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Carte Blanche

February 23, 2013

3 O’Clock in the Afternoon

Reviewed February 22, 2013

NAC Theatre, Ottawa(Repeat performance February 23, 7:30 p.m.)

Photograph by Erik Berg

Photograph by Erik Berg

Picture this: two men throwing darts at a map of the Middle East, another man arguing with the audience, two women – each wearing one high-heeled shoe, the other foot bare — performing mirror-image movements, a man wandering about the stage unable to interest anyone in the pair of peacock blue stilettos he carries in his hands, another man seemingly “dead” and unrevivable on the floor.

Obscure, to be sure. Incoherent, absolutely. All in all, Carte Blanche’s 3 O’Clock in the Afternoon is a strange dance performance that builds gradually into a peculiar narrative.

Carte Blanche, the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance founded in 1989, presents this bizarre 2010 creation by Ina Christel Johannessen, a leading Norwegian choreographer known for her complex movement vocabulary, in Ottawa for the first time.

The full-length work (nearly 90 minutes) is a dramatic “intellectual” work, rife with symbols up for individual interpretation — an abstract, surreal, dark series of theatrical vignettes that stab and pulse and threaten, as well as delight, amaze and incite.

Johannessen says of 3 O’Clock in the Afternoon:

“A wall with different doors, but where do they lead? Do we want the small room or the big empty one that are behind the doors? Which of these leads there? What is separating us? Doors, borders… How can we connect – be together? With sewn stitches?”

In fact, some of this theme permeates this shadowy, complicated work. The 12 dancers explore relationships with each other. They enter the stage through five doors in a backdrop that suggests stones “sewn” together. And we are aware of a world beyond the doorways.

The set is designed by graa hverdag as, a company run by Kristin Torp, who has worked on dozens of theatrical, operatic and dance performances as a set and costume designer. It’s an unusual set, with its doorways, splashed with maps or graffiti, depending on which way they are opened.

The backdrop and floor look like stone, suggesting a rigidity that is borne out by the initial lone dancer who enters the stage at opening, accompanied by a distant sound of wind. Tall and lean – all the dancers in this company are remarkably long-limbed, features they integrate into their movements – the solitary man plays with the rigidity of his body as he expresses an agony and a resistance, breathless and spasmodic. He sets a theme of self-imprisonment, and a lack of control.

Lighting designer Kyrre Heldal Karlsen is innovative in setting the mood with contrasts of shadow and glare, filtered light or electric spasms. With the doors open onto a white bright space beyond, stage front quite dim, the dancers are able to play very cleverly with the light and the space behind and in front of the doors.

Norwegian sound designer Morten Pettersen has mixed an unusual combination of natural and electronic sounds, as well as soulful strings to accompany the dancers.

The Carte Blanche dancers are divinely disciplined, their lean limbs repeating sweeping, eclectic movements that reach well beyond their centres.

In the latter half of the work, the six women members of the troupe are performing an integrated phrase that becomes a beautiful quartet of dancers. The lighting is stark, the strings woeful. Out of this, springs a moving duet between one of the women and a male dancer. It’s balletic, with a kind of Romeo and Juliet despair about it.

Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, Johannessen’s deeply solemn work, by the finale, is reverberating like a Shakespearian tragedy, with several bodies strewn about the stage.

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From → Contemporary

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