Damaged Goods, choreographed by Jocelyn Todd, is a contemporary dance show. It consists of two clearly distinct pieces of pure physical prowess that explore the ability of the body to tell stories.
Dance is not my medium. But every time I encounter a piece that does not rely on words to create its narrative, I am impressed with the potential for expression we all walk around with and rarely tap into. These two pieces are a symphony of breath and body that made me happy to be human.
The first dance on the bill is a much clearer narrative experience than the second, which struck me as a more conceptual exploration, though both conveyed a wealth of meaning. There is music present in both pieces, but the dancers are primarily in charge of creating the music of the pieces with the brush of arms and legs and feet, and the puffs of their exhalations.
The first piece is a male-female duet (Jessie Lhôte,and Maxime Nadeau) that seems to chronicle the difficulty and hurt of a parting. The interaction is rife with tension between the two dancers, as each one strives to gain control of the other and the situation as a whole. Each strategy employed in this contest swings its momentum towards the innovative party, before the other embodies, overcomes, and judo-like, counters its influence.
The pieces are separated by a long period of total darkness with music. I understand the practical need for this: the female dancer from the first piece is also in the second, and there is (I think) a reconfiguration of the curtains (EDIT: there is no reconfiguration of curtains, just a very different lighting state), but I don’t think this was a good choice in terms of the production as a whole. This period of negative presence really was much too long, and more importantly seems to bear only small relation to the embodied moments of the show. It certainly didn’t need to be as long as it was to establish the blackness necessary for the second piece.
The second piece features a three-woman ensemble (Jessie Lhôte, Alya Graham, MarieMichelle Darveau), and proceeds from the absolute darkness of the entre-act towards an at-times blinding chase of an untamable light. In the near-black beginning stages, the dancers’ movements are given another layer of sinuousness by the relative strength of shadow as an element on stage. Side lighting casts long almost inhuman shadows on the walls, and it’s hard to tell what parts of the dancers are responsible for which movement. I found this lack of clarity intriguing, but it made it hard to get back into the performance after the long darkness from which we only recently emerged. As the light brightens, the dancers’ movements become correspondingly larger, and an impulse towards self-immolation in the brightness comes into play.
The last part of the dance features a headlamp quite prominently. At times the light that this casts into the eyes of the audience appeared unconsidered; we have been fighting to see what’s happening on a very dark stage for ten or more minutes, only to have this light blind us. I wish the beam’s trajectory had been more carefully considered, or perhaps that the design had included some sort of diffusion. But in some sense, that might just be selfish. It could be that the blinding nature of this light is part of the point.
This show has given me a lot to think about and as a study in human physicality it’s extremely impressive. Sounds like I should go check out some more dance, doesn’t it? You probably should too, and you can start right here at the Fringe.
Damaged Goods is playing at Venue 1: Arts Court Theatre
Show times and ticket information can be found here.