Featuring choreography by Crystal Pite and Richard Siegal. At the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on Thursday, February 17. No remaining performances.
There's a lot going on in Double Story, a two-part show choreographed and performed by Crystal Pite and Richard Siegal. Not all of the elements work, but the two dancers are so outrageously gifted, and so fantastically compatible, that any small structural weaknesses are fast quashed by their artistry.
The program begins with The Bouncy Woman Piece, a 2002 duet by Siegal, the comical moments of which don't stand a chance next to its dark undertones. Two years later, Pite made Man Asunder in response. Hers reflects his, not just thematically but also literally: the set's two oversize mirrors, as well as the on-stage position of composer Diane Labrosse, flip sides for the second half.
The ideas in both choreographically complex pieces, which integrate text, puppets, and goofy masks, are far-reaching. The through line is a troubling story about childhood friends, a boy and a girl, and the performers present their memories from both perspectives. When they're not going back to those kids' days and dreams, Pite and Siegal contemplate the universe like philosophy students. They question everything from the proof of one's own existence to the definition of a vacuum.
Then there are interludes when the two step out of character and into real time, stopping to catch their breath, sip water, rearrange sets, and signal what's coming next. "Do we need more smoke?" Pite asks before slipping behind the wings to turn on the smoke machine. This technique is Double Story's most questionable one. Pite has incorporated deconstructionism in past works, so it's possible that its novelty has worn off. Here, it simply feels like filler.
Such extraneous material is especially pointless given what these two dynamos have to offer when they zip their lips and dance. They make for a potent pair. They're extremely well-matched technically; both execute intricate, demanding choreography and move their bodies in ways that shouldn't be possible. They both have a stage actor's breadth of emotion, and their cohesiveness is tight. Some of their partnering is so quick and violent that the slightest miscalculation would have left one of them bruised. In one harrowing scene, they plant their foreheads together and tumble over each other, only for Siegal to lift Pite up by her neck and one ankle.
Bouncy Woman begins with Pite making her way across the stage in an L shape, and though her gestures are springy, her feet never leave the floor. She somehow turns her body into a double helix, a continuous, sinuous series of Ss. She flings her soft knees to the side while her arms flail, her hips jut out, and her head tilts and bobs; it's impossible not to be transfixed by her elasticity.
The New York-based Siegal is just as capable and commanding. He moves with the strength of a gymnast and the precision of a classical dancer, and although he's exact, he's also sensual. And his presence is downright disturbing when he spins in anger, his voice getting louder and uglier.
Double Story's grim undercurrent is underlined by Labrosse's suitably haunting accompaniment, generated by a laptop computer.
Pite and Siegal have the kind of rare connection that makes the performing arts so exciting and vital. This is one story that dance lovers won't soon forget.