Impressions of Expressions
Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Thursday, Oct. 3, 7:30pm MERIDIAN HALL Program 1
When I write about dance performances, I tend to simply track the experience through my body sensations in an attempt to gather and describe the textures and qualities of a work. In this process, I also track thoughts, references and connections that arise. I trust that somehow they are all connected and that in combination, they offer something of the work’s impression on me – and perhaps an aspect of its resonance in the world. Below are some of these experiences and impressions in fairly raw form.
I sit with a couple of friends in the lower orchestra, fully surrounded. The Hall is full, brimming with people and energy. Anticipation, excitement. After four successful years, there are many in the audience who know what’s coming. And those of us who know can’t wait for those who don’t to have their first taste of a Fall for Dance North mainstage program. Here we go!
Toronto Dance Theatre GH 5.0 by Hanna Kiel with music composed by Greg Harrison and performed live
Ecstatic extensions Pulsing precision Alert to the cascading musicality Razor-sharp gestures Taut muscularity Suspension, expectation The music is huge – a mountain in fact The dancers are making a first ascent Stakes are high A sense of urgency (the stakes of our time?) The whole experience feels like a cliff hanger Extension at the edge, over the edge There is deep risk here (it does speak to our time) People, in glass houses Throbbing, pulsing, insistent life force Spreading Exposed Vulnerable Desperate (I think of Greta Thunberg) Exquisite precarity.
The New Zealand Dance Theatre Sigan by KIM Jae Duk
Such stillness in those opening balances Cut Line Double-edged blade (and that insistent pulsing beacon sound always increasing) These duets: are they sparring? Or are they communicating? So fast and precise This piece resonates with the previous one in quality and tone, yet where the energy of GH 5.0 spreads and envelops us, the energy of Sigan condenses and contains. Deliberate Decisive Sometimes the dancers shout out in their effort We hear their breath The silence in the theatre is itself breathtaking There are moments when the dancers are completely still And so are we Over 3000 people sitting in stillness and silence Alert and attentive, together When does this ever happen? (what do we learn from this?) I imagine the hairs on the dancers’ arms are themselves sharpened like blades They gesture as though drawing a bow This is austere Disciplined in the extreme Is it tyranny? Machine-like Tool-like Warrior-like The ritual repetition becomes ominous somehow A bank of bright lights glare directly into our eyes Is this an interrogation? The dancing continues Incessant Relentless And then they release Spinning to infinity as the lights finally fade (I hear an audience member behind me commenting that, to her, the work had a military- industrial quality. Silently I agree.)
Skånes Dansteater Dare to Wreck choreographed and performed by Madeleine Månsson and Peder Nilsson
This is my second experience with this piece today and since I saw it the first time, I’ve heard Madeleine and Peder speak a little about the work at the pre-show talk. Madeleine specifically mentioned that they have worked hard to be equal in the piece: she, a seated dancer who uses a manual wheelchair and he, a standing dancer. And so, I watch with this new perspective but then something entirely unexpected happens. It’s live performance, after all.
Is this different than earlier? For me? For them? Definitely. A baby in the audience is crying loudly as they enter. I feel caught in the tension of the baby’s cries, and the silence, care and patience that is the opening image of the work. I feel empathy for the child’s caregiver in this moment. I feel frustration from the audience at the disturbance. I feel the performers navigating this moment. I’m sure they too hear the baby crying.
I sense them holding the space, possibly even giving more time to their opening encounter to allow the moment to resolve, to allow the tensions and pulls in the theatre to release and for us all to drop into the performance together.
I really have no idea whether they’re doing anything differently at all because of the baby, but I have a hunch.
Because, in a work that begins in silence and builds on a deep and sensitive connection between the two performers, it wouldn’t surprise me if they simply allowed themselves to be in the moment and authentically find their way into the work. There is a freedom, in starting without music, to be able to work from a state of highly tuned presence and trust that the stage manager would also be attentive and wait for the cue to start the music accordingly.
And so they begin.
I notice more moments of tenderness and intimacy this time. His lingering caress, the trailing of her fingers as she reaches and spins. These moments are as important as the more assertive gestures and powerful partnering that occurs throughout – in which they lift and support each other in a fluid, contemporary pas de deux.
I also feel more raw energy in their movement, not explosive but definitely breaking the surface; whereas, earlier they performed with more careful quality.
I find a tiny poignancy in the moments where they embrace and lean the wheelchair onto one wheel. This gentle sideways tip says something about mutual support, symbiosis, or simply leaning in to one another.
It reminds me of her comment about being equal.
The soundscape feels like a heartbeat to me, within its ambient electronic wash.
I notice the chair’s spinning wheels when he lifts her entirely off the floor, and the way the light glints off them. This is part of the overall choreography and the detailed aesthetic of the work.
Even though I know how it will end, I’m still caught by the moment when she backs up hesitantly toward him once again and he starts to sit up as though to approach.
Will they return to each other?
And then she turns and leaves, deliberate and decisive.
Never look back.
Grupo Corpo Dança Sinfonica by Rodrigo Pederneiras
Vibrant red on black.
The sense of a procession or a parade keeps recurring.
Celebration of a kind. A certain pomp and circumstance.
But of course. The work was created to celebrate the company’s 40 th anniversary in 2015.
And it is a bit like a parade, as various snippets and sections from the company’s repertoire pass before our eyes.
The dancers flow and halt and change direction, looping back upon themselves in kadeidoscopic patterns.
The movement phrases also turn and turn back, spiralling and reversing in filigree forms, which echo in the musical phrasing, rhythms and melodies.
A strong ballet verticality pervades the work, while torsos fold and undulate with supreme articulation.
It’s fast and precise.
As I wrote in the program magazine: this is a dancer’s dance. The lines of motion through space, the swinging momentum, the multiply syncopated phrases all require a refined and athletic technique that, at its apex, opens up an experience of freedom for the dancer.
(Perhaps it’s a bit like surfing.)
I’m troubled by possible readings of male-female relations in the featured pas de deux in which the tiny female dancer appears to me as a doll in the arms of her tall partner. But the dancers’ execution generally holds the abstraction.
I appreciate the movement design and the physical possibility.
The music ranges from expansive orchestrations to light woodwind melodies, with an undercurrent of surging energy.
(I’m reminded of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, to music by Philip Glass, which also, at least in some versions, clothes the dancers in bright red and builds an intricate, yet surging choreographic flow tethered to the strong verticality of a ballet base.)
The Tharp reference passes.
And more references from Grupo Corpo’s own repertoire continue to parade forth. I don’t recognize them myself, but I sense both the disparateness of various sections and the unifying aesthetic wrought by choreographer Rodrigo Pedereneiras and these dancers. This is indeed a “choreographic signature”.
This is Grupo Corpo.