Brief Encounters' 17th installment shows the innovative mashup series continuing to thrive

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      A Tomorrow Collective presentation. At Performance Works on Wednesday, August 31. Continues September 1 and 2

      Arriving at the latest installment of Brief Encounters, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon some after-hours dance club. A darkened Performance Works was packed out, with a lineup at the bar, music pumping from the speaker system, and a big screen looping video imagery on the stage. At the back of the room, people crowded around live-drawing artists Jordan Bent and Eli Horn as they scribbled across the wall.

      Whatever the folks at the Tomorrow Collective are doing, it’s working: their innovative mashup series creates a buzz that few other arts events do. Their staying power (17 installments!) is a result of their successful formula: pair up 12 artists from insanely diverse disciplines and give them two weeks to create short works—a program that will draw in people from across the spectrum of the cultural scene, from hipster music fans to theatregoers to the film crowd.

      What that audience gets is hard to describe. It’s a tapas menu of uncategorizable experiments, some goofy, some contemplative. Of the latter, a standout was film and video artist Jeff Carter and visual artist Meghan Currie’s multimedia ode to bicycling and the universe. While the pair, dressed in old-fashioned hats, pedalled a static fixie built for two, a standup screen played video shot from handlebars along the city’s bike routes, while a larger one showed images of space and our artistic duo ninja-fighting in a forest. The voice-over philosophized about our very existence (“its purpose is no purpose and its sense is nonsense”). Elsewhere, theatre artist Anita Rochon and musician Dominique Fricot (of the Painted Birds) offered up a wonderfully deadpan story with songs that, with him at piano and her at the mike, was like Steve and Eydie if they were managed by David Lynch. And one of the most creative—and beautifully low-tech—encounters was between contemporary dancer Julia Carr and puppet-theatre artist Maggie Winston: when they weren’t manipulating paper dolls of themselves on an overhead, they were wearing absurd, nylon-stuff puppets who performed a truly twisted striptease.

      One of the most anticipated pairings of the night was between Swollen Members’ Prevail, doing spoken word, and dynamic 605 Collective dancer Josh Martin. Surprising everyone, rather than going for an urban rap, they brought to life a twisted fairy tale about a wooden boy battling a world of machines. The rhymes were sometimes strained (“diluted it became…burst into flame”), but the energy was pure fission.

      One of the night’s strengths is that it pushes artists into scary new territory: just like it was cool to see Prevail dressed in a vest, holding a pipe, and moving around with a dancer, it was fascinating to watch reigning flamenco queen Rosario Ancer step away from her castanets and ruffles into “fantasy stylist” Myles Laphen’s Venetian-nightmare world of feathers and masks.

      A collaboration between a landscape architect and a musician? It was a little less smooth. But Brief Encounters continues to thrive because it’s about the experiment—and the atmosphere makes the audience willing to take risks and get into the fun. Every work is introduced by a video of the pair of artists describing their challenges and excitement working together; in one, musician-percussionist Paul Bray jokes that he at first despaired that he got paired with a landscape architect instead of a dancer; in another, Currie hung upside down from a child’s playground swing and explained how Carter is a “prickly” person while she’s a “wiggly”.

      The point is clear that if their creations don’t endure, artistic relationships will—no matter how brief the encounter on-stage.