A Co.Erasga production. World premiere livestreamed from the Anvil Centre Theatre in New Westminster on November 28. Continues on November 29.
Some practise religion. Others use psychological techniques. There are myriad ways in which people surrender their ego in order to tap into forces—whether spiritual, psychological, creative, or subconscious—larger than themselves.
The thoughtful series of solo performances in Co.Erasga’s Offering provides a range of reflections upon how individuals can become vessels for what we may consider the sacred or the divine.
Choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino had asked each of the dancers to delve into the theme of devotion and prayer, in the search for connection. It’s apropos not only for the 20th anniversary season of the dance company but also for our pandemic-wracked times.
While the solos enable to the dancers to remain physically distant from each other, that aspect simultaneously evokes the experience of social isolation—or rather, in-person deprivation—during our current health measures.
Dancer Antonio Somera opens the show by building a movement vocabulary that’s echoed in subsequent pieces. Alternately fluid and jerky, he flows through numerous twists and turns to a haunting soundscape of electronic buzzes and occasional temple-like percussion from composer Emmanuel Mailly.
As he increasingly loosens with undulations and rotations, pulled in different directions, it’s as if a greater force has entered his body that he capitulates to. With one arm covered in a layered sleeve that evokes the spiny tail of a lizard or dragon and with his occasional upward glances, Somera conveys an earthy sense of being lesser than something larger. (From shorts with capes to genderfluid halter tops, costume designer Meagan Woods styles the dancers in intriguing and innovative outfits that allow for clarity of bodily motions while also accentuating them.)
In contrast, rather than gazing above, Marissa Wong stands to face a presence at her own level. Also contrasting Somera, Wong’s balletic extensions and airy motions offer a tenderness in which she appears to be duetting, merging, perhaps even conversing, with something in a smooth and symbiotic way.
Striding on stage with a formal, almost regal, posture, Marc Arboleda, in a muted crimson halter top and grey ankle-length dress, delineates structured ritual, accompanied by the repetitive sound of a mechanical switch and the soft hiss of gas. Pacing in circles with a puzzled expression across a floor marked with illuminated lines (courtesy of lighting designer Jessica Han), Arboleda inhabits authority and cerebral control with arms held aloft in rigid poses. Organized religion has arrived.
When his body begins to undulate, shifting into uncharacteristic sensuality, it’s the swift, subsequent strictness that’s telling. In a reactionary reassertion of formality, repression manifests by restricting motion to a repeated flickering of the arms and hands, while his torso and lower body remains motionless. The obsessive and compulsive movements escalate into a frenzied and hypnotic rapidity—could madness be merely a step away?
A tonic to that tension, the segment that follows—the briefest of the solos—approaches ritual with a similar regality but this time, with tranquility.
In a surprise appearance, Tolentino, in an elegant dress, approaches with meditative and delicate movements that indicate a union of body and mind. With attention to detail in finger arrangements and subtle hand movements that appear to reference Southeast and South Asian dance, Tolentino exudes a sense of respecting, honouring, or demonstrating appreciation for either tradition, culture, community, or something long established.
Joshua Ongcol’s performance recalls many of Somera’s movements, but picks up where Somera left off. With low twists and turns and even rolling along the ground, Ongcol not only looks upward but also reaches for the skies. An incrementally suspenseful soundtrack accompanies his progression of movements from organic into mechanical, his undulations hardening into pop-and-locks.
Like Arboleda, Molly McDermott circles the stage. In fact, her entire vocabulary consists of roundness—rotations, spinning around with arms outstretched, running in circles, balling up on the floor. But she also frequently freezes, looking over her shoulder. Paranoia? Or is something there?
While one or two other dancers flash brief smiles, McDermott is the only one who bursts into giggles, laughing as she walks in circles, replete with silly joy. Or is this the madness hinted at by Arboleda?
While several of the other dancers concluded their performances by lying on the ground, clearly spent, it’s McDermott who communicates a deep physical cost of her communion, of some internal agony that renders her inert and keeled over, breathless. It reminds us that sometimes we cannot always transcend, or heal, our realities.
From arms raised upwards to glances searching for a presence to rolling on the floor, Olivia Shaffer turns in one of the most polished performances with movements that recall and recast most of the breadth and depth of the previous performances in a unifying summarization. She, like the others, shows she’s aware of something in her presence, swatting at something beyond her reach.
It’s a fitting gesture that encapsulates what the show conveys—that while we may aspire to commune and connect with what lies beyond our selves, we remain constrained by our physical and immediate limitations. But that, of course, does not necessarily need to stop us from trying. After all, in a time in which we are so desperate for hope, sometimes prayer is all we have.