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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dance review: Tentacle Tribe breathes life into Ghosts

Hip hop, breakdance and martial arts mix in this breath of [fresh] air

Choreographers Emmanuelle Phan and Elon Höglund, who dance alongside Céline Richard-Robichon, Mecdy Jean-Pierre, Erika Nguyen and Rahime Gay-Labbé in Ghosts, use the breath as their prime instigation to move. That breath grows to embrace all forms of air movement that motivate the dance and its dancers. 

Their spatial harmony seems based on Rudolf Laban’s analyses of movement and his use of efforts, impulse and the various planes within the icosahedron to extend the motions of the body beyond their perceived limitations. 

Phan and Höglund add hip hop, breakdance and martial arts to their mix. The result is a feast for the eyes, as much because of the practical and effective costumes created by Rosalie Lemay, as the pulsating bodyscapes built by the dancers. 

The impulses that eventually form these bodyscapes are as exciting as the architectural images they create. Unravelling appearances and disappearances, along with secret onstage costume changes that alternate between off-white cottons and black tracksuits with hoodies, intrigue and delight. Their dance is often like some lovely underwater ballet that features exotic sea creatures.

The program includes delicious moments of humour, particularly when white balloons replace the heads and faces of the dancers to make wonderfully convincing ghosts. The tallest, Jean-Pierre, who goes under the alias of “Venom,” gives a hilarious interpretation of a ghostly commentator. His outrageous gestures are so poignant that his performance stands alone. A background as a street performer is evidenced by the way he connects with the audience.

The music, composed by Samuel Nadaï, strikingly accentuates our reliance on the breath to survive and strive to overcome the ghosts that inhabit our past.  

Lighting designed by Benoît Larivière can be somewhat intrusive at times, particularly when powerful lamps are directed into the auditorium. Perhaps this is a conscious choice to make the audience feel uncomfortable. If so, it succeeds. The choreographers’ note suggests that the title, Ghosts, can allude to blockages or traumas that most people face at one time or another, as well as the formless beings we might encounter after dark. But do those “ghosts” deserve to be exposed in public by being “blinded by the light?”

Although perhaps not ground-breaking, Tentacle Tribe’s performance of Ghosts is one that makes for an entertaining evening. As the program note says, it is a welcome breath of [fresh] air.  

Ghosts created by Tentacle Tribe, choreographed by Emmanuelle Lê Phan and Elon Höglund.  A Tentacle Tribe production presented by The Cultch and New Works. On stage at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre (1895 Venables Street, Vancouver) until February 15. Visit for tickets and information.

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