“Hallucinogenic” dance piece lights up the Harbourfront Centre stage in Toronto from April 15-18.
Someone I know was born this past weekend, and I’m told that when she was pulled from her mother’s body, the lights in the operating room were all shining very, very brightly. That’s what the world is like: when it isn’t dark, it blazes terribly.
That’s also what the opening of Me So You So Me, a beautiful piece of dance theatre by Vancouver’s Out Innerspace company, is like. Though technically a 60-minute duet, the dynamic between the two dancers is interrupted from the outset by a lively third element—the light.
The fantastic Tiffany Tregarthen first appears on stage as a lamp, shining in the darkness—literally, her head is a floodlight. She gazes out at the audience inquisitively, hurting our eyes with her face. Then she looks down and discovers her hands.
This newborn moment—I’m here, I’m a body—is followed by more discoveries. First, she finds that there’s someone else in the room, a man in dark glasses and suspenders, danced by David Raymond. With a person to explore, what comes next is desire, and power, and grief, and vengeance, and love. And death, of course.
Tregarthen and Raymond, who’ve collaborated and performed together since 2004, share a deep understanding not only of each other, but of what makes a performance both meaningful and enjoyable.
The key is balancing opposites: pathos is impossible without humour, and innocence is nothing if it doesn’t lead to experience. The story of Me So You So Me takes each of these turns decisively, never lingering too long on a point before finding its counterpoint.
Tregarthen’s dancing in particular embodies contrast: she’s gangly and feline, jointed and rubbery, graceful and ardent. Raymond’s movements are more monochrome, though perhaps only in contrast to Tregarthen. Whereas her character morphs continually, his character relies on robotic force. He’s strong but stiff, and she can’t figure him out.
Together, they tell a tale of two people who fit together both perfectly and not at all. When it comes to being interesting on stage, a duet automatically has a head start, but this particular coupling feels uniquely absorbing because the two can’t seem to align. They’re each too distinct to disappear into one another.
It’s like they find the frame of a love story, and then they dance right through it into a hallucinogenic episode of spy-versus-spy. The atmosphere bleeds back and forth between alternate realities, but always with a mixed flavour of strange futures and fading memories.
It’s like a dream of a video game that you played when you were a kid, now filtered through adult anxieties. The brilliant score by experimental percussionist Asa Chang underlines this sense of digitized and disintegrating nostalgia.
The dancers employ a variety of techniques: they “freely mix martial arts, kathak, mime, and ballet,” which makes it sound like a bag of tricks that they like to shake. Thankfully, fusion isn’t the point. Tregarthen and Raymond simply have a lot of range, and they’re eloquent with what they’ve got.
This show wouldn’t be as successful without the excellent lighting design by James Proudfoot. The two dancers negotiate with the light almost as vividly as with each other: here, the spotlight monumentalizes them; here, it transfixes them. At one moment they’re caught by it, like moths, and the next it beckons distantly, like the light that shines at the end of the tunnel.
The light is what we identify with, as audience members. We’re complicit with the light, because it seems to give rise to the performance, and even possesses it for a time, but from the outside. Eventually, the dancers are united with each other, and when that happens, the light fades. When the searching is over, darkness returns.
- Me So You So Me is playing until April 18 at the Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre (235 Queen’s Quay West).
- Shows run Wednesday until Saturday at 8pm.
- Tickets are $25-$35 and can be purchased in-person at the box office or here.
Photo of Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond by Yvonne Chew.