CENTRE STAGE: Dancing on the Edge wraps up an impressive 28th year

Thus Spoke pushes the boundaries of dance.

This year’s festival was as dynamic as ever, with more of a focus on local choreographers along with a few visitors from elsewhere.

Jennifer Mascall, who has been involved in the festival almost every year since it began, presented her new full-length work, The Outliner, at St. Paul’s Church. The audience was seated on rolling pews that were moved around the space by many stagehands. For each segment of the show we were seated with a different perspective of the stage, and this was such a simple yet effective way to make the performance even more dynamic.

The performers and their unique costumes were equally impressive. Ballet BC dancer Gilbert Small performed a solo holding a large tree branch in each hand, and these were incorporated so seamlessly into the choreography that they seemed like extensions of his own limbs. Another duet featured a pen and paper high up on the back wall that was attached to a clever contraption controlled by the dancer’s movements.

Robin Poitras graced the stage in a wooden cone that was sliced horizontally into many pieces. The cone ominously moved around the stage and reappeared several times before she finally emerged and the cone became many wooden rings shaped to her contours. Probably the most impressive portion of the show was a dancer wearing a harness of porcupine quill-like spikes, who swung them around to create larger than life silhouettes. Mascall’s innovation in both costumes and choreography make her a master.

Another standout full-length show was Frédérick Gravel and Étienne Lepage’s Thus Spoke . . . from Montreal. Gravel explained that the show is a hybrid of theatre and dance, and there were monologues throughout the performance. The opening monologue talked about privilege: the privilege to be at the show, to want to be there, to put in effort to be there, and to understand it.

Gravel and Lepage have created a show that gets you thinking about societal norms and the meaning of your life. These performers take this show very seriously while not taking themselves seriously and the result is brilliant.

Dorsale Danse of Ottawa brought Douce Tourmente to the Firehall Arts Centre. Sylvie Desrosiers’ choreography was paired with beautiful video projections that added a subtle poignancy to this reflection on romantic relationships. Heidi Strauss and Marc Boivin were in their own intimate world, pushing against each other and pulling away — constantly trying to find a balance between them. This was a demanding hour of dance for these performers, both emotionally and physically. I was impressed by their stamina but I felt that the ending could have come sooner.

The Edge and Edge Off programs always feature a wide range of hit and miss content. Sometimes I go to see one choreographer I know I will like and leave pleased with all of the pieces, but sometimes there are disappointments. I was impressed with Ouro Collective’s fluid group work, and Wen Wei Wang’s piece that featured aggressive group movements cascading across the stage. Meredith Kalaman’s more introspective work was interesting but not as impressive.

I went to Edge Four to see Out Innerspace Dance and was once again impressed by their conceptual choreography, although the pounding music was enough to give you a headache. Olivia C. Davies’ Open Fire was an emotional narrative about an Argentinian girl whose mother had been taken away by soldiers while they sat outside at a coffee shop. The interpretation of the story was clear in the choreography, but the plot being read aloud alongside the dance detracted from a focus on the movement.

Edge Off Two began with Julianne Chapple’s the edges of things are ill defined which was a slow-moving piece full of floor work and controlled lifts. As a light was moved around the stage, they performed an acrobatic duet that was immersive but eventually a bit repetitive. Wags Alternate by Theonn Glover was an other-worldly performance that featured red ropes hanging down from the ceiling. While I was confused by the narrative of the piece, the ropes served as innovative props that the dancers used to swing around and create interesting patterns.  

Contemporary dance encompasses so many different styles and sensibilities. Dancing on the Edge always impresses, inspires, and provokes with its mix of choreographers from near and far.

This piece was originally published on Tessa Perkins’ blog.

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