Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot back with another world premiere called “Assembly Hall”

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      The community hall is, by design, a gathering place.

      It’s a staple of any thriving neighbourhood: a spot for young families to gather and mingle, for first kisses to be shyly shared, for the spirited sounds of graduations and weddings and high school dances to echo down the corridors.

      It’s also a place of conflict: from broken-hearted tears, from disagreements during town meetings, from fights between hobby-band musicians.

      It’s in that collision of opposing ideas that dance choreographer Crystal Pite finds herself most comfortable getting to work.

      “On one level, it’s just sort of banal and familiar and everyday,” Pite says of the community centre, “but on another level, it’s a place of a huge thresholds and transformations.” Which is why the it’s the setting for a new show by Pite’s Vancouver-based dance company Kidd Pivot.

      Assembly Hall follows a group of amateur medieval reenactors who gather at their local community hall for their annual general meeting. On the docket to discuss is increasing debt, decreasing membership, and the disarray of this very gathering place. Emotions flare, ancient forces awaken, and the differentiation between fantasy and reality becomes harder to identify.

      “When you’re talking about gathering, you instantly come up against questions about belonging—what are the joys of gathering or assembling likeminded and devoted people, and what are the dangers?” Pite muses via phone. “I think we’re interested in that question of unity, and then the opposing force, which is division. That feels very potent right now.”

      Crystal Pite.
      Photo by Rolex/Anoush Abrar.

      Like its predecessors Betroffenheit (2015) and Revisor (2019), Assembly Hall is a collaboration with Electric Company Theatre’s Jonathon Young. The longstanding creative relationship between Pite and Young results in something truly visceral and transformative on the stage. There’s a script, and recorded dialogue, and actors—but there are also dancers, and choreography, and scores of music. It’s not a dance show with elements of theatre, nor is it a theatre show with pockets of dance. This is something wholly its own—an entire lifeform unto itself.

      It’s a delicate harmony to strike.

      “What we try to avoid doing is having one side of these dance-theater hybrids becoming illustrative and more descriptive of the other,” Young explains. In Assembly Hall, that balance of movement, words, and theatre comes most powerfully through its tension.

      “These characters who are essentially trying to maintain order in this meeting, and trying to move move through it together and to pass one final motion, end up being kind of, I would say, taken over by that motion or those motions,” Young says. “And those motions that they are trying to pass verbally take on a kind of physical form that transforms the world of the meeting.”

      Jonathon Young.
      Photo by Four Eyes.

      Assembly Hall has its world premiere at the Vancouver Playhouse at the end of October. Considering it’s been four years since the last new work (and considering Betroffenheit and Revisor both won prestigious Olivier Awards), the dance world is rightfully abuzz with anticipation.

      Pite grew up Terrace, where she was introduced to the magic of the stage at her own tiny community centre. Since then, she has built a name for herself as one of the most important modern dance minds of our time, with a body of work that has planted her firmly on the global stage. She has created pieces for world-renowend companies including London’s Royal Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, and National Ballet of Canada. She is undeniably sought-after for the way she is able to manipulate the human form—to extract breath and space and power where it, quite frankly, doesn’t seem like it belongs. The result is a quality of movement that folds in on itself as much as it expands.

      “Crystal is so courageous in her desire and ability to animate these themes that deal with some of the darkest parts of our humanity,” says Kidd Pivot dancer Livona Ellis. “Dancing her work requires incredible mental focus to be able to juggle not only the text and theatrical aspects, but also the clarity of ideas in the body as they start to overlap and oppose.”

      Before joining Kidd Pivot earlier this year, Ellis was a dancer at Ballet BC, where she had the opportunity to perform some of Pite’s choreographed works. Still, she says it’s been decidedly different—and more rewarding—to be part of Pite’s own company, where dancers get a deeper look into the movement and its creator.

      “There’s a lot of play between your own choices or certain ideas or intentions,” Ellis says. “There are so many points of contrasting ideas in the body. Opposition. You have to give into that idea and allow multiple things to happen in your body and your mind at the same time. I think that’s the magic, and that’s how things animate so well in her work. Because it’s so layered.”

      When choreographing for other companies, Pite comes with most of the choreography prepared. But when it comes to Kidd Pivot, it’s more of a collaboration—a physical conversation between her vision and her dancers.

      “With my own dancers, I really enjoy the process of building it actually on them, with them,” says Pite. “It’s also great for them because they end up with something that feels right in their own body—that they feel belongs to them and feels good in their bodies, or is challenging in a way that they’re interested in.”

      It results in a richness, and a fullness, to the movement. It’s felt as much as it’s seen.

      For his part, Young credits the trust that he has built over the years with Pite as central to their creative process. “I love working with her because she’s brilliant,” he says. “Her dancers are also just exceptional artists. It liberates me a little bit.”

      Pite seems to find her own form of liberation down in the depths. It’s through friction that she finds softness; it’s through strain that she finds give.

      “Dance inherently has all these kinds of motivating tensions in it,” reflects Pite. “We put conflict into the body or between bodies. We create the conditions for that kind of tension to be seen. I love working with conflict within the individual body so that you see somebody kind of breaking themselves apart, or in a state of tension or struggle—and then also moving that idea between two people, or even between two groups of people, or between one person and a group. I really enjoy working with that idea of conflict. It’s a motivating tension that I find really energizing as a choreographer.”

      Assembly Hall, then, is not a resolution. Rather, it’s an excuse to commune, to put our heads together, to hash it out, to burn with passion. To have a dancer’s movement take you by surprise. To sigh deeply, because it’s so cathartic. To gasp, because it’s so forcfeful. To hold your breath, because it’s so precious.

      Assembly Hall premieres at the Vancouver Playhouse from October 26 to 28.