DJD’s Velocity crosses a bridge into the unknown

By Stephan Bonfield - Calgary Herald
3 min read | November 17, 2017
Contemporary dance at its most exciting always makes something new out of the old and takes you to places you hadn’t thought possible.
That’s the best description of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ season curtain-raiser, Velocity, a 10-panelled, dancer-choreographed exposition of the company’s finest creative minds and their virtuoso bodies.
The show’s artistic director Catherine Hayward is no stranger to the pursuit of choreographic innovation and the continual drive for artistic change. Her curated show included three of her own works and gave Velocity much-needed fluidity and movement power. For the seven DJD choreographer-dancers, Velocity symbolized pure creative force, often propelling a new work forward into ambiguous and occasionally unknown artistic territory.

Each dance compelled the opening night sold-out crowd at the DJD Dance Centre to come along for the ride, stretching the audience at times, perhaps providing a little narrative uncertainty, some mystery, or simply wrapping the old in some very new shoes.

Music was a common theme throughout, such as Kaleb Tekeste’s memorable solo carrying a trumpet, titled ‘exit’, or Hayward’s ‘battle’, in which Wonder Woman-like shields are borne as rhythmic-lyrical props doubling as ride cymbals and danced to an infectious Max Roach solo. Lighting stalwart Graham Frampton complemented this piece perfectly with minimalist industrial side-washes through a hazy smoke.

But there were two conspicuous music-driven pieces that caught the eye and ear more than the others, even stealing the show: Pass it/Swing it, Shayne Johnson’s brilliant tap study on elevated white-rimmed drum hoops, and ‘web’, the evening’s opening choreography by Hayward.

Johnson’s impressive command of tap never gets old. With Julia Cosentino, Kaja Irwin and Hayward dancing nearby on their own platforms, this ensemble choreography always felt fresh and never stylized. The pure joy was in feeling the different clapped and tapped polyrhythms passed around the ensemble in combinations of twos, threes and a prolonged middle set of fours, one dancer swinging counts in continuous counterpoint toward another and back again. Swish!, this charmed us all …

Even so, the most intriguing act of the night was Hayward’s ‘web’, set to music by the renowned bassist Marcin Oleś. Six dancers struggled to work themselves around four, long, nylon strings descending from offstage right to the floor left of us. The conceit of being trapped or caught in a web along the bridge of an upright bass provided Hayward with irresistible and fertile movement ideas, such as transforming a stringed instrument without neck into a pulled, pressed and plucked avatar for dance as sonic creative vibe.

The work never gave in to pedestrian playing-the-body-like-it’s-a-bass imagery, but, instead, rose to the challenge of exploring the holistic roles that intertwine jazz, movement and the acting/dancing body together via sliding down the strings, flexing to its tensile strengths and wrapping in its coiled ends. It was mesmerizing to watch and I can still see it and hear it in front of me. I have to go back and watch it again.

Other highlights included Resist, a technophile duo between Tekeste and Sabrina Comanescu that spanned different movement vocabularies. Tekeste’s mildly dystopic piece was a strong experimental followup to ‘web’. Resist formed coherent narrative connections between its differing sections, bridging them all together in a visually-appealing digital web of its own kind. This piece was one of my favourites and in some ways, one of the most daring and adventurous forays into a new and unknown combinative movement language.

The thoughtful trio ‘Solace’ for Natasha Korney, Cosentino and Comanescu made a lasting impression for its solo and ensemble demonstrations of anxiety. Cast with striking frontal poses, rolled shoulders, multiple movement arcs and some telling moments of ensemble closeness, Korney’s provocative choreography was often the most abstract. The dancers transmitted psychological malaise keenly well, but the solace of comfort at the end was short-lived, and when I was left with more unease and dis-ease than resolution, I only appreciated the work all the more.

Cosentino’s ‘ … for the trees have no tongues’ and Irwin’s ‘child of chaotic powers’ ran the gamut from earth-and-air naturalism (Cosentino) to anthropomorphic fantasy about a four-headed chimera’s thoughts (Irwin). Both were short, concise, contrasting ensemble studies of some substance that begged for us to see more.

Yet, the ensemble finale ‘end’ was the most mysterious. Described as ‘a bridge to the unknown’ and set to a spellbinding solo by jazz-legend pianist Vijay Iyer, Johnson tap-danced on a rectangular rim while surrounded by a chorus of lithely sublime movement symmetries. We could not tell where it was all going, only that it was beautiful and that we wanted to go wherever they were taking us.