Dances for a Small Stage 23 steps much closer to being performance art
A MovEnt presentation, as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Legion on the Drive on January 26. Continues until January 28
The evening is called Dances for a Small Stage, but this time out, MovEnt could be accused of slight false advertising. As always, the stage is indeed small, with dancers crammed onto a platform not much bigger than your average Vancouver kitchen. But as for the “dances” part, the 23rd installment’s program steps much closer to being performance art.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and in a way, it’s fitting: at this time of year, MovEnt’s hugely popular East Side series hooks up with the genre-mashing PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. With that in mind, Dances for a Small Stage added a new twist for this rendition, asking dancers to create work around characters “not in the present day”.
Our morbidly warped hosts are Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Billy Marchenski, two talented artists who have made their names melding dance and acting. Friedenberg is decked out in the voluminous black skirts and corset of Victorian funeral garb—an Alice Mansell creation with surprise sculptural folds of fabric. Looking a bit like a gothic Joan Crawford, Friedenberg is riffing on her latest character creation—a death-obsessed woman from her pending Highgate, a group work named for London’s famous cemetery that’s scheduled to open sometime in 2012. Marchenski is her sidekick, a Dickensian villain in a poorboy cap who, throughout the evening, hauls the limp body of each dancer on and off the stage—a shtick that gives the mixed program a thematic flow it doesn’t usually enjoy.
The strongest work of the night is also the “danciest”: Out Innerspace’s Itchy Knee, set to Japanese percussionist and musician Asa Chang’s absurd spoken-word language lesson. Tiffany Tregarthen looks part anime character in her teddy-bear hat, while David Raymond is all severe Asian attitude in his tiny oval sunglasses and mandarin shirt. Their herky-jerky duet spans everything from doll-like moves to martial arts; it was a bit loosey-goosey and could have been pushed into even sharper movement, but overall it was a hip ode to both the wonky rhythms of the soundscape and the whacked-out world of Japanese pop.
Two other works deconstructed ’50s femininity with mixed success. In Awd-Rey, Kim Tuson came out in perfect pearls, a hair-sprayed coif, and a black shift and self-destructed into a frenzied strip-down to her girdle. One segment found her strangling her own neck to the discombobulated Annie Lennox lyrics, “It’s your duty to be beautiful. Keep young and beautiful.” Meanwhile, Toronto-by-way-of-Manitoba artist Susie Burpee did an inspired take on a lonely, birdlike woman in an excerpt from her 2007 solo The Spinster’s Almanac, set to Christine Fellows’s evocative singing. Feathers would burst out of the bosom of her glamorously tailored postwar dress. Still, lip-synching in dance always makes me think of drag shows and air bands.
These characters were out-there, but they had nothing on the excerpt from Delia Brett’s latest work, called Being Imaginary. More high-concept than the other offerings, it found the artist sheathed head-to-toe in an eerie black-nylon body suit. As she writhed in moves that were by turns mechanical and animal, she would unzip it to reveal a section of her spine, a single white foot, or a hand. Eventually, fellow MACHiNENOiSY collaborator Daelik arrived to strip her entirely of her costume, and she stepped behind a screen of projected costumes while he handed her various hats and props. It was like an elaborate game of dress-up, and by the time homemade tinfoil ray guns and projected robot suits arrived, it had become a bizarre commentary on the violence of child’s play. Prepare for more highly watchable weirdness when a longer version of the work comes to the Scotiabank Dance Centre in June.
In all, the strange parade of characters was more memorable than the choreography or virtuosity on this night. But do audiences even care? The receptive crowd was clearly enjoying itself. And maybe the larger message here is that the very definitions of dance itself are changing.