Solo dance opens festival program

Joan Sullivan
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The second program of the Neighbourhood Dance Works festival opened off-site, at the Cochrane Street United Church, where “as it is,” choreographed by Heidi Strauss, was staged in an upstairs all-purpose room. The setting worked well for the piece, which concerns a couple whose relationship is being observed by a mysterious woman. With the windows emitting natural light, a piano in a corner and a showcase of trophies (all of which the dancers incorporated into “as it is”), it suggests the audience has simply found themselves in the couple’s apartment, where we watch the goings-on unfold.

Kristy Kennedy (in a long orange top and shorts) and Robert Abubo (in a yellow shirt and grey trousers) are the romantic couple whose association is being watched by a woman in grey (Strauss). The dancers are on set as the audience comes in, and the piece makes a very natural start. Kennedy and Abubo’s bond is stretched and pulled, entwined and unstitched, with lots of actions coming off simple, ordinary gestures, like a raised hand, or an outstretched arm. But these are always shifting and ambiguous — is the hand raised in warning, or to caress? Is the arm about to gently hold, or fiercely wrestle? Their physical rapport goes through constant changes, the dynamics of their engagement strongly underscored by what seems persistent eye contact.

At first, Strauss merely looks on, and barely moves. But then she is drawn (or invited) in, and the energy and interplay intensifies. There is jostling and converging, lots of whizgigging play that takes on a rough edge, and a particularly pleasing sequence in which all three try to anticipate, and outdo, each other’s positioning and expressions. Again the eye contact between all three is quite strong and expressive. (The piece also includes some dialogue — like a riff off the fortunes in fortune cookies.)

The piece does lose some liveliness when Strauss exits. It falls into a bit of looseness; when it ends it seems it could have stopped a few minutes earlier, or a few minutes later; there was no dramatic punctuation. But the dancers remain absolutely game, even as, at one point, they excuse themselves for sidling between the audience’s seats.

Next up was Martin Belanger, with “Spoken Word/Body”, which is deftly intriguing. Belanger blends text, movement and sound in a manner both accessible and enthralling. Throughout the piece he explains what he’s doing, or about to do. Then he takes the audience beyond the setup, the expectation.

“Spoken Word/Body” opens with a sound technician (Jean-Sebastien Durocher) on stage with a turntable, soundboard and standing microphone. Belanger enters, in a grey hooded sweatshirt, casual blue trousers, yellow T-shirt, and flip-flops. As the title suggests, he alternates dialogue and movement. His words are reflective and often humourous, and his movements are elegant, precise and beautifully aligned, whether he is responding to Bach or Led Zeppelin. (A sequence where he becomes a kind of feline creature is mesmerizing.)

Belanger is interested in, and has been reading about, new thoughts on biology, spiritualism and human nature. These he shares, in sculpted excerpts, and then enacts, or demonstrates, or reacts or answers to the issues he has raised. Belanger appears relaxed and he can verbally or physically turn on a dime, but the discipline that built the framework of this performance is evident, too. A very strong work, and one that stays with you.

The 20th Festival of New Dance continues tonight with Peggy Baker’s “Portal” and Lee Su-Feh’s “The Whole Beast,” 8 p.m., at the LSPU Hall.

Organizations: Cochrane Street United Church, Led Zeppelin

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