Photo by Adrián Morillo

Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver- January 30, 2020

Frontera, choreographed by Dana Gringas, is her latest production through her company Animals of Distinction, and is a collaboration with the rock group Fly Pan Am and light and set design collective United Visual Artists. It addresses the concept of borders and surveillance – physical, and figurative – a topical subject in today’s conversations. Frontera confronts the subject through full-throttle physical exertion and an assault of sensory stimuli. 

The piece began with ten dancers individually walking onto the dark and barren stage, against audio excerpts of indiscriminate voices speaking about borders. The dancers shuffled around the stage in a reserved manner as if seeking a foothold for their physical presence. Before long, an oppressive rumbling sound entered the space and the dancers began darting in all directions. Thrashing, twitching, jumping and flailing their limbs, and at times, even running laps – the choreography, while precise with where the dancers were to be on the stage, seemed to, within those paths of movement, allow the dancers to express whatever momentary impulse struck them. The segment felt like a prolonged procession of physicality, which continued as the soundscape escalated to a frantic drumbeat and heavy metal-styled vocal screaming. Lighting then revealed the silhouette of the live band upstage against a red backdrop.

The themes of border and division were expressed quite literally by a screen of light beams like prison bars downstage, where  dancers on opposing sides skirted about taunting one another. Light beams cast down a triangle shaped sheet of light with patterns of smoke or drifting clouds projected onto it. When the light swept across the dancers huddled in a tight mass, or when dancers reached their hands out to touch the light beam, the point of contact between human and light was extremely bright. These effects, including that of the very last scene, where two dancers seemed to be parting a light beam, created arresting, even if literal imagery. While these scenes could be expressing the permeability of boundaries or the ways in which control is tethered between opposing ideas, I would have liked to see this contemplated more in the choreography.

There seemed to be greater physical connectivity in the last segment, but despite the physical contact between dancers, each individual seemed to be distinct and segregated, conveniently sharing the space while each acted on one’s own accord. One of the last scenes assembled the female dancers across downstage to gesture directly to the audience; they remained stationary while their bodies frantically twitched and flailed as before. I had hoped that there would be a more reflective response to the question of who we are.