A TINY, MERCURY RIVULET of meaning dips and ducks in the stony regions of minimalism, and Antonija Livingstone has found it. An interdisciplinary movement-based artist now living and working in Montreal, Livingstone creates mysterious semiotic worlds out of task-like, repetitive movement and subtle evocations of connectedness. She nails the formula in her latest incarnation of Even Steven, a re-working of a duet created in 2005 with her regular collaborator, Heather Kravas, and presented with new performers at Tangente as part of the 2009 Edgy Women Festival.
In the 45-minute dance, two men and two women inhabit quiet islands of ordinary movement, while a naive-seeming outsider (Livingstone) orbits about and tries to assimilate by emulating their physical lexicons. The female duo (k.g. guttman and Elizabeth Ward) is simply-clad in white socks, black tights and white t-shirts, ironically evoking the Balanchine male. They execute a basic balletic move — a stepping pivot from fourth position, back and forth — in unison, and for the entirety of the piece. The phrase evolves only spatially, sometimes rhythmically, and the women concentrate hard as they explore shifting geometric patterns on the stage.
The men (Paul Chambers and Jérémie Lavallée) are in fact the sound guys, and sit limply on the floor amidst their mixers and jumbled wires. They wear ordinary clothes, look pretty bored and chat discreetly with each other. Midway through the show, one abruptly falls asleep, slumping into the arms of the other; a little while later, they switch. They continue in this comical exchange of deadweight until the concentric pair drag each other to the back of the stage.
Livingstone is the lost child, first appearing inside a quilted cubbyhole in the vent shaft. She dangles down in red stockings and an oversize neon orange hoodie, and with the shy reluctance of a fawn, eventually moves in step with the girls. She catches on fast but as her own elaborations multiply, three becomes a crowd. Straying, she fixes finally on the heap of sound equipment, mounting it gingerly, then letting it mount her. Her lonely ritual of discovery, now mimicking the boys, ends in a powerful final image of survivalism and self-sustenance.
Now based in Montreal after years of nomadism in Europe, working with the experimental likes of Meg Stuart and Benoît Lachambre, Livingstone is a young dance maker to be closely watched. In Even Steven II, she demonstrates great choreographic maturity in her rigorous minimalist design and patient, virtuosic use of repetition, inventing pedestrian behaviour in alien codes. Simple steps gather mysterious depth with each iteration, and tiny shifts of dynamics register narrative shockwaves. The female duet is especially wondrous. Through an industrious synchronicity, the women’s individualities and physical particularities emerge with vivid authenticity. Livingstone is clearly a woman who knows women.
Montreal’s Edgy Women Festival is an interdisciplinary fun-fest for contemporary feminist expression, featuring performances, professional workshops, talks and socials with local and international artists. This year’s 16th edition runs through March 21 at various venues across town. It’s not too late to catch the last weekend of performances at Tangente: Friday’s double bill features the world premiere of Peur Laine, a multidisciplinary piece about Quebec xenophobia by queer Montreal artist VAL Desjardins, and Kristine Nutting’s dark, absurdist musical PIG. Closing the festival on Saturday is Just Being, a final line-up of raucous, fringy gems where one can expect to see contortionism, a vulgar ventriloquist act and a human disco ball.
Friday, Saturday performances at Tangente, 840 Cherrier. For a complete schedule see www.edgywomen.ca.