Dances for a Small Stage 21 definitely the most bizarre edition yet

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      At the Legion on the Drive on Thursday, August 6. No remaining performances

      Anyone sampling Dances for a Small Stage for the first time this week could be forgiven for wondering what they’d stumbled upon. A giant Nutcracker-style soldier doll scarfed down peanuts, ’50s promgoers ripped off their crinolines, a man convulsed inside a plywood pirate ship, and a burlesque dancer in sequined stars and stripes shot toy guns.

      Held at the atmospheric Legion on the Drive, Small Stage has never been a serious, straight-up contemporary-dance event. But it’s hard to remember a program in its 20 previous editions being quite this bizarre—or one that was met with so much whooping laughter.

      Some high-calibre dance glimmered among the more whacked-out offerings. In Make Room, Vancouver’s new Out Innerspace Dance Theatre’s charismatic David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen wrapped and knotted themselves in sculptural puzzles without ever really connecting. Moving to the haunting ambient drone of local musician Loscil’s “Kursk”, they finally came together in a slow, spinning dance, the fingertips of their outstretched arms touching tenderly.

      The much rowdier Contingency Plan (Vanessa Goodman, Jane Osborne, and Leigha Wald) gamely hammed it up under a banner that read Strathcona High Class of ’56 (also the title of the work). Clad in perfect pastel dresses and looking like extras from Peggy Sue Got Married, their high schoolers went from the nervous energy of a slow dance set to the crooning of Elvis Presley (a protective group huddle gave way to groping dance partners from the audience) and devolved into stripping down to their knickers in an anachronistic, tribal tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. Altogether twisted and inspired.

      Drift; a little urban fable opened tentatively, with Yannick Matthon yakking about everything from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the province’s projected arts cuts. Things improved when he stopped talking and started dancing, first squeezed inside his pint-sized plywood ship and later outside, kicking up the styrofoam peanuts that had spilled out of it. The artist has a unique, cool way of moving, like a rubber-jointed automaton tossing his head back and collapsing his knees like they’ve been whacked from behind by a two-by-four.

      Amid all this, there were detours into burlesque (Burgundy Brixx’s shoot-’em-up set to Green Day’s “American Idiot”), earnest musical interludes (by singer-songwriter Owen Belton), and utter lunacy (Billy Marchenski and Lesley Ewen’s warped satire of The Nutcracker). But the highlight of the night, Justine Chambers’s mesmerizing On Any Given Day, was as serene and crystalline as a tubular bell. Set to a symphony of musical chimes, it found Chambers strutting, squatting, and sauntering around the stage, her graceful hands flicking repeatedly like levers in a carillon. It was simply entrancing—made all the more so by the outrageous carnival that surrounded it on the program.