Movement and emotion: Raw at Expanse Festival

Expanse Festival is tagged “Edmonton’s Movement and Dance Festival” and “An Electric Four-Day Celebration of Art in Motion”.  It’s a busy time of year for me, but I managed to attend one event on Saturday afternoon, the ticketed show “Raw” in the Westbury Theatre at the ATB Arts Barns.  The program for the festival showed other interesting events and conversations happening throughout the weekend, from movement workshops to drop-in performances and discussions.  I hope to see more of it next year.   (And to get to Skirts Afire, which I missed completely and which sounded really neat.)

The afternoon program contained four movement-focused performances, each I guess about 15-20 minutes long with recorded sound as needed.

Blue Eyes, Black Hair had some spoken word as well as expressive movement, so it was easy to grasp the narrative of the situation.  A man on a beach (I don’t know how I knew he was on a beach, maybe he said so and maybe it was in the program) (Mat Simpson) has one of those moments of life-changing eye contact with a black-haired, blue-eyed man (Liam Coady)  who walks by without speaking.  It’s not clear whether the response is mutual.  But Mat Simpson’s character is so bowled over by the handsome stranger that he seems to lose control of his limbs and face, twitching in awkward-looking ways as he tries to express himself.  A third character, a woman who bears a certain resemblance to the black-haired blue eyed man (Ainsley Hillyard), arrives on scene and the main character makes contact with her in an attempt to relive his connection with the man and understand it.  The two of them then share a poignant scene of moving about each other and exchanging energy while never quite touching in physical space, even executing what appears to be a non-contact lift.  Meanwhile, the black-haired man Apparently this piece was inspired by a French novel of the same name.   And while I thought it was great as a dance/movement vignette that didn’t need any more exposition or resolution, I’m a little curious about how it could be a novel.

The second piece, The Feeling of Not Being Empty, was a wordless communication among an ensemble of three women in black dresses (Anastasia Maywood, Bridget Jessome, Krista Posyniak), as choreographed by Tatiana Cheladyn.  For me it kind of suffered by being between pieces that had more obvious narrative, so without paying a lot of attention I just felt as if I was watching interesting shapes and shifting alliances, but I don’t have more coherent observation.

Next was The Uprights, directed by Murray Utas and performed by Alyson Dicey.  (I’ve seen Alyson on stage before, as a child in Chris Craddock’s Velveteen Rabbit and I can’t remember where else.)   The solo performer conveyed frustration with limitations and exploration of new postures and freedoms.

The final performance, Untitled, was a Good Women Dance Collective work in progress.  The performers were Alison Kause, Alida Nyquist-Schultz, and Kate Stashko, and Ainsley Hillyard was credited as choreographer.  Early on, I thought that it was all about comparing and keeping score, and that impression continued to fit.  Two characters repeatedly measured themselves against each other, in movement and in words.  As the story became clearer and the personalities of the two characters became more distinct with more animosity, it became funnier but it wasn’t just funny, it also mattered.  The competitiveness seemed more overt than usually seen between adults, so it reminded me a lot of siblings or small children.  The third character seemed to be an authority, someone asking the comparison questions and judging the responses.   Like two kids and a teacher, or two employees and an employer, or something.

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