Culture & Conversation

Dance This Mess Around

100 years ago this week, the Ballet Russes premiered Rite of Spring in Paris and an instant classic was born. It was fresh and new, edgy and alive. It sparked a riot, so they say. At least one person was challenged to a duel. A duel, for Pete’s sake! That’s badass.

With this in mind, I went along to the opening night of an OFFTA triple bill presenting three fresh young choreographers: Maria Kefirova’s Why Are Dogs Successful on Stage, Adam Kinner’s I’m Faking It and Hannako Hoshimi-Caines’ Where the River Got the Water remix. It went something like this.

Dealing with our fundamental solitude, love and the impossibility to share our gaze, Why Are Dogs Successful On Stage is choreographed by Bulgarian-born, Amsterdam-trained Kefirova, and in collaboration with Sara Hanley, Karen Fennell, Csenge Kolozsvari, Trayan Markov, and Yordan and Miguel Melgares. With the lights down, we sat in silence until people started to giggle. “Let’s take a moment to relax together,” instructed a mechanical Eastern European accent. Kefirova invited an audience member to sit in a red chair set off to the side. Sitting as instructed, his face suddenly loomed large, projected onto the white wall facing us.

“Welcome” said the voice to the Hapless Audience Member, who grinned with nervous bravado. “This is a gin and tonic.” HAM twitched and blinked. “This is a Michael Jackson song.” A smile played around the corners of his mouth. “And this is real democracy.” The smile was replaced by a look of complete bewilderment.

You can guess how it goes. We watch the man and the man watches the show – a pretty neat trick the first time around. But then another volunteer was called forth and the entire exchange began again. And again. And again. A spray-tanned girl in cowboy boots and an eyebrow ring briefly clomped on stage for her five minutes of fame. I started to click my pen and shift in my seat. Next please!

Adam Kinner is lanky, and puppyish in that nervous, affected way that seems to be everywhere right now. In I’m Faking It, he made awkward proclamations like “Every time I think about sex I go into a shrug. Every time I think about my mother I go into a pause.” Part of his show is an ongoing project that requires audience participation after the event, which he talked us through beforehand. The description on his website tells you everything you need to know:

1. Write a cheque to Adam Kinner for an amount that is CA$100 or above.
2. On the memo line of the cheque write: we can make this work.
3. Send the cheque to the address below, with a return address.
4. Receive a return cheque in the mail for 99% of the amount that you sent.
5. Deposit that cheque into your bank account.

Yes, he’s for real. He’s performing transactions with his audience! Geddit? Geddit?! Pass the snare drum and give the man a ba-dum-chhhhh. And yet, I enjoyed it. It was funny and charming, if a little too self-aware. And halfway through I laughed out loud at his snake-hipped “sexy dance.”

In between each performance, we watched techies in skinny jeans and tool belts come out to switch walls around and drag drum kits here and there, faffing about with neon signage. Having the intestines of the stage open for operation got me thinking. Some things are better left to the imagination. Like when couples start to pee in front of each other.

Last up was Hannako Hoshimi-Caines, a beautiful dancer who had recently returned from working with the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden. For Where the River Got the Water remix, she collaborated with the musicians Katie Moore and Matthew Woodley. Hoshimi-Caines is about six months pregnant (Me too, girl! High five! How’s that sciatic nerve treating you?) and thus her performance is more philosophical diatribe about the nature of dancing than, you know, actual dancing. “My centre isn’t what it used to be,” she said while demonstrating the mechanics of jumping without actually jumping. “It’s the motion downward that allows for the motion upward.” Yes, yes, you know how to plié. Wonderful. Where the River Got the Water remix ended in a strobe-lit dance party with all three performers doing a synchronized routine and eventually solo-waltzing offstage.

I came away from these three works feeling underwhelmed. Maybe this is what “edgy” means to the next generation of choreographers/theatre-makers: a mass abandonment of the intrigues of performance, the smoke and mirrors, the narrative structure, the proscenium arch, the lights-down scene changes, and (um) the dancing. Gone, gone, and gone. But what are we left with then, except hospital lighting, pop culture references, and self-conscious posturing? Put it this way: a modern-day Rite of Spring it was not.

(Ed note: title hint, B52s.)

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