In review: dance at the 2019 Chutzpah! Festival

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MM Contemporary Dance in Gershwin Suite. Photo courtesy of Tiziano Ghidorsi.

ProArteDanza | MM Contemporary Dance | Closing night dance inclusion project | Chutzpah! Festival | Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre | October 26 – November 24, 2019

The Chutzpah! Festival is known for bringing world-renowned contemporary dance to Vancouver, and this year was no exception. Companies from Toronto, Italy, and Vancouver presented compelling works.

ProArteDanza | The 9th!

Toronto’s ProArteDanza presented their thrilling new interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Over four distinct movements, the dancers’ energy and emotion was beautifully channelled into Roberto Campanella’s choreography that seemed perfectly paired with the music; a physical embodiment of the classic symphony. The first movement began with chairs scattered across the front of the stage, laying on their sides. Fluid group work, quick lifts, and skillful contact emphasized the dramatic tension in the music.

In the second movement, Beethoven’s composition was enhanced by the group’s sudden bursts of energy that matched the tone of the music perfectly. The chairs were moved upstage into different configurations as they were incorporated into the choreography: one dancer walked from chair to chair as they were moved to follow her path.

Two couples, each with one chair as an extra partner, used them to form human chains and create unique formations. The third movement also contained a particularly memorable image of one dancer standing on a chair while the others held theirs up to create a sort of asymmetrical sculpture.

The dramatic tension increases and the tone becomes more serious in the fourth movement as booming drum sounds fill the stage. The dancers, liked together with interlocking arms, form many different shapes as their human chain morphs and evolves. There is no specific narrative throughout this piece, but it evokes strong emotions—the exact nature of which I’m sure would be different for every audience member.

As operatic vocals join the symphony, the dancers’ mouths are open; they begin to mouth the words. The tone becomes more frantic as dancers rush on and off stage in fluid transitions. As the final notes ring out, the dancers are back in sync, perfectly in time in a tight group sequence before they run towards the front of the stage, stopping themselves just before they tumble over the edge.

MM Contemporary Dance | Schubert Frames, Gershwin Suite

Italy’s MM Contemporary Dance returned to Chutzpah! after last year’s hit performance of Bolero and The Rite of Spring. This year, they presented two works that showed off not only the technical skill of individual dancers, but also the playful personality of the whole company.

Enrico Morelli’s Schubert Frames begins with the dancers standing on a piece of billowing white fabric, what at first resembles a parachute. They pulse, jump, and undulate as the white fabric begins to inflate into a ballooning cloud. Moving in canon, with heavy use of backs and arms, the choreography beautifully interpreted the music. The balloon rose up above the stage and the dancers carried on in a stirring sequence of synchronized group work before coming back to their cluster formation, this time under the white orb instead of standing on it.

In contrast to the serious, contemplative tone of Schubert Frames, Michele Merola’s Gershwin Suite is a playful, cinematic piece complete with shimmying, jazz hands, and gold confetti. The piece opened with a flashing bar of white light at one side of the stage pulsing in time to the upbeat big band music. After the flashy, ebullient opening, the piece continued through a series of scenes inspired by the artwork of Edward Hopper. Recognizable were a sad clown from Soir Bleu, sunbathers of People in the Sun, and a scene in a cinema from New York Movie. The canvases came to life in a brilliant homage to the American realist.

Andrew Bartee and Alexis Fletcher | A+A

Former Ballet BC dancers Andrew Bartee and Alexis Fletcher have teamed up as a duo choreographing their own reflective work that examines both their relationship with each other and to contemporary dance. They begin seated in the audience, casually walk on stage, and hug each other before taking places for the piece. Dressed in suits, with their long hair up in buns, the effect was a neutralizing of gender and equalizing of their partnership. The choreography was repetitive at first, set to atmospheric music. They seemed to take turns in the spotlight, their pacing and movements as even and equal as their duo. By the end they moved into a fluid series of quick pose switching with one of them up while the other took to the floor. The overall effect seemed to be an exploration of equality and balance in a relationship.

Pamela Schuller, Troy Ogilvie, Rebecca Margolick | Closing night dance inclusion project

The closing night of artistic director Mary-Louis Albert’s final Chutzpah! Festival featured an evening of comedy and dance. Pamela Schuller, stand-up comedian and disability and metal health advocate, started the evening off with a set about her experience with Tourette Syndrome and the struggles to love and accept all of herself. Through her emotional stories, there were both laughs and tears; she is a truly compelling storyteller and talented comedian. Her closing message was appropriate for the evening’s theme of inclusion: as Schuller said, inclusion is about what we are able to do because someone is present; not what their limits are — we need to move forward with all members of our community in mind.

Professional contemporary dancers and choreographers Troy Ogilvie and Rebecca Margolick spent a week creating a new dance work with the members of the Jewish Community Centre’s Inclusion Community members. After they each performed a solo of their own, they were joined on stage by the inclusion community members who introduced themselves and then led the group in an improvised and shared creation that emphasized the importance of ensuring everyone is able to fully participate and be respected in our communities. It was a wonderful way to close the festival and also Albert’s tenure at the helm.

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