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James Gnam at the Fluid Movement festival.

Cate Cameron

Fluid Movement Arts Festival is Calgary's annual celebration of what curator Nicole Mion calls physical performance. Specifically, it means contemporary dance and performance art by international, national and local artists, and lots of it.

In one weekend, I crammed in shows that included international superstar Shantala Shivalingappa, Prairie Dance Circuit choreographers from Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary and Edmonton, two Alberta showcases with choreographers from Calgary and Edmonton, and a cabaret featuring performance art in a popular theatre bar.

That adds up to a whopping 23 performances.

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My conclusion: Alberta has a very healthy dance scene with well-schooled dancers, though there's not much mirth on the Prairies, except for some amusing performance art at the Physical Therapy Cabaret.

Some stand-out performances:

Shantala Shivalingappa (Paris)

This exquisite solo dancer was born in India and raised in Paris. She has performed with legendary choreographers Pina Bausch and Maurice Béjart, and theatre director Peter Brook. Credentials don't get any better than that.

While Shivalingappa's forte is the classical Indian dance style kuchipudi, her Calgary show Namasya (which means "homage" in Sanskrit) was contemporary dance. The choreography was by Ushio Amagatsu, Bausch, Shivalingappa herself and her mother, Savitry Nair.

"Gorgeous" cannot even begin to describe Shivalingappa moving through space. I've always believed that dancers with extra-long arms rivet the eye most compellingly. In her case, she used her long arms and hands to magnificent effect. Her gestural language was perfection, matching a masterfully controlled body.

The entire performance was a beautiful, trance-like dream.

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Yukichi Hattori (Calgary)

Yukichi Hattori is a big star with Alberta Ballet, but he is also a choreographer of note. His duet Zen-Zen is about finding a state of balance. His clever take on the theme is showing how the outside world interferes with this personal quest.

Dancers Mark Wax and Tara Williamson were clearly ballet-trained and moved through space with great power. The choreography had the two on a collision course, punctuated by moments of stillness when each gathered his or her own inner resources. There was nothing tender about the movement.

Hattori also threw in humour. For example, Wax holds Williamson on his shoulders so that her belly and crotch are pressing into his face. Her body then becomes a face mask, and he becomes another persona.

The soundtrack was an actor (Hattori's own father) reading a short story in Japanese. This melodramatic text added even more tension to the dance.

Stephen Thompson (Calgary/France)

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At the Physical Therapy Cabaret, Stephen Thompson's hilarious Etude: arms (gauche/droite) was announced as a solo for his left arm, with a special appearance by his right arm.

The performance artist sat in his chair and executed choreography for his fingers and arms. He also had signs with various cities and dates, like "Capetown, 2009," presumably indicating where these performances originally took place.

One sequence had the fingers perform like a miniature line of cancan dancers. In another, the hands became mouths that sang a song, the right seemingly becoming the source of the low rapper voice, the left being the high voice. In another, the two arms and hands performed a swooping ballet.

It was quite amazing, and beguiling, how hands and arms could take on a theatrical life of their own.

Amber Borotsik (Edmonton)

Borotsik's Here. Like This. was all about longing. Singer/composer Cory Vanderjagt performed live to a taped score. His haunting words and sweet voice reflected the despair of the couple portrayed by Borotsik and Jesse Gervais.

The choreography revolved around a chair that became a battleground. Borotsik and Gervais used aspects of contact improv in their various encounters. The effect was a struggle for control. It was almost as if they desperately wanted to be apart, yet were constantly being brought together.

Borotsik made sure the couple never connected emotionally. While they danced together physically, they never were tied together in an emotional way. The desire to be apart was stronger.

Perhaps Borotsik's greatest gift was creating the layer of melancholy that pervaded the dance and its violent surface.

Nicole Mion (Calgary)

Mion created her solo Quiver to be performed by two different dancers, a man and a woman. I saw Vancouver's James Gnam, who was simply splendid.

The word quiver implies a container, and in his hoodie and casual street clothes, Gnam embodied the energy of a street kid about to break out like an arrow released from a bow. In fact, Mion's choreography had aspects of urban street dance.

The solo was a clever combination of loose and lanky movement, and control. It was this dichotomy that gave the piece its dynamic. Gnam was like a wired spring about to erupt.

The choreography created undulations where the dance seemed to ripple through his body. Mion also included both off-balance moments and recovery. Gnam was always in motion, but never comfortably.

Kimmo Pohjonen's mournful music added to the disquiet.

Fluid Movement Arts Festival

  • Springboard Performance
  • At various venues
  • In Calgary, Friday through Sunday
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