New Edge commisions wow crowds

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      A Dancing on the Edge presentation. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, July 10. No remaining performances.

      This year, to mark its 20th anniversary, the Dancing on the Edge festival commissioned 10 works—the 10 for 20 Project. As befits a birthday party, discovering the results at this week’s mixed programs was as much fun as pulling treats out of a loot bag.

      From Joe Ink’s warped ode to fairy tales and foot fetishes to Amber Funk Barton and Shay Kuebler’s adrenaline-jacked spin on urban dance, the commissions felt fresh and unfettered. With Edge Three’s Sleeping Booty, Joe Ink choreographer Joe Laughlin unleashed one of his most hilariously twisted visions yet. Dancers Lina Fitzner, Marissa Gomez, and Simone Kingman wore dresses that were a mix of June Cleaver housewife and Swan Lake ballerina. Their skyscraping heels? Sheer drag queen. Each performer was a twist on a fairy-tale archetype: Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Together they teetered and pirouetted around, strapping and unstrapping their sparkling platforms. Some of the movement, the mechanized-doll bits, has been done before, but the banter and characterizations were a riot: Gomez’s Sleeping Beauty arises from a bed of petals to stagger around narcoleptically, while Fitzner’s more streetwise Snow White tells Kingman’s Cinderella she needs “to get out of the kitchen” and Beauty she should “wake up” when it comes to that two-timing Prince Charming.

      Beneath the jokes were some smart statements on female stereotypes, plus a few choreographic sendups of fairy-tale ballet; and hey, if that art form doesn’t have a foot fetish, I’m Little Red Riding Hood.

      Booty shared the program with a non-commission, Montreal- and Vancouver-based Namchi Bazaar’s Industry of Dreams, a multimedia ode to Bollywood’s influence that integrated traditional Indian movement in new ways, but ultimately felt too cute and literal.

      The Edge Four program was, choreographically, much meatier, with a finale by Funk Barton and Kuebler that basically blew everyone away. It would be misleading to call what they did with Status Quo a hybrid of street and contemporary dance; it’s so much more, and that’s what’s so exciting. They’ve invented a new form, in which you can spot hints of breaking and hip-hop, but those influences are integrated so organically into a flowing style that it feels like something entirely different.

      Set to the trippy, electro-pumped likes of UNKLE and Flying Lotus, the vignettes explore gender roles, playing Funk Barton’s cocky attitude off her three male dancers (Kuebler plus the equally watchable Josh Martin and David Raymond). At one point, she dives and weaves through their backspins and top-rocks; at another, she yawns and rolls her eyes as they perform a parody on boy-band synchronized schlock. She even pulls off an emotional duet with the lanky Martin, in which they frantically feel for each other’s pulse and fall hungrily into the world’s most awkward waltz. Add to that the spectacle of some seriously acrobatic flips and hand stands, all executed with a contagious enthusiasm—the kind of crackle that comes from discovering something revolutionary. These guys literally danced until they fell over from exhaustion. Too bad, because most audience members immediately wanted more.

      Though it was totally different in style, the Tomorrow Collective’s Lunar Rouge was almost as physically demanding. The abstract piece’s primary pleasure came from the three strong female dancers—Katy Harris-McLeod, Jennifer McLeish-Lewis, and Mara Branscombe—pushing their muscles to the limit. Rouge followed a frantic fast-forward-and-rewind rhythm, rife with backwards running, gruelling lunges, and straight arms forcefully cutting the air. Sheathed in Lindsay Keegan’s gorgeous costumes—coolly contemporary takes on ancient Greco-Roman dress—the dancers seemed to celebrate the power of women to overcome and, eventually, break free. Small wonder this 10 for 20 commission was choreographed by veteran Chick Snipper, who showed a confidence that comes from a true mastery of her craft. Jesse Zubot’s cathartic mix of haunting strings and feedback added yet another atmospheric layer.

      Rounding out the program, MovEnt’s Day Helesic came up with some inventive partnering in Around the Block, a duet with Ballet B.C.’s charismatic Chengxin Wei that followed a harried couple’s romantic ups and downs. It was a promising excerpt from a full work that is set to debut early next year.

      Usually, the Edge’s mixed programs are full of such short studies. But the chance to see three fully realized commissions in the space of a few hours, each radically different from the other? Now that’s cause for celebration.