A Dancing on the Edge presentation. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Monday, July 10. Continues on July 12
Dancing on the Edge’s latest mixed program opens with a striking image: the curious sight of dancer-choreographer Ralph Escamillan, wearing a face-covering, teal-blue sequined bodysuit that sparkles beneath his brown pants and shirt.
Looking like a kind of glam, interstellar Blue Man on his small, wooden platform, he begins to mimic an increasing array of live amplified sounds by collaborator Stefan Seslija. In this excerpt from a longer work called SQUIN, the echoing noise of dripping water seems to turn his hands, limbs, and, finally, his torso into wavy liquid.
From there, Escamillan’s glitter man embodies everything from whooshing noises to electronic beats to a maniacally remixed version of Frank Sinatra’s “Under My Skin”. It’s a cool little study in how music works its way “under your skin” and into your muscles, but also in the effect of lights and costumes. Choreographer Escamillan is an emerging talent, and there’s a lot of promise here; he could punch the movement up into even more explosive, sharper action-reaction, but this is a fun, entertaining piece with wide appeal and ample amounts of humour.
Like so much on the program, it’s slick and entertaining but not too deep. Veteran local dancer and choreographer Cori Caulfield unfurls three pieces called The Poets, a nod to a trio of hit songs: David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, the Tragically Hip’s “Grace, Too”, and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”. Hailley Caulfield Postle displays her mad tap skills, with attitude to burn, in the opening number. She is helped by a cool remixed arrangement by composer Mark Taylor that turns Bowie’s foray into new-wave-pop-swing into something much more eerie and resonant. At the end, her sibling Cori channels one of Cohen’s best-loved songs into a sensual, fluid solo of longing. With her usual emotional depth, the dancer paints a portrait of a sad woman, maybe “half-crazy”, as the lyrics tell us, an ottoman and Persian carpet evoking the gypsy cabin the real muse is supposed to have lived in. In between, Caulfield’s dance students, sporting shiny plastic yellow pants, bring the Hip hit to life; the piece plays cleverly with the song’s building rhythms, but feels a lot lighter and glossier than Gord Downie’s lyrics would suggest.
In Compass, dancer-choreographer Olivia C. Davies pushes into more complicated, deeper terrain that is as enigmatic as it is haunting. It opens with Indigenous storyteller Rosemary Georgeson relating the tale of her friend Blue, a woman who loses “any connection to the inside world”—to cozy beds, to warm rooms. In other words, she lives outside on the street, and the spotlight finds Davies curled up on a park bench, covered in her own red scarf—an image familiar to anyone who’s passed through the neighbourhood that lies just outside the Firehall.
What makes this piece so intriguing is the way Davies posits that maybe—instead of slowly decaying, losing her mind, or getting high—the woman is passing through a spiritual transformation. Sometimes Blue convulses and twitches like she’s tweaking, but those moments clearly lead to something else—something happening at a more transcendent level, between life and afterlife, or between dreams and reality. You can see the influence of provocative Toronto choreographer Santee Smith on this work (she was one of its dramaturges), but the intense Davies brings her own preternatural muscular grace, her incredibly long limbs reaching to the ground or the sky in slow, unearthly movement.
It will be well worth looking out for the full-length fruition of this piece, Crow’s Nest and Other Places She’s Gone, at this year’s Downtown Eastside Heart of the City Festival.