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Choreographing Zeitgeist: Shen Wei, Italy’s MM and Toronto’s Chris House


The once-iconoclastic contemporary dance movement is perhaps no longer the most exciting new upstart of the terpsichorian scene; it is now being challenged by a range of new-fashioned art dance styles, from the sober " conceptual " to brutal, street-smart Jookin & # 39; .

But three performances this week reassured Contemporary dance lovers of Vancouver who still have enough to tell their favorite art form.

In the Vancouver Playhouse, members of the Dance House were treated to a 50 anniversary of the Toronto Dance Theater that featured a five short works "revisited" by the opus of choreographer Christopher House, the artistic director of the company since 1994.

Much of the same crowd appeared later in the week on the Chutzpah! Festival for the North American premiere of the MM Contemporary Dance Company in two long-shaped works with classical scores: Ravel & # 39; s Bolero and Stravinsky & # 39; s Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring ). [19659002] And then, the next night, Hunan-born Chinese-American superstar choreographer Shen Wei offered yet another – almost diametrically opposite – view of the same Stravinsky score to fans of the Vancouver International Dance Festival at the Playhouse.

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The Toronto program opens and closes with ensemble pieces with a scientific theme. Martingale (2014) offers a daring look at quantum physics that does not look much like a free warm-up for football. On a minimalist electronics score by the frequent roommate Thom Gill (who performs "live" on a console on stage), the powerful, technically flawless young dancers of the company revolve, swirl, turn and mate as subatomic particles in a cloud room or a cyclotron.

Physiology, instead of physics, sets the tone for the final piece of the recital, Vena Cava (1999), but the dancers keep the same beating pulse. This time, however, they look like blood red erythrocytes rushing through the intricate venation of House's geometric choreography, rather than just quantum ephemera on a stochastic random walk.

The two pieces emphasize the evolution of the choreographer over the years. Previous works seem to be more formal and structured in particular; House's later opus is more open to spontaneous, one-time interactions from the body intelligence & # 39; of his dancers (as he calls it in a pre-concert talk). Gill's live presence on the stage and his amorphous, iterative scores promote this dynamic, particularly in the latest piece on the bill, a light combo quintet that only premiered in Colombia last November.

The earliest piece on the bill, Fjeld (1990), looks stately – almost architecturally – with its classically draped, stately female figures and his cantilevered male only the trois, all the terrifying species of an Arvo Pärt vocalise.

Bolmer's hypnotic pulse. Photo: MM

The Italian choreographer Michele Merola, artistic director of the MM company that wears his monogram, decides the Chutzpah! program with a dark stylish septet rendition of the Bolero.

Unprecedented hands manipulate what looks like a gigantic, flexible plate of black corrugated cardboard in accordance with Ravel's tortuous score. Black-clad dancers appear and disappear, separately or in two or three, between the wavy folds of this background. Lighting designer Cristina Spelti illuminates the vignettes with grim sidewalls, sometimes giving the impression of a double exposed negative.

Musical interpolations by Stefano Corrias occasionally illuminate the score, which makes more lyrical dance interventions possible. But still, Ravel's hypnotizing melody builds up to his inexorable crescendo, after which the whole cast – now dressed in dazzling white – ranks itself before the unfurled background in a climatic scene.

If that sounds a bit noir it is positively airy compared to MM & # 39; s Chutzpah! program-opener, choreographer Enrico Morelli & # 39; s Sacre du Printemps. That is Sacre, as in "sacrifice". Stravinsky subtitled his work "Images of pagan Russia." Celebrants welcome the spring equinox with a designated virgin doomed to dance themselves to death.

Morelli sets the ominous mood even before dancers appear: a few dozen shimmering meat hooks dangle from chains and sway ominously across the empty stage. The lights dim and when they emerge again, nine of the members of the cast are standing before us, looking, with stone faces, while a dancer is dragged into the wings, sensitive and inert at the end of a chain linked.

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