A Pictures for the Sky presentation. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Saturday, June 2. No remaining performances
Viviane Houle and Stefan Smulovitz did well when they named their production company Pictures for the Sky, for its inaugural offering, gesture4 , was as lovely, surprising, and strange as the birth of a constellation.
Not so surprising was that the brightest star in this particular firmament proved to be Noam Gagnon, whose incandescent dancing dominated the first of gesture4 's three parts. As co–artistic director of the Holy Body Tattoo troupe, Gagnon has become known for intricately choreographed tests of stamina, but in this improvised setting he showed that he's also a master of making things up on the spot.
Shirtless, barefoot, and wearing tattered jeans, Gagnon resembled a younger, leaner, and better-looking Iggy Pop, and there was a lot of feral rock-star energy in his performance. Sublimely confident in his conditioning, he threw himself into rapid-fire sequences of stretching, rolling, and tumbling, then crouched before a video camera–which threw his much-magnified face onto a giant screen at the rear of the stage–to snarl and seduce with pouty eloquence. His antics were well matched by Houle's guttural exclamations and bat-sonar keenings, which Smulovitz morphed into a banshee orchestra through careful use of his self-designed Kenaxis software.
"Gesture1" was a thrilling start to the evening, which made the meditative calm of "gesture2" all the more striking. With Gagnon taking a fitful on-stage nap, our attention was diverted to the screen, where video artist jamie griffiths displayed a poignant, exquisitely shot series of images of religious observance. One by one, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and New Age votaries read the Torah, crossed themselves, or stood in silent meditation, and the contemplative nature of belief was echoed by Houle's wordless singing, again sensitively processed by her husband and artistic partner.
After an intermission, the four artists convened for "gesture3", a looser improvisation that seemed to sum up what had gone before. Here, griffiths provided the most striking component: from time to time she'd freeze a colour image of Gagnon on the screen, then allow his movement to continue in black and white. Meanwhile, the dancer watched himself on a video monitor at the front of the stage, and tailored his actions to reflect his frozen double. Sometimes he appeared to cradle himself; in one eerie sequence, he resembled his own ghost, rising wraithlike from his supine body.
Houle contributed what might have been the night's only aesthetic misstep–and it was a small one–when she dipped into the jazz standard "My Favourite Things" during the final piece. In a post-show Q&A session, however, she confessed that she'd left her prepared texts backstage and was just singing whatever came into her head. The four artists also explained that they'd assembled the show in only 20 hours of rehearsal time, which makes gesture4 's combination of technological mastery, physical grace, and heartfelt emotion an even bigger miracle than it seemed.