At the Firehall Arts Centre and Stanley Park on Wednesday, July 13, and Thursday, July 14. Continues until July 16
Tourists looked rightfully awed when they stumbled upon Aeriosa’s treetop performances in Stanley Park, part of the Dancing on the Edge festival this week.
It was one of those uniquely Vancouver experiences where nature, art, and world cultures meshed in surprising ways. Aerial dancers, suspended from the heights of a grove of old evergreens, moved like animated totem creatures to the mesmerizing sounds of Lan Tung’s erhu and fellow Orchid Ensemble Jonathan Bernard’s drums.
The show was called Pseudotsuga—Earth to Sky, named for a genus of conifers that includes B.C.’s Douglas firs. And there was a definite feeling of sacred rite to the piece—a communing with nature that found the eight dancers, in their harnesses, clinging sculpturally to the trunks amid the rustling branches. In the work—choreographed by Julia Taffe, who has moved from downtown concrete structures to more natural settings over recent year—the performers sometimes gripped the bark upside-down like tree frogs, hung off the trees at 90 degrees, and interwrapped themselves between the trunks like snakes.
The best vantage point was lying on the needle-carpeted ground below them, staring skyward at the moving forms. The show carried on Dancing on the Edge’s long tradition of site-specific work, commendably engaging the public in the art form in new—and highly unexpected—ways. The sizable all-ages crowd seemed hypnotized by the slow and meditative creation.
Moving indoors, the Edge 6 presentation at the Firehall Arts Centre featured a work that similarly sought to connect with nature and meld cultures. The most fully realized piece on the program, choreographer Starr Muranko’s Spine of the Mother, referred to the South American indigenous belief that the mountain range that runs from the Andes up to Alaska is the connecting vertebral column of Mother Earth. The duet embodies the healing connection between North and South.
It opens with the sound of rubbing rocks, slowly climaxing with dancer Tasha Faye Evans placing real stones in a line between herself and tormented dancer Olivia Shaffer. Set against projected imagery of the Peruvian Andes (where Muranko did research in Peru) and the cosmos, Spine has movement that is earthbound, emphasizing the women’s twisting spines. In its best moments, the piece enters a kind of dream state and Evans moves almost shamanistically, like she’s possessed by ancient spirits. Still, it sometimes feels overly earnest and the use of the rocks is heavily drawn out.
Elsewhere in Edge 6, Village, by Amber Funk Barton of the company called the response, could stand a bit more abstraction. A short study that she’ll develop into a larger work, it captures a simple, utopian seaside community and the way it pulls together in the face of the storm. There are some innovative moments that show Barton’s flair for both filmic effects and street-dance influences, including the dramatic slo-mo recoiling of the quartet back and across the floor in the face of the arriving tempest. But the portrayal of the idyllic village that precedes it is a little too on point, complete with pantomimes of fishing and playing tag.
Indulgent and whimsical as it is, Sick Fish, veteran dance artist Rob Kitsos’s duet with his 11-year-old daughter, Beatrice, offers some whacked-out conceptual relief to the program. An ode to the way dark and light mesh in the world of child’s play, it’s set again projections of happy-creepy kids’ drawings and finds the adult Kitsos moving herky-jerkily and mouthing retro sound bites from Lucas Van Lenten’s Avalanches-like score.
Following the irrational and random whims of a kid’s mind, it’s definitely not literal in the least—and about as unexpected as those dancers in the treetops.