Frédérick Gravel builds a rock-concert frenzy at PuSh International Performing Arts Festival opener

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      A Grouped’ArtGravelArtGroup presentation, as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Tuesday, January 16. No remaining performances

      The PuSh International Performing Arts Festival opened with an explosively exhilarating bang last night—sweat, beer, roaring guitars, depth-charge synths, blinding concert lights, and an extended standing ovation.

      Montreal musician and choreographer Frédérick Gravel is known for mixing live rock with physically pummelling dance, finding the energy of a concert in his work. Some Hope for the Bastards has the added appeal of feeling like a party, its dancers swigging Corona beer and mingling with the audience off the top of the show.

      Much like Gravel's hit Usually Beauty Fails that appeared in the 2014 festival, the choreography digs at raw ideas about what it means to be human--except here, Gravel takes on a larger scope, with a wider palette of music. He loves pushing repeated movements to extremes: in the work's coolest extended sequence, bodies pelvic-thrust relentlessly--and incongruously--to the pretty rhythms of baroque music, those pulses moving up into their chests as the score melts into banging club beats. Yet when the figures on-stage try to partner to the thumping, they end up pushing each other away, barely able to connect.

      Awkwardness, that oh-so-human condition, recurs as a theme, especially in the overture, as the dancers bend and split in increasingly uncomfortable ways while staring directly at the audience.

      The self-effacing Gravel pulls all this off with the least amount of pretension possible. This time out, he doesn't join the dancers, rather playing and singing with the genre-mashing band that shares the stage.

      He also interrupts the action near the start to deliver one of his rambling, funny introductions to the work, worrying about the pressures of having to open the PuSh fest, and explaining he gave it two beginnings because he couldn't decide between the two.

      Gravel, as always, is interested in how art is perceived by an audience, and how he connects with it. He's also not afraid of challenging dance conventions, telling those in the crowd that he actually enjoys watching folks walking out mid-show. 

      None of this would connect the way it does if the band, with its heavily treated guitars, buzzing synths, thumping drums, and introspective vocals, wasn't so good.

      As for the dancers, they show a commitment that reverberates off the stage. Not only can they meet the almost impossible endurance feats that Gravel demands of them--patterns repeat to the point of frenzied, near-trancelike exhaustion in the last quarter--but each brings an individuality and intimacy to the action that just heightens the feeling of undiluted human experience.

      These are vulnerable beings grappling with desire, fumbling toward ecstasy, and surrendering their bodies to the sound and the fury. 

      Fittingly, Gravel builds everything to a mad, thrilling crescendo--like the best rock concert. It's enough to give you the sense that there just might be some hope for us poor bastards.