Friday, 17 May 2013

Chairs and Boxes - Expanse Movement Arts Festival 2013

Expanse Movement Arts Festival
March 7-10, 2013
TransAlta Arts Barns
Edmonton, Alberta
Photos used with permission of Marc J Chalifoux

Presented by Azimuth Theatre in partnership with Mile Zero Dance (Featured Artist Showcase curation), Catch the Keys Productions, Good Women Dance Collective (workshops), Latitude 53, and the University of Alberta Department of Drama. Curated by Murray Utas.

Topic 1. Keynote Address
The Corporeal - Constructs in the work of Jan Fabre
Luk Van Den Dries (Brussels)
By beginning the festival with a retrospective look at the work of Jan Fabre, the festival organizers established their desire to push the envelope for movement arts in Edmonton. The festival did not include world dance forms, it did not include gymnastics, or martial arts. Instead, the organizers included dance artists, theatre artists performing physical work and performance artists. In short, the emphasis was on art.

Van Den Dries' presentation included documentation of Jan Fabre's work as well as his personal experiences being present for some of Fabre's work. He provided examples of Fabre's more shocking work involving real performances of duration, pain and humiliation of the body. The most riveting part of Van Den Dries' presentation was his own account of attending a performance of Der Palast um vier Uhr morgens. In this performance, Fabre had used his blue Bic pens to color every surface of the rooms. He described arriving at four in the morning in the darkness. As a woman sang, dawn broke and performers were slowly revealed throughout the space around them.

Topic 2. The Problem of Music
With the exception of very few original collaborations, there were no music credits provided in the program for this festival. This was a poor solution to the deep and widespread problem of movement artists using recorded music without permission of music artists and without compensation to them. This topic will be addressed in a separate and upcoming blog entry featuring interviews and commentary from composers, musicians, choreographers and educators.

Topic 3. Chairs and Boxes
Chairs and boxes are used often in contemporary dance and theatre. They are objects to stand on, hide in, conceal objects, places to balance, to rest and to launch from. And they are commonplace and easy to come by. But if you have seen many, many dances that feature chairs and boxes, you might find yourself feeling wary the moment they show up on stage. And it might be interesting to you that so many of the pieces in Expanse so prominently feature chairs and boxes.

4. Reviews: Featured Artist Showcase

Fight or Flight
"A woman, a wooden box, a fragmented language and a Czech lullaby..."
Choreographer/Performer: Helen Husak (Calgary)
Composer: Amir Amiri

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux
Starting from her hiding place inside a box, Husak combines angsty virtuosic movement and emotion with text in which she describes her awkwardness with a bilingual family, personal history and identity. Husak is a committed and intense performer. The delivery of her words is simple but strongly personal, intelligent rather than sappy. Her box is heavy and wooden. She hides in it, behind it. She finds things in it. At the height of her personal meltdown, she wears this heavy box on her head and tells us she is ok until she genuinely cries while saying so. What we glean from this troubled soul is that life is difficult and heart wrenching, with mere glimpses of light when we can emerge from the heavy wooden boxes we build around ourselves.
Husak gave a workshop during the festival. From this piece and from the description of the course, psychology and behaviour are the cornerstones of her work.

Duet, The Space Between
"For those who are near you are far away...and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow happy about your growth, in which of course you can't take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind..." from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Choreographer: Helen Husak (Calgary)
Dancer Interpreters: Pamela Tzeng and Erin O'Loughlin (Calgary)
Mentors: Susie Burpee and Davida Monk
Music: no credits given
Photo by Marc J Chalifoux
In this piece, we see the dancers enter on a bench.  Why does this matter? It matters because they brought a bench all the way from Calgary, and Husak and her mentors felt it was important or interesting to feature it. In this case, the bench serves an elevated level on which to balance the pelvis. It also has room enough for two. This is a point of connectivity in a dance where the two dancers seem to exist on a planet where an external force is toying with the women as though they are full of magnets, their north and south poles constantly shifting within their bodies. Soon enough the bench gets knocked over in the frenzy and is forgotten for most of the rest of the piece. The women, dressed in similar dresses which are in negative to each other, are very strong dancers. Lovely with out being overly precious or timid, they dive to the floor fearlessly, and are able to sustain our interest in the visibly frustrating forces that keep them together, yet apart.

dances to music
Creator/Performer: Denise Clarke (Calgary)
Score Construction: Richard McDowell
Stage Manager: Michelle Kennedy
Music: No credits given, which is weird because it seems important considering the title. But the music is Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, Pyramid Song by Radiohead (the lyrics are projected line-by-line onto the cyclorama as you enter the space), and An der schönen blauen Donau, Op 314 by Richard Strauss.
Photo by Marc J Chalifoux
Denise Clarke of One Yellow Rabbit (Calgary) was the featured artist for the Expanse Movement Festival two years ago. It's easy to love Clarke, as she is a fully-realized performer. dances to music, like her piece Sign Language is part theatre, part dance. It's another one woman show. She takes us on a journey and we are generally riveted to her smooth storytelling voice, her dance capabilities, and her constant balance of depth and humour.

In dances to music, it is slowly revealed to us that she is going through some difficulty in her life. We don't find out what that difficulty is until a half an hour into the work. What we know is that she is working on her "cheering up program," and we are somehow genuinely a part of it. So are these three pieces of music. The explains that the dances are made up of her memorized list of her books, which is rather detailed and variable. Though she seemingly glosses over the somewhat recent loss of the books, it's clear that the books count as another one of her recent tragedies. And so she dances for us this list three times in the course of the hour. Once while marking it in deep snow, once quickly while she recites the list, and once, finally, to music.

5. Reviews: YEG Spotlight
(featuring Edmonton performers)

Here. Like this. 
Creator: Amber Borotsik in collaboration with the performers (Edmonton)
Performers: Amber Borotsik, Tony Olivares, Laura Raboud and Cory Vanderjagt
Music: Aaron Macri and Cory Vanderjagt
Dramaturge: Jesse Gervais
Borotsik’s piece starts in the lobby. A car is parked just outside the Westbury Theatre's large glass doors, high beams on to blast the lobby with light. Borotsik and her cohorts (Raboud and Olivares) wheel out a steam punk contraption of oddities that produce light and sound. As the wooden cart (led by a chair) threatens to spin out of control, the dancers dressed in 1940’s finery dodge, roll and charge with it. They offer excised speakers to the audience to hold them up to their ears like conch shells. Not everyone can hear those sounds, but the rest of Macri’s sound design percolates through the space with textures and gentle interjections. The dancers speak in unison, they start to say things, they interrupt themselves. 

The three make their way from near the entrance of the lobby to the back corner with their contraption. Once there, a light shines on a young cowboy poet (Vanderjagt) who sings a bittersweet folk song. At first the dancers stop and seem hypnotized, swaying dreamily as Macri adds an ethereal electronic layer to the folk waltz. The dancers choose a couple of audience members to slow dance with, and despite the cold March weather, it feels like we could somewhere out on the prairie on a hot summer night. From there, the sound/light/rope/chair/cart contraption enters the theatre with the artists and the audience follows. 

The energy ramps up a bit as the performers start and stop introductions and engage in a boisterous

Photos by Marc J Chalifoux
welcome. The contraption, the ropes, the chair, the dancers spinning out of control or rolling about the space. It's a surreal scene as the cowboy poet passes by the madness, Olivares struts back and forth telling us something very exciting in Spanish, and Raboud exercises her operatic vocal chords.

It's an enjoyable and whimsical piece. Nothing is predictable, including the ending, in which the piece simply evaporates as the host Steve Pirot makes his way onto the stage to help deadpan a segue from the teardown of Borotsik's piece into the extensive set up of the Mile Zero Dance piece.

(un)static : motions in electricity
by Mile Zero Dance (Edmonton)
Performers: Gerry Morita and Richard Lee
Music: Victoria Reiswich-Dapp
Scenography: Patrick Arès-Pilon

Photos by Marc J Chalifoux
The inventory of objects laid out in this room is too long to list. It includes vinyl records, cassette tape players, fans, various vessels of water, tables, cables, several lamps, TV trays, tables, an upright piano, and a big wooden box, down stage and centre.

Morita and Lee pace through the space, setting in motion many of the various contraptions in the space. Drops of blue are added to each large water vessel. The dancers record weird dream memories into old cassette tape recorders, the visual of this is makes it seem as though they are telling the little machine a secret. We only hear parts of the dreams (Lee describes a push-up dream, as though that's some kind of Jungian classification), and later we hear the dreams as the cassettes are hacked and played back, the tape unspooled and used to decorate the room.
The movement vocabulary shifts between a casual, almost bored walk through the set, which then bursts into spastic electrocutions, limbs jerk, bodies are thrown down and abruptly back up again.

The dancers and the set are lit by a slowly moving contraption of lights on a rusty wagon controlled by Arès-Pilon, resulting in a giant moving play of shadows of the dancers and the objects. The sounds and activity on the set are entertaining, mysterious and unpredictable. A light swings and the dancers dodge it as they dance. There is a divertissement in which the dancers don Edmonton Oilers hockey jerseys and engage in a sort of call and response head banging exchange, which ends in all-out thrashing in unison. That ends and they return to their wonderland of objects to set in motion.

Ultimately, the dancers have the whole set buzzing and sparking, but Arès-Pilon slowly begins turning out the lights and silencing everything. Morita ends up in the box, which emits light. She appears to attach heavy boots to her feet and she begins to dance. The box seems to be contact miked because we hear the sound of glass smashing with her boots against the wooden box amplified throughout the room. The lights go out one by one under her feet, and she finishes the dance by stomping on them defiantly as the last light goes out.

Ingenuity and abstraction are hallmarks of Mile Zero Dance under the vision of artistic director Morita. In this piece this came through very well on the first night, though on the second night the dancers seemed much more weary, or perhaps they were playing more with the contrast between the electric shocks and the mundane walking aspect of the piece. Regardless, it is full of surprises, strong dancing and the odd wonders that we've come to expect from Mile Zero.

6. Mini-Reviews: Raw
works in progress by emerging artists

Scars Are Healing Wrong
Creator/Performer: Julie Ferguson (Edmonton)
Video Design: Show Stages Collective (Joel Adria, Elijah Lindenberger, T Erin Gruber)
Costume Design: Camille Maltais
Music: No credits given.
Photo by Marc J Chalifoux
Ferguson suffered a terrible illness at a young age. And while you sincerely hope she recovers fully to lead a normal happy life, and you genuinely hope creating this work helps her progress through the psychological difficulties of overcoming such an illness, at this stage of creation the piece is dance therapy set to music. At least three and possibly four pop songs in duration, the music consists of sentimental ballads of illness and recovery. Ferguson's considerable skills as a mover and her passion when reliving her own pain are a strength for the piece and we clearly see that she went through a lot to get to this point.

The accompanying video is a primary focal point of the piece, but needs more work in terms of quality of content (medical animations from YouTube and Ferguson's mawkish scrapbooking), image quality and editing.

We Don't Look Back
Choreographer/Performer: Mark Ikeda (Calgary)

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

Ikeda exudes a confidence that is magnetic. In this piece he talks about his Japanese heritage, the history of Japanese people in Canada, and the lingering personal ramifications of that history, suggesting that some do look back.

He begins with a lecture presentation which includes recordings and he expands the storytelling into dance. It's a challenge to transition from front-facing text delivery to dance, and Ikeda mostly pulls it off. His movement vocabulary is unique and earthy, and his choreography is interesting enough to allow us to forgive any technical shortcomings. One profound allegory of a bird carried by a relative is heard three times, and each time after the first it loses power.

The politics of the story are interesting, and Ikeda's rage is real. In its current state the piece comes off as a bit preachy, though this may not be his intended goal in his final product.

Choreographer: Alida Nyquist-Schultz
Performers: Ainsley Hillyard, Alison Kause, Richard Lee, Kate Stashko
Music: Marjan Mozetich
Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

Nyquist-Schultz of Good Women Dance Collective is working on a power-packed piece of internal and external versions of withholding. It's a work in progress fresh out of an artist residency through Mile Zero Dance. Since the first version she has changed the piece. Where the beginning originally had almost too much happening, the current version takes a little too long to heat up. As the music bears down, two dancers initially stand strongly, establishing their presence, occasionally looking back and forth across the stage.  This goes on for long enough that you might start to worry someone missed their entrance. But after that there is a lot of action on stage, and all the sex appeal that is the trademark of a Good Women production.

Dancers Kause and Lee are particularly strong in this work, apparently being withheld by external forces and by each other. Hillyard and Stashko appear to be restricted more by internal forces. The pathways and spatial design of this piece are complex and visually appealing, the themes in the movement stand out more than individual movements.

From the Event Series
As a matter of BOX
Choreographer/Performer: Pamela Tzeng

Photo by Marc J Chalifoux
This author did not see this piece. But she heard it was pretty good. To close this coverage of the Expanse Festival, here is the program note:

"What's in a box? Ubiquitous in daily life these spectacular right-angled, cuboid containers store and transport what is precious, necessary and sometimes unwanted. Although fantastically practical, these walled objects also confine us from exploring the infinite possibilities of our imagination."