The Dance Centre, Vancouver – November 24, 2019
Choreographer Joshua Beamish performed with a talented cast, which included dancers from Martha Graham Dance Company and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in this presentation of Saudade in Vancouver. The cast of six men expressed very sombre emotions of ‘saudade’, a word in Portuguese meaning, according to the program notes, “a deep emotional state of profound melancholic longing”. The haunting cello score, Without Sinking, by Hildur Guðnadóttir, enveloped the scenes in heavy tones, sometimes contagiously rhythmic and sometimes humming like a persistent undercurrent. Lighting by Mike Inwood, at times from spotlights downstage, created dramatic shadows that wedged obtrusively among the dancers – a metaphor perhaps for their relationships with one another.
The relationships Beamish expressed in this piece were poignant. Dancers were first introduced through short solos, then as an ensemble in which each was consciously aware of one another but refrained from interacting. The men walked around indifferently, even when a dancer would intentionally reach their hands out and solicit a response. Gradually, duet by duet, and at times as a trio, the depth of the relationships were revealed through their vulnerabilities to one to another, like the way one partner struggled to balance in an awkward position while the other looked on with indifference. The duets were passionate, at times aggressive, and also incredibly tender in the way one attentively lifted another or caressed the other’s leg with one’s chin.
The dancers showed a range of interpretations within Beamish’s very specific choreography. While the underlying technique draws from classical ballet, movements initiated unexpectedly from any part of the body and the centre of gravity seemed to be constantly shifting. A tap of toe led to a head turn that prompted a full body swivel or leg extension, and then the dancer rested for several counts in a deep first position plié. The phrasing was busy, but each of the gestures was crisp and clear. The ways in which each dancer connected these movements – where one found momentum or where one took an ever so slight pause – showed the unique personalities in the piece.
Though each dancer portrayed memorable characters – Lloyd Knight, a Graham dancer, exuded an unwavering presence and found a deep calmness in moments of intensity, and David Norsworthy was a nimble duet partner for Beamish – ultimately, the treat was to see Beamish perform, because no one quite mastered the phrasing with consistent fluidity as he did. For the other dancers, there were brief moments when the effort to execute choreography was more apparent, while Beamish moved intuitively and the emotional intentions of his movements were clear throughout.
Saudade is a piece that lingers in memory and continues to reveal itself over time. I hope to see it again, with this cast, or observing how it evolves in a different cast.