Paradoxes and poetry pair up in Lesley Telford's Inverso

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      A Lesley Telford/Inverso production, presented by the Dance Centre. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Thursday, April 20. Continues until April 22

      At the intermission for Three Sets/Relating at a Distance, volunteers handed out tiny origamilike poetry books to the audience, ones you had to carefully unfold to find the text.
      They reminded you instantly of Lesley Telford’s dance—artful, intricate, and puzzlelike.

      After all, paradoxes, both physical and intellectual, give Telford’s new evening of work a strange allure.

      Each of her three pieces in this full-evening program is like a visual and mental riddle, and a lot of pleasure comes from unlocking its secrets. It’s the same kind of reward that comes from deciphering a poem—so it’s no surprise to find poetry at the core of all of Telford’s works.

      The opening three-dancer creation, If, depicts the way that several versions of yourself can exist within a single body, not always getting along. My tongue, your ear plays with the contradiction that the closer a couple is, the farther apart the partners can become. And the new Spooky Action at a Distance riffs on quantum theory’s biggest paradox: that entangled particles will act in tight connection even when they are separated by massive distances.

      Of the three, the opener If casts the greatest spell. The dreamlike piece opens with a woman in a chair, throwing a long, dark shadow, as if in the “interrogation” that Anne Carson’s poetry, excerpted in voice-over, refers to here. But the interrogation is within the self, and soon two other dancers appear, sometimes sparring for the chair, sometimes mirroring each other’s actions, and sometimes moving each other’s limbs, like puppet masters. Beautifully enacted here is what Carson writes in her repeated “if” phrases: “If buried all but traceless in the dark in its energy sitting, drifting within your own is another body.”

      Set to Porn Sword Tobacco’s looping electro score, the work finds a delirious, “drifting” flow all its own—helped along by the energy and expressive precision of Stéphanie Cyr, Eden Solomon, and Maya Tenzer.

      My tongue, your ear is a fun duet about dysfunctional relationships that Telford first showed us here at Dances for a Small Stage. Speaking excerpts from Wislava Szymborska’s "The Tower of Babel", dancers Tenzer and Graham Kaplan bring to life a crumbling partnership. Oh-so-familiar complaints like “How could you forget?” and “Too bad you can’t promise me” punctuate off-balance pairings and failed synchronization. The angular viola in Nico Muhly’s Etude 1A adds to the unsettling mood. At one point, when the couple tries to windmill his and her arms in unison, Tenzer and Graham end up slamming their limbs into each other. The pair captures the piece’s odd mix of restlessness and ironic physical comedy. Or would that be tragedy? How you perceive it might depend on how your last relationship ended...

      The most ambitious work on the program is the seven-dancer Spooky Action at a Distance, a piece that Telford’s collaborator, poet Barbara Adler, opened by defining quantum entanglement—“so we don’t have to worry about it”. And true to her words, the dance that ensued, to her live spoken-word, was not a pedantic take on the scientific subject.

      Instead, Telford played with ideas of action and reaction, of bodies whose movement is tied together, even when they are apart. Adler brought it all down to earth, referencing everything from Goldschlager to fishing poles. Over the course of the piece, Adler starts to ponder time and space, wondering if it is the universe who controls us, connects us, and forms our bonds with others: “To walk, is to tempt action to come upon you”; “some people happened to me.”

      It’s deep stuff, but Telford finds movement that captures the concepts in clear yet nonliteral ways—bodies pushing and pulling each other, using legs and forearms to nudge others into twists and turns. There was a moving segment where all seven took a simultaneous exaggerated breath and held it, like we are all connected as a single being. The overall impression is of a vibrating flurry of dynamic action and reaction.

      That Telford could take such heavy concepts—even quantum physics!—and interpret them through dance speaks to her abilities. She honed her dance and choreographic technique at the acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater, and you can see the lasting effect in her detailed, off-kilter movement and ideas.

      In other words, she can really put poetry in motion.