Performance Review: New Works At Night

New Works at the Waterfront Theatre the weekend of May 12th closed their season with two very different dance works, Study #2 by Jennifer Mcleish-Lewis and UNTITLEdISTANCE by Arash Khakpour and Emmalena Fredriksson.

It was a relief to walk into an air-conditioned theatre and out of the tepid, still air of Saturday evening. On the way in I noticed Jennifer McLeish-Lewis standing at the entrance to the theatre, greeting friends with smiles and thanking them for coming. Her choreographed work, Study #2 opened the show, after all the necessary introductions and the long-awaited fading of the house lights (always one of my favourite moments).

Study #2 begins with three dancers facing away from us on their sides, gently rocking forward and backwards in low-level lighting. The sound of rushing water fills the theatre, lulling us into a kind of meditation. The dancers, Sarah Formosa, Karissa Barry, and Eden Solomon transition gradually into silky smooth floor work, which rather than being in unison ripples through the group in waves. The bare white Marley, speckled by a gobo, looks like glass, or a sea floor.

A recorded male voice, like a knife, cuts through the calm and feminine scene. As the dancers’ phrase continues to progress in energy, a lecture by Terence McKenna loudly addresses the topic of language and human communication, delivering so much information it is difficult to latch onto much of it. His description of an octopus changing its colour in adaptation to its environment probably makes some complex psychological links but I just find myself watching the dancers’ arms move and ripple and wonder what it would be like to have eight arms, and whether dance would be easier or more difficult.

The work continues with a strong visual of three narrow strips of white light, and the three dancers moving backwards along an individual lit corridor, baring their sternums to heaven as if in release, or supplication. McLeish-Lewis’s choreography accentuates the dancer’s flexible bodies and soft movement qualities- her background in contact improvisation shows up in their spirals, smooth connections, and final contact phrase towards the end. Though several nice motifs show up throughout (such as the dancers baring the chest to the ceiling, sinking down and rebounding as if struck) what succeeds in tying the complex piece together is a beautifully evolving soundscore by Stefan Smulovitz.

After a short intermission, Arash Khakpour and Emmalena Fredriksson take to the stage with UNTITLEdISTANCE, a work based around storytelling and asking universal questions. Without ceremony, the two enter the stage and address the crowd in their respective native tongues (Farçi and Swedish), interacting with each other and “setting up” the performance. The stage is set up with a coat rack for costume changes, a chair and a round table, on which is set a laptop which controls the AV for the performance in a joyfully DIY way.

When the two unexpectedly switch to English, laughter ripples through the crowd for the first of many times during the 30-minute performance. Khakpour and Fredriksson begin with a contact duet, pausing mid-dance (often at the height of a shoulder lift or some extreme position) to make personal observations and confessions: “Sometimes I don’t wax in order to feel exotic” and “As a woman, for some reason the length of my hair matters. Maybe I should cut it.”

The work, which shifts between hilarious task-based games involving the audience, the ironic use of Google translate, and improvised solos while speaking to topics with varying levels of seriousness (“what is your greatest regret?” Or “if you could eliminate one country and all its people, who would it be?”) is colourful, casual, and real. In some ways it addresses human communication as much as Study #2, with a less formal presence and relationship between audience and performer.

Near the end, the work gets more explicit and hard to swallow as the two finish the piece with true facts about each other’s countries of origin, revisiting the movement sequence from the beginning. Listening to statistics about Swedish suicide rates and the gender inequality in Iran expands the work far beyond theatre, driving UNTITLEdISTANCE to the heart.