Performance Works Theatre on Granville Island simply didn’t have enough seats to hold the number of excited audience members for the double bill of Heather Laura Gray: The Tunnel, and OURO Collective: Pace on February 28.
The 2 p.m. show was pushed back as staff of New Works scrambled to find chairs for a constant influx of people for about 20 extra minutes. When the lights finally went down, I noticed that Performance Works does not black out entirely well — bits of light were visible in the ceiling, betraying the drizzly grey of a Sunday afternoon.
This February edition of New Works: Dance Allsorts brought to the stage two 25-minute “works in progress.” Tunnel, choreographed by Heather Laura Gray, delved into the complex human mind using Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts of the id, the ego, and the superego. Four dancers clad in all black with fully-wrapped white heads represented the dissection of the mind — Emily Tellier as Id, Navid Charkhi as Superego, and Katie Lowen as Ego, with choreographer Heather Laura Gray as the creative addition of the “soul.”
In Tunnel, smoke filled the stage and created a triangle of light that made the dancers’ white heads float eerily in space as they hunched, convulsed, and writhed around the stage. The dancers used the street dance method of popping to initiate their movement and manipulate each other. The jarring muscle contractions in their bodies became electric shocks that moved them around the dark stage, like robots.
The piece developed in a bizarre way, moving through popping, contemporary floorwork, and acrobatics. When Heather Laura Gray entered the stage at the end to perform a mournful solo in a spotlight, I was left grasping at the connection of a deep voice in the soundscore repeating “body of land, body of water” with her searching, reaching gestures.
The second piece Pace (Act 1) is a work in progress created by OURO Collective, an energetic young group of Vancouver dancers with varied backgrounds. The group used strong, driving hip hop music, along with a mish-mash of B-boy, waacking, locking, and contemporary dance styles arranged in intentional lines and shapes.
Pace showcased the strong suits of each dancer: Cristina Bucci’s contemporary hip-hop fusion, Antonio Somera’s sassy waacking, Dean Placzek and Mark Siller’s incredible B-boy floorwork, and Maiko Miyauchi’s graceful edge. Apprentice Kevin Li appeared for a short period of time to “tut” across the stage and mesmerize us with his snakelike hands.
The piece oscillated between the more “free” moments of solos and duets and highly-sculpted shapes. In one section, OURO connected fists in a perfect line, moving like a human centipede across the stage until each dancer broke off. This repeated motif enforced the theme — the isolation and competition of urban society that the individual must strive to break free from.
Both performances received loud affirmation from the audience on Granville Island. But I am looking forward to seeing how both of these pieces develop. Will they manage to individuate themselves in a contemporary dance landscape that is fusing more and more with street styles and martial arts? Admittedly, there was a youthful buzz about the show, and definitely something sexy about the way OURO used the music that had me dancing — more than once — in my seat.