Vanessa Goodman and Idan Sharabi a study in contrasts at the Chutzpah Festival

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      A Chutzpah Festival presentation. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Wednesday, February 25. Continues until February 28

      The latest Chutzpah dance program is a study in contrasts: the intellectual next to the gut-instinct; the measured and the messy.

      On one hand, you have fast-emerging Vancouver choreographer Vanessa Goodman staging a studied, carefully orchestrated ode to the theories of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould. On the other, you have fearless Israeli renegade Idan Sharabi throwing it all against the wall in a virtuosically spastic exploration of home, politics, and identity, set to everything from his own interviews with people in Gaza bomb shelters to Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and songs by Joni Mitchell. The impressions you left with were of cool, grey and white brain food and then Sharabi’s wild, balls-to-the wall dance innovations—enough stuff to feed the head and the heart over what was, admittedly, a long evening.

      Goodman’s Wells Hill (named for the street of McLuhan’s family home) uses dance to comment, sometimes ironically, on the texts of Gould and McLuhan, who shared many prescient ideas about technology and art. (The Canadian icons also appear in fuzzy video.) The piece opens with a projection of the famous McLuhan quote “Art is anything you can get away with,” counterpointed by Goodman’s dancers going through classic dance motions to echoey studio-piano music.

      Wearing white dress shirts and grey bottoms, like deconstructed suits from the McLuhan era, the six dancers are top-notch, including an expressive Lara Barclay and James Gnam. The most powerful moments are when they enact, metaphorically, the hold media has on us, punctuated by voice-overs like the one of McLuhan warning that TV is feeding an unprecedented amount of information at high speed into children’s brains. At one point a dancer manipulates Barclay like a doll, covering her eyes, moving her hands and legs, and doubling her over; soon others join in, moving her till all five of her stage partners have overtaken her body. It’s in scenes like this you can really sense Goodman’s ability to choreograph; she also excels at creating a look and atmosphere, here with James Proudfoot’s stark white spot and fluorescent lighting and Gabriel Saloman’s original-sound compositions.

      Sharabi followed with two works on the program, but Interviews and Makom were practically indiscernible, with similar themes and one starting off where the other ended. An alumnus of world-class companies like Nederlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company, Sharabi has developed a witty, fearless, and wildly super-articulated vocabulary all his own: here, the quartet of dancers (including the awe-inspiring Sharabi himself) throws itself into melodramatic classical parodies (set to Scheherezade), as well as intricate, physically pummelling explorations of what the human body can do. But it’s the random, humorous touches that set the work apart: after a mind-blowing sequence of bone-and-muscle-defying dance, Ema Yuasa might somersault and flop onto the floor, splaying her legs and lying there like a tired child, or Dor Mamalia might start slipping his pants on and off. In the work’s strongest sequences, the performers are embodying all the tension, wry humour, and, most of all, violence that comes with living in Israel. All the dancers are brilliant, but Sharabi finds ways to loop his head or to send his spoken words like an electric jolt through his body that will fascinate anyone who’s into movement.

      The artist has somewhat more trouble exploring his ideas through words; his wide-ranging, wandering interviews on the meaning of home and what it feels like to be at home never fully coalesce into a deeper theme. If you’re coming here for order, stay for Goodman’s work, but if you want to fully embrace the chaos of life, continue the journey with Sharabi. We can’t promise you’ll understand much of it—it doesn’t help that Sharabi himself says in the program notes that Interviews/Makom is “a riddle for me”—but you will marvel at what he can get a body to do.