A Dance Centre and MACHiNENOiSY production. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Thursday, December 3. Continues until December 5
Innovator Daelik said in his program notes he wanted to “create an event rather than simply a dance performance”, and in that, the MACHiNENOiSY coartistic director certainly achieved his goal.
From the first moments—when the standing audience members suddenly realized a wall of cardboard boxes was moving hydraulically toward them, squeezing them further into the room—to the end’s cathartic scene of a tower of those cardboard cubes tumbling down to blasting Led Zeppelin, The Open Spaces Project felt like a happening. In fact, it felt like the kind of underground show you might catch in Berlin, where Daelik, not coincidentally, has spent time honing his avant-garde chops.
The mono-monikered choreographer-performer, who created the work with Aussie artist Paul Gazzola, had ripped all the seating out of the Scotiabank Dance Centre theatre and turned it into a big empty cube of its own. He and the five other male dancers constantly reconfigured the space, stacking and restacking boxes, moving two large beams about, and letting the audience shuffle around the room, following them. At some moments you could watch the dancers through holes in a box wall built down the middle of the space; at others, the wall became a screen for projected scenes of the western frontier and men’s urinals. The themes were architecture and masculinity, the way men have built our world: in one clever bit of choreography, the dancers passed the beams between them, rotating them and avoiding collision with some fancy footwork, but also looking not unlike a bunch of guys on a construction site.
The evening felt loose and chaotic. Sequences of pure dance would alternate with spoken scenes, with much moving and reconstructing in between. In one of the latter, the men sat around a cowboy-style “campfire”—or at least one shown crackling on the screens of smartphones—and talked about the expectations society forces on men: “All men should eat meat.” “All men should drive fast.” “All men should be able to fix a toaster.” With his bone-dry delivery, performer Alex Lazaridis Ferguson, who spoke most of the lines throughout the show, made it all sardonically funny.
There was a whole lot going on around the actual choreography, but when it happened, the dance was strong. Dressed in street clothes, just khakis and tees, the performers had a fluid, athletic style that had hints of contact improv but looked urban, organic, and relaxed, especially as delivered by the loose-limbed Christopher Wright. It was not without its torment: at one point, standout Shay Kuebler frantically yanked up his shirt and felt for his ribs, like he’d lost some part of himself; in another, Clinton Draper convulsed in lightning-fast repetitions, grasping at his own face, as Ferguson barked out such orders as “Be a good boy!”, “Be a bad boy!”, and “Be a good bad boy!”
Unfortunately, some of that dance got lost in the commotion. As you’d expect from a piece like this, sightlines were sometimes bad, and there were several moments when audience members had to scurry out of the way as dancers—and giant beams—came toward them. Still, the artsy contingent of viewers seemed to enjoy that sense of spontaneity and lack of constriction. It couldn’t have been easy for the dancers, with no cordoned-off areas, but somehow, within the laid-back approach of the entire evening, they made it work in a messy, and surprisingly unpretentious, kind of way.
You left the theatre a bit baffled—Wright’s final confessional, performed surreally on a microphone with his head inside a hanging tower of cardboard boxes, probably had something to do with that. But in the end, you had to give Daelik and crew, and the Dance Centre, props for taking these kinds of risks—and for letting you take part in the “event”.