Brutal Bridge-Crossing Dance @ The Arts Umbrella Dance CompanySaturday, May 26, 2018
|Wen Wei Wang
My Rosemary and I attended the Arts Umbrella Dance Company’s Season Finale on Saturday May 26 at the Vancouver Playhouse and I was instantly transported to my Yellow low-on the-ground Fiat X-19 on a evening many years ago returning from Vancouver, Washington.
I had entered the Seattle freeway fast lane that is covered. I was driving a bit over the speed limit and the lights were whizzing by. On my tape deck (that era before CDs) was The Clash, London Calling.
It was the perfect music for driving fast in a sports car at night. Since then I have catalogued in my mind what I call “bridge crossing music”. It has to be fast and furious. It has to have few sonic embellishments. It has to have a great electric guitar. In short, good punk music like in that past, Art Bergmann, or the Modernettes.
Last night I had an inkling of an evening to come with the first number which was Aszure Barton’s Untouched (Excerpt) with music Day Off. It was brutal.
Now here I have to go to my native Spanish. “Brutal” is a word we use to describe something that is really good. It was so and I particularly liked some moves where the dancers walked like ducks. It was a signature move the took me to some years ago when I went to see the first ever (in Vancouver) performance of Alberta Ballet’s Jean Grand-Maître’s Carmen performed by Ballet BC. Carmen was the luminous Sandrine Cassini (now Ballet Mistress at Ballet BC). She had a move where she ruffled her skirt back and forth to signify that she was Carmen.
It was Crystal Pite’s A Picture of you Flying (Excerpt) that mated minimal moves with killer industrial music by Owen Belton. It was here that there was no doubt in my mind that dance without music is nothing (unless of course you are James Kudelka who has been known to choreograph to no music). Pite’s piece was brutal and she was ably aided by Katarina Nesic who has a face to launch Greeks to war.
Then Lesley Telford’s Everything Might Topple was a gruelling performance of male dancers dragging themselves across the floor (plastic had been laid on the floor before to avoid skin burns) with a female dancer standing on their back. This reminded me a bit of Karen Jamieson’s masterwork Sisyphus from the early 80s.
But it wasn’t until Wen Wei Wang’s Fremd (German for unfamiliar, or foreign or strange or different) with brutal music by Senking and Olaf Bender (sung in German and it was irrelevant that I did not understand a word) that it all clicked in my mind as to the importance of what I was seeing.
Here I was again zooming in that Fiat in Seattle. This was London Calling choreographed by a man who has style, taste and, best of all, elegance. He might have inherited some of the latter from his friend and mentor Grant Strate. The men were dressed in black and the women wore eye-popping shiny black vinyl one piece bathing suits.
Wen Wei Wang brings something to modern dance that in my amateur consideration is a dance version of Helmut Newton’s photographs. Wen Wei Wang’s choreography is sensual, erotic and arresting but always with that subtle taste that Newton knew so well.
I was ready to go home but that was not to be.
James Kudelka’s The Lost Sky 3 with music by Jesca Hoop was elegance in simplicity. It was elegance in subtlety. It was elegance in protracted and limited moves. It was dance in slow motion. I find it inspiring that a man of 63 seems to have so much imagination to push the borders of dance. That he experiments with our very own Arts Umbrella Dance Company is good luck for us and our city.
Now I was ready to go home. But it was not to be.
The last dance was Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar's (it was explained to me that Behar is sort of like a DJ and is important to Eyal’s choreography) Untitled Black (Excerpt).
If Kudelka was slow motion this was zombies-in-fast-forward. I mention zombies because the dancers were fitted with contact lenses that made them look like aliens out to get us. They were wearing skin-tight cream white outfits. It was simplicity which again was added by the participation of the aforementioned Katarina Nesic.
I had been warned by the theatre’s sound system to keep my camera safely stowed away. Until that point I had. Now I could not.
My only consideration in breaking that proviso is that my camera, a Fuji X-E3 has a completely soundless electronic shutter and I can turn off all light so nothing shows.
I had to take the pictures you see here so I can surely never forget that sometimes the best, as in that Canaan Wedding is served last.
While I am no dance critic but an obsolete, redundant & retired former magazine photographer and writer, I feel I have to write about the performances of the Arts Umbrella Dance Company. There is almost zero coverage by the media of dance now. It may be seen as a school to keep children off the streets as Arts Umbrella Dance Company’s Artistic Director Artemis Gordon often says, but the obvious truth is that this company is one of many good companies of dance in Vancouver. I must add that I consider it the best because of the variety of choreographed works representing choreographers from Canada and abroad.