Chutzpah! 2021 dance program

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Chutzpah! Festival 2021 | Dance program | Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre | November 6-18, 2021

Shay Kuebler’s Momentum of Isolation was the highlight of Chutzpah!’s 2021 dance program. The piece, which was shown in progress at Dancing on the Edge in 2020 and again in 2021, has evolved into a full-length work full of themes of loneliness, isolation and disillusionment with the modern world. It seems to be the perfect timely pandemic creation, but development began in 2018 with inspiration from the UK appointing the first Minister Loneliness.

Kuebler begins seated at a desk, monotonously stamping paperwork and scanning it for approval. His desk plant is his only companion, and his filing cabinet has a mind of its own. Later he wears a vest attached to ropes that pull him in all directions, limiting his own control over his movements and trapping him in a never-ending cycle, running on the spot. A voiceover says “It’s about how much you can take, how hard you can be hit and keep moving forward.” It’s a powerful scene about the monotony, drudgery and at times helplessness of modern life.

Seven dancers then take the stage, grooving with a 70s vibe and moving as one interconnected group. This corps enacts various scenes representing different aspects of loneliness and love—for example, sitting across from each other as one person swipes right or left to have a new dancer sitting on the chair across from them representing the superficial world of online dating. Another highlight was a duet with one dancer mouthing the words, “my eyes are only for you” as he desperately tries to impress a girl, falling all over himself and representing his words through his movements.

In between these scenes, Kuebler’s storyline continues until his as his sense of reality crumbles and his flower meets a tragic end. Although sprinkled with the right amount of humour and pathos, the last few scenes dragged a bit as the story seemed poised to end a couple of times. There is a lot packed into this show, both thematically and choreographically, and it comes together well to comment on modern relationships and loneliness—even more timely now than when it was conceived.  

Similarly, Sylvie Moquin’s piece, moving through, it all amounts to something, involves plexiglass walls that were conceived before the pandemic but carry even more resonance now. As part of a double bill, Project in Tandem, with collaborator Meghann Michalsky the work alternated between four dancers moving as a seamless, connected being and separating themselves with the plexiglass barriers, spending long periods balancing in hand stands and seeming to float there in limbo and loneliness.

Michalsky’s piece, Deep END is faster paced and harder hitting, with four dancers moving to rock music and swinging around their long hair coated in coconut oil. Their tragic, frantic movements seemed to say a lot about their experiences as women, both celebratory and frustrated but always powerfully united in both movement and purpose.

As part of the other double bill of the dance program, Alexis Fletcher premiered her solo, light in the rafters, which was originally commissioned to be performed in an art gallery in North Vancouver. Tiko Kerr’s artworks remain as framed projections that come in and out of the piece, paired with Fletcher’s languorous movements and long lines. One powerful scene involved Fletcher dancing on a wooden chair, her long shadow an imposing presence on the back wall of the stage. The slow and thoughtful choreography becomes upbeat and jumpy in a final scene that doesn’t seem to obviously follow from the rest.

Ne.Sans Opera and Dance (Idan Cohen) premiered a solo work, Solo for Orpheus, danced beautifully by Ted Littlemore. Featuring humourous sendups of baroque dance and Nat King Cole’s heartfelt song, “Smile,” there were many laughs and my eyes were a bit glassy by the end as Littlemore played the accordion and sung with such feeling: “Smile and maybe tomorrow you'll see the sun come shining through.” A perfect message for us all right now.

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