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October 7, 2016


Reviewed October 6, 2016

NAC Studio, Ottawa

(Repeat performances Friday & Saturday, Oct 7 & 8, 8 p.m.)

voetvolk-ah_ha_1-copyAH|HA is one of the oddest dance performances I’ve seen: an infectious, bizarre, push-pull piece of brilliance really, from a fairly new Belgian choreographer called Lisbeth Gruwez. Her company Voetvolk, co-founded with composer/musician Maarten Van Cauwenberghe, has been on the European dance scene for less than a decade and AH|HA is its first group piece, for five dancers, produced in 2014.

Two men and three women, including Gruwez, begin the performance standing in random positions on a large green screen on the floor and wall. Their clothing is random – it’s just what they put on today. And the energy of the work is random, primarily driven by the quiet rhythmic ticking accompaniment composed by Van Cauwenberghe.

The peculiar ticking, which gradually becomes louder and begins to sound like a rusty spring or a snorting pig, connects the five dancers’ bodies, which gradually congregate in the middle of the stage, as if magnets have exerted enough force to pull them together. Throughout, their movement is in extreme slow motion.

In fact, there is an “extreme” energy about the whole one-hour work. The dancers’ repetitive jiggling becomes more pronounced as the accompaniment deepens and then they begin to laugh. Bursts, guffaws, gasps, and spits of laughter. The movement of laughter is the focus more than the sound of it. The side-splitting exertions, the thigh slapping, the head throws, the pulsing shoulders, the jerking arms . . . until the wildly thrusting gestures compress the group of dancers into a tight knot, their arms and hands thrusting wildly upwards.

As the sound weaves in and out of quiet to ear-splitting, and lighting focuses from bright to dim, the dancers’ movements follow a trajectory of calm bouncing to spasmodic jerking. When the sound finally stops, the dancers stop, smile broadly – eliciting spontaneous giggles from the audience – and finally break into maniacal laughter. It’s all very infectious and physical.

And the line between laughter and tears slowly blurs. Expressions of hilarity or grief seem painfully similar. Displaying the extremes of emotion, the performers’ faces become paintings of sadness, shock, despair, pain and mirth. Until the raw passion thrusts them together again into a clinging, empathetic embrace, locked in a loving – even sexual – togetherness, as if the five are experiencing a moment of ecstasy as one living being.

The work appears to capture random moments of passion in a photograph snapped in a split second of time. The ending is a surprise one: funny, witty and engaging.


From → Contemporary

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