Sliding and Acéphales presented by Tangente


Merely a month late… Apologies, better late than never. Back in March, I got to see Sliding by Lise Vachon with Marielle Morales and Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan and Magali Stoll by Tangente. Two short pieces that Dena Davida said in her introduction were “idea based dance.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that statement, as I find it hard to wrap my head around the concept of dance that is not based on an idea. As far as I can tell all dance is “idea based.” It’s the differences in the ideas (some obviously being better than others) that make individual dances, unique.

In the program Sliding was also referred to as a being perceived as a “series of postcards.” A postcard being a “condensed idea of the history of a particular moment in time” Ms. Vachon said. Given that nobody sends postcards anymore, I’m not quite sure what to make of that statement either. But it’s a good thing that the performance itself was made up of different types of statements. Statements that didn’t involve words, because I was fairly confident I knew what to make of that.

As the proverbial curtain lifted (because there wasn’t any curtain) there was some sort of screen above a low riser that was center stage but towards the back. At the front of the stage in either corner was an overhead projector (now that I think about it some, maybe Ms. Vachon just likes things that have become obsolete due to newer technology).

Ms. Vachon and Ms. Morales kind of peek their heads out from the bottom of the screen, not in a cute or coy way like Betty Boop. More in an experimental way of testing what’s out there, kind of how a new born (and blind) animal checks out the world. Eventually the rest of their bodies flop on stage and it becomes a proper dance performance.

Both Ms. Vachon and Ms. Morales were wearing what I at first thought were black unitards and black stockings, but as I was able to get a better look at things, I changed my mind and noted that they were wearing black socks but then realized it was in fact just the shadows, and what I had thought was a unitard was shorts and a top. So while Patricia Eggerickx costume design might not have been the most original, Marc Lhommel’s lighting design was particularly intriguing if it caused me to get confused about the costumes.

There’s nothing particularly striking about the movements both dancers did. But at the same time they weren’t banal either. More like they were movements well done, without any flash or glitz. At one point I wrote down that it looked like it was done in a “Concordia University” style. But I quickly wrote down after that “what is Concordia University style?” As if I would be able to identify and then explain how the dancers and choreographers trained at Concordia moved differently than those at say UQAM or elsewhere. That’s just me being pretentious while hte lights are down.

Although if I were to now make a calculated guess, instead of Concordia University I’d venture a guess that in fact Ms. Vachon’s style is closely related to that of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, seeing as how she studied with and worked for Ms. De Keersmaeker. But then again, that’s just me trying to be pretentious again, because I wouldn’t recognize a piece by ms. De Keersmaeker if it smacked me in the head.

Also, while doing research I discovered that Sliding had been originally performed by Lisbeth Gruwez and Lise Vachon and somewhere along the way lost 15 minutes. I don’t know if Ms. Gruwez was taken by Ms. Morales or if Ms. Vachon switched parts. But after having seen Ms Gruwez perform I am intrigued that she did it and wonder how different it would been and what it would have been like. Tant pis.

Also In the program (and elsewhere) it was written that Sliding was inspired by (or from) Edward Hopper. Now I’m no Hopper specialist, but like the rest of you I know what Nighthawks looks like,

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 ; Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in; The Art Institute of Chicago
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942 ; Oil on canvas, 30 x 60 in; The Art Institute of Chicago

And I’m also familiar with some other of his paintings, and the closest I can think of is his Rooms by the Sea and the second use of the overhead projector where there are some lines that transform the scene into a bare room and then a yellow gel is placed on to form the ceiling. But Rooms by the Sea has a yellowish floor. But then again, I haven’t seen all of his paintings, so I might be missing something as obvious as the nose on my face.

Rooms by the Sea by Edward Hopper, 1951; Oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut
Rooms by the Sea by Edward Hopper, 1951; Oil on canvas, 29 x 40 inches; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut

However before you get the impression that I spent the entire performance scratching my head and questioning things that didn’t make sense to me and as a consequence didn’t like it. I should start to write some positive stuff as well. At the time I quite liked it (well, actually everything but the music, but you can’t win ’em all). The dancing was quite accomplished and well done, there were a bunch of different place in my notes where I wrote things like “really good,” “double checkmark” and “very nicely done.” It’s just that without the benefit of a script, I can’t tell you where. In certain parts they seemed to be moving like six year-old girls pretending to be models, and in other places I noted that they looked like “post-modern cheerleaders” with their arms out spinning and kicking. Then towards the end there’s a nice bit where their shadows kiss.

Although it sounded to me like it received tepid applause at the performance I attended, I thought it was quite accomplished, despite my difficulties making the same connections as Ms. Vachon would have wanted me to.

As you would expect, I had the same sort of opposing reaction to Acéphales. According to my notes, the applause it got was “much warmer.” I have no idea why. (Actually, I do, the dancers, Kelly Keenan and Magali Stoll, along with the choreographer Catherine Marcus-Lavoie are locals who are probably recent graduates from university, and as a consequence the audience was packed with their friends who would be naturally inclined to clap louder). But it still makes no sense to me.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Apparently I am much older than I thought, or dancing makes you look much younger than you are. I just met with Catherine Marcus-Lavoie, and neither she nor Kelly Keenan, nor Magali Stoll have been anywhere near a university in a long time. And Ms. Marcus-Lavoie also informed me that the show I saw didn’t have an awful lot of her friends in the audience.]

Acéphales somehow translates into “without a head” in English, although it isn’t half as poetic sounding. In retrospect it’s kind of easy to see how that idea made its way through the performance. But the performance – I hesitate to use the term “dance” – could have equally been called “Head,”

or “heady,” or “head’s up.” As most of the moving was based around and on the head. Plastic bubble wrap covering a head.

Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan, photo by Frédéric Chais courtesy
Acéphales by Catherine Lavoie-Marcus with Kelly Keenan, photo by Frédéric Chais courtesy

Or facepainting, but not like what you see during the Jazz Festival but more like what you would expect children to do if they did the facepainting themselves.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Ms. Lavoie-Marcus also asked me to remove a picture that was taken for a different performance and not Acéphales.]

The stage itself looked vaguely like a minimalist Thomas Hirschhorn installation (if that’s actually possible). A lot of bubble wrap and other plastic, some blenders, paint, you get the idea. Ms. Keenan and Ms. Stoll were both dressed in what could be called plastic smocks. Despite the precautions, everyone did get dirty.

[Edit January 11, 2013: Apparently I also need a stronger prescription for my glasses Ms. Lavoie-Marcus informed me in no uncertain terms that they were wearing regular street clothes street-like clothes.]

There was no real rhyme or reason to the action that I could see, but if I was going to get all technical on you, it looked to me like the two women were possibly in opposition. Why? I don’t know, it was never quite stated.

When the promo video for a performance concentrates on a microphone as much or more so than it does on the performers, and when a significant portion of it is deliberately out of focus, you can understand that the actual movement on stage isn’t exactly of the highest priority. And in this case it didn’t strike me that it was.

Whether it was intended as some sort of commentary on the practice of female mud-wrestling, or was intended as some sort of PoMo female mud-wrestling, or was intended just as a means to muck about with paint on stage, I have no clue. But whatever the intention was, it really didn’t come across as anything more than mucking around.

And if you’re going to muck around, it helps to be two years-old, blonde and outdoors instead of an adult in a block box theatre…

[Edit January 11, 2013: As you might guess Ms. Lavoie-Marcus did not like what I wrote about her piece. She has a view that there are certain things that a reviewer should always do. In conversation with her, I got a sense she wants critics try to keep some sense of objectivity, reporting facts of what happened, and then explaining whether these things that happened were done well or not. I’m probably not doing her point of view any justice for any number of reasons. But it was quite obvious that she really doesn’t like my attempts at new journalism reviews. As a consequence I have offered her a carte blanche to respond as she sees fit. As soon as I have it, I will post it.]