The Light Between hints at the pleasures of age
Choreographed by Margie Gillis with Holly Bright, Marc Daigle, and Paola Styron. A Vancouver International Dance Festival presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday, March 16. No remaining performances
The stage looked autumnal, but spring was in the air at the Vancouver Playhouse on Saturday night.
It was hard not to see artist Randal Newman’s set as anything other than commentary on a life winding down: dismembered limbs hung from the flies, resembling tree branches in fall, while a slew of paper-cutout hands crunched under the dancers’ feet like funereal leaf litter. A comparatively hopeful image occupied the side of the stage, however: arms reaching up to the sky in joy, rather than in supplication. And choreographer-performer Margie Gillis’s dance—created with performers Marc Daigle and Paola Styron, along with Crimson Coast Dance Society artistic director Holly Bright—had at least as much to do with the giddy awakening of the flesh as with the slow shutting down that often comes with age.
Or so it seemed—but that, of course, is a matter of interpretation. Much of The Light Between was far more abstract, including one of its most compelling passages: Gillis’s first solo, in which she enacted a series of thrillingly precise changes between various attitudes of stillness and repose. The effect was to encode a lifetime of contemplation within a few short minutes, and so play up Gillis’s veteran status; the 59-year-old performer has amassed a catalogue of over 150 solo and 20 ensemble pieces. Despite her senior-artist poise, though, she still managed to giggle like a schoolgirl later on when the handsome and muscular Daigle pursued her while waving a pair of Newman’s arms in a cartoonish parody of lust.
The work’s sensual overtones were amplified by Anne Dixon’s sumptuous costumes. Although both were briefly nude, or nearly so, Gillis and Styron more often wore flowing gowns that were cut so low in the back that they exposed the performers’ hips. The result was both instructive, as it revealed the dancers’ muscle control, and deeply erotic. In turn, Daigle took one of his solos in a voluminous black skirt, which he lifted over his head to show its scarlet lining. Perversely, and enjoyably, this amplified his confident masculinity while evoking the ludicrous costumes recently on view during the papal selection process.
Nonetheless, it was Gillis’s show all the way. Although a powerful dancer, Daigle did not evince much personality in his role, which instead flickered between an assortment of male archetypes and stereotypes. And whether this was written into her part or the result of her own nature, Styron played wallflower to the star’s flaming rose; she’s a good dancer, but paled next to Gillis’s ability to command centre stage. Granted, she did have to play the spurned lover, a thankless task, and she did convey a believable sense of hurt.
The Light Between’s finale found the two women happily reconciled, however, and overall the work suggested that the pleasures of age can include friendships rediscovered, the rekindling of sensuality, and a deep acceptance of the world as it is. I might just be projecting here but, even so, those are comforting thoughts.