An Out Innerspace Dance Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre until October 15
The visual magic in Out Innerspace’s latest, most ambitious work is often so innovative it will leave you breathless.
Local dance innovators David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen set Major Motion Picture in a dark universe where Big Brother surveillance cameras keep an oppressive, ever-watchful eye. This is a world where black-clothed citizens battle marginalized rebels in striped bodysuits and balaclavas, and the cinematic scores of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann drive all the action with a sense of doom.
Within that universe rules a giant, ominous black overcoat, animated by three bodies so that it sprouts six skittering legs, and four grasping hands. As for the remaining set of hands, they are left to reach out from the top and straighten its collar, make it look like it has a pounding heart, or to drag humans into the neck hole. It’s brilliantly realized, alluding to film noir and Orwellian nightmares, the surreal and the circus all at once. But the oppressive beast has to be tamed, and in an expressive scene toward the work’s end, Tregarthen pays homage to Charlie Chaplin, inserting her own arms into the coat to animate it, ultimately wrestling it into an almost nurturing force.
The coat is the best part of Major Motion Picture, but there is a lot of other wonder to marvel at too. Out Innerspace uses its seven dancers (Tregarthen, Raymond, Renée Sigouin, Elissa Hanson, Arash Khakpour, Ralph Escamillan, and Laura Avery, all products of the couple’s Modus Operandi training program) resourcefully to create a world that seems much more populous. Dressed in black, they tangle and writhe as a single organism as they move across the stage. In one of the show’s more indelible images, they interlock their limbs to create the moving mouth, eyes, and flaring nostrils of some unspeakable, roaring monster—the omnipresent evil that hangs over the entire show. Expressive hands are used again and again to create illusions, at one point encaging Escamillan's face menacingly from behind, then moving quickly to create a beautiful finger headdress.
As the hip-hop-influenced others, dressed in patchwork bodysuits that suggest exploding sock drawers, they hide behind the scenes and try to disrupt the barely maintained order.
Amid all this is some truly groundbreaking video-projection work, the team playing with the idea of the panning surveillance camera and flashing hidden cameras catching blurry images of citizens caught hiding and fleeing. The piece raises provocative questions about how much we’re being watched these days and how it builds fear, conflict, and paranoia in our society—an idea that’s heightened when, toward the end of the work, the audience is implicated in the watching.
Props should also go to lighting designer James Proudfoot, who plays with ideas of the silver screen, shadowy corners, and exposing spotlights to moody effect.
Clearly, there’s no shortage of ideas or influences here, in this retro cinematic world that speaks so directly to the technology of today. They could use honing and editing to streamline and clarify the busy, sometimes baffling narrative; the show’s driving intensity loses a bit of its fire with an intermission breaking the action.
But Tregarthen and Raymond have solidified their place as a bold force on the local dance scene. You can see the influences of their work with mentor Crystal Pite: the love of moving group-organism sculptures and penchant for surprise tromp de l’oeils. But what sets them on their own journey is their sociopolitical awareness and wild mashup of influences.
Most of all, though, with Major Motion Picture, they’ve successfully built a believable, disturbing universe that—sinister, humongous overcoat aside—might not actually be that far from our own.