The norm at any performance except for a music concert is to turn off all cellphones and electronic devices, but when dancer and choreographer Peggy Baker told the audience otherwise at “Dance: Made in Canada – Robinson Series Premiere” on August 13, eyebrows went up. She clarified that for Andrew Tay’s piece, “You can’t buy it (but I’ll sell it to you anyways) SUCKA”, and not for Lina Cruz’s, “Waiting for a Sleepless Night” (both were world premieres), the audience was not only allowed to keep their phones on, but were encourage to use them throughout the night. It was a rarity at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, but one that would prove to be highly entertaining.
As the lights dimmed slightly, a youngish look man from the upper right section of the theatre, clad in nerdy glasses, white sneakers and casual wear, bolted down the stairs and leapt onto the stage. He picked up a mic and turned his back to the audience, waiting, waiting, waiting before saying, “Did you come here to be saved? I can’t save you.” This was the unusual start to Tay’s piece and certainly got the audience’s attention.
The stage also wasn’t something usually seen at a dance performance, with a giant white splash pad taped down and various accoutrements littered on it. At the top left corner were a few stools with neon-coloured stuffed animals, while a soccer ball and a plastic hand were placed in two separate puffed-up clear bags. There were other pieces, too, that didn’t become recognizable until Tay starting incorporating them into his routine, like the flesh-coloured hosiery he donned after stripping down to boxer briefs (which he took off at the end), a bottle of gel he squirted onto his abdomen, and a mop head he used as a wig when twirling around the splash pad.
Oh, and Baker’s instructions to the audience to use their phones? That came into play about halfway through when a second curtain rose and two posters were displayed on the back wall, each one featuring giant neon-coloured characters. The one on the left read “WHAT THE F*** DO YOU WANT?” and the other read “TEXT”, with an accompanying phone number. The gimmick was if you texted a message to that number — and at one point, Tay, writhing on the ground, instructed the audience to both spill their desires and tell him what to do — a program linked to the speaker system would play it in real time.
Was it entertaining? Very much so, although more as a result of the interactive element than what Tay was actually doing onstage. His movements were so far removed from dance (save for one bit at the end) that it’d be more appropriate to call it performance art, but to his credit, he stayed in character throughout. He clearly has such a vivid imagination and finely-tuned dancer’s body that it would have been nice to see him exploit both in a fuller dimension.
After a brief pause to change the set, the next piece was ready for viewing. There were two dancers this time, Jean-François Duke and Fabien Piché, who were “two buddies wander(ing) into a desolate yet enthralling atmosphere”. Duke was the taller and darker of the two, while Piché was blond, shorter and more compact. It was fascinating to see both men use their different bodies to both go solo and play off each other, using the other to tumble, lean, push, jump and roll in their piece.
Piché was definitely the stronger of the two, displaying an energy that was powerful and intense and reflected in his macro and micro movements. It’s not to say Duke performed poorly, but when dancing next to Piché, there was a noticeable difference in ability, passion and execution. They were accompanied by pianist Philippe Noireaut, who impressively use his instrument in multiple capacities by drumming his fingers along the top, slapping the wood and playing the keys conventionally. At times, he played by himself while at others, he either accompanied a prerecorded soundtrack or rested to let the audio take over.
It was a mesmerizing performance with few shortfalls, especially with Piché dancing so strongly. He may not have the typical dancer’s body associated with the art form, but when he got up onstage, he made it a total non-factor. And when paired with the first offering, it turned out to be a very interesting night indeed.