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Vessel overflows with originality and creativity

Vessel, Out Innerspace Dance Theatre’s first full length contemporary dance work is, simply put, fascinating. Choreographed and performed by directors David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen and joined by dancers Alison Denham, Karissa Barry and Tanner Plecas, this effective collage of contemporary dance, soundscape, projection and lighting design create an intriguing dance art experience.

Thematically, Vessel explores ideas of “inner space” and the way small, every day experiences can reveal our intrinsic human connectedness. The piece opens with a sharp image projected on the floor that eventually reveals the dancers lying in a clump, like some kind of creature. The organism soon breaks apart into five individual beings; or perhaps the cells divide. We are placed immediately in an environment that is intimate, perhaps molecular.  The movement vocabulary begins; floor-based, insect inspired, contorted and animalistic. Over time, the energy and choreography both intensify to a wholly original approach to movement. Insular, creature-like gestures merge with more human, full bodied strokes of dynamic movement. The combination is mesmerizing.

Raymond and Tregarthen have designed a mysterious and compelling performance environment. A white dance floor meets a white cyclorama on the back wall which rises to about eight feet. With a surround of black curtains, exposed lighting booms and angled lighting pipes to define the space, the effect is that of a rectangular, clean-lined vessel, a container for the inhabitants of this inner world. Graphic projections of water, specks, bubbles and textures add depth with great success. Used sparingly, the projections serve to amplify the overall landscape without taking it over. At one point, a 10-armed, 10-legged, five-headed creature tumbles in slow motion across the stage, silhouetted against a projected backdrop of moving water.  The image is striking.

As a collection of dance talent, this quintet is outstanding. Simply costumed by Heather Martin (mono) in grey toned pants, skirts, shorts and shirts, the dancers are in command of their material and authentic in their approach. Well rehearsed, uber aware of each other and their environment, they seem oblivious that there is anything beyond the vessel in which they exist. With such an internal, contained focus there is a danger of alienating an audience, limiting the ability to relate to the work. In this case, however, it is strangely intriguing. One feels compelled towards the stage, like a scientist looking at the contents of a petri dish under a microscope.

Lighting Designer James Proudfoot’s bold use of saturated colour in green, blue and amber juxtaposes smartly with more soft ambient lighting, showcasing the exposed limbs of the dancers and their incredible spines that undulate like amoebas. Jeff Younger offers a sparse, sometimes nature inspired, sometimes electronica inspired score that doesn’t boss the dancers around, but instead supports the choreographic material, contributing to the overall world.

Highlights over the 65-minute long work include a stellar duet danced by David Raymond and Karissa Barry, as well as duet work from Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen, the company’s choreographers. The fluidity and ease of this couple’s dancing clearly acknowledges their longstanding artistic partnership. Truly inventive, the duets have such unusual physical connections and impressive lifts that you want to see them danced again, immediately.

Vessel is well crafted and fully realized. The episodic structure has a solid arc, transitions are seamless, the dancing and choreography are strong and all elements have been brought together cohesively. Perhaps the choreography could be tightened by 5 minutes, and the ending could be punched up to encourage a more satisfying resolution or conclusion. But these are minimal complaints with the awareness that danceworks, once premiered, almost always continue to be finessed over their performance lives.

Hearty congratulations to Out Innerspace Dance Theatre - physically and thematically captivating, Vessel overflows with originality, creativity and solid dancemaking.

Vessel runs Oct 20-23 at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre. $25 Adults/ $20 Seniors/Students/CADA

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