In Reading the Bones, Kokoro Dance quilts together three accomplished decades with finesse

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      Choreographed by Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi. A Kokoro Dance production. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Thursday, September 19. Continues on September 20 and 21, and from September 25 to 28

      Two things we learned at the Roundhouse: Reading the Bones is an assemblage of repurposed choreographic moves taken from Kokoro Dance repertoire dating back to 1990, and founding choreographer-dancers Barbara Bourget and Jay Hirabayashi are highly accomplished quilters. So accomplished, in fact, that they’ve developed a kind of invisible stitchery.

      The company’s latest is a retrospective, but it presents as a new, challenging, and occasionally very lovely piece.

      In a postshow talkback session, the pair—a couple in life as well as in art—explained how they have successfully woven old threads into fresh fabric. For Bourget, her aim was to “reinvent this movement in a way that brings it forward”. One way to do that, she elaborated, was to give the dancers more autonomy. Rather than having to adhere to a strict time line, they’re free to start and stop movement sequences at will—a kind of “aleatory” play reminiscent of the way improvising musicians often work.

      Granted, this wasn’t always easy to see. The intergenerational cast—Kokoro veteran Salomé Nieto, relative newcomers Katie Cassady, Molly McDermott, and Deanna Peters, and the 68-year-old Bourget herself—was so dialled in to the needs of the work that many passages looked as tightly ordered as ballet, and even when the dancers were each obviously moving to their own pulse the effect was one of unity.

      All five dancers stayed on-stage for the duration of the hourlong, physically demanding piece, which began with a passage that both alluded to the title—as Bourget later noted, it “warmed up their bones”—and displayed the company’s knack for simple yet disturbing images. On their hands and knees, dressed in simple black tunics that slowly rose over their hips, the women shook and spasmed, arced their backs, and lowered their heads back between their shoulder blades—an image of resilience under duress that might also serve as a metaphor for what it takes to keep a dance company alive for more than 30 years.

      In another telling image, Bourget stood in the centre of a rectangle formed by the other performers, gesticulating in a somewhat ceremonial manner as they synchronized their arm movements around her—paying homage to their elder, perhaps, or making votive offerings to a small and wiry goddess. (I had a flash of Kali for a moment, but Bourget’s a creator, not a destroyer.)

      Reading the Bones, perhaps uncharacteristically, ended with pure beauty, as the performers shed their tunics, wrapped their arms around their torsos, and slowly rotated to Joseph Hirabayashi’s meditative score. In a darker butoh context this shared gesture could be seen as a way of hiding from horror, but here it read as a warm display of self-love—and ego-free self-love at that, as demonstrated by the aforementioned unity of the dancers.

      The feeling resonated nicely into the room.