by Alina Blackett
ORIGINS/ How Do We Co-exist?
Presented by Immigrant Lessons and CAMP. Commissioned and presented by Dancing on the Edge at the Firehall Arts Centre on July 16. No remaining performances
On the second-to-last night of the 2021 Dancing on the Edge Festival, jovial dance enthusiasts gathered in the Firehall Arts Centre’s charming courtyard for a double bill of two exciting collectives: Immigrant Lessons and CAMP.
Immigrant Lessons, made up of artists Sophia Gamboa, Sevrin Emnacen-Boyd, Simran Sachar, Tegvaran Singh, Hayden Pereira, and Joshua Cameron, started the evening off with a powerful excerpt from its full-length dance film ORIGINS/How Do We Co-exist?, which premiered at the Firehall earlier in the festival.
The connection between cast members was evident as soon as they entered the courtyard, chatting and laughing amongst themselves while gathering around on cream-coloured living room furniture. Besides the chairs, loveseat, side tables, and wooden dining set, the other items on the scene were a guitar and a cajon.
Creative director Kevin Fraser uses storytelling as a foundation for this work.
The laughing evolves into a deeper sharing, and movement sneaks in to express
Gamboa, a strong performer, set this tone by speaking first and was superseded by Emnacen-Boyd, whose own story is seemingly evoked by Gamboa’s words. The stories weave between each other and take on different forms along the way, ranging from narrative to poetry to song.
At one point Sachar asked, “What about the irony of someone telling you to go back home to be famous?” What followed was a sort of jam session as the group burst energetically into dance and song, creating the rhythm by clapping, tapping the furniture, and taking turns on the cajon. At that point it was hard to tell whether the audience or the performers were having more fun.
For that live segment, the artist’s voices are the soundscape for the most part. At times, it was difficult to hear every word. But there was a particularly effective section where Amine Bouzaher and Jordan Lemoine’s music composition appeared as a suspenseful pulse that created an increasing darkness and tension as the cast journeys through difficult memories and stories of generations past.
Andie Lloyd’s lighting design supported this scene by deepening in colour and casting the characters’ silhouettes behind them, suggesting that even as we live and exist in the present, we still carry shadows of our past behind us.
The strength of ORIGINS/How Do We Co-exist?, and the collective, was beautifully demonstrated in a final impactful scene, when the group gathered around the guitar and began to sing “Stand By Me”. It was touching to be a part of an audience that was moved enough to laugh, clap, and sing along as the ensemble danced and played with each other on-stage. It was as if the audience, outside under the Edison bulb lights, was invited in as an honoured guest to this warm moment in the collective’s living room.
An incredible sense of trust and courage emanated from the ensemble as each member embarked on a journey of personal experiences, challenges, questions, and recollections. The dancers’ skilled movements were at once used as an elevation, an expansion, and a response. The choreography allowed the artists’ individual styles to shine through, with satisfying accents of synchronicity sprinkled in. This Vancouver-based multidisciplinary arts collective is creating important work and valuable opportunities for marginalized communities and youth with artistic integrity, ingenuity, and excellence.
After the intermission, Ted Littlemore, Isak Enquist, Sarah Formosa, Brenna Metzmeier, and Eowynn Enquist of CAMP entered the stage dressed in blue-and-black activewear. The piece, PAM, started off in stillness, the company’s members standing together, breathing, gazing out past the audience as the lights brightened.
Intrigue flickered through the audience as the stillness lasted longer than what most were probably expecting. Changes finally appeared in the dancers, almost as if they had begun to get restless from standing still for so long, the movement beginning in their eyes before travelling slowly through their bodies.
As momentum and repetition started to ripple through the group, one performer’s specific movement would be revisited later in some shape or form by another dancer. The choreography is stylized, sustained, and specific all at once, and it began to create a sense of something building.
The sound design, composed by Enquist and Littlemore, added to this atmosphere with static, spaceshiplike sounds. The group moved as if in molasses toward the back, with Formosa the first to break apart, dancing free among the ensemble. The tension increased, the volume revved up, and the audience heard “PAM!” loud and clear over the speakers.
This launched the dancers into a series of dynamic duets and powerhouse solos where they showcased their technical chops. A heavy club beat throbbed through the courtyard, and coloured lights added to this effect.
The company’s athleticism was impressive as it moved through sharp, fabulous, and fun choreo. The young collective, which has no specific leader or choreographer, mixes different styles in its piece, with influences of Bob Fosse and old-school jazz shining through.
Another notable relief in the tension was when, following a guitar riff, the group danced in repetition as viewers found out who this Pam person really was. Chuckles came from audience members as they were let in on a little secret.
The climax of the piece came when the ambient beats gave way to an old-timey jazz tune and the dancers gave it their all in a final synchronized routine bursting with energy and sass. The audience, released from the subtle suspense, audibly revelled in the change of pace. It was a sexy and entertaining payoff, and it earned the standing ovation that followed.
The world premiere of PAM was a delicious exploration of form, with parts of the piece moving so fast that, seemingly, split seconds were packed with intricate choreography. The ensemble’s dancers worked well with each other, the space, and the audience. Promising new company CAMP has a strong command of style, bold choreography, and a great sense of humour.