Culture & Conversation

The Guiding Shadows

Crystal Pite is far and away Canada’s most exciting choreographic talent today.  She’s on a meteoric rise internationally, with a growing roster of commissions from some of the world’s leading companies.  Judging from her newly-minted work, Dark Matters, created on her Vancouver-based company Kidd Pivot and onstage in Montreal through Saturday, this artist lives up to the hype.

Dark Matters asks the big questions about the universe, the mightiest of them being, What moves us?  Weaving through the two-hour piece are haunting extracts of a 1756 poem by Voltaire, written in the Godless wake of the Great Lisbon Earthquake.  The dance for six is in two acts, with at least one disaster dividing them.

The first act is theatrical–a surprising move–and opens with a standard Dr. Frankenstein tale replete with cracks of lightning, a wooden marionette assembled and brought to life, and the eventual glinting-scissor patricide of the Creator (played by Peter Chu).  Using bunraku puppet methods, five performers completely obscured in black clothing deftly animate the evil automaton.  Despite the gothic camp it’s all quite magical.  The show is over quickly, and the shadows, suddenly characters, are left standing around like stagehands with nothing to do. What follows is a fast-paced sequence of comic mayhem fit for the silver screen.  At the risk of divulging too much, expect ninjas and a great shocker at the end.

Where the first act is a dark pantomime coarsely outlining Pite’s philosophical preoccupations, the second is its fleshing-out in pure dance.  The stage now bare, five dancers return in regular clothes, with one shadow character (Pite) still lurking and tinkering in the peripheries.  An abstract suite of solos, duets and ensemble sections situate us again in an uncertain realm of becoming-being.  Like shadows, dancers are sharp-edged and liquid.

Marionette motifs recur too: joints buckle, heads need guiding, bent knees swing open and back like spring doors, sending a shock through the frame.  But in the absence of an engineer, there is a new emotional resonance as dancers grope blindly for and rush to one another, to be steered, or molded.  The group sections are beautiful exercises in connectivity.  Dancers dissipate and cluster like atoms; bonds form, break.  A discrete movement impetus ignites a ripple effect through the chain.

The shadow character works well, alternately endearing and spooky in its omnipresence.  Several times it melts into the real shadows cast by others.  When it joins in on a reprised group sequence, we wonder, was it there the first time?  A powerful, unsettling notion.

Pite danced for five years with Ballett Frankfurt under the groundbreaking direction of William Forsythe, arguably ballet’s most influential innovator of the past two decades.  Her movement vocabulary, in its angularity and strict isolations, certainly echoes Forsythe’s deconstructions of classical line, although with a rare gift for poetic imagery and a cunning wit to boot, she applies color and tension with acute humanist insight.

Her five extraordinary dancers move not only with technical polish but with great feeling and instinct.  Cat-like Yanick Matthon and long, sinuous Jermaine Spivey are particularly cohesive in their bodies, dance down to the detail with exquisite control.  Peter Chu is a boneless wonder, and Cindy Salgado and Éric Beauchesne are also memorable.

To the delight of audiences who also know her as a mesmerizing performer, Pite finally sheds her shadow suit for the poignant finale, a duet with Chu.  Bathed in yellow light with choral music seeping in, innocent life is infused, fused, lost again.  To a final image of ever-mending, one is left with a wide, bottomless feeling of human frailty, and its hold on the sublime.  We have been moved.

Dark Matters opened on April 29 and continues through May 9 at Agora de la danse, 840 Cherrier.  8 p.m.  CALL  514-525-1500.

  • Leave a Reply

    Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

    Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS