Ottawa Citizen

Gutsy Pite proves again she’s the real deal

- BY NATASHA GAUTHIER

Some artists never quite live up to their hype. Take Aszure Barton. The Edmontonia­n has been surrounded by major buzz ever since Mikhail Barishniko­v made her an artistin-residence with his New York company. She’s a thrilling dancer, but her choreograp­hy always seems to fall short of impressive. Her newest piece, which was premiered last Saturday night by Ballets Jazz de Montréal at the Canada Dance Festival, is a gimmicky and episodic work that tries to translate the hodge-podge musical score — hoe-down to Handel — far too literally. Meanwhile, her 2007 opus

Les chambres de Jacques, which was also on the BJM program and which other critics have raved over, has always felt, to me, like a pale imitation of Carbone 14’s brilliant Le dortoir.

Crystal Pite, on the other hand, is the real deal — a complete original. Whether she’s creating for herself, for her Vancouverb­ased company Kidd Pivot, or for other artists like Louise Lecavalier, Pite pours her guts, her soul and her sometimes startling imaginatio­n into every movement. On Thursday night at the NAC, Pite and Kidd Pivot performed two new works and a revised older piece as part of the CDF.

The program opened with A picture of you falling, an utterly captivatin­g, heartbreak­ing duet for Kidd Pivot’s two star dancers, Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon. It employs Pite’s favourite device of engaging the audience through the use of the second person. Owen Belton’s score features a text written by Pite and read by a woman in a plum British accent; the voice pronounces, “this is a picture of your hand; this is your hand reaching back; this is the shape of your back as you reach.”

Sometimes the dancers illustrate the text concretely, as when Chu executes a perfect slow-motion fall — “knees, hip, elbow, hand, head”, then peels himself up in reverse to fall over and over again. Pite has crafted an astonishin­g solo for this pliant dancer: to the sound of crunching, grinding gears, Chu contorts his body into every conceivabl­e falling sequence, backwards, forwards, side to side, until he looks like one of those Road Runner cartoons where the coyote gets pulled through some infernal factory machinery. Plamondon is magical to watch; with her large head and tiny body, she conveys both steely strength and child-like vulnerabil­ity. She gets a gorgeous solo, too, before she and Chu come together, not tenderly, but ferociousl­y. But when the voice intones “this is how it ends,” and Plamondon turns on her heel and simply walks away, you feel like Pite has crystalliz­ed the bitter essence of a thousand failed relationsh­ips.

Decemberin­g is a piece that Pite has revisited several times since she first conceived it in 2001. In this version, the choreograp­her herself appears as a horned, feral creature, making a pile of timber by dragging dead branches across the stage. The opening section is almost pure pantomime; then Pite takes off her mask and executes an intricate, stuttering solo to the sound of sped-up voices speaking in tongues — another Belton collaborat­ion. It’s creepy and disturbing, as vivid as myth.

The final work, Fault, is a new, 23-minute solo for Anne Plamondon inspired by a Voltaire poem about the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The opening is almost cartoonish: sporting dinosaur spikes and glittery pink kneepads, Plamondon stomps around like Godzilla, destroying a village of miniature houses. Then things get completely surreal: the set gets even by “tricking” the dancer into pulling a rope that sends the whole decor crashing down on her head. Plamondon, led by a trio of mysterious black-clad figures, wanders in a daze, bewildered at the devastatio­n she has caused, as the dates and locations of history’s worst earthquake­s are sounded off. The overall effect is a little bipolar, but the question Pite poses is, as always, an interestin­g one: when disaster strikes, which is the stronger instinct: survival, or the need to ascribe blame?

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