- Joe Laughlin
- At the Firehall Arts Centre in Vancouver on Wednesday
There comes a time when the forward rush of life has gathered too much momentum and you want to slow down, even back up a little and have another, more thoughtful go at things. This unattainable, typically mid-life desire opens Joe Laughlin's dusk, a contemporary dance of quiet, confident introspection by one of Canada's lesser known but more stalwart choreographers.
The hour-long elegy begins by doing the impossible and turning back time. All five dancers, standing in a cluster upstage, fall with beautiful, long-limbed abandon to the ground. Then they reverse the action and return to standing, exactly as they started.
The illusion works so well it's as if we're watching a film rewind, not real people subject to gravity. This is, of course, due to the strength and elegance of the dancers - Katherine Cowie, Tara Dyberg, Kevin Tookey, Jeannie Vandekerkhove and Matt Waldie.
In simple grey or mauve tops and charcoal pants, the dancers come together in a handful of scenarios that are impossible to pin down. In close duets or ensembles, are they fighting to stay together or struggling to break apart? Are they facilitating or forcing one another through their twisting, turning moves? In their heavy, weighted embraces, are they surrendering to their partner or giving up?
The piece is performed on a bare, dark stage, with James Proudfoot's constantly changing shafts of mauve or blue light cutting vividly through the gloom. Also supporting the work well is the rich soundscape of violin, voice and an array of mysterious, concrete noises by composer Jesse Zubot (a colleague of Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq).
As an artist, Laughlin is a chameleon, finding fresh theatrical colours with each new piece. His works have ranged from a muscular high-flying trio whose dancers never touched ground (1995's Scaffolding) to courtly finesse (2008's Timber/Timbre). Through his company, Joe Ink, Laughlin has also mounted several friendly, intergenerational shows involving the community in a series called Move It!
With dusk, Laughlin presents a distinct, almost melancholic world. His building blocks are the usual contemporary ones - ballet, modern dance, a hint of hip hop - yet there's something Laughlinesque about the way it's all crafted so inventively. The arabesques are clean and unmannered, the disjointed flow of street dance refreshingly underplayed. Laughlin was an award-winning gymnast in his younger days and there are many kamikaze twists and poses.
A couple of the backbends struck me as excessive but, then again, these dancers are young, revelling in the extreme articulation of their spines, legs, arms - every part of their bodies, in the air and on the ground. Tellingly, there wasn't a whole lot of forward momentum. This is not a piece about what lies ahead: dusk's intense meditation inhabits a middle ground, exploring the uncertain space that lies in between the light and the dark.
Dusk runs in Vancouver until Feb. 26 (604-689-0926 or www.firehallartscentre.ca).
Special to The Globe and Mail