Edgy contemporary dance never goes out of style

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Dancing on the Edge wraps up an impressive 28th year

This year’s festival was as dynamic as ever, with more of a focus on local choreographers along with a few visitors from elsewhere.

Jennifer Mascall, who has been involved in the festival every year but one since it began, presented her new full length work, The Outliner, at St. Paul’s Church. The audience was seated on rolling pews that were moved around the space by many stage hands. For each segment of the show we were seated with a different perspective of the stage, and this was such a simple yet effective way to make the performance even more dynamic.

The performers and their unique costumes were equally impressive. Ballet BC dancer Gilbert Small performed a solo holding a large tree branch in each hand and these were incorporated so seamlessly into the choreography that they seemed like extensions of his own limbs. Another duet featured a pen and paper high up on the back wall that was attached to a clever contraption controlled by the dancer’s movements.

Robin Poitras graced the stage in a wooden cone that was sliced horizontally into many pieces. The cone ominously moved around the stage and reappeared several times before she finally emerged and the cone became many wooden rings shaped to her contours. Probably the most impressive portion of the show, a dancer wearing a harness of porcupine quill style spikes swing them around and used them to create large than life silhouettes. Mascall’s innovation in both costumes that serve as props and choreography that seems entirely fresh make her a master dance maker.

Another stand-out full length show was Frédérick Gravel and Étienne Lepage’s Thus Spoke… from Montreal. Gravel explained that the show is a hybrid of theatre and dance, and there were many monologues addressed to the audience in between and during the provocative movement. The opening monologue talked about privilege: the privilege to be at the show, to want to be there, to put in effort to be there, and to understand it.

Gravel also had a very funny monologue describing himself as an asshole, and Marilyn Perreault explained, “Sometimes I go see a show and I think ‘man, that was shit.’” All she’s asking for in a show is one new idea, and she doesn’t understand why that’s so hard when you can fall on your face and have a new idea. But this show had no shortage of new ideas. Frédérick Lavellée’s scene about moving into “backspace mode” was one clever one where he showed us how to change your perspective on life simply by moving backwards. Next time you get up to go to the photocopier, he suggested, get there in backspace mode.     

Gravel and Lepage have created a show that gets you thinking about societal norms and the meaning of your life. These performers take this show very seriously while not taking themselves seriously and the result is brilliant.

Dorsale Dance of Ottawa brought Douce Tourmente to the Firehall Arts Centre. Sylvie Desrosiers’ choreography was paired with beautiful video projections that added a subtle poignancy to this reflection on romantic relationships. Heidi Strauss and Marc Boivin were in their own intimate world, pushing against each other and pulling away — constantly trying to find a balance between them. This was a demanding hour of dance for these performers, both emotionally and physically. I was impressed by their stamina but I felt that the ending could have come sooner.

The mixed bag Edge and Edge Off programs always feature a wide range of hit and miss content. Sometimes I go to see one choreographer I know I will like and leave pleased with all of the pieces, but sometimes there are disappointments. In Edge 2 I was impressed with Ouro Collective’s fluid group work and Wen Wei Wang’s piece for five male dancers that featured aggressive group movements that cascaded across the stage. Meredith Kalaman’s more introspective work was interesting but not as impressive.

I went to Edge 4 to see Out Innerspace Dance and was once again impressed by their conceptual choreography, although the pounding music was enough to give you a headache. Olivia C. Davies’ Open Fire was an emotional narrative about an Argentinian girl whose mother had been taken away by soldiers while they sat outside at a coffee shop. The interpretation of the story was well-documented in the choreography but the story being read aloud alongside this detracted from a focus on the movement. I had also been looking forward to seeing Joshua Beamish, but had to leave early to make it across town to the Scotiabank Dance Centre for Edge Off 2.

Edge Off 2 began with Julianne Chapple’s The Edges of Things are Ill Defined which was a slow-moving piece full of floor work and controlled lifts. As a light was moved around the stage, they performed their acrobatic duet that was immersive but eventually a bit repetitive. The other piece on the docket, Wags Alternate by Theonn Glover was an other-worldly scenario for five dancers that featured red ropes hanging down from the ceiling. While I was confused by the narrative of the piece, the ropes served as innovative props that the dancers used to swing around and create interesting patterns. 

Contemporary dance encompasses so many different styles, influences, and sensibilities that Dancing on the Edge always impresses, inspires, and provokes with its mix of choreographers from near and far. 

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