More of Emily Deming on the Festival of New Dance

Emily Deming shares some thoughts on a few more Festival of New Dance performances.

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WEDNESDAY NIGHT: Dancers’ Bodies and the Voyeuristic Nature of Audience.

There is so much to unpack when looking at another person’s body in public. Especially a woman’s body. Our notions of sexuality, gender roles, objectification, privacy issues, manners, etc., all play into a certain level of discomfort at openly looking at a body, or having our body looked at. That is one reason going to a dance performance is so satisfying. I WANT to look at people’s bodies. Everyone does. Human bodies are amazing, and weird, and exciting. Here, for an hour, it is what you are supposed to do. Watch bodies at work. Watch light create shape with shadow on flesh.

Last night, Susanna Hood sang with her arms hanging down and her hands heavy and still. No nervous flutter, no gripping her shirt hem. The lack of physical apology for being centre stage on a microphone was weighty and made her movements, when they did happen, all the more purposeful.

Susanna’s face is a supercharged extension of her physical body. No headshot will ever look like her because she looks like sand dunes shifting, cheeks like rockfalls, like an avalanche, eyes like swimming holes being carved. Photographs will never do her justice, unless they perhaps are animated gifs showing her face as the true instrument it is.

In contrast to Susanna’s almost claymation pathos, was Kevin Tookey’s well cut figure in a well cut suit. Choreographer Joe Laughlin’s (of Joe Ink) “Left” could almost be experienced as a series of stills. Each one composed of crisp white circles (spotlight, saucer, cup, neck and wrist ruffs, shaved pate).

One of the most enjoyable of which to see being Mr Tookey’s silhouette from behind. Again, when else does one get to watch a body like this? The suit, the spotlight, the starkness of the rest of the stage, and this very classic male body, arms akimbo, shoulders straight, butt pronounced and one leg thrust out. The element of clowning in the broken fourth wall (by way of winks and nods to the audience) did not diminish the joy of observing a strong body move in a spotlight.

While the costumery was integral to the feel of the dancer’s body in the piece from Joe Ink, the final performance by Sarah Joy Stoker made me question why clothes are the norm for dancers at all. Her performance was naked already in a sense of complete earnestness of message. No winks to the audience here. It was that seriousness that made the clothing seem superfluous.

Right from the start her height and long limbs were used to great effect. Later when her bared back becomes a part of the projection surface it seemed more naturally part of the piece than her simple costume had throughout. The two moments (placed at both front and back of the piece in a form of crossword symmetry used throughout the dance and video) where, in a sort of downward dog, she pivots the two halves of her body around a waist that moves miraculously like a ball joint, were clarified moments where her body before us was saying everything with its strength and disconnected motion and pale expansive splendour.

So, I would like to thank the dancers, not just for their work and their expertise and their physical interpretation of the pieces, but for opening themselves up (due to the very nature of the profession they have chosen) to our observation.

FRIDAY NIGHT: 605 Collective

After the Friday night performances at LSPU Hall I overheard an audience member exclaiming their love of the art of dance, “This stuff is my bag. Out of The Arts, Dance is the least stupid.” An endorsement through understatement, maybe. But, given that I spent the next couple of hours discussing the performances with four other people, it was also proved true.

Nothing stupid gets that much good conversation going. Dance allows us to practice our lateral thinking as the message sent is not always the message received, or at least not directly. Everyone had varying interpretations of what was meant by the pieces and their parts… or whether they had meaning beyond the inherent physicality.

Like fellow FND blogger Joanna Barker (check out her great blog piece discussing last nights’ performance for a more comprehensive and focused review of the pieces themselves), I found the final sequence of the night truly joyful. After three previous nights in a row of watching performances, my analytical brain was switched off and I let the joy of pure association and entertainment take over.

I enjoyed what seemed like nods to other physical sports (kung fu, street fighting, roller derby) in the initial sequences. Then the feeling of the piece changed, losing that initial fierce energy and building more tension. Eventually, as it concluded, I felt like I had been watching a biopic of the career path of the Davies brothers from The Kinks. The beginning all fun and speed and fluidity and innate musicality. The intermediate sequences more intellectual. Then, after the mood and irony of the main body, everyone gets back to just rocking the hell out. The final dance sequence would have been perfect in front of the song “Victoria” where The Kinks, like the dancers, are having so much fun you can hear them yelling “yeah!” spontaneously over the music.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Infinity Donut

Wow. What to say about this afternoon’s Infinity Donut by Katie Ward? Two things mainly. One,  it kept everyone’s attention from start to finish at the nap-i-est time of the day (including five kids ranging in age from baby to late-elementary-school). Two, it made me cry, and I wasn’t the only one.

I do not know exactly how it did either of these things. But there, for over an hour, was my 2 year old toddler so completely engaged she was doing empathetic dance moves without even realizing it and watching (almost) quietly when she should (in my experience) be either falling asleep of wreaking havoc.

From fart noises, through building towers of bodies, to repeated sequences of greeting-understanding-misunderstanding-irritation-regrouping-coalescing-celebrating-laughing-working the dancers were creating a communal universe within a physical universe. I only fully realized how well they had done this when my investment in it was revealed as they were set to work furiously near the end to the words “I love you. I love you. I love you …”

They were loved in their work and in their play and in their exhaustion and in their discomfort and in their accomplishment and in their humour and in their arms and their legs and in the spaces between. As the words were repeated, tears sprang from my eyes. And my daughter, making herself cozy wrapped in the blankets laying all across the floor-stage, looked out at the dancers and answered, “I LOVE you.”

CLOSING NIGHT: The Women Speak

With one last piece of multidisciplinary dance yet to come (Scott Thompson, Susanna Hood performing in Marlene Creates’ Boreal Forest on Monday at 1 pm) and the next arts festival in town kicking off this Tuesday night, Saturday’s “Closing” night performances were more of a segue than an ending. And what better segue to the Women’s International Film Festival than last night’s line up of women dancers and choreographers?

The Festival’s animateur, Jo Leslie, choreographed the first two performances of the evening: Siren, performed by Robyn Breen, and Affair of the Heart, performed by Jacinte Giroux. By the way, “animateur” is a french word for a runner of workshops, a facilitator, someone who makes things happen and brings them alive. Jo Leslie lead the discussions throughout the festival, both the morning coffeehouse chats and the talks immediately following the evening performances (I had to look up “animateur”).

“Pretty” is a word best not overused to describe art or women but, well, the piece that started the evening, Siren, was pretty (though not just pretty). The Music (Bachianas Brasileira no. 5 by Heiter Villa Lobos) was pretty verging on beautiful; the dancer’s mermaidian costume was feminine and shimmered in the lights and clung and gathered like an unreal comic strip cocktail dress; Breen’s long flaxen hair acted as both additional dancer’s limbs and costume accessory as she flung it and let it fall like golden sheafs of grain dropping.

All this prettiness and beauty and elegance was then set to contrast with a loud, littering pack of beach-going clans who invaded the stage and, quite literally, trashed the set. This was both funny and uncomfortable since I could much more easily recognize myself in the loud, messy, unaware beach-trashers  than in the pure and slinky person of the mermaid.

The answering fury of Breens’ siren to the trashing of the beach was vivid. The incantation she mutters in the end is both right and futile in equal parts. “The world before [her] is restored in beauty”, but alas, the actual plastic bits of garbage will endure (as we learned from Sarah Joy Stoker’s piece earlier in the week). The conviction of the dancer, her movements through an evolving set of emotional responses to the gross pettiness she witnesses and then the open ended choice of leaving the garbage on stage (The siren’s response has coalesced but the problem remains) leaves the piece complex enough to save it from the fate of “just prettiness.”

Throughout the festival, the curators of this week seemed to know just what was needed at each hour of this comprehensive line up. And what we needed to start last night was a drop of well executed beauty. This was then built on with Jo Leslie’s second piece, which also had the feel of simplicity through beauty in both the choreography and music.

The dancer for Affair of the Heart, Jacinte Giroux, brought us not only her skill as a dancer, but her personal story of her loss (and eventual partial regaining) of half of that dancer’s body via a stroke that she suffered. How she had taught her body to be hers again and had remade dancing into an act of both physical intuition (on her left side) and simultaneously physical calculation and manipulation (for her right side), was the heart of this piece.

I spoke with an audience member at intermission who confessed she too had had a paralyzing stroke while in her thirties and had never fully recovered, in fact had faked some recovery just to get out of the hospital, and is still faking that “recovery” in may ways today. Giroux’s story, told through her dancing and through the very fact that she was dancing, and dancing so strongly and lightly and purposefully and delicately, was balm in and of itself as art. Further, to those who have suffered and lost their facility with their own bodies, her comeback and her skill gives something publicly to people who are not thought of often in physical works of art.

Capping off the night was Louise Moyes’ “Pants on Fire” where we continue the thread of insight into the historically voiceless. First she tells a funny and flippant tale of a man (a boy actually) winning a wife (and, in more than one sense, her sovereignty as she was a princess) by being the best (and cheekiest) liar in the realm. Who doesn’t like shadow plays and bawdy humour?

After the story concludes, there is a sort of prologue which is the actual meat of the piece wherein the princess herself gets to speak, or sing, about the consequences of being given in marriage to a liar. There is no attempt to show her to have taken control or said “no” to her father or suitor. No fantasy about her building her own life and reigning, or other such inapplicable (but oft inserted in modern retellings) “leaning in” nonsense.

Instead, Moyes gives us the infinitely more unsettling, but more honest and uncannily true, revelation of what being trapped with a liar could mean for their daily life (hers and his). “When you live with a liar, money flies/ Out the window. Doors close,’ Moyes delivers this catchy but chilling line from underneath a table. Trapped in a space with obvious exits. “What is clever/ when it is turned in?”

I am sorry I will not be able to make the very last FND event this Monday (the boreal forest experience, contact Neighbourhood Dance Works if you want to go or need a ride to Portugal Cove. I have been to another incarnation of it during the Sound Symposium and I can say it is worth attending). So, for my final bit of writing for the festival, I want to just thank Neighbourhood Dance Works and the Festival of New Dance staff and volunteers from the bottom on my heart. A heart that is now brimming with refreshed insight and inspiration and tuned up and ready to be played. Thank you. And see you next year.

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