Julianne Chapple's Suffix creates an eerie, and ultimately distressing, world of humans and sculptures

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      A Future Leisure production. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Saturday, October 27. No remaining performances

      Before audiences entered the theatre for Julianne Chapple’s eerie new work about humans and technology, an instructional video might have made them feel like they were about to enter the isolated research estate in Ex Machina.

      A digitally generated woman’s voice gave directions about where to sit or stand, with 3-D animated graphics of the theatre space interspliced ominously with X-ray imagery.

      Viewers then flowed into the Faris Family Studio theatre, which had been stripped of its seats, settling around a clinical-white central square lit on each corner by a cold, towering rod of LED light. At the far end, on five plinths, glowed transparent facial moulds, DNA samples, and dental impressions of each performer.

      In the centre of the space, dancers were already moving or sprawled on the floor. One was rolling around with a big metal ball that had been polished to the clean sheen of a stainless-steel surgical tray.

      Artist-collaborator Ed Spence had created several such metal structures for the dancers to interact with. They made for some unique kinetic exploration—one was a rounded cage that a performer could enter and roll around in, another a long rod a dancer could turn about her shoulders and neck. Together, they symbolized, in a beautifully abstract way, our ever-growing attachment to technology. The shapes were honed into ergonomic forms, giving the feel of Apple by way of David Cronenberg.

      But what Chapple—who has launched the city’s newest dance company, Future Leisure—excels at is creating surreal imagery. We’ve seen it before in her shorter works on mixed bills like Small Stage, but with Suffix, she created a strange mood in a more immersive way. She turned the Faris into some kind of giant, haunting laboratory-gallery, with its hard light and the eerie electro drone of the score by the Wolves & the Blood.

      There, struggling human forms found their physicality with big metal implements. Some of the geometric props offered more successful movement exploration than others; Maxine Chadburn had a flowing duet with the ball where it became a living partner as she slid around it as it rolled.

      Throughout, Chapple paced the perimeter, flicking lights on and off, sometimes stepping in to move Spence’s beautiful but sinister sculptures.

      It all culminated in a spooky bathing ritual that gave way to an unexpectedly moving sequence. The dancers washed and donned transparent masks, like they were ready to enter some transhuman state. Then Chadburn climbed into a coffin-sized box at the back of the “stage”. It was lit and opened toward the audience, and her image was repeated to infinity by some brilliant trick of the mirrors inside it. Chadburn had a last human breakdown, all her real emotions bubbling to the surface before she handed herself over to… What? Cryogenic freezing? The downloading of her brain? Some other form of technological transmutation? The lights went out before we saw what finally happened to her body and soul. But it was disturbing and intensely sad.

      With Suffix, Chapple, working with Spence, has asserted herself as a unique and fearless voice on the dance scene—and someone unafraid to go to dark places in daring and visually bold new ways.