In Review: 2018 Vancouver International Dance Festival

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Vancouver International Dance Festival | various venues | March 1 – 24, 2018

After another year of varied local and international dance, the Vancouver International Dance Festival has left us with much to ponder as we wait for next year’s offerings. From Vancouver’s Amber Funk Barton and EDAM to Québec’s Lucie Grégoire and New York’s Shen Wei Dance Arts and White Wave Dance, there was so much inspiration to be found on the VIDF stages.

VAST – Amber Funk Barton/the response.

For her first full-length solo, part of the response’s 10th anniversary season, Amber Funk Barton roams arounds a white circular space while seemingly searching for other signs of life, exploring the way her body moves, and interpreting what it all means.

Inquisitive and methodical like an intrepid explorer, Funk Barton seems to have been transplanted into the space with no knowledge of how she got there, where she is, or if she has any company. As she discovers new ways of moving and vocalizing, she picks up speed and near the end of the piece transitions into an energetic segment of constant jumping as she pulses to the beat of electronic dance music.

With a compelling narrative element and engrossing development, this was a strong piece of solo choreography that left me inspired and eager to embark on my own adventures.  

Rite of Spring and Folding – Shen Wei Dance Arts

Based in New York City, Shen Wei creates modern dance inspired by his background in visual art while incorporating traditional Chinese arts and European surrealism. Full of ritual and visual splendour, his works are a feast for the senses.

Shen Wei’s Rite of Spring is unlike any previous interpretation of this piece of music. Lines create a geometric pattern on the stage as the dancers move in an equally abstracted fashion, highlighting the varied, frantic mood of Stravinsky’s music. The dancers, dressed in muted grey and blue, move in a sort of domino effect. There is a bit of a whimsical tone as they run, shuffle, dive, and pause in echo of the music’s many personalities. It was refreshing to see such a unique adaptation of Rite.

Creating its own dreamy world, Folding is a slow-moving, mesmerizing piece that is as if a surreal painting has come to life. A hand-painted backdrop by Shen Wei sets the tone with a version of an 18th century Chinese ink painting by Bada Shanren. The dancers glide across the stage as if from another world, and their movements, so unlike anything seen in other modern dance, are at times unsettling.

Pairs of dancers, both covered in one large black cloak, fold themselves in various ways as the other dancers, in long trailing red skirts and nude tops, continue their ritualistic accompaniment to the ethereal Tibetan Buddhist chants. With huge scope for the imagination, this was a striking work that made a lasting impression.    

Hindsight, Sinking SuZi, and Engage the Feeling Arms – EDAM

Highlighting the impressive over 30-year career of EDAM Artistic Director Peter Bingham, these three works show his multifaceted talents in creating powerful works of artistic movement.

In Hindsight, Olivia Shaffer and Kelly McInnes spend most of the piece with their heads touching the stage. With this limitation on their movement, they have to get creative in their rolling back and forth. Created in 1995, this was an important work in Bingham’s career and it’s a treat to be able to see it performed as Shaffer and McInnes pour so much feeling into this emotional duet.  

Ziyian Kwan’s solo, Sinking SuZi, was first performed in 2002 and then reworked in 2009. This year, Bingham and Kwan have worked on it again to refine her performance as she moves sparingly yet gracefully. Initially accompanied by a soothing Bach composition, she is soon joined by a heavy silence. Kwan has a natural presence in this piece that puts the dancer’s ability to fill the space on full display.

Most representative of Bingham’s current work in contact improvisation, Engage the Feeling Arms is a dynamic piece for three dancers (Walter Kubanek, Diego Romero and Olivia Shaffer) that has them constantly shifting partnerships and energy as they perform smooth lifts and leaps, tumbling in unison and moving as an intricate, interconnected unit. The physical challenge of the piece is impressive, as is the artistic care that has gone into creating their moving imagery.

iyouuswe – WHITE WAVE Young Soon Kim Dance Company

Young Soon Kim and her team of exceptional dancers blew me away with this non-stop whirlwind of dynamic, passionate movement.

A row of white chairs waits at the back of the stage as the dancers perform hip-hop infused contemporary movement to the music with a strong baseline. Each section fades into another equally impressive sequence of fervent dance until the dancers grab the chairs and move in unison on, over, and around them. This sequence of beautiful synchronization and canon work was mesmerizing.

With various vignettes of romance, conflict, celebration, and effortless cool, one scene blended into the next as these dancers presented a diversity of movement while remaining part of a cohesive troupe. Just when I thought I had seen my favourite moment of the night, I was proven wrong again and again. This company is a must-see, and I’m thrilled Vancouver audiences were able to see them at VIDF.   

Les Choses dernières – Lucie Grégoire Danse

This 1994 piece of choreography, based on Paul Auster’s novel and originally created by Grégoire for herself, is now being passed on to Kim Henry to continue the investigation into identity and womanhood that this piece provokes.

Gregoire performed a brief prelude set to a voice over reading the opening page of Aster’s In the Country of Lost Things. A sort of ritual passing down of generational wisdom, Grégoire left the stage to make way for Henry who impressed with her stamina, grace, and emotional endurance.

Repetitive and determined, Henry, in a long, silky slip dress, spent the opening minutes of the piece covering every inch of the stage by shuffling forward and back in straight lines, each time moving slightly to the left and eventually making it to the other side. Softening, she rocks and sways in peaceful calmness until she is suddenly jumping urgently, grasping for something just out of reach.

The original music by Robert M. Lepage adds depth to the piece as it by turns evokes the terror of Psycho and the serenity of a walk in the park. Covering a wide range of emotions and seemingly pursuing an unknown, intangible goal, Henry’s presence filled the stage from beginning to end, although at times I lost the thread of what it was all about. Despite this obscurity, it is a striking piece that aims to raise more questions than it answers.  

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