Kitt Johnson's DRIFT or drive accesses the subconscious
A Kitt Johnson X-act production. A Vancouver International Dance Festival presentation. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Friday, March 8. No remaining performances
It starts in the subway, with the whoosh and clatter of passing trains and a bored girl turning slow circles in a luscious fur coat, so it’s got to be a journey. But the Danish dancer-choreographer Kitt Johnson’s DRIFT or drive takes viewers to the kind of dark, disturbing, and very gorgeous places that can only be accessed by way of the subconscious.
The hourlong solo is not without its mundane moments, including that intro—which is already under way by the time the audience files into the performance space, Johnson shuffling and pouting like she’s waiting on some tardy beau.
It’s not an auspicious opening. We’re going to spend 60 minutes with this twitchy minx?
It’s not long, though, before Johnson moves to the back wall and freezes—and then, through the magic of Mogens Kjempff’s very subtle lighting design, her brown coat turns black, her already pale face goes corpse-white, and we’re ushered right out of the Copenhagen Metro and into the realm of dreams, fantasy, and the absurd.
Itchy primates (Johnson scratching and scrabbling at her fur, to the accompaniment of grunting and whiffing) turn into sexy primates (the dancer slowly lifts her coat to reveal long, stocking-clad legs) and then into abstract form (Johnson scoots along the back wall on her bum, then folds into herself, her alabaster knees looking like staring eyes against the black of her stockings and dress).
Eventually the dress comes off, or almost off, and Johnson holds it over her head like a sail, or like some hierophant’s towering mitre. She’s otherwise nude, and lowers herself onto her back, arching her spine and performing a series of extraordinary gestures with her abdomen; from her rib cage to her hips, she compresses and expands her torso as if it were full of air, not fluids, bones, and vital organs. Humans are not supposed to move like this, but in an ideal world we would all have this grace and flexibility. Then she sits up, makes a black lozenge of her dress and folded arms, and becomes sculptural again, black fabric and white skin an uncanny, quivering fusion of the animate and inanimate.
It’s unclear what her intent is, but this apparition is unnervingly beautiful.
From there, DRIFT or drive spools back on itself, eventually landing more or less where it started—with Johnson, dressed, booted, and swathed in mink, at centre stage. Only by now she’s glowing, not sullen.
In a postshow question-and-answer session moderated by VIDF co–artistic director Jay Hirabayashi, Johnson revealed that her piece forms a spiral, rather than a circle; she doesn’t come back to quite the same place she started from, because she’s been changed by her actions over time. She also noted that what interests her is alchemy, or transformation—a process aided, she added, by the quiet Vancouver audience, whose respectful focus allowed her to spin deep, improvised variations of her predetermined choreographic structures.
“It’s a dialogue between the moment and the material I choose to work with,” she said, and on this night that conversation was rich in nuance, surprise, and beauty.