Dances for a Small Stage 28 is full of sweet surprises

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At the Legion on the Drive on Thursday, February 14. Continues until February 16

Dances for a Small Stage has put together a sweet little valentine for Vancouver audiences, with about every flavour of love. Think of it as (with apologies to Forrest Gump) a heart-shaped box of chocolates, some bitter, some hard, and others soft and gooey—especially the piece that turns the emptying of a Betty Crocker icing tin into performance art.

Thanks at least in part to its “host”—a deranged, lewd cupid—this is one of Small Stage’s best-flowing and funniest programs. Give Billy Marchenski a filthy pair of tights, a set of fuzzy wings, and a hanger for a bow and arrow, and it’s amazing what he can do, leaping ridiculously off the stage, making crude gestures at audience members, and running into some very unfortunately placed arrows. The short musical interludes—cool covers by Clare Twiddy and Daniel Moir—including a quivering, ache-soaked “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Damn Your Eyes”—also help the evening fly along.

As you might expect in a show themed around love, there are a lot of duets. These are all small explorations set to electronic scores, but each finds a different mood. Sister act Thoenn and Yeva Glover get in touch with their glamazon side as platinum-’doed doppelgängers who spar in shadows behind a parachute curtain and then emerge to battle each other on-stage. Later, they shed their wigs and contorting under shardlike lightbulbs that hung from a row of wires. The piece is theatrical and adrenalized.

I also like the way Arash Khakpour tentatively approaches Kelly McInnes in LastminuteLove, turning the repeated action of nervously reaching toward her, and then pulling away at the last second, into a dance all its own. And maybe he should be afraid: as the piece revs up, she can hurl him around and dip him as easily as he can her. Dancing and battling with an invisible force, dancer Jessica Wilkie finds a throbbing emotional heart in Karissa Barry’s Lose.Fight.Recover.

Donald Sales’s gR33N, an excerpt from a full-length work by his new company, Project 20, that premieres next year at the Chutzpah Festival, stands out from the pack. To Owen Belton’s score of strings and cartoon sound effects, charismatic dancers Andrea Pena and Rebecca Margolick find a new, idiomatic language—clasping their mouths, shaking their heads, and breaking into silent howls in a fractured, sped-up hybrid that could only have come out of the witty Sales’s head.

And it wouldn’t be Small Stage without a few wild cards. There’s Meagan O’Shea’s hilarious Love, which finds heartbreak and loneliness manifesting itself in the devouring of chocolate icing. Marchenski has choreographed a piece for his stripped-down girlfriend, Alison Denham, set to a recorded conversation they had in the shower and the sounds of crows and trains in the East Van ’hood where they live. As she steps gradually into his clothing, “becoming” him, it evolves into an intimate, strangely touching portrait of the familiarity of love.

Even more out-there is the appearance of Mute—improvisations on halo and taps, which pairs Dayna Szyndrowski tap-dancing on a platform with Farnaz Ohadi singing and playing the haunting titular instrument. Hey, where else in town are you going to see a mashup like that?

This night's box of chocolates included a surprise encore by tap sensations Brock Jellison (of 2010 Olympics opening-ceremonies fame) and Hailley Caulfield-Postle (sister of dancer Cori Caulfield), the result of a Facebook contest that organizers at Movent held earlier this year. It turned out to be one of the sweetest treats in the entire show and left the audience whooping at their cabaret tables. (Sorry, no repeats of their secret encore tonight or tomorrow. Ya snooze, ya lose.)

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Carol Carson
I am still savouring the memory of this absolutely fabulous evening of entertainment. The singing, guitar playing, variety of music, humour, brilliant dancing.. there wasn't a weak link in the entire program. I hated to see it end. Thank you to the performers and to the behind-the-scenes people for, I feel sure, countless hours of preparation. Vancouver truly rocks and anyone who says differently has not seen Dances for a Small Stage!
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