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Tiffany Tregarthen and Renee Sigouin appear in Bygones’ nightmare surrealism – a rarity in dance.

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  • Bygones
  • Venue: Scotiabank Dance Centre
  • City: Vancouver
  • Created and performed by: David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen in collaboration with Elya Grant, David Harvey and Renée Sigouin

Spooky surprises come thick and fast as Out Innerspace Dance Theatre’s inventive Bygones gets underway. The mysterious goings-on had me on the edge of my seat, wondering at a teacup that scoots around a table all on its own and at an army of ordinary objects that glide across the stage. Among the army’s improbable soldiers is a large box wrapped in shiny red paper and a small white horse. Dancers appear mid-air, falling.

Bygones’ nightmare surrealism is rare in a dance: Practically speaking, it’s harder to present such a rich, fantastic reality onstage than it is in painting or film. Perfecting special effects eats up expensive studio time needed for the dance itself. So Bygones, a 70-minute plotless parade of scenarios, which opened at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre on Wednesday, offered a refreshingly chilling change of pace. But while there is menace in the interactions between people and inanimate objects with a will of their own, there is also grace and humour: A table leaps onto the head of one of the dancers, and a chair on another, forcing them into whirling duets. A black umbrella beats open and shut like the heartbeat of the dancer holding it, and later stalks him around the stage.

Fluid, expressive solos provide satisfying pure dance throughout. The first comes from Renée Sigouin, who seems pushed and pulled by an invisible force, impelled to lunge, tumble and turn. In her pale blue satin slip, she is beautifully visible, too. Often, the others are not, costumed by Kate Burrows in black- or earth-coloured pants and tops that don’t stand out in James Proudfoot’s gloomy atmospheric lighting design.

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David Raymond's ghoulish solo is witty and weird.

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Toward the end, David Raymond’s ghoulish solo is witty and weird. In a black leather coat, he prances through a crooked jig like a gremlin.

Raymond, along with Tiffany Tregarthen, is co-artistic director at Out Innerspace; both are also dancers with Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot company. They’re accomplished, hard-working artists who put the work first (they also run a training program called Modus Operandi). In a Bygones duet, the two are hilariously upstaged by an ominous circle of black that paces the stage – but I won’t spoil the surprise by saying more.

In the last 15 or so minutes, the focus dissipates as the ensemble forms and reforms in shifting uneasy tableaux on a bare stage. There is a tense hum on the eclectic soundtrack (which features one twangy country and western song) assembled by Kate De Lorme. These are top-notch dancers, but without those objects driving the choreographic impulse, the piece stalled. I suddenly craved a dramatic arc.

Bygones premiered in October at Bulgaria’s One Dance Week festival, followed by performances in Germany and Quebec. By now, the tricky, low-tech special effects were mostly smooth and convincing, although in the intimate black-box theatre, pieces of string and shadow figures making things happen were not always invisible. It didn’t matter, because Bygones is more good fun than serious horror. The amazing thing is how often the troupe pulled off the magic.

Bygones continues at Scotiabank Dance Centre until Dec. 14.

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