A scene from Sho Me Wut U Gut by choreographer Noam Gagnon.
A scene from Sho Me Wut U Gut by choreographer Noam Gagnon.

Generally when people connected to the arts think of Ottawa they think of politics and funding cuts. Now everyone will have something new to think about: the Ottawa Dance Directive who perform as part of the 2014 Dancing on the Edge Festival. This association is bound to be much more positive.

[pullquote]If the opening night performances are any indication of the rest of this year’s Dancing on the Edge Festival, audiences are in for some interesting, relevant, and moving performances.[/pullquote]The night features three pieces by this daring and skilled dance group, and they couldn’t have been more different.

First up is Fracture, with the stage taken by two women and a man munching on a snack. The women are ready to dance, but must wait while the man gives an awkward, but surprisingly charming introduction to the piece. He explains that the piece was originally supposed to be a duet with two women, but when they received more funding and rehearsal time, he was added to it. The title, we discover, that they settled on was Deux Petites Filles or Two Little Girls.

What follows is a fascinating look at gender politics, mansplaining, and male intervention in female lives. The girls clearly know what they are doing. Their dance reflects what Deux Petite Filles could, or should, have been: two young girls playing, fighting, and discovering their sexuality. The “addition” of the male role points out the low value placed on all-female stories in our society – that the only reason a show would feature only women is if they could not afford to include a man. It’s both funny and frustrating to watch the man get in the way of the dancers, trying to explain or comment on what they’re doing, as well as sometimes physically restraining or controlling their movements. At one point one of the female dancers pushes him away shouting “I wish you weren’t even in this piece”, before storming off.

Marilou Lépine and Jasmine Inns in Fracture by choreographer Yvonne Coutts.
Marilou Lépine and Jasmine Inns in Fracture by choreographer Yvonne Coutts.

The performers are both skilled dancers and actors. The man, in an incredibly challenging role where he must constantly be a few steps behind while narrating and remaining somehow likeable, is engaging to watch. The two women get to show off more of their dancing skills, with powerful repetitive sequences and great lines, while reacting to the man’s interjections with a natural ease.

Up next is Trembleherd Bells, with the dancers clad in all-white, moving around like curious group of androids learning to be human. What we discover is a lab experiment with the subjects closer to cows than people. While that many sound like an insult, it is anything but, as the precision of the dancers’ halting movements and vacant stares as they herded around their “leader” is truly engaging.

At times it is hilarious too, including their attempts to connect where it is as though they had watched film footage of humans interacting with the key moments cut out; their faces bobbing close to each other, as if to kiss, but always missing and their arms reaching around each other, but not t quite making it to a hug before one suddenly falls to the ground.

Then it was heartbreaking, as their curiosity gives way confusion and chaos, and they are forced to sacrifice one of their own to, well, to someone. God? The experimenter? Bells clanged as the sacrificed shake violently, screaming, “We’ve had enough! Be kind!” Luckily there is a giant bell that, when rung, seems to hit a reset button, freezing and calming these poor, confused, brainwashed androids.

While surprisingly engaging, the piece does feel overly drawn-out with interest waning as both the curiosity and the chaos were explored for just a bit longer than necessary.

The final piece of the night is titled Sho Me Wut U Gut, described as a our broken attempts at sexual connection.

Jasmine Inns, Marilou Lépine, Philippe Poirier, and Riley Sims and composer Charles Quevillon in Trembleherd Bells by choreographer Tedd Robinson.
Jasmine Inns, Marilou Lépine, Philippe Poirier, and Riley Sims and composer Charles Quevillon in Trembleherd Bells by choreographer Tedd Robinson.

The piece begins with a startling picture: five dancers, clad in harsh office-wear, standing around the edges of the space, with a harsh, fluorescent light on them. Moving in hard lines and, generally, ordered patterns, it is obviously pointing to our controlled lives.

The breakdown begins when they start to try to connect with each other. First some of the male dancers rub themselves on the women’s legs like cats marking their territory. This signals the beginning of a mating ritual that quickly devolves into animalistic sexuality. The dancers help and hump like puppies, unravelling further into a sort of insane orgy.

Like Trembleherd Bells, Sho Me Wut U Gut lingered a little too long on the chaos. While it was interesting to see how an a hyperbolized sexual act can become abstract with repetition, like repeating a word over and over until it loses its meaning, it requires far less time to get there than was necessary. It isn’t until the dancers started stripping off their clothes and, finally free of those barriers began connecting as humans, that the piece gets interesting again.

The last movement in Sho Me Wut U Gut is done nude, and is the most engaging – not just because of their naked bodies, but because of what they represented, and what they allowed themselves to be once they were naked. Suddenly their longing and deep desire becomes painfully and beautifully evident. It was also interesting to see how indistinguishable the bodies are without the layers we add on to individualize ourselves; the final image was simply that of a group of humans.

The Dancing on the Edge Festival has been around since 1988 as the longest-running contemporary dance festival in Vancouver. If the opening performances are any indication of the rest of this year’s festival, audiences are in for some interesting, relevant, and moving performances.

The Ottawa Dance Directive performance repeats as part of The Dancing on the Edge Festival on Saturday, July 5.  Visit http://dancingontheedge.org for more information. 

The Dancing on the Edge Festival continues at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova, Vancouver) through July 12. Visit http://dancingontheedge.org for tickets and information.