Manuel Roque, Vision Impure, Lesley Telford, and Kelly McInnes at the Vancouver International Dance Festival

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Vancouver International Dance Festival | Manuel Roque, Vision Impure, Kelly McInnes, and Lesley Telford / Inverso Productions | KW Production Studio, Roundhouse Performance Centre | March 4 – 30, 2019

The 19th edition of the Vancouver International Dance Festival lasted for a month, but many of the shows will stay with us much longer. This year’s festival featured an impressive diversity of choreographic styles, including many Indigenous voices. (My review of the festival’s Indigenous works can be found in the Summer 2019 issue of Dance International magazine.) Here, I focus on a few other productions that stood out.

Manuel Roque – bang bang

Relentless, repetitive, and remarkably mesmerizing. Roque begins by squatting repeatedly in place. Just when the audience wonders if he will ever do anything else, the squats evolve into a small jump, which evolves further until he is jumping from side to side and breathing audibly. Like a human metronome, he keeps going, remaining steady and even. The movements continue to evolve and his footwork creates its own rhythm as he connects with the stage.

The pace and tone is almost robotic as he continues his relentless sequence. His clothing becomes drenched in sweat, his breathing becomes louder, and his state seems desperate as the intensity increases. It seems as if he will go on forever or until he has pushed himself to his extreme physical limits.

Near the end of the piece, he spins with his arms out and it seems like he will spin until he drops. By the end, he is flinging himself around the stage, no longer keeping the beat and freely moving without any pattern. The transformation is stark as he seems to break free from the rigid, highly structured form he was operating in. The contrast creates a powerful emotional effect for the audience.

Vision Impure – Pathways

Noam’s Gagnon’s latest creation for ten dancers is an athletic, fast-paced, head banging piece that seems to confront questions of intimacy and relationships head-on. Dancers connect momentarily, push against one another, and remain in constant motion like a collection of atomic particles. Pausing at the edges of the stage, they trade off with the others, the stage never still.

Discordant piano notes, hands slapping the stage, and short, fast breaths give the piece an urgent tone. The dancers are dressed in black shorts, tank tops, and knee pads — and the knee pads are well used with a great deal of explosive floor work and quick transitions.

There are a few moments when the action slows down and our attention is drawn to two dancers in an embrace, or one dancer climbing on another. These momentary vignettes hinted at themes of the difficulty of relationships and the vulnerability of human connection.

Lesley Telford / Inverso Productions

This unnamed new duet danced by Stephanie Cyr and Eden Solomon has the two of them in close proximity throughout and requires a great deal of trust and closeness between the two dancers, Cyr and Solomon were in tune with each other and intimately involved in their roles. The narrative is inward facing as they two dancers, who seem to represent two sides of one identity grapple and strive for dominance.

An impressive and memorable sequence had the dancers share and pass off a black long-sleeved top. This sharing of clothing seemed to confirm their duality and struggle for prominence. At times they would shadow each other’s movements while performing a close variation. Their connection and emotional resonance was strong, but a clearer narrative arc would have made it even more powerful.

Kelly McInnes – SHINY

Wearing clothes made out of magazine pages and with mirrors scattered around the stage, the theme of female beauty standards was immediately evident in McInnes’ provocative work. There is a confrontational, bold tone that runs through the piece, daring the audience to think more deeply about how body image and identity is connected to mass media and societal standards.

A sewing machine sits at stage left, and magazine pages are fed through it to produce more meaning-laden pieces of clothing. McInnes, along with two other dancers put on masks made of faces. At one point a large blanket of magazine pages envelops one of the dancers, consuming her. In another scene, a large string of connected pages is put through a shredder before the remains are scattered around like confetti. Then, one of the dancers robotically uses a vacuum to try to clean it up.

Throughout the piece, which seemed more performance art than contemporary dance, the message is loud and clear: female beauty standards can be oppressive, unrealistic, and they can erase the real women who struggle to live up to them in their impossible quest for perfection.

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