Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Cool Encounter with DANCEMAKERS: "AROUND"

DANCEMAKERS is celebrating their 40th anniversary this season.  AROUND is a new work built especially for this gala occasion.

The Distillery was just opening up when I left town for half a decade and I had never been in DANCEMAKERS new and incredibly beautiful space. Finding it was a bit of a challenge, even with the map. When I got there, I discovered a fabulous hidden venue.

For the performance, they had transformed one of their studios into a lobby/box office/bar with tunes, red carpets over the marley, vintage furniture and brocade upholstered benches that functioned as cocktail tables.  They put out little snacks and offered people a free place to leave their coats. It's an intimate space with a cool yet friendly vibe, a portent of things to come.  We were invited to drink in theatre during the performance.

The house opened and we were escorted into a white curtained studio/performance space in the round with a black marley on the floor and two mikes, one suspended and one on the floor, both corded.  Two rows of chairs inside the white curtained area, tall ones at the back and low ones at the front meant we could see each other as well as we could see the performers. This device integrated and implicated the spectators in a different kind of complicity with the performance than the one provided by the more usual private sanctuary of a seat in the dark.

AROUND is devised, created through a process of improvising on the theme of encounters. The choreographer worked with five company members and five EDAP (emerging dance artist project) dancers to co-create this performance. Designers (sound, lights and costume) and a dramaturge were also involved heavily in the construction.

Everyone is in white.  The curtains that contain the audience gets moved around so the parameters of the container are in flux.  The work is visually, textually and aurally fairly austere.  There's more movement than dance in any conventional sense. It is a cool show: edgy, self-consciously stylish and game.

Devised work is always a little loose.  If you like rigour this isn't going to be your cup of tea.  I thought there was an interesting mash-up of ideas playfully and provocatively executed.   I liked that it demanded that I come half-way to meet the piece and the performers but I didn't always feel I was met in the middle.

I particularly liked a staring contest between two male dancers and the audience near the top of the show. The deconstruction of the nature of the gaze is an interesting thing to play with.   A piece where sound score creator Christopher Willes joins the company onstage to play a white electric guitar with his head literally left blood on the floor. Coupled with the microphones stuffed into two of the male dancers' pants, it gave "cock rock" a whole new meaning.

This is dance walking on the edge of performance art.  My encounter with AROUND was thought-provoking and blackly amusing but spoke more to more to my head than my heart.  It certainly elicited some interesting conversations afterward outside the theatre.

DANCEMAKERS' AROUND continues until April 6th in their studio on the third floor of 9 TRINITY in the Distillery.

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