This year's version of Kickstart is a microcosm of current trends permeating the Canadian dance scene. Six choreographers, all of Asian heritage, have each created new works, which collectively make for an enjoyable evening, rich in imagination.
Kickstart happens every other year as part of CanAsian Dance. Emerging choreographers are twinned with seasoned mentors, the latter being tasked to challenge their partners to push the boundaries of creation.
These new works produced by their charges range from humour to despair, from text to silence, from multimedia to simplicity, from abstract to concrete. None of the works even remotely resembles another in theme or execution. The only commonality is that each piece contains an original soundscape. Originality is the underlying subtext of this year's Kickstart.
The most traditional piece is Bageshree Vaze's quite lovely In My (Dis)Place. Vaze is both a Kathak dancer and a singer, and her work revolves around the intersection of rhythmic footwork and vocal counts. Mid-dance, Vaze puts on her ankle bells, replete with historical explanation. In essence, the piece places Kathak dance in a new context, with the barriers broken down between dancer and audience.
The fresh and exuberant category is represented by NINEEIGHT by Vancouver choreographer Natalie Tin Yin Gan, performed with gusto by Michelle Lui, Milton Lim and Alex Tam. The title refers to a style of absurdist comedy prolific in 1990s Hong Kong cinema.
Gan uses lightning fast projections to give a flash card history of Hong Kong. The dancers, meanwhile, are larking about, having fun as they make up physical games. There is a dark side, however, manifested in Remy Siu's cacophonous score. Implicit in the piece is Hong Kong's split personality, the free and easy former British colony now under mainland China control.
Emily Law's intriguing Translating Translations is a detached approach to hip hop and martial arts. The piece begins and ends with Law and partner Troy Feldman having a desultory conversation about movies. Two computers show an action flick with subtitles. The dance itself involves a twisting and entwining of bodies performed to beat box. Everything is very matter of fact. Action has been turned into the ordinary.
With the aid of two suitcases, Vancouver's Ziyian Kwan and partner James Gnam depict the demise of a romantic relationship in a slow awkward and the choreography is indeed awkward and off-balance. The dance itself manages to contain two separate points of view, even when the two are together. They both begin in coveralls, strip down to briefs, and end up together in an oversized coverall, only to part again. Nothing moves smoothly in this piece of disquietude.
It's good to see humour making a comeback in dance, thanks to Michael Caldwell's Itai, and Robert Abubo's d.b.k.
Caldwell's satiric piece is inspired by the temples and pagodas he visited in Japan and Vietnam. His dancers, Mami Hata and Yuichiro Inoue, are first seen carrying rolls of what looks like masking tape, which they build into temples and pagodas, and then they destroy during the dance. All the while they chatter in Japanese, in what seems like an apology for the destruction. Their servile manner and constant bowing are caricatures of Asian stereotypes.
Abubo is absolutely hilarious as he copes with electronic equipment in an attempt to create his own soundtrack. His premise is that he is going to perform "a karaoke version" of dancer Benjamin Kamino's nudity, desire, a piece he much admires. The title d.b.k. stands for Doing Ben Kamino. In the end, we don't see much of Kamino's choreography, but we've certainly had a good laugh during the set-up.