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Peter Chu in Dark Matters (Eric Beauschesne)
Peter Chu in Dark Matters (Eric Beauschesne)

DANCE REVIEW

A choreographer's 15 minutes of must-see dance Add to ...





The last 15 minutes of choreographer Crystal Pite’s Dark Matters are among the most sublime ever created in dance, overwhelming the heart and mind with the images created.

Pite, whose company Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM is based in both Vancouver and Germany, is a true genius of dance. She usually begins her choreographic exploration with an intellectual inquiry, but then her immense imagination takes off to create works that ponder the very essence of humankind’s existence.

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Dark Matters (2009) was inspired by “the dark matters” of both science and of the soul. The first act uses the metaphor of puppetry to delve into the relationship between creation and destruction in the universe, as influenced by black holes or chaos theory. The second features the seven dancers under the influence of the black holes of the mind. But this quick description doesn’t begin to touch the depths of Pite’s choreographic inquiry.

In a way, Dark Matters sets up a sucker punch. The first act is genuinely amusing, almost cartoon-like, and Pite lulls us into a false state of equanimity. She then hits us hard in the solar plexus with her melancholy second act. Composer Owen Belton has created a stunning electronica score that fits the stage action like a glove. Designer Robert Sondergaard is responsible for the masterful lighting.

Jay Gower Taylor’s conventional set for the first act is a room with a table, chairs and overhead light fixture. Dancer Peter Chu is sitting at the table busy creating his puppet. When it is ready, Chu attaches it to eight sticks manipulated by four dancers clad as kuroko – the stagehands found in Japanese kabuki and noh theatre.

Covered from head to foot in black, the kuroki give the illusion of invisibility. We see them, but we pretend they are not there. What follows is a rather hilarious encounter as the stick puppet takes on a mind of its own, getting upset, for example, over the red pants his creator wants him to wear.

As the puppet becomes more belligerent and rebellious, full-scale war breaks out between creator and creation: An epic battle causes the entire set to collapse. Pite has done a miraculous job of having her dancers move the puppet in a lifelike way, down to the smallest emotional detail.

The second act opens on a totally bare stage. Only one kuroko remains, with the other six dancers dressed in casual clothes. For this act, Pite has created movement that is so supple, the dancers look like they are made out of rubber. And then we begin to realize they are puppets themselves with invisible strings.

The dancers express yearning and bewilderment. They find no comfort in each other. They form physical attachments, strike poses of tortured kinship and then float off, like atoms adrift in space. Throughout, the kuroko (Sandra Marin Garcia) is the shadowy figure representing the black hole of fate, or perhaps human despair.

And then there is Pite’s devastating ending. Dancer Jermaine Spivey performs a poignant solo that suggests a lost soul alone in the universe. Through short staccato moves, constant changes of direction and erratic turns, he becomes a puppet pushed and pulled by a relentless tide.

The last image Pite offers us is one of painful beauty. Garcia removes her kuroko clothing. Chu, now a lifeless form on the stage, is cradled by Garcia as she mimes sewing strings into his body. With these strings, she brings his distorted body to life, but to what kind of life? Pite’s Dark Matters raises this disturbing question, but leaves us with no answer.

Dark Matters

  • Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM
  • Choreographed by Crystal Pite
  • Presented by Canadian Stage
  • At the Bluma Appel Theatre
  • In Toronto on Tuesday

Crystal Pite’s Dark Matters continues until March 3.

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