What Belongs to You conjures thrilling visual magic

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A Vanessa Goodman/The Contingency Plan presentation, as part of Dancing on the Edge, with the Dance Centre. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Sunday, July 6. No remaining performances

In our ultrawired universe, it’s always inspiring to see what an imaginative artist can conjure with a few simple, low-tech objects.

Rising young choreographer Vanessa Goodman creates thrilling magic with sheets of plastic and a few hundred balloons. Her only plugged-in props are 10 off-stage fans that herd and blow the white, floating orbs into dizzying mini-tornadoes around the dancers.

What belongs to you opens with a pulsing strobe revealing alien figures in the dark: heads seem to jut out from columns of balloons, like creatures emerging from great batches of eggs. As the lights come up, they doff their balloons, except for Bevin Poole, looking ethereal as she dances and sheds them, gracefully, one by one.

Goodman and her five collaborating dancers find myriad ways to create striking imagery from their ever-bouncing props. At one point they gather them on a huge plastic sheet and lower them like a protective skin over performer Josh Martin, who’s lying on the ground; at another, he sticks his head inside a big transparent-plastic bag of the balloons and it becomes a convulsing, brainlike blob. But nothing matches the beauty of the magnetic, laser-focused Jane Osborne moving as the white spheres swirl and swarm around her like they’re alive. She’s soon joined by Poole, and when they clasp each other, lean in, and even share a transcendent kiss, the props are dancing as much as the performers.

If it sounds gimmicky, it’s not: the work is grounded in meaningful themes, specifically Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (you’ll recognize everything from the necessity of security, food, and shelter to the need to connect through love and community).

The work builds in complexity as the humans ascend the hierarchy and become fully realized. Along the way, there are sequences of physically exhilarating partnering (watch Osborne and Poole throw each other around and scatter the balloons) and compelling solos (rarely has Martin’s sheer muscular power been unleashed with this ferocity on a local stage).

Gabriel Saloman’s moody electronic score, marked by pulsing, heartlike beats, cinematic strains, and guitar feedback, and James Proudfoot’s haunting lighting add other layers of complexity and atmosphere.

Goodman, winner of the 2013 Iris Garland emerging-choreographer award, shows depth, innovation, and maturity with this new piece, while expressing herself in a way that is massively accessible because of the spectacular, sensory effect of the balloons and the visual tricks she achieves with them. This is dance that anyone would enjoy. And if she can do this with a few standard items from Home Depot and Party Bazaar, there’s no stopping her.

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