Monday, 11 June 2012

Pod - Good Women Dance Society

June 9 &10, 2012 8 pm
Ledcor Theatre, Art Gallery of Alberta


Choreographer: Alida Nyquist-Schultz
Dancers: Ainsley Hillyard, Raena Waddell
Composer: Piotr Grella-Mozejko
Lighting designer: Lester Lee
Video: Piotr Grella-Mozejko

Good Women Dance Society is Edmonton's youngest contemporary dance company. Unabashedly pro-Edmonton, they are strong promoters and producers of dance in this city, offering classes, bringing in master teachers for workshops and they have really fun fundraisers.

The Good Women want to be taken seriously. They also want to maintain their youthful identity. This piece is perhaps their best example of the balance between those two attributes. In Pod, we see their first evening-length work and their first collaboration with a professional composer. We also see strappy tight black outfits with bare midriffs, high ponytails and green bangs.

The piece begins with the dancers under a large sheet of translucent plastic that covers the stage. Air appears to be billowing under the plastic giving the membrane movement and life. And actually, right from the beginning it is more membrane or placenta than pod. But never mind that, Membrane would have been a dumb title. An amoebic video appears on the white wall behind them, and LED flashlights audibly click on to focus on the pod activity. A look around the space reveals that there is no option for theatrical lighting, though Lester Lee did a good job of creating atmosphere and shadows using low tech lighting.

Through the pod, we can see a collection of limbs navigating each other and the membrane gently, sometimes punctuating by jabbing joints at the membrane. Occasionally limbs move in unison and we can discern that there are two women under there. This could be pretty corny, and sometimes it borders on that. Nyquist-Schultz seems aware of this and is able to pull it off in terms of the choreography and acting direction. The sophistication and tension of the primarily electronic music helps carry the piece.

Eventually the dancers emerge. Not all at once, but as if we humans had the wherewithal to test the water on our way out of the womb. The shock of leaving the relative safety of the membrane seems to set the twins against each other. One is more eager to leave, and the other sister is pissed. So mad that she passes out (or dies) while wrapped in the bunched-up pod. This leaves who we'll call Sister 1 in a good position for a solo.

Sister 1 (Hillyard) struggles for independence as she tries to make her freshly-born legs work correctly. Eventually she is able to move with agility, but she feels guilty and returns to Sister 2 (Waddell) to see if she's okay. Several checks for signs of life finally wake up Sister 2 and she is not happy. With some slick dancing and an almost-fight scene, she backs Sister 1 into a corner with the wadded-up membrane and this leaves her with a rather agitated solo with some long lunges to point-down the accused. Eventually the sisters come back together (Sister 2 seems to be hypnotizing Sister 1 at times). After a showy duet to increasingly frightening music that scrapes and shrieks, the two eventually go back for the pod, still wadded up in the corner. They ceremoniously spread out the membrane to cover the stage again.

You might worry that they are just going to go back under and it will end the way it began. Instead, Nyquist-Schultz has the dancers take an intense slow-motion walk over the lightly billowing membrane. Perhaps they are demonstrating their mastery over it, perhaps they are being called to it. Either way, its a beautiful image and one of the most striking in the piece. Only after they eventually finish their journey do they make their way back under. As they are absorbed back into the pod, it starts to move across the stage with them, the pod and its contents slowly fade stage right.

Nyquist-Schultz is sometimes described as the more subtle choreographer of the three in the collective. That is demonstrated well here. The movements are interesting in how they progress dynamically and spatially, yet much of the tension is emphasized by strong moments of stillness rather than over-dancing. The music is successful in sustaining the piece during the moments that seemed to be coming close to a girl fight from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The interesting layers and pulses of sound were simultaneously lulling and jarring. The video worked well in the earlier sections of the piece, but toward the end became interruptive with lurching orange and green animations on the wall that didn't seem appropriate for the concomitant stage action or design.

This ambitious new offering by the Good Women adds to their growing repertoire of dances that explore themes of threat, danger and vulnerability. It will be interesting if this trend continues or changes course in the next few years as they hone in their individual and collective aesthetics.

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