A Company 605 production. Presented by the Vancouver International Dance Festival. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Friday, March 18. Continues on March 19
Or maybe we should make that a slightly qualified wow, because, truth be told, Vital Few went on a good 15 minutes more than was strictly necessary. Perhaps that reflects how it was made: collectively, by Company 605 dancers Laura Avery, Hayden Fong, Josh Martin, Renee Sigouin, Jessica Wilkie, and Sophia Wolfe, under the direction of artistic directors Lisa Gelley and Martin. Perhaps democracy trumped concision, and everyone needed their spotlight.
But never mind: a good three-quarters of this hour-plus show was riveting—physically, sonically, and visually.
By now, local dance audiences know Company 605 for its visceral embrace of hybrid forms, as displayed in productions that have encompassed ballet, contact improv, hip-hop, and jazz dance styles along with elements of gymnastics and martial arts. Speed and precision have been the troupe’s hallmarks, and those are still present in Vital Few, which often seems uncanny in the way its six dancers move with the unforced synchronization of flocking birds. But a new tenderness appears to be creeping in, as evinced by the opening sequence, in which the dancers, one by one, came together to create a single spherical organism, with a female head, male arms, and a dozen unruly legs. Some of the performers approached this freakish entity in a preemptory manner—but once entwined, their thrusting gestures turned to caresses and a palpable mood of unity was created on-stage.
That mood rarely dissipated, whether the performers were enacting complex routines or reacting to each other in a seemingly improvised manner. In fact, one of the pleasures of watching this show was trying to determine what was scored and what was not. I suspect the work emerged from improvisation and game-playing and was then quite rigorously formalized, but quite a few stretches retained a feeling of in-the-moment spontaneity—especially when the dancers riffed off drummer Art Blakey’s joyously extroverted version of Thelonious Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t”.
The music throughout was impeccable, whether it was a scratchy 78-rpm recording of Enrico Caruso singing Georges Bizet, a foggy Loscil soundscape, or Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood making avant-garde hay with a driving Gary Glitter beat. And the lighting was, arguably, even better, with Robert Sondergaard bouncing spots off the Mylar-covered floor to create painterly washes of colour behind the stage. (That said, one of the show’s strongest images was delivered when the lighting changed to a flat photo-studio white and the dancers froze in place, as if caught forever in a website-worthy colour snap.)
Things did flag toward the end: certain gestures came back unnecessarily, and it wasn’t clear why the dancers needed to peel the Mylar off the marley—it seemed a gratuitous interruption of the flow.
Give Vital Few a careful shave, however, and its 65 minutes of excellence could easily turn into a 50-minute masterpiece.