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The Outliner: A Beginner’s Guide to Abstraction (Review)

by Monika Viktorova

Mascall Dance’s The Outliner, a performance comprising eight movements, transports us on an immersive, ethereal and, at times, incongruous journey. The dancers, sets, music and costume-prop hybrids combine to tell stories of metamorphosis, of change, of temporality, and of legacy. The first disclaimer for this review is that dance is evocative in a way that is incompletely captured by language. The second is that this is my first contemporary dance performance, and having no formal dance training, I viewed the performance with an outsider’s appreciation.

Beginning with a dance that tugged and pulled the gaze fluidly from place to place on stage, Robin Poitras welcomed the audience into the performance, laying the groundwork for the shift in style, music and performer. Poitras observed the audience and in turn invited us to observe herself, her movements, and the set, highlighting the difference in vantage points of the performer and viewer. Visuals projected on the screen behind her recalled springtime melts while soft blue light fell on the large white sails framing the stage space, a joint achievement by Candelario Andrade’s video footage and lighting director John Macfarlane’s moody work. Stefan Smulovitz’ composition submerged us in experimental synths and layered whispers, pacing the performance and alternately delivering moments of quiet intensity and cacophony.

The themes of metamorphosis and rebirth carried forward in Benjamin Kamino’s performance. Kamino expertly used a set of branches reminiscent of antlers to punctuate the music and dance with clacking and scratching as he struck the floor. A Lynchian moment of laughter closed his dance, propelling us forward into Eowynn Penny-Huguet’s experiment in temporal spelling. Attached to a hanging contraption that visually reminisces of a Kandinksy, she tugged, yanked, and flung wires with her movements, operating a pen striking parchment behind her. The culmination of jazz-tap-lyrical movement was the word “evidence” etched into the paper, leaving the only tangible proof of her performance.

In later movements, Robin Poitras and Ron Stewart both used imaginative exoskeletons to augment their dances. Poitras transformed into a floating cone, languidly gliding in a pool of light across the stage. Stewart ensconced himself in a ridge of spikes, his silhouette recalling a prehistoric creature, slowly trudging forward then back, charging and prancing, and fanning out like a Bird of Paradise. A powerful soprano cut through a particularly moving dance of exoskeletal deconstruction, perhaps the only musical choice whose incongruous introduction detracted from, rather than added, to the performance.

In all, The Outliner’s achievement lies in expertly punctuating choreography with the striking visuals of set and costuming, set against a powerful soundtrack. For me, the power of this contemporary dance performance was derived from its ability to introduce connections between disparate, abstract concepts, to link movement to light to sound in a surreal effluence. As a novice to the form, I oriented myself the way I do when taking in stationary abstract art: letting the piece connect with you and observing your lines of connection to it without judgement. I recommend the experience to newcomers and veterans of the dance world alike.

The Outliner shows again tonight at the Timm’s Center for The Arts at 8 pm.

Banner photography courtesy of Michael Slobodian.

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