In review: Dancing on the Edge 2019

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Dancing on the Edge 2019 | Edge One, John, Edge Five | Firehall Arts Centre and Goldcorp Centre for the Arts | July 5 and 11, 2019

Edge One: Dab Dance Project, Meredith Kalaman, Linnea Swan

South Korea’s Dab Dance Project returned to the Edge after last year’s trio, BOMBERMAN. This year’s First Abundance Society was an inventive piece with plenty of humour. Hoyeon Kim and Jungha Lim’s robotic interlocking movements were intricate and precise. Upstage was a potted fruit tree, and every so often they would pick a piece of fruit and shove it in their mouths in a show of gluttony.

Images drawn in sharpie on their skin helped to tell the story: for example, drawings on their arms, when aligned at just the right spot, combined to form a smiling face and eyeballs looked at us as they turned their backs. The piece seemed to represent fears of future scarcity, the danger of taking abundant resources for granted, and exploring whether having more leads to happiness. While dealing with dark themes, the sharpie doodles and, at times, odd physicality added a unique sense of humour to the piece. At one point they took one leg out of their pants and instead put their arm through it; the audience couldn’t help but laugh and the dancers kept a straight face the entire time.  They ended with a beautifully fluid sequence of movements that showed off their skill and control.

Meredith Kalaman’s The inbetween, danced by Matthew Wyllie, is a demanding solo that begins with Wyllie laying on his stomach, his elbows up and his breathing shallow and laboured. He slithers forward before suddenly standing up and letting out a pained scream. Full of flips, somersaults, and jumps, the movement had an urgent, animalistic quality. A voiceover gave a couple clues as to the meaning of the piece: “The best thing about him: he was just a little guy,” and “He was the most underestimated of them all.” While the choreography and performance were striking, the significance was not clear.

Calgary’s Linnea Swan’s YES is a hilarious response to Yvonne Rainer’s No Manifesto. After a video rant about Swan Lake and feeling unmotivated at rehearsals, Swan comes on stage to tell us all about the No Manifesto and why she wants to fight back against its sentiments and the impact they have had on contemporary dance. She demonstrates Rainer’s Trio A, a task-based, uninspiring piece of choreography that elicits no emotions in either the dancer or the audience. As Swan explains, it avoids all established conventions of choreography. Going through the long list of things that Rainer said “no” to, Swan performs a scene before a voiceover scolds her: “no to spectacle, no to virtuosity, no to transformations.”  She boldly dances around in a tutu: “no to the heroic.” So she responds by pretending to pee on the tutu and is told off again: “No to the anti-heroic.” An audience member joins her for a karaoke rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’” — but with the lyrics changed to lines from the No Manifesto. It was brilliant. Swan’s attitude, confidence, sense of humour, and bold response to the trend of angst-ridden contemporary dance was refreshing and highly entertaining. Yes indeed.   

Edge Five: Pam Tzeng, WAREHAUS dance collective, Tara Cheyenne Performance

Another choreographer from Calgary, Pam Tzeng’s “A Meditation on the End” by Jo-Lee was a tragi-comic duet with a skeleton that elicited both laughs and pangs of sympathy. She carries the skeleton on stage and gently unwraps it from a red blanket. Tzeng’s white kabuki style face makeup adds to the striking clarity and exaggeration of her facial expressions. She performs chest compressions on the skeleton, lies beside it, and holds its hand. The grief subsides as she gives the skeleton a piggy back ride and its limbs flail as she spins. The humour is short-lived though as her gleeful laughter quickly morphs into sobs. She lays the skeleton back down and places its hands inside its chest, laying it to rest while not fighting the grief anymore.

In Druft B, Megan Hunter and Akeisha de Baat use the texture of their shiny costumes to add to the sonic environment of their piece. The choreography is crafted to have them rubbing the fabric of their costumes against their skin as much as possible, which creates a rough rustling noise. A great deal of repetition, plenty of contact work, and a lack of emotional stakes made the first section of this piece a bit vapid. Towards the end, they remove their noisy costumes and take a seat in their underwear to eat bread with peanut butter and tomato. While this was an interesting, performance-art style ending, it was unclear how it fit with the rest of the piece and what it all meant. It was a bold scene but left me with many questions.

Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg’s excerpt of a work-in-progress, The Body Project, was a hilarious mash-up of stand-up comedy and contemporary dance. Exploring themes of self-esteem, self-loathing, and women’s body image, Friedenberg and her four collaborators talked about their own insecurities, the struggles of bathing suit shopping with your mother, feeling the weight of the patriarchy bearing down on you, and the way people will blame anything on perimenopause. For a finale, a group of audience members joined them onstage and stripped down to their underwear in a show of solidarity and confidence. Body image and self-esteem is shaped by many complex influences, and the full-length version of this work is sure to dive even deeper into this personal, comical, and highly relatable territory.

John – Helen Walkley

Helen Walkley’s brother, John, went missing in 1969 and his whereabouts is still a mystery. Drawing from an archive of family letters dating from 1959-2010, Walkley has built a narrative memoir and tribute to her lost brother, danced by Josh Martin and Billy Marchenski. The two seem to share the job of representing John as a character — most of the time as a unified, synchronized pair, but at times they broke away from each other as if representing two possible identities. Marchenski read from letters that detailed John’s history of mental illness, time spent at Riverview hospital, disappearance, and the family’s attempts to locate him. As he read, Martin’s intense, controlled movements interpreted the text and added a layer of emotional resonance. A memorable scene had both dancers running in a circle around the stage, gradually increasing in speed and passing each other until they were at full speed on opposite sides of the stage, running endlessly. A lonely chair under a spotlight in one corner of the stage seemed to be saved for John. It was clear that both of these dancers were highly invested in the material and they poured all their emotional weight into honouring the Walkley family’s story.

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