Experimental Edge of Dance

MD The Three Cornered Hat photo Chris Randle

Another crop of contemporary dance works have graced Vancouver during the 26th annual Dancing on the Edge festival’s ten-day span. This year saw over 30 works, a strong partnership with the Scotiabank Dance Centre, many outdoor and site specific performances, and even a Family Dinner where the audiences were the guests at the table.

The mixed programs at Dancing on the Edge allow for a variety of choreographic styles in one evening, and the site specific works add another element of scenery, integrating the space into the work, but I opted to attend five of the full programs this year to see some full-length works by developed and emerging artists.

Ottawa Dance Directive presented three vastly different pieces and showed off a lot more than their choreographic skills. Their first piece, Fracture by Yvonne Coutts, was very funny and broke down the fourth wall before we even realized it. Riley Sims casually walked onstage eating a bag of nuts while talking directly to the audience and explaining nonchalantly that at first he wasn’t supposed to be in the piece, but then they were able to get more funding so he was included.

Sims spends much of the piece observing Jasmine Inns and Marilou Lepine dancing as he seems left out and eager to join them. The dynamic of the two girls dancing with Sims as an added afterthought worked well and Sims contributed plenty of humorous commentary. Out of the three works they presented, this was the most enjoyable.

Their second piece, Trembleherd Bells by Ted Robinson, had five dancers all in white garments and there were large bells placed around the stage. One of the dancers had a book and, at first, seemed to be in a position of authority as the others moved around in a trance, shaking and ringing the bells off and on. When all of the dancers picked up the bells and rang them vigorously, it felt like the whole theatre was one giant bell and we were the clapper swinging from side to side. It was quite the experience and left a lot to be interpreted.

For the final piece of the night, Noam Gagnon’s sho me wut u gut began with the same five dancers in sharp business attire as they romped around the stage and imitated a sort of animalistic need for sexual pleasure. They grabbed each other, rolled around, and generally got frisky. If you are uncomfortable watching other people be intimate, it probably would’ve been the least of your worries. They progressed to removing their clothes and continued to push and pull each other around the stage. There were some beautifully tender moments, but overall this piece wasn’t very pleasant.

Vanessa Goodman’s company, The Contingency Plan, presented What Belongs to You at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. The five dancers in this show are athletic and powerful, and they are full of subtle emotion that comes across through their movements. This work used balloons to create various costuming and scenic effects that I thought were very clever.

The dancers began with balloons covering their bodies as the music grew in volume and intensity and the dim lighting rose to reveal them. As they moved, the balloons slowly fell off one by one. The balloons were central to the work as fans blew them into a whirlwind centre stage and one of the dancers slowly moved in the middle of this balloon tornado. The work is described as being motivated by human desire and led by the senses, and I think that came across well as the dancers were propelled by one another’s energy and performed impressive lifts and moved in unison.

Mascall Dance’s The Three Cornered Hat was my first experience at the eclectic Chapel Arts venue. A few rows of chairs were arranged around a low stage, and this work immersed the audience in a few ways. Piles of red notebooks dominated the stage and served as many things throughout the show. There was a mop that had an open notebook as its base, a notebook on a fishing rod that they dropped onto a few laps to recite journal entries, and notebooks with lights instead of pages.

Before the show, Jennifer Mascall said that the show is like a book club where everyone is sharing their own story. With such a richly visualized concept and the wonderful use of these red notebooks, I loved the humour and intelligence of this piece.

That same evening at Chapel Arts Edmond Kilpatrick, another experienced choreographer, presented Four Intimate Pieces. Along with Ziyian Kwan and Anne Cooper he shared vulnerable moments of his life through narration and they translated these experiences into movement. One intense scene had Kilpatrick and Kwan in a heated couple’s argument followed by a physical exchange that was loving but coloured with anger. Allowing raw emotions to guide their movements, this sparse work took a while for me to get into. I think the opening section could have been shortened or benefited from some more narration to guide the audience.

The final night of Dancing on the Edge was Karen Jamieson’s. Her project, solo|soul, was the culmination of three years of research and danced conversations with other Vancouver dance artists. Through this work Jamieson wanted to explore the relationship between the inner meditative body and the outward focused, performative body that is used in dance.

The work felt as though I was observing one long meditation, and for an audience, it is difficult to feel as invested when the performer is not focused on their outward, performative side. Jamieson danced in the centre of a circle of lights, in front of blurry video projections adapted from her creative process with other dancers, and with John Korsrud playing trumpet around the outside of the circle. I think for the audience it was hard to grasp the concept that Jamieson was after, but it was a unique experience to watch a performer who is so connected to their inner world while on stage.

Celebrating 30 years of her company at this year’s festival, Karen Jamieson’s work was a fitting way to end a festival that supports emerging and established artists alike and allows for collaboration, diversity, and a forum for choreographers to show their works each year.

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