We all know Jane is full of surprises

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      Presented by the Dance Centre. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday, June 21. No remaining performances

      We all know Jane’s mixed program served up the kind of dance you want on the first evening of summer: a kind of pupu platter of surprises—eclectic, bold, and sometimes bizarre in its tastes.

      As artist in residence at the Dance Centre, Ziyian Kwan had spearheaded the show with her two colleagues Anne Cooper and The Contingency Plan’s Vanessa Goodman, and also opened the night with her own solo. Kwan is a magnetic presence on-stage, well-known to audiences in work for companies as diverse as Kokoro Dance and plastic orchid factory—but she’s now making a foray into choreography.

      The neck to fall opened with the dancer staggering onto an all-white stage that was laid out with an odd array of cardboard boxes, crumpled plastic, stools, and a stark light stand. She proceeded to riff wildly and imaginatively on the body-centred exercises of somatic-dance pioneer Amelia Itcush—but in a way that looked surreal because of the staging and props.

      To a mix of silence, electronic sounds, spoken directions in heavily Japanese-accented English, and the music of Peggy Lee and Dylan van der Schyff, Kwan pushed every muscle of her body and face. Just backing up to sit down on a box became a wagging, slo-mo process. She twisted into sobs when she peeked into a mysterious box at another point, and her flicking tongue became a force all its own during one section. Chopsticks were also a recurring motif, with the artist twisting them into her own throat like stilettos, tweaking her own body with them, and eating what appeared to be a single grain of rice out of a box.

      Over the arc of the piece, she found her groove. The piece could have been tighter and more fluid—sometimes it felt like a series of exercises—but it had an oddball attraction all its own.

      Anne Cooper, too, moved amid a stage full of props, but to very different effect. For Jane, the stage was laid out as a funky domestic space, with a mid-century table, a vintage lounger and stool, and even a TV and ghetto blaster. You could say it looked like a play set, and Cooper was certainly taking on a character, except that she was expressing artistic frustration through movement alone. Cooper tumbled over and over on the floor, or stepped forward and slumped, repeatedly, stuck in her rut. She’d throw herself down in front of mindless home-decorating TV shows, or stand frozen to blasting Supertramp. The movement was full of familiar gesture, but amped up into a witty, emotional portrait of what it’s like to be creatively blocked and unable to move forward.

      Goodman’s final work on the program was the most “dance-y”—and trance-y—on the program, and made it clear the young Iris Garland Emerging Choreographer Award–winner is well on her way to finding a unique choreographic voice. In her haunting the long indoors, crack dancers Kwan and Jane Osborne convulsed in their own, skittish groove under red-glowing, organlike blobs suspended from the ceiling. Moving to a soundscape that ranged from techno-industrial to heartbeats and what sounded like blood gurgling through veins, the pair moved almost like alien forms, lunging, partnering, then hurtling off in their own separate directions again. At one point Osborne seemed to fuse her fingers to Kwan’s neck, working her like some attached new member of her body, curling her up and arching her backward. Athletic, driving, and hypnotic, it felt hip—and fraught with mystery.

      We all know Jane’s title may have suggested the familiar and everyday, but this show’s female-powered program had the opposite effect. It felt unexpected and, yes, a bit strange—and that’s not a bad way to officially start summer.