Slow Death (By Marie Lambin-Gagnon at the AGO)

Installation is full of “joyous chaos” but invites thoughtful consideration

Slow Death is a visually stunning dance installation that took place at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) on March 4 & 6. The performance is a joyful movement (I would say romp, but romp implies fast movement which this piece was not) surrounded by shimmery, brightly colored fabrics and paper.

Slow Death, choreographed by Marie Lambin-Gagnon, is performed in two galleries featuring predominately religious artwork ranging from the medieval age to the 16th century. David Norsworthy performed a solo in one gallery, while Emily Law and Kathia Wittenborn performed as a duo in the gallery across the hall.

The performances were about 45 minutes long and were performed again, so the audience could experience both pieces. Some audience members kept flitting back and forth between both galleries, trying to decide which performance they wanted to commit to.

At this point I should say that I know next to nothing about contemporary dance (actually scratch out the ‘next to’). I can only speak as a laywoman and a civilian that I really enjoyed this installation! It was a feast for the eyes. It started off with the dancers being draped in all sorts of extravagant fabrics that were neon pink, shimmery gold, bright blues, orange tulle; some were feathered, and there were extravagant dried flower bouquets. I just want to give props to Mairi Greig for her outstanding costume designs.

Both pieces featured slow-paced movements through which the dancers freed themselves bit by bit from the layers of fabric that they were covered in.  They were constantly swimming in these colorful fabrics and the performances ended with them buried underneath them. If I could describe it in a phrase I would say it was joyous chaos.

The dancers were also beautifully framed against austere religious iconography, and sometimes seemed to be mirroring it in an exuberantly colored tableau.

I must admit that I’m no good at interpreting what contemporary dance means (and I’m sure it’s different for each of us) but in an interview Lambin-Gagnon said that it’s a celebration of transitions: you enjoy each moment while grieving the fact that you cannot hold on to it.

She connected the idea to the concept of Slow Art Day, which basically invites museum patrons to visit a piece of art and spend longer with it, just really seeing it. The slow movement of this piece was echoing the ethos of just spending a longer time observing something and allowing yourself to be affected by its uniqueness and poetry.

If this installation comes back, go see it!

Photo courtesy of Marie Lambin-Gagnon