By Jillian Groening
Forget the hierarchies. Forget the three-tiered grace of government arts funding. Forget the boundaries, the limitations, and most of all the certainty. Just for a minute, forget that hazy, undulating little black line between emerging and established. Now, consider Nova Dance Collective (NDC)’s most recent show, Not Potatoes & Judy and the Reckless.
Debuting at Winnipeg’s Rachel Browne Theatre on the night of March 20, 2015, the seven woman powerhouse behind NDC takes hold of what could be a night of awkward firsts and transforms it into raw, shimmering, captivating performance. While at times enduring in it’s fumbling, defiant independence, the self-awareness behind NDC’s latest show asks nothing but to be met with admiration.
The dance theatre double bill, featuring NDC member Zorya Arrow’s work Not Potatoes followed by Canadian dance-land wunderkind Riley Sims’ Judy and the Reckless, is heavy on melodrama, loud voices, and perfectly tossed away movement. A deadly combination when thrown together with buzzing opening night energy and hysterically funny content. The show is practically sparking.
The scene for Not Potatoes has been set with a cozy brown love seat, a side table, a tall mirror and a lamp hanging from the ceiling - all items lifted from NDC members’ living rooms. An all too familiar family milieu is presented onstage with double-chinned dancers slouched on the couch, legs splayed, and vacant expressions staring out at the audience. With a slow, warm fade up, performers Janelle Hacault and Alexandra Scarola steadily rise from their seats in the front row of the audience. Although physically bridging the fourth wall, Hacault and Scarola are clearly sharing their own tender experience. Eyes softly on each other, the two move closer until they are side by side. Turning their backs on the audience, Hacault and Scarola hip roll their bottoms in a slow sweeping moon, a gloriously cheeky gesture. Here we go.
Moments of innocent slapstick surface often in Arrow’s work, much to the viewers delight. Having spent time in clowning school, Arrow is as skilled at drawing deep belly laughter as she is at creating a blue, lonesome atmosphere and is apt at balancing the two extremes. From Rachelle Bourget and Kelsey Todd’s freeform duet, moving their limbs as instructed by the lounge lizards on the couch - “soaring ribcage,” “fluttering phalanges,” “elastic lymph nodes,” “full body darting” - to Alexandra Garrido and Sarah Helmer’s bizarre yet poignant moment with a harmonica and ski goggles, Arrow presents viewfinder vignettes reflecting on family relationships and the line of genetically inherited mannerisms. Arrow creates a minute world under a microscope while offering a peek into what one thinks about when they’re alone in their thoughts, whether at a family dinner or home in a bachelor apartment.
This youthful rebel yell, the bold voice finding her own in piles of claimed DNA, is epitomized in Helmer’s boogie-down in front of the mirror. Like the pivotal scene in a 90’s teen movie where the girl’s got the date with the guy and the parents are letting her use the car and her hair is doing good things, Helmer lets loose, dancing, head banging, and singing along to PJ Harvey’s “Hitting the Ground”.
With original ambient music and sound by Scott Leroux and Julia Tchira, Not Potatoes is an impactful piece and an impressive feat for what is Arrow’s first half-length group work.
Following intermission, the theatre erupts with an even louder, even wilder work; Toronto-based dancer, artist and choreographer Riley Sims’ Judy and the Reckless.
Bursting through the theatre doors as if in a drunk fury, NDC dancers tear through the audience yelling, crying, and acting like your general messed up stumble bums on the last party bus stop. With clothes flying and bodies flailing, an insane and hysterical world is created in a matter of minutes.
“You fucking pussy!”, “I fucking love you!” and “it hurts when you speak” are heard amidst the chaos of screaming women and shocked laughter from the audience. So convincing are the performers antics that one alarmed audience member even goes in to break up a faux fight between Scarola and Bourget.
Carrying on with Arrow’s themes of coming-of-age and self-discovery, Sims hones in on escapism. From chemical vices to cinema and the act of performance alone, Sims presents a hilarious, vivid and beautifully intelligent depiction of the lengths we to go to in order to abandon our realities. Each dramatic moment flows smoothly to the next, ebbing and flowing in intensity but clearly presenting images of raw desperation.
A re-creation of a scene from West Side Story involving Arrow playing both director and passionate protagonist has the audience howling. Bluntly shifting back and forth between the two opposing roles, Arrow’s expert performance not only conjures up peels of laughter but also exposes the reality behind the fake blood and wind machines involved in cinematic displays of emotion.
After all the fun and the laughter and the uninhibited thrashing, the fast-paced work settles to a glowing ember. With dancers covering Bourget in clothing that had previously littered the stage, the captivating performer begins to choke out Judy Garland’s classic monologue from the last film before her death, I Could Go On Singing (1963). Swaddled and stuffed like a zit about to pop, Bourget’s teary round face cries out honest words of showbiz burnout, fading youth and tragic beauty. Amidst dancer’s bodies falling heavily, repeatedly, on the ground, Bourget strips herself of the party-outfit trappings and in doing so finds escape.
“On stage, you don’t feel a thing,” she says as the lights dim, leaving a luminous orb around her face.
Back to reality.
Photo by Rodney Braun
Jillian Groening is a Winnipeg-based writer and dancer. She has contributed to The Uniter, Stylus and Noisey as well as lending her interning skills to The Dance Current magazine. When not crouched in front of her computer/best friend, Groening is an apprentice dancer with Gearshifting Performance Works.