Major Motion Picture

By Robin J Miller, January 2016

Out Innerspace Dance Theatre premières its latest creation in Victoria, January 29 & 30.

It’s mid-day on a Tuesday in late November, the day after David Raymond arrived home from performing in Crystal Pite’s Polaris at New York City Center. Raymond is still flying from the energy of 65 bodies on stage, the combination of a small core of professionals from Pite’s own Kidd Pivot company and dance students from New York University. “The audience loved it,” he says. “It was fabulous, amazing.”

Now it’s time to return again to the work he is creating with Tiffany Tregarthen, his co-artistic director at Out Innerspace Dance Theatre in Vancouver. The ensemble piece for seven dancers is set to have its world première as part of Dance Victoria’s Dance Days 2016, at the Metro Studio Theatre, January 29 and 30. After that, Raymond and Tregarthen will spend at least three months touring North America and Europe in another Crystal Pite piece, Betroffenheit (in Victoria at the Royal Theatre, March 11 and 12), and then, in September 2016, they will take the new work on a tour of some 10 or 12 cities across Canada. In between all this, they’ll also find time for Modus Operandi, an intensive program they established in 2007 to help young dance artists transition into professional careers. You can now see Modus Operandi graduates in contemporary dance companies across Canada. 

It’s a jam-packed schedule, which may help explain why the new work just now received its title, Major Motion Picture, something many choreographers prefer to start with. But the title, in this case at least, is merely the final gloss on a piece that’s already been nearly three years in the making. “We’ve had Dave and Tiff here for two creative residencies,” says Dance Victoria’s executive producer, Stephen White, “using our studios to develop their ideas. We also joined with the CanDance Network of Dance Presenters to formally commission this new work.” 

That’s a tremendous act of faith in a couple who, while they have danced for internationally-renowned chore- ographers like Pite many times, really have only two major dance works to their credit: Vessel (2010) and Me So You So Me (2012). But White is firm in his belief: “To say that they are invested in their art form is the biggest understatement in the world. They have a unique dance vocabulary. It’s dynamic, detailed, complex, engaging. They are fresh and innovative. And I am simply in awe at their potential.”

Certainly Me So You So Me is an extraordinary piece. A hit big enough to warrant two national tours (it appeared in Victoria at the Metro in 2014), it’s a duet between Raymond and Tregarthen that Martha Schabas of the Globe and Mail called “a gorgeous and moving pas de deux” and “both a self-contained love story and a story of life itself,” which is all true, but I would add it’s also one of the wackiest and most theatrically inventive dance pieces I’ve ever seen. With off-beat humour and unexpected pathos, exquisite use of rhythms and elements of classic mime and slapstick as well as stunning video effects, Me So You So Me is an entire alternate universe where two astonishingly well-drawn characters explore their relationship with each other.

So how do you top that? You move your examination from the singular to the plural. “You can see the DNA of Me So You So Me” in the new piece, says Raymond. “It’s a continued journey, only it’s about two groups this time––what we are calling, in rehearsals anyway, The Innocents and The Others––who have to figure out their relationship with each other. They are in a conflict over territory, the territory of the stage. The Innocents are there first, but you start to see more glimpses of The Others and you realize that they are making a claim to the same space. There’s also another character, The Representative, who’s a guy in a giant overcoat, and he has control over certain parts of their world.”

It all sounds very topical, political even, and Raymond confirms that there are echoes of real world events in the piece. “It is a representation of the current day,” he says, “with insiders and outliers.” Reinforcing the more sinister aspects of the us-versus-them conundrum, there will be live infrared surveillance cameras on stage, and a video screen system that looks “like the Berlin wall or a wall in Gaza.” But it’s also, says Raymond, a lot of fun. “It’s got lots of big dancing and five super highly-physical duets. The characters themselves are also hilarious; they’re funny and charming and unpredictable––it’s not all sitting in a world of seriousness.” 

Each group has its own movement and musical style: The Innocents are quick and twitchy, dancing to a score based on Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock thrillers such as North by Northwest; The Others are smoother but wilder at the same time, moving to beat-driven hip hop and electronica. The five dancers joining Raymond and Tregarthen for this piece all graduated from their Modus Operandi school and now work with local Vancouver companies, including 605 Collective and Wen Wei Dance. “It means we have a history of language and communication,” says Raymond. “They know our taste and direction, and we don’t have to spell everything out.”

Vancouver-based Crystal Pite has also had a hand in shaping this new Out Innerspace adventure. Originally from Victoria, Pite performed with Ballet BC and William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt before staking a claim, as the New York Times said just a few weeks ago, “as one of the most talented and intriguing choreographers working today.” As mentor for this piece, she has been part of a “very fluid process, really a continuing conversation,” says Raymond, “where we bring her questions, she sees a section or two, and she gives us advice. She’s amazing at extracting the essence of an idea. We’re also let in on the inside scoop of her process, from research to collaboration to production.”

Asked to summarize what we will see with Major Motion Picture in Victoria this January, Raymond says, “I think this show is a universal story about relationships, as told through the body. It has to do with impulses and desires as individuals and as a group. It has to do with the questions we all ask: Who am I to you? Who are you to me? What do I believe? What do you believe? We want to share these questions with the audience. We’re not trying to make a statement, but rather draw a conversation. We want the work to create a platform to discuss and talk and share.” And (very important) to laugh, too. 

 

Major Motion Picture will be performed at the Metro Studio, January 29 & 30. See www.dancevictoria.ca for more information and tickets.

Robin J. Miller writes for national and international arts publications, and for business and government clients across Canada.