Where: Royal Theatre
When: Feb. 2, 3
Rating: ✶✶✶ 1/2 (out of five)
By Adrian Chamberlain
San Francisco’s ODC/Dance troupe made its debut in Victoria three years ago. Back then the company had the crowd cheering in response to the superb Triangulating Euclid, inspired by the physical restoration of a 1482 edition of Euclid’s Elements.
On Friday night ODC/Dance returned with a pair of 30-minute pieces (the show repeats tonight). The most successful is Dead Reckoning, a visually stunning dance by choreographer K.T. Nelson, who co-leads the company with founding artistic director Brenda Way.
It seems curious to me that there aren’t more artistic offerings inspired by the dark shadow human-caused climate change has cast over the world. Nelson confronts this dead-on with Dead Reckoning. The soundtrack, by composer Joan Jeanrenaud, offers cello, percussion and the terrible — but oddly beautiful — sound of trees crashing to the earth.
The look of Dead Reckoning is defined by continually falling petals — eventually they encrust the stage so thickly you wonder if the dancers will slip and fall. The petals (Nelson says they represent “surreal lime-green snow”) were dropped by a performer at the back of the stage, his hands spot-lit so the petals appeared to emanate from nowhere. Later others join him in the task.
Dead Reckoning is contemporary dance with balletic touches. Early on, a male dancer, bare from the waist up, undulated to throbbing strings and the vibrating hum of what might be a didgeridoo. The movement was varied: running and skipping, sometimes courtly, sometimes sensual. One of Dead Reckoning‘s memorable sequences has dancers standing within a group lifted heavenwards, arising stiffly like statues. Later, to the eerie glissandi of strings, faces of performers are held in place by their partners, as though they are being forced to witness some destruction of nature.
Any hint of didacticism is smoothed over by the Dead Reckoning‘s lush beauty: the seductive loveliness of the petal/snow imagery and the look of dancers dramatically lit from one side of the stage.
The evening opened with Brenda Way’s What We Carry, What We Keep. The choreographer was inspired by a New York exhibition, The Keeper, featuring a collection of objects artists had kept over the years. The dance delves into our relationship with material things – why do we have them, do we control them or vice versa?
Set to a varied score with frantic violin passages, electronica and arpeggiating piano, there’s a certain literalness at work that can seem heavy handed. Early on, a question is asked out aloud: A fire is coming towards your house – what do you put in your car? Later a female dancer armed with a cell phone relates instructions for decluttering and purging – ultimately she, too, is carried off, like another object to be be packed away.
This work for 11 dancers in street clothes radiated a certain spriteliness and joie de vivre. There were some welcome surprises — at one point, a female dancer is supported horizontally while “walking” around a male dancer’s torso. Overall What We Carry, What We Keep lacks an overall sense unity and is, perhaps, not quite a profound as Way intends.