Edge 2 and Edge 3 feature fearless portraits of the sexes

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      A Dancing on the Edge presentation. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, July 10. Continues July 12

      Vintage suitcases, blue men’s Jockey underwear, and a pair of high-heeled patent-red pumps came together in a fearless portrait of the sexes during Dancing on the Edge’s mixed programs this week.

      Choreographer Ziyian Kwan’s a slow awkward, her duet with James Gnam, emerged as a risk-taking highlight that took a brutally honest look at the feminine and masculine, and the sometimes tricky, ungainly meeting of the two. The emotional authenticity was surreally stylized by the props and costumes as the two engaged in a strange, but somehow familiar, courtship ritual.

      Gnam sometimes windmills the suitcases around his head in a show of strength, then hoists himself on tiptoe and carries them femininely at his sides. Kwan plays with ideas of gender in their matching coveralls: she wears the ridiculous pumps, then strips down to men’s skivvies; under Gnam’s worksuit, he reveals a pleated skirt. At times she spreads her legs and poses seductively, playing up a clichéd sexuality to him, and at others, he tries to box her in with the baggage. It’s an odd and, yes, awkward dance of violence and vulnerability (watch him slump himself over her shoulders to be carried) by two magnetic, committed performers.

      Props were in heavy use on this night. Hula-Hoops were the metaphor of choice when Edge 2 opened with Natalie, by creative directors Gnam and Jacques and Gilles Poulin-Denis, with Gnam’s wife Natalie LeFebvre Gnam, who runs the company plastic orchid factory with him. Here, they came to literally signify, in highly comedic fashion, the hoops that dancers have to jump through to fund their work. To a soundtrack of a digital voice relaying real bureaucratic emails about city-grant eligibility and red tape, the former ballerina sits in the glow of her laptop, alternately standing to dance in a reverie to orchestral music, and twirling an increasing number of hoops from her limbs. In the background, her husband and child, Finn, run across the stage going about their lives, racing to karate practice and even erect a Christmas tree in her absence. Personal, specific, but hilarious.

      Sandwiched between this and Kwan’s piece was a completely different aesthetic, a solo excerpt from Starr Muranko’s Spine of the Mother, created through Raven Spirit Dance. The props here were simple stones rubbed between hands, and though Tasha Faye Evans is an intense dancer, the earnest, abstract look at our connection to our bodies and the earth suffered from its juxtaposition with two such cleverly conceptual, irony-loaded contemporary pieces.

      In the Edge 3 program, props went into overload in choreographer-performer Arash Khakpour’s over-the-top solo The Melon Project, a first look at the out-there work from the new Biting School. Greeted by a deafening roar in the dark, the audience was then treated to Khakpour bounding around in red long johns, complete with kazoo, squeaky chair, and a half-watermelon helmet. Sound like a performance-art nightmare? It got crazier from there: the stage widened to reveal a sea of watermelon halves, a ladder, a rope, and a noose with a red hairpiece on it. Khakpour seemed to be getting at the watermelon as a symbol of the brain and memory, and a voice-over hinted there may have been some references to his leaving Iran to come here. But the deeper ideas got lost in all the literal mess of watermelon blending, eating, and smashing.

      Khakpour fared better in choreographer-performer Meredith Kalaman’s Ruminate, an oddly beautiful duet inspired by giraffes’ “necking process”, in which they thrash their necks at each other in combat. The work went beyond the literal, looking at the way each member of a couple seeks to dominate the other and yet submit, sometimes wrapping their heads intimately together. Set to the driving, haunting strings of Mark Haney, and occasionally set against abstract imagery of the savannah, Ruminate found an enigmatic and physically pummelling hybrid of human and animal behaviour.

      And you can’t help but fall for the swoony, time-suspended feel of Lina Fitzner’s The Fitzner Sister, directed by her Light Box partner Caroline Liffman. Dressed in a scarlet-and-black tutu to match her ruby cropped hair, Fitzner imagined herself as part of an Ed Sullivan–style sister act—without the sister. Moving at a glacial pace to warped, opiated beats, she executed showy splits and balances in an absurd, hypnotic routine that felt like a scene out of a David Lynch movie played in extreme slow motion. No props here, but lots to hold on to.