Dark, disturbingforces bring two men together in Doug Varone’s 2004 duet The Thing Of The World. The searing performance by Dancemakers’ Neil Sochasky and Steeve Paquet begins with Paquet, larger and swarthier, bumping into the shoulder of the slight, blond Sochasky. You know that bump. It’s not casual or accidental but a conscious act of provocation. It’s the kind of shoulder guys give in school hallways or in a bar prior to a fight.
In this case, however, it’s not a fight that follows but violence of a more passionate kind.
The smaller man is inevitably pulled closer into an acute orbit around a troubled paramour. It’s an intense duet set to a pulsing soundtrack by John Mackey. It could be the push and pull of a one-night stand with a self-loathing closet case, or the blows and bitter mercies of a longterm abusive relationship. It’s an unsett-ling, exciting work.
Varone, a celebrated choreo-grapher in NYC, is known for demanding a high degree of technical prowess. Both dancers deliver. At one point Sochasky is held up high and thrown to the ground, landing with a thud. Frightening. At another, Paquet becomes a whirling dervish of slapping hands.
The dancers’ physicality is matched by piercing psychology. Sochasky’s character is unable to resist the unhealthy attraction; Paquet ensures his lover never knows where he stands. One act of rebellion, when Sochasky copies one of Paquet’s many feints and dodges, is met with a sharp rebuke. We are presented with a tragedy in which two men inexorably move toward the death, whether literal or metaphorical is unclear, of the loving partner at the unthinking hands of an abuser.
The two other works on the program that closed May 5 at the Premiere Dance Theatre, are both choreographed by Dancemakers artistic director Michael Trent; they present domestic contortions of a wholly different order.
The first, Acts Of Light, expanded since its premiere in 1997, presents three couplings where, again, a power imbalance seems to be the defining characteristic. A last minute cast change gives that imbalance a gender, with the women in charge: one manipulating her partner, another running strong around an awkward incomplete man, while another boldly displays her exuberance to an adoring onlooker.
But the piece can’t match the complexity and tumult of Prokoviev’s accompanying Piano Sonata #7. Supposedly inspired by three aspects of light — shadow, speed and reflection — Acts Of Light is so slight and abstract it almost dissipates into a haze.
More intriguing was Constructing Doubt, Trent’s latest piece and his first major work since taking over the company. Five dancers giddily line up behind a short white picket fence, looking over toward a large rectangle of Astroturf. Each moves a section back and forth in a confused race. Finally, one dancer, Sochasky, finds the courage to leap over the fence and stake claim to the green playing field, maybe it’s a schoolyard or a neighbour’s lawn. The humourous tone resurfaces through the piece.
A series of solos, duets and ensembles bring to mind both the hard edges of child’s play — the aggressiveness, the casual exclusions — and the wistfulness of adult’s play — trying to keep up with Jones’s, playing as a form of escape.
There’s a disquieting scene where Kate Hilliard shakes and shivers, unable to sit upon a swing that hangs upstage. Later, Hilliard watches entranced as Simi Rowen leads the rest of the group in a series prayerful motions. Only then does Hilliard brave the swing, initiating the closing tableau, a surprising cascade of red sand into which she can throw her bare feet. It’s a beautiful symbol of time and the tricks of happy and dangerous memories.