A MOVE: the company production. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Wednesday, September 20. Continues until September 23
Men touch gently in Josh Beamish’s new Saudade; they lay side by side, they hold each other, and they stretch and pose bare-chested in front of each other. But what’s so fascinating about the duets that flow in and out of each other is the way the dancers never seem to really connect, or commit emotionally. And then they go their separate ways.
In one repeated phrase a man moves tentatively toward another’s extended arm, intimately resting his head on the proffered hand—only to have it pulled away, his partner walking across the stage and then reaching out again. In another, a dancer walks over and over past another, turning to disappear into the darkness. They’re all like ghosts meeting and separating in the night.
You might think this strange, cold sense of detachment wouldn’t work in a piece about longing and relationships. But, helped by Icelandic cello innovator Hildur Guðnadóttir’s eerily melancholic score, Beamish has crafted something as stark and restless as it is relatable. Saudade is a Portuguese word for an unattainable, obsessive desire, and Beamish has said the work is about his own yearnings for home and lasting relationships as he lives on the road. But Saudade can also be read as a metaphor for our wired world, where relationships bloom and fizzle out over cyberspace, as fleeting as a Tinder swipe.
Beamish’s signature touches are immediately recognizable—the swivelling spines, the erupting body isolations—but the piece feels like new terrain for the choreographer, who often works with women and men together. The psycho-social themes he’s exploring feel fresh, too—a bit broodier and more vulnerable than usual.
It’s also new that Beamish is not dancing, allowing the impressive array of performers here to absorb and interpret his fast, flickering, ballet-tinged contemporary style, each adding his own “something”. With résumés that span everything from Nederlands Dans Theater to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Sean Aaron Carmon, Graham Kaplan, David Norsworthy, Kévin Quinaou, Dominic Santia, and Tim Stickney are never less than magnetic in their technical and emotional (or emotionally remote, as the case may be) commitment.
Beamish plays with the driving rhythms of Guðnadóttir’s melancholy strings—echoing, contrasting, and embellishing them.
The cycle of meetings and separations, though all subtly different, eventually start to feel too repetitive, like an endless loop of transactions, numbing in their romantic ambivalence. But then again, that’s an effect that may be entirely intentional.
For some, it will feel chillingly familiar; for others, it may leave them cold. But either way, Saudade gets under your skin.