Dances for a Small Stage's 31st installment compels with light and sound

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      Presented by MovEnt and Music on Main, as part of the Modulus Festival. At the Ukrainian Centre on Friday, October 24. No remaining performances

      Before we move on to the performers, let’s give thanks to an artist most Small Stage viewers will never see: MovEnt lighting designer Jonathan Ryder. With a live string quartet, a cross-country cast of dancers, and an assortment of video interludes, this 31st installment of the popular dance series offered much to look at, but some of the most compelling visuals came from the way Ryder lit the cast, especially during the second half.

      PreLieu, which found the Cecilia String Quartet performing guest cocurator John Oswald’s Ludwig van Beethoven–inspired score while three dancerly “page-turners” offered assistance, distraction, and physical commentary, glowed with the varnished warmth of a Rembrandt painting. Playing up the work’s inspired blend of formality and wit, Ryder’s choice added an almost domestic sense of intimacy to the mix, while his dreamy washes of colour helped make Oswald’s artistic and life partner Holly Small’s Remember Vienna a particularly gorgeous confection.

      Yes, dancer Vanessa Goodman performed the latter with easy elegance. And yes, it was set to Oswald’s surprisingly luscious Bell Speeds, which features a tiny, tinkling bell electronically transmogrified into a set of giant metallophones. But the effect wouldn’t have been the same without Ryder’s contribution; his yellows were so evocative I can still taste lemon in my mouth.


      Some of the other second-set performances raised uncomfortable questions—like, for instance, why is Small’s choreography so rarely seen here? The York University movement prof has an underground following within the local dance community, but if her work has been staged in Vancouver before this there’s no online record of it. Small’s own solo, short attack, was one of the night’s standouts. A concise, meticulously arranged, and laugh-inducing collection of dance moves that can be done while sitting down, it suggested that the veteran artist is as skilled at physical comedy as she is at creating beautifully surreal multimedia creations.

      Physical comedy might have been the downfall of the night’s first half, however. Or, to put it another way, had W.C. Fields not drunk himself to death in 1946, he might have wanted to amend his famous axiom about dogs and children to include Billy Marchenski. While in general I adore Marchenski’s work, he was a distracting presence during the Cecilia String Quartet’s performance of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D Major. In fact it’s amazing that violinist Sarah Nematallah was able to play at all with the goateed and demonic-looking dancer-choreographer, clad in conductor’s tails, looming over her sheet music and making as if to stroke her hair.

      The conceit here was that Marchenski, Karissa Barry, Stewart Iguidez, and Goodman would each choreograph a movement of Tchaikovsky’s score, but only Iguidez’s work truly complemented the music—in part because it was an enormous and giddy surprise.

      Iguidez is a hip-hop dancer who has apparently performed with Grandmaster Flash and the Roots; Tchaikovsky, you’d think, wouldn’t be his thing. Well, think again. Hip-hop dancing is all about unlocking the music’s inner rhythms, and Iguidez’s interpretation of the Russian composer’s somewhat fusty score proved that there’s a little funk in everyone, even if they’ve been dead for more than a century.

      For five minutes, we were transfixed—and then transported once again by Small and Oswald’s contributions in the second half. With, of course, those glorious lights.