Expectations are a tricky thing. High expectations more so.

Let’s say a company performs a stunning, innovative show one year and then follows up with a performance that – while proficient and fairly tightly-executed – just isn’t quite the same calibre. It shows teasing snippets of excellence but leaves one with an overwhelming sensation of “meh” as the choreography resolved itself and the performers emerge for their curtain call, sweaty and exuberant as puppies. Obviously, if the previous show hadn’t been quite so wonderful, the feeling  this time around wouldn’t be nearly so pronounced. Therein lies the difficulty; the standards have been set and there’s no turning back. Disappointment, I’ve found, is a bitter pill to swallow.

V. Mackenzie, R. Gay-Labbé, M-R. Kabasha, E. Höglund, M. Jean-Pierre, E. Lê Phan © Alexandre Gilbert
V. Mackenzie, R. Gay-Labbé, M-R. Kabasha, E. Höglund, M. Jean-Pierre, E. Lê Phan
© Alexandre Gilbert

The most recent performance to incite this kind of reaction was Ghost by Tentacle Tribe. Directors Emmanuelle Lê Phan (Canada) and Elon Höglund (Sweden), specialize in a distinctive movement language, a mélange of street dance, tribal, contemporary and martial arts, and often integrate multi-media aspects into the work with some degree of sophistication. Most importantly, they have a singular voice in the contemporary dance world that is compelling and a style that is extremely watchable.

The last show I saw from Tentacle Tribe was the astonishing Fractals of You in 2016. It remains, to my mind, the gold standard in terms of marrying technology, great design and contemporary dance.

Superficially speaking, Ghost does bear some resemblance to Fractals—the breaking vocabulary, the fluidity of movement—but underneath it’s a pale facsimile. Billed as an “exploration of the subtleties of breathing in relation to movement” it features cream clothes and audible breathing, with exhalations as movement impetus.

Is it terribly bad? No, not at all. Do I see work like this every other week? Yes.

Despite the “meh” of my own poorly-managed expectations, the intermingling ideas of phantoms, spectres, breath, life force, fear and vitality are sewn together in a tolerably connected way in Ghost, and there were there some great moments to be had.

About halfway through the evening-length show the cast appear clad in dark hoodies with balloons stuffed into the hood above the head, stretching the silhouette into strange creatures. (If you need a visual cue, it reminded me of No Face from the Japanese anime Spirited Away.)

At one point a voice-over pipes in, and this whole section was weird and unsettling and funny, hip-hop flavoured and right on brand for Tentacle Tribe.

Although the other performers (Victoria Mackenzie, Mecdy Jean-Pierre, Marie-Reine Kabasha and Rahime Gay-Labbé) are technically very able and thoroughly committed, the partnering of the choreographers Emmanuelle Lê Phan and Elon Höglund was a step above and beyond. From a formal perspective it’s just a treat to watch; they move like one entity, creating a startlingly intricate dynamic that is satisfying in the extreme. I think that’s what they call flow, isn’t it?

Tentacle Tribe set the bar high with their previous works Nobody Likes a Pixelated Squid and Fractals of You. With Ghost, they didn’t quite reach it, but I have no doubt that they will again.