Kathak dancer Bageshree Vaze ushered in “Twilight” and commanded our attention by simply standing beside a tree. When Vineet Vyas began playing the tabla drums, the dancer’s head, torso, and straight legs seemed to act as an axis, a communicative mediator between the sky, the music, and the land.
Suddenly Vaze’s right arm curved up and left arm curved down, and the full swoop of her arms made one continuous shape. A tilted seabird with its wings fully extended, the left one pointing to the earth.
Soon Vaze joined the tabla musician on a square of plywood resting on the grass. I liked the way she listened to the drums with her entire body and responded with articulate arms, hands, and fingers.
Ms. Vaze’s expression was amused but dignified, joyful yet contained within the ancient cool of Kathak. When she held her arms wide, they defined a momentary world that contained her dance, the drums, the plywood, the trees, the audience, and the darkening sky. Although it was her hands that held two votive candles at the beginning of “Twilight,” it was her entire self, her dance that made the offering.
The dance picked up speed, and the artist’s soaring arms seemed to direct the traffic of night spirits and fireflies. She picked delicate, easily-bruised fruits from a twilight orchard, her elegant mimes turning into a spin that made her full black skirt twirl like a dervish. Soon her movements became slower, and when Vaze’s performance ended, she raised her hands to us with her palms pressed together. Namaste.
In contrast to the solitary spiritual refinement of the first dance, “Audible” by Vancouver’s 605 Collective projected a fun and rowdy vibe. Four young dancers began the piece with the purposeful donning of arm pads, knee pads, and a red contraption that combined the elements of football helmet, trendy giant headphones, and earmuffs.
Thus armed, the group displayed athletic stamina as they performed staggered earth-dives, leap-frog leaps, lifts, and planned body-crashes that morphed into animated huddles. “Audible” captured the joy of touch football in the park before you got called home to supper. It was a Simon-Says scrum, a friendly fight enacted by playful Marines with hip-hop synchronicity and verve. By the end of the dance, the performers’ clothes were gloriously muddy, and I liked that they didn’t care.
The third Dusk Dance was Lua Shayenne‘s “Crazing,” which the program guide described as a tribute to Shayenne’s “childhood memories of living in Africa.” Four female dancers and two male drummers transformed a circular park clearing into a fiery celebration of fluid spines, wild yet precise arms, and an ease of movement that shouted Freedom!
One of my favorite moments was when Walter McLean walked forward with his dun (drum), and the four women stood together in a row behind him. They began to sway forward and back in unison as if they were in trance. Emotional surrender was beautifully embodied in the way they tipped their heads back, almost breaching their balance point, and then slowly folded their torsos forward.
At the close of “Crazing,” the women formed a living table, an intentional heap of gently swaying figures, each one’s head resting on the lower back of her fellow dancers. Stirred up by so much gorgeous movement, the long grass-like threads of the women’s skirts continued to sway as the dancers rested.
“Onward Ho, My Love” was my favorite dance of the evening. Choreographed by Julia Aplin, it featured an imaginative set and two gifted dancers, Yvonne Ng and Robert Glumbek.
Spread on a long flat stretch of open grass was a homemade slip-and-slide strip. Above it was a trellis dripping with fairy lights secured to some tree branches. Hanging from the trellis were a number of large plastic bags full of water. The remaining props included two buckets and a self-service curtain that the dancers simultaneously held up and walked through at the start of their funny and charming performance.
The pair danced, lilted, argued non-verbally, waltzed, flirted, and played with each other up and down the length of the plastic-covered red carpet. The comedy of “Onward Ho, My Love!” expressed itself in Glumbek’s red striped union suit, tuxedo jacket, and top hat as well as the perky French music, the cheeky lifts, and even the pair’s dramatic height difference (Glumbek looked like a graceful giant next to the petite Ng).
I loved the moment when Glumbek began poking the first bag of water with a stick and then stood under the resulting shower in a mock sulk. Meanwhile, Ng went to a bucket and took out a pair of goggles and some slippers. Soon, to our delight, the couple were sliding crazily on the wet strip of ultimate slipperiness. By this time, Glumbek had also put on his sliding gear, and the water battle escalated. Ng splashed the contents of the silver buckets on the slide and in response her partner poked more holes in the remaining overhead bags. Exhilarating mayhem ensued as the audience cheered.
I’m pretty sure every single one of us in the crowd wanted to hurl ourselves on the slide and join the fun, but perhaps it was enough to be in the presence of such uninhibited creativity and playful sexiness. If the dancers gave themselves permission to have so much fun, why couldn’t we do that too?
By the time the last performance began in the northeast corner of the park, I was feeling exhausted and reaching sensory overload, so I wasn’t able to give “Crepuscular” the attention it deserved. However, I liked the cage-like mesh box that served as a dance container for one of two male dancers as well as a screen for projected images of darkest night, fairy-tale transformation, and primal fear of wolves.
Once the movement began, there was a lot of crouching, turning, meeting, and separating. My attention was wandering, but when a dancer approached the side of the box, leaned far back and raised one thigh up, it made an impression on me. I don’t know if the thigh was saying defense or surrender, but it woke me up nevertheless.
Some commentary from a young child in her mother’s arms was entertaining as well. She kept asking, “Why is there a man in a box? Why doesn’t he come out of the box?” She also observed, “They’re just dancing around.”
I’m not sure if the critic-in-arms was suggesting it was time for the “Crepuscular” dancers to find a new activity, but for my part I was happy to head back home after having witnessed so much uplifting dance in Withrow Park.