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Sarah Williams at Studio 303

Posted by / December 16, 2006

sw.jpgLast night I went to my first contemporary dance performance in a very long time. A combination of pragmatism about contemporary art in general and a shyness around dancers that lingers on from my days as an antisocial arts undergrad at Concordia University (dancers have much funk. I did not.) has until now kept me away from most local dance events. Until last night, when I witnessed celebrated dancer Sarah Williams performing three pieces by George Stamos, Eddie Ladd and Nathalie Claude at Studio 303. I was especially attracted to the publicity still of Williams crouched on the floor like an alien rag-doll, frozen in some motion I did not recognize from my daily roster of "walk, sit, lie down, eat". I had to find out where Williams was going with this cocked foot, hands splayed out, her identity concealed by a shaggy mask, her wiry, almost androgynous body taut, tense, twisting.

Williams moved to Montreal in 1990 to join LaLaLa Human Steps, and this image promised the same synthesis of physical power and emotional clairvoyance that garnered that group international recognition in the 1980s and 1990s.

The still is from George Stamos' croque monsieur, described as a piece where "gender identities are constructed, deconstructed and displaced: Where do you fit and why?" It's a kind of dreamtime-evolution from childhood androgyny to sexual awakening(s) of sorts, a story about the roles we adopt as we become sexual creatures. Williams dances this evolution in such a way that we can recognize parts of ourselves, our own dim memories of sexual awakening, the foolish pursuits of idealized gender-roles, the denial and acceptance of whatever turns out to be our most comfortable - if not "truest" - nature.

What makes Sarah Williams such a touching performer, especially to my unsophisticated self (as far dance is concerned) is her ability to embody a feeling, to define complex, evolving emotion through movement in the same way that I might form the letters Y-M-C-A with my arms and legs. This is accomplished not only with a performer's compassion for the theme of the work but with immense physical strength: watching Williams' body move and contort was a visceral joy similar to the experience of watching Olympic athletes, but with the added dimension of deep emotional exploration and expression. I cried.

And then I laughed! The second piece of the evening, Patty.Tania.Paige., by Eddie Ladd, performed by Williams in collaboration with Jackie Gallant (also of LaLaLa Human Steps and more recently a member of Lesbians on Ecstasy), was a witty dance/narrative rendition of the famous Patty Hearst Stockholm Syndrome story, interpreted through a lens of sexual revolution, mediated histories, and celebrity sex addictions. If that sounds confusing, the performance will clarify, delivering the story with succinct, dry wit. Williams moves in expertly-timed strokes to Gallant's deadpan, bemused narration, shifting from a straight-up retelling of the infamous celebrity kidnapping to a kind of meta-view of Williams' own interpretation of a tawdry TV shockumentary on the same subject. It was like media studies on ecstasy.

The final piece of the night, Glossy Poupee says Can She by Nathalie Claude, was a strange, tacky, purgatory work, and ultimately a disappointment to me, though the audience seemed to enjoy the physicality of Williams' energetic body-work as a fashion victim/sex doll engaged in a mash-up of rape/revenge fantasies based on fashion magazine images. The piece was a bit of Post-Feminism 101: guess what? Those images of women in magazines are exploitative! But they can be subverted! Who's really in power? These are of course totally worthy inspirations for an interpretive dance piece, but the whole thing came across as "quetaine", so to speak.

As each piece was a collaboration between Williams and a different creator (Stamos, Ladd and Claude), the extravagant tone of the last piece really led me to wonder how the creative process evolves in contemporary dance. It seems to be a very organic process, one that I have only just begun to understand now that I have decided that I, too can "get" contemporary dance. I'll keep you posted. But go find out for yourself!

Sarah Williams at Studio 303.
December 15-16-17. 8:30 PM
Sold-Out: 20 tickets go on sale at 7:45 at the door.

372 Ste-Catherine O. 514-393-3771


1 Comment

J Mac / December 18, 2006 at 11:20 am
Nice review. The last time I saw someone do YMCA with their arms, I cried, so I can't imagine how I would respond to something like this.

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