. Indeed, where Elo's piece ends with the dancers forming a perfect circle and extending their arms and torsos outward into space, Molnar has the curtain come down on a riot of individual and non-synchronous movement patterns, the visual chaos nevertheless deeply satisfying on a kinetic level.

The highlight last night was the company (and Canadian) premiere of red-hot Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal's Bill. As she did in Corps de Walk, for the Norwegian group Carte Blanche (which DanceHouse brought to town in 2013), Eyal--working with her partner Gai Behar--sends the dancers out on stage in flesh-coloured full-body lyotards, their hair painted white-blond, and presumably with their individual irises also camouflaged behind similar ice-blue contact lenses (though from where I was sitting I couldn't confirm this last detail). The piece begins with four solo etudes, the first three by male company members, and the fourth and final one by a female dancer. In each, Eyal combines an assortment of recognizably balletic moves (including a series of battements and jetés) with the Batsheva alumna's quixotic, Gaga-esque and thoroughly compelling vocabulary: strange flexions; hips thrusts and swivels that both invite and dissuade a sensual response; double-time foot shuffles and animatronic ambulation.

These are Ballet BC's dancers unlike we have seen them before, other-worldly creatures who, when the full company finally comes together, yelp and cry out strange commands to each other, dispersing outward in long lunges in one moment and then hopping back into a clump like little pixies in the next. Eventually Gilbert Small emerges from the group, arms raised in the air, body swaying this way and that as he makes his way downstage. Behind him a quartet of female dancers follows, raising and lowering their arms and heads, perhaps in obeisance. Meanwhile the rest of the company keeps up their patterns of robotic walking upstage. The combined effect, supplemented by the hypnotic music of frequent collaborator Ori Lichtik, was utterly entrancing, even if the casting of Small in the lead (is he supposed to be Bill?) did make me question the performative neutrality of the costuming in this piece more than in Corps de Walk.

What is certain, however, is that Bill is an amazing addition to the company's repertoire and a piece that will further distinguish the dancers' technical versatility as they take it, along with Molnar's 16 + a room and Crystal Pite's Solo Echo, out on tour later this month.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mis Papás at The Cultch

This year's rEvolver Theatre Festival opened last night with a production of rice & beans theatre's Mis Papás. The play is based on the story of writer and director Pedro Chamale Jr's parents, Stella and Pedro Sr. In a series of short, non-chronological scenes we learn about how the couple met and subsequently immigrated to Canada from Guatemala, only to have their lives upended by an illness and life-threatening coma that leaves Pedro Sr deaf and in need of near-constant care from Stella.

Uniquely, the show unfolds as a boxing match, with ringside seats arrayed about The Cultch's Historic Theatre stage. The actors, having spent part of their rehearsal process training at the Eastside Boxing Gym, spar not just verbally, but also physically, taking turns in donning the two pairs of bright red boxing gloves and throwing jabs that land with greater or lesser force depending on the context. When Pedro Sr and Stella are in the ring together, Pedro doesn't stand a chance, and not simply because Manuela Sosa, the actress playing Stella, is taller than Edwin Perez's Pedro; as played by Sosa, Stella reveals herself to be a woman of indomitable will, someone who bluntly tells her husband that she is always right--especially when it comes to his own well-being. That doesn't mean, however, that the burden of care is easy for Stella, or that cracks don't emerge in the stoic facade she presents to hospital staff. In a bravura scene the physical and psychological toll Pedro Sr's illness is taking on Stella is made clear as Sosa skips rope while reciting a litany of Pedro's symptoms, the drugs he's taking, and the food items she's daily consuming from the vending machines in the hospital; Sosa does not miss a beat on either count.

As for Perez's Pedro, his submission to Stella is not played with wounded masculine pride. Apart from one scene when, following his discharge from the hospital, Pedro complains to his doctor (a lanky Derek Chan) about not being able to continue working as a mechanic owing to his deafness, cliches of machismo are scrupulously avoided in this play. Instead, we see that Pedro's lack of fighting chance with his wife is a result of the fact that he is completely and utterly besotted with her. Likewise, Stella's stubborn refusal to give up the primary care of her husband--even when, in conversation with his nurse (Anjela Magpantay), it emerges that Pedro has bitten her--and her confidence that he will get better comes from a place of absolute devotion. More than anything else, and in spite of its intensely physical dramaturgy, this play is a love story told with the utmost tenderness.

It is also told bilingually, in English and Spanish, and without the benefit of surtitles. Just as Pedro and Stella must deal with the estranging medical jargon surrounding Pedro's illness--bits of which are explained to us via Chan and Magpantay in exchanges played out to the audience--so are we deliberately put in a position of not always understanding. As Chamale Jr explains in his notes to the play, that position reflects not just the journey his parents are now on as they move into the uncertain future of Pedro Sr's inevitable decline, but also the immigrant story writ large. Why shouldn't we, then, be made to experience something of this unfamiliarity as well?

It's a question Mis Papás asks with intelligence and grace.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Caroline Shaw at the Fox Cabaret

Last night Caroline Shaw concluded her year as composer-in-residence at Music on Main with a performance called "One Night Stand," part of MoM's "Month of Tuesdays" at the Fox Cabaret. The show featured a range of Shaw's compositions, including two pieces--"Valencia" and "Entr'acte"--performed by the immensely talented Emily Carr String Quartet; "Entr'acte," with a long plucked sequence and a beautiful coda for solo cello (played by Alasdair Money), was especially captivating.

Pianist David Kaplan also excelled in his performance of two of Shaw's "conversations" with nineteenth-century composers, in this case Robert Schumann and Frédéric Chopin. As is increasingly common at concerts these days, Kaplan read his sheet music from an iPad; in conversation with him at intermission we learned that he controls the turning of the pages with an extra foot pedal that is synched to the iPad through Bluetooth.

Throughout the evening, Shaw also improvised on violin, including in a wonderful duet with local dancer Vanessa Goodman. The duo will reprise their collaboration on Thursday as part of Dances for a Small Stage's Salon Series at the Emerald Room, and I was excited to hear in Shaw's stage patter last night that she and Goodman are planning to work together again in the future.

The final piece on the program was an excerpt of three songs from Shaw's By and By series, her setting of traditional bluegrass spirituals. Shaw was accompanied by Kaplan on piano and the Emily Carr String Quartet, but it was the purity of her own voice that resonated most with me. A triple threat as a composer, violinist and singer, Vancouver has been lucky to have this Pulitzer Prize-winner in our midst this past year. Here's hoping she visits again soon.


Monday, May 9, 2016

PACE + Kaleido at Studio 1398

A brief shout-out to the OURO Collective, who this past weekend premiered two new works at Studio 1398. OURO's members (Christina Bucci, Maiko Miyauchi, Rina Pellerin, Dean Placzek, Mark Siller, and Antonio Somera, Jr.) all bring different street dance styles (from hip hop to waacking) to the creation of truly unique ensemble work for the concert stage--a fusion of intricate unison patterns and bodily tableaux with high energy breakout moments of individual freestylin'.

This was especially on display in the second piece on the program, the collectively choreographed PACE, where I was most taken with the multi-levelled and dextrously coordinated arm and head chains created by the dancers. My only complaint was that the venue sometimes made it hard to see the group's floorwork--a shame given that breaking is clearly a signature.

These guys need a much bigger stage.


Friday, May 6, 2016

ReVoLt at The Dance Centre

Belgian choreographer Thierry Smits, of Compagnie Thor, brought the solo ReVoLt to The Dance Centre last night as the closing performance of this year's Global Dance Connections series. A solo created for the Australian dancer Nicola Leahey, the piece deals--somewhat didactically--with the continued bodily oppression of women. As the lights come up, we see Leahey in a self-imposed choke-hold, her long blond hair covering her face, her body twitching in resistance to what we are to imagine is some external constraint (whether it be the arms of an abusive male lover or the expectations of society). A quick blackout and then we see Leahey centre stage, her arms pinned behind her back, the rest of her body again convulsing against the would-be disciplining of her physicality. And so the beginning of the piece continues, with two more such poses added to the repertoire of controlling movements, one in which Leahey's arms are wrapped around her waist, and one in which they get locked, like a chastity belt, underneath her pubis.

The rest of the piece is essentially built upon the repetition of these four poses, with Leahey every now and then breaking free to move into a tentative forward lunge, or to arch into a gorgeous back bend, as if to show us just what her body can do when unharnessed. In this respect, Leahey's long, loose hair plays an important role in the piece. Unbound and flowing freely, it will not be tamed like the rest of her body. As it flies and whips through the air during Leahey's convulsions, or spills dramatically about her head when she descends to the floor, its indiscreet and thoroughly wanton movement becomes a metaphor for female resistance against imposed expectations (including, presumably, in dance).

I just wish this wasn't delivered so literally. And also that the piece built to a point where Leahey really showed us what she could do when fully untethered. As it is, the score, as it progresses, has Leahey increasingly throw off the shackled arm holds of the four core poses; but there is no real indication of where she might go from there. Her arms ascend by her sides in that tentative forward lunge, hinting that she might take flight. But for now she remains at the threshold.