The 21st Festival of New Dance opened Tuesday night with flourish and a full house at the Resource Centre for the Arts. The first part of the program featured local dancers and choreography, with a curtain riser from Lynn Panting and a solo piece from Sarah Joy Stoker.
Panting’s “I’m not Calling You a Liar” was a short — 3 1/2 minute — tight, dynamic ensemble, with 15 female and male dancers, underscored with a flooring of waving rivulets of light, dressed in period costumes of long colourful skirts, or trousers and vests, and white shirts.
They began with a series of stylized, synchronized poses and movements and breath. Then, set with the attention-grabbing titular song by Florence and the Machine, they break into an interactive mix of motion that lands somewhere between folk dance and hip hop; from full chorus to enfolding solos and duets it is brash, confident and fun.
Stoker’s “When the Birds Fly Happy” plays beautifully to her strengths: her physical control; her ability to hold the audience with a gaze, or a simple movement; and her skill and poise which is on display throughout the shifting spectrum of elegance and contortion she composes.
Stoker began on a bare stage — cleared right to the back wall — and in full light, that washes right out over the house. She wears a white shirt and loose gray capris, and at first simply walks the perimeter of the floor, accompanied by a soundscape that fluctuates between ambient traffic and specific punctuations of footsteps or exhalation.
The lights very gradually come down, but never completely. Stoker doesn’t seem interested in creating any kind of fourth wall. Her physicality is very natural, at times almost feral, and so disciplined she can seem to hover over the stage, even as she kneels, back on.
There are lots of lovely, controlled moments in her piece. Most of her gestures and action are fairly slow, although she can accelerate to a frenzied tempo. But much of “When The Birds Fly Happy” is suspended, bracing and aloft. At the end Stoker almost seems to be balanced on a tightrope. As the soundscape mutes, the lights ebb again to a near full state and Stoker’s focus remained unwavering.
The program continued after intermission with the celebrated Margie Gillis and her “Voyage Into the Interior Landscapes”.
As part of the outreach elements of the 21st Festival, works will be staged at Atlantic Place, and the Avalon Mall. There will also be theatre and visual artists and poets blogging throughout the schedule: these include Andy Jones, Agnes Walsh, and Michelle Bush. For links to the blogs, and for information on the off-site productions, and anything and everything else to do with the Festival, visit festivalofnewdance.ca.
The Festival of New Dance continues tonight with Jacques Poulin-Denis, “Cible de Dieu (Target of God)” and Moonhorse Dance Theatre, “Dances in a Small Room: Lonesome/Half an Hour of Our Time.” These and other programs will be followed by question-and-answer periods, facilitated by Festival animateur, Anne Troake. There will also be a discussion session with the opening night artists at The Rocket on Water Street at
1 p.m. this afternoon.