Tiffany Mills’ two pieces, The Feast and Berries and Bulls (a work already seen in a few iterations during its work-in-progress stage), both proved to be not interesting enough and too disjointed to hold my attention for their duration.

© Julie Lemberger
© Julie Lemberger

The first piece, The Feast, was a startlingly short work that built itself around a scribbling-on-the-wall motif, mostly performed by Ms Mills herself, as Kevin Ho hoisted her by the torso again and again, taking her away from the upstage wall where she earnestly scribbled. Most of the piece felt tediously repetitive, until it ended so abruptly with a short partnering sequence moving downstage center that the audience didn’t begin clapping for several long moments – so confident that the piece wasn’t quite yet over, that a new section would begin in a second.

The second and much, much longer piece, Berries and Bulls, was an 80-minute exercise in audience confusion. (The dancers themselves occasionally seemed to not know what was coming next.) The stage was set with large stacks of paper and paper airplanes in the upstage right corner, and a veritable chorus of dancers occasionally joined Jeffery Duval, Mr Ho, Emily Pope-Blackman and Petra van Noort for short spurts throughout the piece. Ms Mills sought to create a piece, with text, that dealt with the “inherent tangles” found in long-term relationships; to this effect, the text was comprised of short snippets of longer stories, none of which the audience ever learned the full version of. There was talk of a Ferris wheel and an accompanying traumatic carnival situation, and there was much discussion among the dancers as to what they should do, movement-wise. (“Let’s try something a bit more... intellectual”, Ms van Noort demanded.) None of the dancers seemed fully comfortable speaking aloud; there were several moments where they appeared unsure as to who had the next line. There were weird and jarring moments where the dancers broke the fourth wall, questioning if certain movements or themes would resonate with the audience appropriately. I tried waiting patiently, to see if this jumble of phrases and commands would soon make sense, but they didn’t.

The piece went on far too long – about 20 minutes too long. The chorus tumbling onstage usually felt like an unnecessary interruption, with one exception. A nice partnering section with Mr Ho and Mr Duval on the floor, with unexpected moments of tenderness and stillness, was mimicked by two other pairs of dancers on the floor, on either side. The rest of the time, however, the chorus and even the paper stacks and airplanes felt out of place: why were they even there? I could discern no connection to the movement or even the text. Mostly, they seemed to serve as places to sit for the dancers when they needed to turn the stage over to another performer.

Ms Pope-Blackman seemed the surest when it came to uttering words aloud, even though the lines she needed to speak often felt unnecessarily dramatic. It was a pleasure to see the dancers move, particularly when two or three would perform a phrase in unison or canon, but this didn’t happen nearly often enough. Ms Pope-Blackman hurtled through the space like a whirling dervish at times, but these moments usually ended too soon, and with more confusing and disappointing text. Ultimately, I gave up on understanding the piece and just tried to enjoy it for aesthetic purposes, but even this proved fruitless.