Wednesday night was an exciting evening in Halifax as Live Art Dance presented the much anticipated Ballet Jazz de Montreal. Rarely are shows held in the Rebecca Cohen auditorium so the set up felt extra special; a touch of luxury bringing us back to an era where dance was traditionally presented in the raised proscenium stage with large velvety curtains draped in the front and sides for added drama. I love the wheezing sound of the curtain opening at the beginning of the show where the nostalgic signal of the beginning of a performance quiets the hum of the audience members.
Contemporary dance has many facets to it; can be very complex in the nature of its’ ambiguity, however, as I watched the 3 pieces by 3 different choreographers, some elements of it felt less than current, and distant from the explorative nature of contemporary art.
Kosmos choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis was a frenetic piece that displayed awesomely the talents and athleticism of the dancers. Whipping from one movement to the next with barely a pause for reflection, the piece was inspired by the “Urban Frenzy” of everyday life in the city. And just like everyday life in the city, it was exhausting. The dancers flung themselves in all directions after the brief opening of percussive movement. I guess I was expecting something more pedestrian as I’d read in the program that it was inspired by the movement of crowds and energy of the city. But really the vocabulary was true to a more traditionally 90’s style of jazz with feats of bravado including many battements and traditional choreographic spacing. There were few moments to catch my breath as my mind was left whirling from trying to track it all which lead me to wonder how the dancers were dealing with it. I imagined them doubled over backstage gasping for breath before returning to the stage.
The piece was quite good at portraying the frenzy as little time was left for them to truly experience the movement in the moment; leaving little space for any type of personality to shine through. The ending was abruptly switched into a world of static beautifully draping the stage, complemented with a gorgeous soundtrack of outdoor ambient noise. The switch seemed stilted but was important none the less. As the momentum came to a halt in order to compliment the lighting, I felt the piece was asking for more. Overall, an impressive display of athleticism but lacked some of the more puritan contemporary layers I’ve been spoiled over the last few years.
Closer by Benjamin Millepied was premiered at the Maison de Danse in Lyon France. Originally set to a live performance of Mad Rush by Philip Glass I can only imagine the richness that carried through the movement. The duet was inspired by the negative space between two bodies in relation to one another, however I felt it exalted the female body at the core of its concept. Rather than the tension between two partners in dynamics with one another, it felt very traditional with the male dancer standing behind the female dancing as she flexed and extended through very familiar balletic inspired movements.
Beautiful none the less for their talented movement capabilities, the premise of the piece fell flat. The looping soundtrack felt forced while the looping movement felt equally driven by a lack of consideration for the theme. I wanted to see more of the negative space between them broken and reassembled as a reflection of what I’ve experienced in romantic relationships, yet the traditional form of duet where male supports the virtuosic movements of the female didn’t allow for a true portrayal of the give and take inherent in relationships whether romantic or otherwise.
The third and final piece, O Balcao De Amor was much more well rounded and innovative in movement, thematic, characterization and use of the stage as an environment. Inspired by the music of Cuba after travelling to the country and observing the culture, I felt Itzik Galili really quilted together an experience for the audience. With very stereotypical characterizations of each dancer the richness of character development became 2 dimensional and some may have found it patronizing. It was, however, exciting to follow uniquely crafted patterns, dynamics and movement to a fabulous soundtrack of Cuban music allowing for an upbeat, light and more personalized experience of the dancers’ skills. Well timed moments of chaos coupled with nicely framed duets and solos directed my eyes from one moment to the next allowing for a richness in the piece as a whole. At times I wondered how the loose characterizations dancers related to actual Cuban culture and whether it should’ve been re-examined under a more anthropologic lens. With the care taken to celebrate the music, coordinate the costuming, movement and dancers’ characters I trusted the intentions of the choreographer; having never been to Cuba myself. I felt that the aim was specifically to coordinate with the music and not to give an understanding of the overall culture.
Dance to the public is a beautiful, fluid wonderfully entertaining art form. As I grow as dancer, choreographer and dance viewer, I’ve situated the art form under our sensitive socio-political landscape and in the context of where the art form is gaining and/losing momentum. The sheer enjoyment of movement is always augmented for myself, by careful consideration of the context in which it’s performed and I felt the first two pieces were nostalgic like the stage we were viewing them in. The world premiere of Kosmos was 2014 and Closer 2012, so I wonder, under the urgent political landscape of late, if the outcome of these choreographies would have varied?