The Danse Danse festival, a year-long program of contemporary works by artists from here and abroad, kicked off its new season this week with a world première by Canadian company O Vertigo. Soif is founder Ginette Laurin's latest work, and a return to her choreographic roots – ance that centers on form and the body more so than it does on the conceptual. Not only the leading work for Danse Danse’s 2014-2015 season, Soif also celebrate’s O Vertigo’s 30 year anniversary. With all this hype, expectations were high for Soif. Whether or not they were met though, is hard to say for certain.

O'Vertigo Ballet's <i>Soif</i> © Ginette Laurin
O'Vertigo Ballet's Soif
© Ginette Laurin
I have always found the program notes to be a little gold-mine of insight into the dance performances I attend, but never have the words in the few paragraphs describing what I was about to see been so absolutely on point. Describing “the energy of impetus” and “a highly physical dance that shifts between explosion and restraint”, the write-up seemed especially vague… until the dance began. Bursts of energy at the very inception of movement were highlighted in every phrase of choreography. The moment when movement begins took the emphasis, rather than coming second as it often does to the grand finale or denouement of a show. There were snippets of storylines that began then trailed off, allowing the movement itself to take center stage. Not limiting themselves to the dancer’s basic toolbox, O Vertigo made full use of the body, incorporating the edge of their fingertips and the tiny muscles of their faces.

A mesh screen separated the dancers from the audience, creating a tangible fourth wall. Likely installed foremost as part of the lighting design, it created a boxed-in stage where dancers could just as well be cast completely in shadow as they could in full light, and it also had the effect of caging the dancers in. The audience’s perspective, that of feeling like one is peering in on the dancers who are bound within the area marked by the walls of the stage, was emphasized from the very start. As most of the dancers writhe in near darkness upstage, Audrey Bergeron catapulted us into the start of Soif with a solo marked by high intensity hits and swift freezes while perched on the edge, several times nearly touching the wall separating audience and performers. She started the night off with such incredible energy, I'm sure she shook the entire theatre with one forceful jab into the void.

Off to an equally strong start was the soundtrack by Michel F. Coté. Mixing whispers and electric waves with musical violins, the unexpected sounds put us in a state of high alert. After the opening piece though, the soundscape lost that intriguing factor and fell into a lull. Perhaps the heavy percussion I’ve become used to hearing in new productions has made my ear biased to a certain sound, but I often found there was something lacking in the auditory experience accompanying this piece. It went in waves, as did the choreography, at times keeping me on the edge of my seat and at others leaving me yawning. Like when you try so hard to choose the right words that you stutter, it felt as if Soif tried so hard to perfectly nail its concept that it exhausted itself at times and simply couldn’t continue building a steady pace.

© Ginette Laurin
© Ginette Laurin
Ginette Laurin is the master of the duet, a skill she showcases many times in Soif. One particular segment where four couples in a slanted diamond pattern perform the same partnered choreography in sync is totally mesmerizing and gives reason for Laurin’s place of note in Canada’s dance history. Returning to that idea of “the energy of impetus”... The dancers fling themselves at each other with total abandon and from all directions, at once seeming not to care and also to fully trust that someone will be there to catch them. If one thing is to be said, it’s that O Vertigo’s dancers sure know how to jump! They make no difference between getting a running start or standing with both feet firmly planted, jumping just as high and forcefully either way. The company’s newest addition, Stéphanie Tremblay Abubo, particularly stands out for dancing beyond the scope of her small frame. Taking up more space than the massive and massively talented Robert Meilleur who’s easily twice her size, she commands to be seen as a giant, only relaxing when Meilleur lifts her high above his and everyone’s heads.

Soif was an inconsistent hour of exciting, fresh and highly physical movement, cut up by redundant intervals of that typically québécois contemporary style. Clichés– like when the dancers appeared fully nude in a representation of genesis – were disappointing and unnecessary to prove the point. Moments of failure such as those are evidence, I believe of Laurin’s fearless commitment to experimentation, but of course not all experiments succeed. At 30 years strong, O Vertigo has demonstrated its ability to reinvent its strengths; it's powerful duets and strong physical focus, while leaving us looking forward to what it will do better next time in those areas that still need improvement.

***11