MovEnt's Small Stage point 5 succeeds in diversity

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A MovEnt production. At the Emerald on Friday, July 4. No remaining performances

For a good time, call MovEnt.

Vancouver’s populist dance presenter knows how to throw a party, and the second installment of its new Small Stage point 5 series continued its tradition of packed houses and pleasure. Whether served up with cheap beer at an East Side Legion hall, pierogies at the Ukrainian Centre, or retro cocktails at Chinatown eatery the Emerald, artistic producer Julie-anne Saroyan’s approach has consistently lured new audiences to modern dance. That MovEnt was able to fill the Emerald, even with the Dancing on the Edge festival occupying multiple venues just a couple of blocks away, speaks to the appeal of Small Stage’s variety-show format—and to the size and strength of Vancouver’s dance community.

Some accommodations to the larger festival had to be made. Part of the riotous welcome the first edition of point 5 received late last year was due to the inter-act presence of Justine Chambers and Billy Marchenski as Rat Pack wannabes, quarrelling and posturing with louche and somewhat menacing panache. It was a perfect fit for the Emerald’s red-velvet chinoiserie—but with Marchenski dancing in an Edge show, this time their interludes were delivered via video that no one watched.

More successful was the recruitment of Brasstronaut guitarist Tariq Hussain as cocurator, which meant a shift in focus from dance with music to dance and music, and more new bums in seats. It’s not entirely clear what Hussain’s curatorial criteria were, but if he was shooting for range, he succeeded with what proved a hugely diverse program.

The most beautiful moments came from the surprising pairing of electronic musician Loscil and burlesque diva Burgundy Brixx, who might have just invented a genre all their own with “Flow”. Brixx doesn’t dance so much as pose, but she poses elegantly and her alabaster skin made a gorgeous canvas for projected images of what might have been rippling water and creeping tendrils. In a smart riff on burlesque’s traditional hide-reveal strategy, she also used lengths of silk to create electric-blue clouds that swirled around her limbs and torso. Meanwhile, crouched on the floor, Loscil layered warm drones and gurgling synth tones to visceral effect. Not a mashup but a genuine collaboration, their intimate rapport deserves a longer showcase.

Folk-funk singer-guitarist Tonye Aganaba and hip-hop dancer Stewart Iguidez also hit the mark with “Passion”. The two shared a real rhythmic rapport, but what really stood out was their ease with technology. Aganaba used a looping pedal to layer guitar parts and vocal harmonies for a full-band effect, and at one point Iguidez commandeered her microphone to add beatbox drumming. The song itself was nothing much—a simple affirmation of music’s power—but Aganaba’s confident voice and Iguidez’s compact muscularity were compelling.

A couple of the other acts fell into the work-in-progress category. Jennifer Bishop, for instance, is onto something with her scratchy sand-dancing accompaniment to Belle Game singer Andrea Lo’s subdued electrofolk, but her footwork could have been more rhythmically precise. Karissa Barry, on the other hand, delivered a lithe portrait of yearning and ambivalence in “Master”, but singer-guitarist Christopher Smith’s song was generic. More successful was Hussain’s “Lotus Flower Feather Wings”, a lonesome-cowboy motel blues that Farley Johansson animated with hunched gestures of pain and sorrow—a downbeat ending to the party, perhaps, but far from fatal.

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