Brit­tle bones


BAcK­BoNE chore­og­ra­phy by Jera Wolfe, Thomas Fonua, San­dra Laronde and Ageer (Red Sky Per­for­mance/Canadian Stage). At Berke­ley Street The­atre (26 Berke­ley). Runs to Novem­ber 12. $39-$69. 416-3683110, cana­di­ See Dance list­ings, this page. Rat­ing: NNN

For a work in­spired by the ge­o­log­i­cal back­bone of the Amer­i­cas (the moun­tain ranges that run from the Canadian Rock­ies down to the Peru­vian An­des), Red Sky Per­for­mance’s Back­bone is cu­ri­ously miss­ing a spine.

The dance ex­plores ideas of our con­nec­tion to the land and each other, a shared sen­tience and in­ter­de­pen­dent cir­cuitry that is in­her­ent to many Indige­nous cul­tures.

The dra­matic open­ing scenes set up great ex­pec­ta­tions: the nine-per­son en­sem­ble sticks close to the floor, breath­ing in time to a per­sis­tent drum­beat, arch­ing backs and ar­tic­u­lat­ing rib cages in tight uni­son.

Oc­ca­sion­ally they whip their arms across tor­sos to loudly strike their shoul­der blades. Here the uni­fied move­ment is thrilling. But the ef­fect di­min­ishes as scene af­ter scene rushes by with­out de­vel­op­ing a dis­cernible through­line.

This frag­men­ta­tion may be a func­tion of mixed chore­o­graphic in­puts that have not been edited or as­sem­bled with an eye to co­her­ence. In­di­vid­u­ally, there are many ex­cit­ing dance mo­ments to savour.

I loved the slow mov­ing and sen­sual duet for con­tor­tion­ist Sa­man­tha Halas and Jera Wolfe. With cir­cus-style solem­nity, Wolfe sup­ports and pushes Halas as she show­cases the range of the hu­man spine in a way that feels pri­mor­dial. The de­tails de­light – bal­anced on her pelvis with legs stretched to the max to graze her ears, Halas wig­gles her toes to demon­strate com­plete con­trol.

An ac­ro­batic sen­si­bil­ity per­vades Back­bone – in many sec­tions the part- ner­ing in­cludes com­pli­cated lifts, the dancers us­ing their knees and feet for lever­age and to ro­tate each other. Some­times we see glimpses of an­i­mal be­hav­iour, ac­tion frag­ments that re­call mam­moths or bears.

Though much of the move­ment feels aimed at the ground, some sec­tions uti­lize lofty jumps and bar­rel rolls. Ageer – who hails from Mon­go­lia – is es­pe­cially fe­ro­cious as he rails and leaps, star­ing down au­di­ence mem­bers in the in­ti­mate con­fines of the the­atre.

But near the end, the 50-minute work seems to run out of ideas and steam, and the en­sem­ble dances take on a showy, aer­o­bic feel. Com­poser Rick Sacks’s recorded sounds aug­mented with live per­cus­sion and Andy Moro’s flow­ing low-key back­drop pro­jec­tions both add some in­ter­est­ing di­men­sions.

But for all the on­stage dy­namism, Back­bone doesn’t ful­fill the prom­ise of the premise. KATH­LEEN SMITH

Back­bone’s uni­fied move­ment is of­ten thrilling.

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