Firehall Arts Centre, Vancouver – July 7, 2016
Dancing on the Edge runs until July 16.
Celebrating its 28th anniversary, Dancing on The Edge, an annual festival of contemporary dance in Vancouver, presents established and emerging artists who challenge their craft for the promise of discovering something new, daring and different.
Edge 1 is the festival’s first program, and it opened with an affable duet. Here on the Ground is choreographed by Sarah Chase and the Body Narratives Collective – an interdisciplinary artistic collective co-directed by the two performers of this piece, Julia Carr and Meghan Goodman.
In the piece, Carr and Goodman verbally narrate biographical stories about growing up, their friendship with each other and their experiences as new mothers. Concurrently, they dance through movements of mainly their arms and upper body, while standing, in accordance with their spoken words like sign language. In clear voices and conversational tone, they finish each other’s sentences and even carry a tune. Props are equally important expressions of their narrative, which included carry-on suitcases of baby necessities and plaster casts of their torsos made in the last week of their pregnancies, though the meaning of the plates with pictures of their baby’s faces never becomes clear.
Narrative aside, the jewel of this piece is the way it demonstrates the changeable interpretations of Carr and Goodman’s dance movements. When they repeat the same phrases of movements to different parts of their verbal script, the movements equally suit all the stories. Similarly, a recording of Leaving On A Jet Plane that plays while Carr and Goodman pack up their baby belongings, and later, while Goodman speaks about the death of her father, shows how a song, and perhaps suggesting that a memory or a story, can take on different meanings under different contexts.
Radios is a solo performed by Joshua Beamish, in a collaboration between Beamish and Toronto-based performance artist, Ame Henderson. Whereas Beamish’s usual aesthetic exhibits precision and control, here, Beamish relinquishes that to an unseen force, which seems as mysterious to him as to us. Glimmers of his characteristic vocabulary are evident, yet severely warped. He takes one arm to fifth and pulls it back behind his head, but his arm seems heavily hinged on the shoulder joint rather than lifted in the manner of classical technique. When his leg is raised to arabesque, his torso is torqued and twisted, yet he shows these manipulations with clarity and specificity. Such conviction makes him a convincing guide in this nebulous space where gravity seems to pull from multiple directions.
The only stimulus equally perceivable to both Beamish and the audience are rock guitar riffs (sound design by Christopher Willes) that fade in and out from a seemingly distant place. When he looks up, he suggests that the sound comes from above and we might be submerged in some dark urban cavern. Lighting effects (lighting design by Kyla Gardiner) dramatize that suggestion, like the narrow spotlight from above that casts Beamish in a striking dark silhouette. His costume of a blue tank top inside an over-sized black cloak and a loose, black knee-length skirt cleverly exaggerates his angular forms.
It’s not easy to hold an audience attentive in absence of narrative or soundtrack. Radios depends on Beamish to capture the audience’s curiosity and their trust, both of which he harnesses very well. With that, Beamish leads us to the punch line – charming that he, too, is caught by surprise.
The program ended with a 35-minute excerpt of Isaac y Diola (hour-long at full length), choreographed and performed by German Jauregui and Antia Diaz. It begins with both dancers nude and lying face down, Diaz directly on top of Jauregui. They are downstage right and illuminated under a soft, golden glow. The sound of a low, persistent bass penetrates the theatre space and acts like an enclosure for the audience. In this space, Jauregui and Diaz seem to reveal their innermost emotional states to us, represented by the acts they perform. Jauregui places about seven chairs near the limits of the stage, which seems to set the parameters of the performance. In one extended scene, Jauregui tosses himself around centre stage, his body twisted and unable to stand, while his hands seem like magnets to his knees and ankles. He also stands atop of a chair while determinedly sawing at two of the chair’s wooden legs, until the chair collapses and he tumbles to the ground. Meanwhile, Diaz writhes violently on the ground.
Both Jauregui and Diaz are captivating in their physicality and expression of tension, but most effectively by the way they embrace stillness. Their pauses allow the audience to reflect on each scene and heighten their awareness of the performers and their environment, and in the process, perhaps discover something surreal in themselves.
The piece ends after Jauregui and Diaz have exited the stage, leaving, at downstage right, a precariously interlocking stack of six chairs, the one on the bottom balancing, by each leg, on an ice cube still in process of melting. When the curtains close, I’m not sure if the piece is quite over yet.
The varied programs at DOTE show experimentation at its best, by artists who take great pride in their craft. It exemplifies what I’ve always believed, that art must be challenged in order to grow.