A Ne. Sans production presented on video at the Chutzpah! Festival on November 26. No remaining performances
It's unusual for the piano player to become a character in a contemporary dance performance. But this was one of several memorable moments in Vancouver choreographer Idan Cohen's world premiere of Hourglass at the Chutzpah! Festival on November 25.
Racheal Prince and Brandon Lee Alley, a couple in real life, seemed utterly comfortable on-stage together in their captivating and operatic exploration of codependency. It was set to the haunting, moody, and very spare 4 Piano Études by composer Philip Glass, performed magnificently by Vancouver composer Leslie Dala.
Near the beginning, Alley appears like a forlorn clown in dark attire, holding up a foldable chair almost like a shield to keep people away.
That's when the rubbery and lithe Prince, in a contrasting white blouse, takes centre-stage, moving effortlessly with wild arm movements in perfect synchronization with the music. She's as free as anyone can be.
By this point, Alley is sitting on the chair at the rear of the stage, observing.
But after Prince goes to the floor on the empty stage, continuing her unfettered and frolicking escapade, she suddenly stops. And one leg twitches madly.
From the spasms, it's almost as if she's suffering from some sort of neurodegenerative disease. And she's all alone.
At that point, Alley walks out to offer assistance. And as she totters away, Prince suddenly falls helplessly into his arms.
He gracefully lifts her on his shoulder; she's safe in this moment—and this is reflected on her face.
That's when the lights go dark on the dancers and shines on Dala as he brings up the pace with pulsating keyboard work.
Then he suddenly stops.
Alley places Prince on the piano, she whacks the hanging light bulb, and it swings back and forth as Dala ducks for cover.
This sequence ends with Alley picking Prince up again and placing her on a chair. That's when the piano playing resumes. It's utterly hypnotic.
Are the dancers playing out a sequence from the pianist's imagination? The audience can only guess.
Movement tells a story
Then the roles are reversed in the next part of Hourglass. This time, Alley sits in on the chair as Alley demonstrates a range of acrobatic moves, freely gliding around, often with such mastery that his feet never seem to leave the floor.
He's clearly in full control of his movements even as his arm palpitations make him appear a little zany.
Glass's music adds an eerie feel, leaving the audience to wonder what's coming next.
After briefly adopting the position of sculptor Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, Alley loses that supple mastery over his body. He begins limping, then touching his face, as if he's wondering about his very identity.
Alley appears utterly lost. And then as Prince moves out of her chair, Alley staggers off-stage.
That's when the chair becomes almost like a character, first seeming to attach itself to Alley's leg, like he's tethered. He's now the prisoner of something shackled to his body.
Moments later, Prince returns, slithers through the back of the chair, appearing to swim forward, fully in control of her movements.
At this point there's silence as Alley demonstrates his dependency, resting his head in her stomach as she keeps her eyes on her destination.
She's now helping to carry him through life, just as he did earlier in the piece.
The movements are repetitive at times, just as in real life, as time marches on and the couple's interactions take different and surprising turns.
Under most circumstances when dancers go on-stage, they move gracefully at all times, demonstrating the proficiency and countless hours of work that brought them to this level.
Prince, a former Ballet BC dancer, and Alley, who's returning to Ballet BC, are both extraordinarily talented—not the types one would expect to ever appear hobbled on-stage in front of an audience.
But here, they each project astonishing vulnerability, reflected not only in their movements but also in their facial expressions. They get injured. At times, they need help from their partner to endure tough times.
And it's all thanks to the imagination of Cohen, artistic director of Ne. Sans, through the Chutzpah! Festival's creative residency program.
It's all so real. So authentic. And so very easy to relate to as we experience the ups and downs of aging in our own lives.