Elegant Heathens

Elegant Heathens, Trial and Eros company (Montreal), choreography by Deborah Dunn

Wow — that was probably the best modern dance performance i’ve even seen. 

Dancers tend to have big egos, it occurrs to me, and the usual approach is for one or two to take the stage, command all eyes, and proceed to impress. Or not, depending. It’s a tall order, and few dancers have the chops and stage presence to pull it off alone. Even when they do, it’s necessarily a spare performance. 

This show was the opposite. Five dancers (three female, two male) went at it in every combination, onesies, twosies, three, four, five, in a spinning visual feast that never had a dull moment, not one. There was no star, no centrepiece, but there was concerted movement on stage, all over the stage, scene after scene that melted into one another for the whole hour — lush variety, poignancy, surprise, humour from wry to slapstick. I never thought my gosh, what next? I didn’t think at all; i just watched. Theatre at its best.

The costumes were a good part of the show’s character. Nothing outrageous, but just outre enough that they too were participants in the effect. And the lighting was stunning: a wash of light purple, almost ultraviolet, shooting forward from high in the back of the stage (i still don’t know what precise effect it had), a maze of tight spots from unusual angles, occasional striking washes of deep colour. The end scene, with the five dancer/actors in a line across a blacked-out stage, with five tight spots on their faces … it felt like good cuddling after sex. Great stuff.

The dancers were sharply on cue all through, as was the lighting-and-sound tech, and i said after the show that they must have done it a hundred times before, it was so tight. This morning i see on choregrapher Deborah Dunn’s Trial and Eros website that the show toured New York exactly a year ago, and many places in between since. 

Ahh, i’m a believer again. We went on spec for something to do and we came away feeling light and invigorated for the rest of the night — exactly what art at its best can do. 

Sadly, Elegant Heathens is only in Vic one more night (Jan. 11). Too bad — once word gets around they could pack the Metro Studio Theatre for a week.

There’s a short video of one of the show’s amusing scenes on this page of their website.