Shannon Gillen + Guests gave a striking display of powerful, virtuosic dance, but I’m beginning to find that such a performance is no longer a rarity; the unique performance is that which offers not only undeniable technical prowess but also dynamics and an emotional connection. I know that it is probably frowned upon in journalism to cite a dance as one that gives a warm, squishy feeling of having been moved, but I know of no other way to define it. Your pulse quickens, your blood thickens – you feel that you have seen something magical transpire. Both Danaka Dance’s Prospect Minds and Ms Gillen’s A Colored Image of the Sun failed to create such a feeling, although it must be acknowledged that artistry and truly excellent dancing were present in both.

A Colored Image of the Sun © Breegan Kearney
A Colored Image of the Sun
© Breegan Kearney

The opening piece of the evening was a trio by Ms Dana Katz, director of Danaka Dance. I had the distinct feeling that I was watching a weirdly apocalyptic version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: the two female dancers, Ms Brittany Angels-Adams and Ms Esme Boyce, were clad in lacey lingerie-esque corsets and leggings; Mr Brendan Duggan wore less conspicuous pants and a short-sleeved T-shirt. All of the dancers shared the same facial expression, one of stoicism, occasionally alternating with worry and a sense of impending doom. This didn’t really translate to the movement or their dancing, however. There was a sense of urgency, yes, in their deliberate paths and cautionary hands placed upon each other’s shoulders, but I found the movement itself to be more idiosyncratic and vaguely sexual than the “living room set” that enabled the three dancers to “start over” that the program notes defined. There were a lot of sidelong glances, wrist circles, and twisty hips. (Although Ms Boyce’s wrist circles must be in the top wrist circles of the universe – she can make meaning out of the most mundane of gestures.)

Ms Gillen’s piece, by contrast, seemed fraught with meaning and connection, although much of it felt misplaced and born mostly of fear and discomfort. Her five female dancers flung themselves upon the floor and each other again and again and then again, all while wearing facial expressions that seemed a cross between confusion and anger. It was as if I were at a roller derby match (complete with pigtails – all of the dancers sported spray-painted middle parts and two bound pigtails): there is no adjective better to describe this movement than “hard”. Truthfully, their powers of endurance alone should reap them awards. This was a difficult dance. But there was no dynamic change: everything was hard, fast, physical, pounding. There was no break for the audience to breathe and take stock of what they were seeing. And occasional moments of respite might’ve made the hammering stuff easier to appreciate.

I’m not sure the costuming was right, either. The dancers each wore white, eyelet shifts (with white undergarments beneath) and white knee pads. So much white certainly conveyed virginal femininity, per the program’s notes on motherhood and womb-leaving, but the dancers came across more as rugby-playing bullies with physical revenge agendas. There was certainly a feeling of exultant girl power within not only me but the rest of the audience by the piece’s end, which is always welcome, but I again felt confused by what else I should be gleaning. Several times throughout the 40-minute dance I felt uncomfortable: at one point, each dancer mimed eating greedily out of another dancer’s hands, as the lone dancer on the end who had no palm to eat out of (the incomparably confrontational Emily Terndrup, as it were) wore a gloating, creepy smile. Something felt odd about that moment, though I couldn’t place why; I knew only that I liked the feeling of discomfort, because it reassured me that I was seeing something worthwhile. I just found myself wishing that I experienced that feeling more often.

***11