After Trio A and Beginning are a pair of unorthodox dance experiments
A Dance Centre and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presentation. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Thursday, February 2. Continues till February 4
Who are the bravest two dancers in the city right now? After last night’s challenging, impromptu dance lesson, my vote goes to Claire French and Anne Cooper, who had to learn a portion of modernist pioneer Yvonne Rainer’s 1966 Trio A in front of a live audience. And they had to do it with the often-surreal interruptions of timer bells, the loud thunk of a big stereo speaker slammed down on the floor via pulleys, and, oh yes, a person juggling glow-in-the-dark balls. Later on in the work, the pair had to do it all in tap shoes, too.
If that sounds like a bizarre little experiment, that’s exactly what Croatian-born, Amsterdam-based dance artist Andrea Božić’s After Trio A was. The first in a two-part program that had the feel of a 1970s New York dance lab, it was an ode to Rainer’s best-known minimalist work—one that sought to reduce dance to the essentials and remove all eye contact with the audience. Rainer herself appeared, ghostlike, performing the movement phrases from the piece, in an old, black-and-white projection on one of the dual screens in the work. From these videos, French had to try to re-enact the choreography; then, almost like that old game of telephone where a message changes as it’s passed along, Cooper had to watch French do it. Appearing on the other screen were choice phrases from Rainer’s 1965 No Manifesto (almost quaint now in their dogmatic idealism): “No to spectacle,” “No to virtuosity,” “No to transformations and the magic and make-believe,” et cetera, et cetera.
Even though Rainer’s dance is bare-bones, music-free, and purposely unvirtuosic, it’s incredibly demanding, in part because it is such an extended phrase of flowing movement. So on that level, it was fascinating to see how veteran dancers like French and Cooper could pick it up so smoothly and innately. Sometimes you could see their minds at work, trying to remember a certain twist of the arm or flick of the leg right before they’d do it.
The experiment itself wasn’t enough to hold attention, though. Where Božić’s work got interesting was in the way it seemed to alter time: the repeated but completely arbitrary bells and thunking speakers confused the normal passage of minutes, especially when combined with the movement phrases we were learning as an audience, too. It was disorienting in a good way. And our sense of time and space was suspended eerily further by the video work: at one point, Cooper danced alone on the stage, in front of a projection of what we had just seen French dancing in front of the video screen of Rainer, with the juggler to the side. For a second it was Lynch-ian and Fellini-esque, all at the same time.
As for the experiment itself, though, it’s hard to draw a huge amount of meaning from it. Rainer’s tenets seem a touch antique in these post-postmodern days, and this small study felt pretty cerebral.
After a lengthy intermission, Božić herself took the stage in Beginning, an interplay between herself and visual artist Julia Willms, who sketched live onto huge projections that covered and surrounded Božić.
It started orderly, with Willms’s pen repeatedly outlining Božić’s profile as she moved slowly across the front of the screen. But it gradually devolved into wild, frantic scribbling as Willms tried to chase her moving subject. Amazingly, those scribbles still captured the human form in an artistic way. By the end, it was all about hurling giant ink splats.
The choreography itself wasn’t too challenging, and the idea of performance with a sketch artist might not feel that new to local audiences. When Dana Gingras’s Animals of Distinction worked with animator Amit Pitaru and visual artist James Paterson in 2007’s “Chain Reaction”, with scrawling drawings snaking from dancers’ limbs and torsos, it felt more visceral; and a few years earlier, when artist Shary Boyle sketched live with musician Christine Fellows, there was an elaborate artistry to the illustrations and old-school overhead transparencies that lent the work a richer visual world.
Still, there was a sense of pared-down spontaneity to Beginning, as well as After Trio A, that a lot of our overchoreographed work has lost these days. So, viewed in that sense, these unorthodox little experiments are worth throwing your lab coat on for.