Sensational dance compels attention

Tightly choreographed yet sprawling, replete with narrative elements but hardly episodic, RUBBERBANDance Group’s  Ever So Slightly feels like a work in progress. Which is not to say disappointing, for every one of its 75 minutes is filled with sensational dancing.

With so much talent on stage – in dancers Amara Barner, Jean Bui, Daniela Jezerinac, Sydney McManus, Dana Pajarillaga, Brontë Poiré-Prest, Jerimy Rivera, Zack Tang, Ryan Taylor and Paco Ziel – this show’s strengths are also its weakness: an overabundance of dance ideas.

Billed as a demonstration of “behavioral mechanisms, reflexes we develop to face aggression and the constant flow of annoyances bombarding us every day,” Ever So Slightly is set on a bare stage with all the lighting and tech apparatus exposed. Musicians Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux and their instruments, laptop and turntable are positioned on a platform to the side. It looks like a warehouse, an impression reinforced by the appearance of the dancers, who are all wearing workers’ coveralls.

They begin slowly on the floor, rolling and scissoring to a kind of serenade from stringed instruments, gradually getting upright and picking up the pace. As the music introduces an element of discord, the ensemble, working in precise unison, begins to fall apart.

Soon we are witnessing what looks like an update of West Side Story, menacing moves of rivals undermining the power balance. Their bodies concealed by the coveralls, the dancers are barely distinguishable as male or female; all become combative. And now when they move together, in ever more aggressive ways, it looks like mob rule.

These performers are driven by forces both external and internal – equally misunderstood and uncontrollable. It’s only when they’ve stripped down to skimpy underwear, after pulling off each other’s clothing, that we can appreciate their technical mastery. Urban dance moves slide into balletic lifts and arabesques; martial arts grappling becomes exquisite partnering. Rough and howling one moment, they grow calm, silent, tender. To the pounding of liturgical organ chords, they bow in reverence. Then it’s more combat and a scene that looks like soldiers tossing bodies into a mass grave.

Meaningful stares are exchanged; the dancers fall into momentary relationships. Then one or two break out – a female with a shaved head runs laughing around the stage, like the girl at the party whose drink was spiked with Ecstasy. A lithe young male is wracked with spasms from some psychological breakdown, like a man possessed by demons. The others look on helplessly. They are bathed in blood-red light, as the soundscape turns ominous.

For a while there’s a discernible arc to the show – from unity of purpose to Lord of the Flies pandemonium to reunification. It’s when the dancers turn their coveralls into headgear, striding or partnering like blinded Elephant Men, that you start to feel as if Ever So Slightly is going madly off in all directions. With more performances, this show will evolve into something more coherent. As it is, RUBBERBANDance choreographer and artistic director Victor Quijada has rallied some amazing movers and set them in very compelling scenes that demand our whole attention.

Ever So Slightly

RUBBERBANDance Group

DanceWorks 227

October 11 and 12

Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

Photo by Mathieu Doyon

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