Dance in Vancouver, Program Four: spirituality and bodies

Box4 from Program 4 of Dance in Vancouver

With our bodies stuck in cars and cubicles and confining clothes all the time, it’s easy to forget what they can do.  The electric duet between Alvin Erasga Tolentino (dancer), and Emmanuel de St. Aubin (musician), presented by Company Erasga, that opened Program Four of this year’s Dance in Vancouver offers some possibilities.

How about snapping one’s head like a bird, angling the skull sharply to fix the gaze on different spots?  Or oscillating the hips, loose below the spine? Or gathering all of this vibration into a high release, arcing the back towards the sky and raising the arms and one leg? Consider an explosive, elastic jump, or a strongly held airplane shape that rides the soundwaves?

Tolentino’s dance happens within a large square outlined on the stage. This containment of Tolentino’s endlessly expressive, mobile body could be speaking to the confinement of a free thing, or it could be productively channeling and embracing the body’s potent energies. The concluding sequence sketches a desire to move beyond such limits (or maybe it is a desire to reach a still point within them). It begins with a familiar naked baby moment (with the dancer balanced on his back, waving arms and legs in the air) in front of a projection of clouds in the blue sky (a.k.a. the meditative mind).  Then this sky turns to black with bright points—maybe a starry sky—and finally that “sky” begins to look more like TV snow, as the dancer sits cross-legged, angled away from the audience.  For this viewer, the final image poignantly combines a late-twentieth-century signal for blankness (TV snow) with an image of spiritual searching (the cross-legged meditator). 

Tolentino moves with impressive strength and grace, channeling the music like a raver, as one audience member commented.  Like all great dancers at raves and on stage, Tolentino conveys the experience of being in his body to us watchers. This experience is emphasized by St. Aubin’s live music, which takes us on a journey through a range of volumes, pitches, rhythms, timbres, and moods, and which includes amplified breath and voice. The wonderful communication between musician and mover becomes another instance of feeling-with. Tolentino’s program notes speak of hybridity, and hybridity is a good word to describe his dance style, not only because it incorporates dance vocabulary from various cultural traditions, but also because it delivers the experience of new-seeing and the potential for empathy that can come with such juxtapositions.

Box4, choreographed by Paraskevas Terezakis and danced by Caroline Farquhar, Mackenzie Green-Dusterbeck, Manuel Sorge, and Donald Taruc and presented by Kinesis Dance, also engages questions of communication and embodiment. If the first piece is an interior exploration shared, this piece is emphatically social, beginning with dancers counting and measuring in four languages, and continuing with cooperation and conflict expressed in movement.  The lighting design by James Proudfoot evokes an urban street, strangely empty in spite of the four dancers. Bundled newspapers are stacked in the center of the space and tall lights like lampposts positioned at its four corners. There is something about the unread and undelivered newspapers that suggests that business is not proceeding as usual. The score by Adam Basanta is a gorgeous combination of clanking, low rumbling, and again, live breath (performed by a spooky figure in a hoody who never shows his face), ending in a final sequence of peaceful strings. 

The heart of this piece is the confident, big movement, the way the dancers (all beautiful, strong performers) push against each other, lift, tease, and fly.  Aside from creating a mood of abandonment and urban blight, the newspapers seem less important until the moment when the dancers start piling the bundles up into stacks and jumping over and balancing on them, just as they have been jumping over, riding on, and swirling around each other.  At the end of this sequence, the dancers stack the newspapers up in a huge tower.  They have to cooperate to keep the pile steady, but just as one man is about to put the last possible bundle on the stack, another knocks the tower down.  Its teetering weight is like that of a human body, yet it is immensely satisfying to watch it topple—as it has been satisfying to watch the dancers lift and throw each other. It is this exuberant play with the physics of cooperation and conflict that most speaks to me in this piece. In the concluding moments, when the dancers shed their clothes in half-light and stuff the clothes with newspapers, then abandon them, it does seem like a good idea to let those powerful, speaking bodies out. 

Dance in Vancouver, Program Four, performed on Oct 16, 2009, no remaining performances.

By Melissa Walter