12 Minute Max: pointed and poetic

12 Minutes Max

The strength of the 12 Minute Max showcases is in their brevity.  At their best, the performances are like haiku: pointed and poetic, double-edged in their meanings.  On the whole, this year's showcased were strong, and kudos must go not only to choreographers and performers, but to the curators as well, who assembled an original and entertaining line-up for 2010.

“Them Kids”
Created by Sarah Ballard and actualPLAY and performed by – Sarah Ballard, Melissa Beattie, and Manuel Sorge.

Despite an underwhelming title that sounds like an ironic joke at the expense of anyone over 25, this piece had strong energy and clever choreography.  Light on concept and premised on play, the it was an ideal vehicle to showcase technique.  Two women in bright dresses and one man in shirt and trousers, enter and find their marks.  Standing still, they breath slowly, and with each inhalation, their bodies open a little more and their limbs twitch in anticipation. Soon they are hopping around the stage with mad grins on their faces,.  Before long the piece becomes a romping free-for-all of girl-chasing-boy-chasing-girl. The performers struck the right balance between innocent fun and sexiness: the piece had a goofy romantic edge, but didn't dwell there, focusing instead on  in exuberant physicality.  I particularly enjoyed the dancers' floor work. Moving in unison they were light in their bodies and transitioned quickly from upright to prone -- from a press-up to a deep lunging step, then rolling on their backs and absurdly shaking their flexed feet in time with the music. The postures were rhythmic and playful, with a Broadway theatricality that was more Zeigfeld Follies than Isadora Duncan. This sophisticated sense of play was the most rewarding feature of the work: unburdened by excessive conceptual weight, the dancers were free to simply move with unbridled energy.

Created and performed by Caitlin Griffin

 “NoteToSelf” was considerably more lyrical and emotionally expressive than it's name would suggest.  Caitlin Griffin made a moving sculpture of light and dark with her body and the stage, to the strains of Jami Sieber's melodic “Tell it by Heart.” The opening sequence exemplifies the subtle touches that made this an effective piece: Griffin entered in silent darkness and moved towards a pool of light up-stage right.  Lying prone in the spotlight, she gracefully extended one arm.  As the music began and she remained still for several bars, while soulful cello filled the room. This slow, deliberate pacing had a powerful focusing effect, drawing the viewer's attention in to the smallest details of movement and breath as Griffen began to respond to the music. The piece that took form was defined by swift arcing shapes that mirrored the musical lines. Griffin's body delicately mapped the edge of an emotional precipice, coming near  -- but never straying over -- the edge.  From a standing pirouette, she would seem – almost – to  fall from her her central axis, legs and arm curving  as she made a wide circuit of the stage. On the floor she would torque her body so that legs and torso made a tight, three-sided shape, spinning like a pin-wheel. Her firm control and swift changes in direction belied the languor of the music.  Once again  technical precision  was the strength of the work, supporting and giving structure to the melancholic overlay of music.

“Jello on  Springs”
Created and performed by  Philippa Myler

I was intrigued by the coy title and challenging premise of  “Jello on  Springs.”   Program notes suggest that the work “explores socially-constructed behaviors and attire that constitute femininity.” One must give credit to Philippa Myler for courage and ambition: challenging social mores in a mini-skirt, suit coat, bra and high heels is no easy task, and she did not shy away from the attempt.  Unfortunately, the work created an expectation that, in my opinion, it failed to fulfill. The work revolved around her awkward movements as she stepped into the shoes, and constrained by their extreme tilt, minced across the stage.  Every difficult motion was made more precarious by her skimpy clothing --  the coat that gaped wide as she leaned over, the skirt that barely shielded her from our gaze. Myler's choreography has a deconstructivist impulse that I applaud: jarring, halting movements that undercut our expectations of grace and lyricism in dance.  Recent works like “Body Remix/Goldberg Variations” by Compagni Marie Chouinard have made this kind of movement their hallmark with great success.  In this case, however, the choreography didn't seem fully developed: even with a rough aesthetic that challenges expectations of beauty, there needs to be enough sense of pattern and through-line for the audience to grasp the perspective that is being presented.   “Jello on  Springs” was overly halting, and spent too much time on deliberate false starts. The music also cut in and out, jumping from one genre to another, never allowing a melodic line or a mood to develop. In theory this might have supported the premise, reinforcing the awkward performative nature of femininity, signaling its ultimate falseness.  However, I found that the technique pulled me out of the work and prevented me from becoming engaged.  “Jello on  Springs” is meant to challenge the audience, but it started with material that is already well-mapped (who hasn't deconstructed high-heeled shoes and other facets of the beauty myth?) and it didn't recast that material in a sufficiently dynamic format to warrant a re-evaluation of the well-examined tropes.

“Colour by Number”
Performed by Olivia Shaffer and Justin Reist

“Colour by Number” was a definite crowd pleaser, and the audience responded well to the fierce athleticism of the piece.  Olivia Shaffer and Justin Reist offered a well-balanced work that explored a range of  possibilities that are  inherent in a duet.  Their movements were often simultaneous and frequently played off each other so that, when not moving in tandem, their shapes and patterns still echoed each other. And speaking of challenging gender stereotypes, there was a pleasing and interesting equilibrium between them.  Frequently -- and certainly traditionally -- pairs of male/female dancers leave the heavy lifting to the male partner and the decorative flourishes to the female partner.  In this case, both dancers used each other's bodies as springboards and props, and both dancers braced and held each other in daring lifts and falls. They would support each other's drops and twist and then transition from supportiveness into a sparring match. An embrace would be both gentle and awkwardly posed, in a way that suggested the mutual supportiveness of deep friendships that are without romantic illusions. Their bodies had a dynamic interplay, each shifting as necessary to compensate for the added weight of the other.  The even-handedness of the interactions between Shaffer and Reist suggested different facets of duality, from companionship and partnership to friendly competition. It was a refreshing performance that highlighted the physicality of dance, bringing the dancers' experience of movement and the challenges of collaboration the fore.

Created by Jennifer Clarke and performed by  Jennifer Clarke, Anne Cooper, Julia Carr, Jacci Collins, Katy Harris-McLeod, Cara Siu, and Alana Gereke.

“Untitled” was a collaborative study in group dynamics.  It began with several female dancers drifting on stage one at a time. Rolls of masking tape in hand, they began marking the floor in a series of parallel and perpendicular lines, arcs and triangulations.  At the outset, these actions seemed deliberately strange and without context.  As more dancers joined the first, they created a field of energy and a sense of industry with their motions that was mildly hypnotic.  Each dancer  moved along her own trajectory, laying down a white line that wove between the others, building a collaborative pattern across the floor. Once the floor was taped, the performers occupied its spaces in geometric patterns, moving together in unison. A lead dancer then took up a station at the back of the stage, behind a table with a sound machine and a mic.  She sang a single note into the mic, and all the dancers paused to listen to it looping back at regular intervals.  Each one took a turn at the mic, singing a different note which then looped back overtop of the others.  By the end, they had created a haunting soundscape of varied rhythms and pitches.  Like the constructed floor pattern, this strange music was built out of their collective contributions.  The two aspects of the piece had small beginnings, but built into something choral and powerful.

Created and performed by Julianne Chapple

“Autonomic” was easily my favorite work in the 12 Minute Max Showcases. Filled with strange, sophisticated movement, the piece was the dancer's equivalent of a surrealist-pop art painting. The soundtrack was electronic, reminiscent of 1980s videogame sound effects.  Chapple was dressed in a white hood that covered her face, white shorts, and white socks over hands and feet.  Many of her movements were floor-based, from seated to rolls, to crouching.  Her compact body seemed both cartoonish and animalistic.  The piece brought to life a computerized aesthetic, something both contrived and dark.  Program notes suggest that the piece is related to physiology, the respiratory and digestive systems.  The total effect, which combined a manga-like fantasy world with body-centric motions, was unique and completely fascinating.
“The Temperature of Weight”
Created by Kiri Figueiredo , danced by Kiri Figueiredo, Molly McDermott, Bevin Poole and Olivia Shaffer

“The Temperature of Weight” was delightfully dynamic and demonstrated how a carefully chosen costume can become the core of a performance.  The dancers all wore long loose trench coats.  In the opening moments of the piece, melancholy piano seemed to invoke rain in an urban park and the motionless figures looked like unkempt homeless drunks.  As the piece evolved, and the music shifted tempo, their flapping coats became  dry leaves in an autumn wind or the flashing cloak of a bull fighter.  Every movement was subtlety extended, and its emotional impact intensified by the symbolic associations of the costumes.  A range of fantastical ideas emerged from the shapes the dancers made, from paired dancing that invoked the dashing romance of old Hollywood to falling pirouettes that spread the fabric like wings behind the dancers, to low lunges that recalled the beasts of Thriller creeping from their graves.  The piece as deeply satisfying for its fluidity and commitment to exploring such a range of ideas in a short space.

“Consumptive love near asteroid B-612” 
Created by Julia Carr and performed by Brigid MacAulay

As its title might suggest, “Consumptive love near asteroid B-612”  combined languid romanticism with a sense of alien detachment. Costume was again central to the piece, creating the sense of a character both rooted in and outside of time: with coifed ringlets, dressed in a short, dark-blue one piece, and wide turning expressive eyes to the audience, Brigid MacAulay looked simultaneously like a Harlequin, an ancient Greek maiden, and a 1940s pin-up girl.  Her  gestures were slow and deliberate.  Music was electronic with cryptic voice overs that spoke of everything from grey oceans to banal daily events.  MacAuly perched on a grey yoga ball with upraised arms, looking as unflappable as a statue of  the Buddah.  Her performance  was a series of linked vignettes, with intricate movement centred around small props: a red rose around which she delicately coiled her body, handfuls of glittering dust that she tossed while spinning with abandon, a push-broom suspended from an invisible string.  These eclectic moments merged into a surreal, lyrical, many-faceted whole that was both sweet and strange.

The 12 Minute Max performances were diverse in their aims and clearly thought-through by their creators.  And while some pieces struck me more than others, they all exhibited a high degree of imaginative scope and ambition, which made for an enjoyable evening. 

By Kirstie McCallum