Dancing on the Edge's Edge 1 fascinates

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      A Dancing on the Edge production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, July 3. No remaining performances

      Research has rarely been this much fun.

      Family Dinner: The Lexicon has its roots in a relational dance-theatre piece, Family Dinner, staged by the Ten Fifteen Maple collective at the Hadden Park Field House, overlooking Kits Beach. In the original 2014 performances, small audiences, recruited online, were invited to dine with members of the Vancouver arts scene, who’d been coached to intervene in the meal with various planned gestures. Somewhere between an awkward potluck and a reality-TV show, the meal was both a gift to the audience members and a disorienting experience, with the guests unaware of the slowly unfolding theatrical structure and its rules.

      Choreographer Justine A. Chambers has now dissected the audience members’ physical responses with the precision of a molecular biologist, and set them on Alison Denham, Kate Franklin, Lisa Gelley, Aryo Khakpour, and Josh Martin.

      Five dancers sitting at a table, eating pasta and salad, and twitching: what could be duller? Except that it wasn’t. Aside from a few languors, and a dubious comic sequence that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever had to take a long piss in a less-than-soundproof condo, the work was fascinating. The performers are so skilled, and Chambers’s observations so pointed, that in future it’s going to be hard for this viewer to regard dining as anything other than a performance, unconsciously choreographed by the participants.

      Chambers’s study was a strong opening gambit for Edge 1, the first of several mixed programs that the Dancing on the Edge festival will present this year. The ensuing works in this initial package were more dancerly, and none matched Chambers’s conceptual intelligence, but it was a rich collection.

      For sheer physical virtuosity, Vanessa Goodman’s Container stood out. Beneath stark lighting from the reliably excellent James Proudfoot, the composer-performer enacted several varieties of anguish at breakneck speed, switching from broken marionette to overwrought club kid to torture survivor with the kind of seeming ease that can only be achieved with intense discipline.

      An excerpt from Constance Cooke’s Liminal: The Space Between relied on the remarkable physical gifts of Mark Sawh Medrano, a compact, Montreal-based dynamo who should be seen here more often, but it also featured inventive handheld lighting, operated by Brett Owen, and a sculptural set from Jenny Farkas that functioned as prison cell, a shower, a bed, and more.

      Unsurprisingly, SUBMISSION TO ENTROPY went on too long; that title’s a dead giveaway. But its opening sequence was weirdly hilarious, with dancers Lexi Vajda and Jessica Wilkie conjuring up Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy cartoons through their angular unison moves—all the more impressive for being delivered in low light, with the performers wearing thick, dark, welder-style goggles. Choreographer Karissa Barry’s onto something here, but this piece needs to be tighter to fully engage an audience outside of this kind of revue format, where variety is all.