Hopeful Bastards launch PuSH 2018 @ Playhouse

Out of Quebec: Sound and fury. Signifying...?

Shall we dance? BOOM BOOM BOOM! Photo: Daniel Léveillé Danse

In what has become something of an annual tradition, PuSH 2018 kicked off with a back-up at the Vancouver Playhouse box office. At least it wasn’t raining or snowing this time, and the show was only 15 minutes late in starting.

Still, that extra quarter hour must have been an ordeal for the nine dancers of Some Hope for the Bastards. Québecois choreographer Frédérick Gravel has them poised on the stage in deliberately awkward contortions as the audience files in. Suited in constricting 1960’s finery (narrow lapel suit coats for the men, sequinned halters and high-heels for the women), the dancers are frozen in painfully in off-kilter postures.

Finally the house lights dim and we’re zapped with a grating mechanical drone. Relief, such as it is, comes only when Gravel himself takes the stage, guitar in hand, along with drummer José Major and composer/guitarist Philippe Brault. They blast us with a salvo of high-decibel electronica as the dancers break out of their palsied frieze to start galvanically thrashing about the proscenium.

They won’t stop for the next 90 intermission-free minutes, although their pulse has its ebbs and flows. Gravel offers a rambling introductory speech welcoming anyone to walk out of the show if they find it off-putting. Then the hall fills with the strains of a rococo chorale (Mozart? Coronation Mass?) as the dancers strike churchy poses.

Except there’s a metronomic basso back-beat braided into the soundtrack, which presently sets the dancers twitching again – subtly, at first, but with gathering frenzy – right at crotch level. And soon the chorale fades into another volley of heavy metal from the combo. Piecemeal, the cast sheds its costumes for plain jeans and tank tops, and the stage turns into a flailing mosh pit of violent clashes. 

And so it goes. Eventually the dancers seem to run out of rage and (to a bluesy accompaniment from the combo) haul their wounded off into the wings in a series of lyrical pas de deux. Some dancers just sit around in the margins, relaxed (or convincingly feigning it), drinking water and chatting, ceding the spotlights to the soloists-of-the-moment.

But before long it’s all hands on deck again, arrayed in geometric grids, bumping and grinding and toiling and spinning and pumping air to the renewed clangour of the combo. And all in pulses – the unremitting lub-dub throb of José Major’s drum.

All highly skilled, bursting with energy, ingeniously threaded together. Full of sound and fury, Some Hope seems always on the verge of signifying…something. But with an off-the-charts signal-to-noise ratio very much in tune with our times.

PuSH 2018 further explores our current Zeitgeist in more than 100 dance, drama, music and film programmes scattered across 18 Vancouver venues during the coming fortnight.

February 3rd the Festival returns to QE Plaza for its grand finale – Eternal Tides, a lavishly nature-themed extravaganza by Taiwan’s Legend Lin Dance Theatre. Not to be missed, by all accounts. But to avoid a back-up at the ticket window, be sure to arrive well ahead of the 8 p.m. curtain.


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