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Vancouver Sun – Culture Seen – Kevin Griffin
July 15, 2011

Karen Jamieson: On a Collision Course at The Roundhouse

Karen Jamieson‘s Collision brought history alive at The Roundhouse Thursday night. Jamieson’s new creation is one of the most creative site-specific dance works I’ve ever seen.

Almost everything about Collision plays with conventional ideas of presenting dance. The surprises started before the first dancer appeared. The audience was kept in the main hallway of The Roundhouse in the area by the cafe and entrance to the gym. Collision started when the big doors that are usually closed were opened and we all walked into the first performance space: the open, public area beneath the overhead walkways and between the various offices and studios.

What followed was an tight hour of dance, performance and music that explored the idea of collision in all its various forms. The work looked at abstract ideas of the impact of hits and misses of dark matter and the collision of the past with the present to the more specific history of First Nations with Europeans and of Chinese immigrants to Canada who were instrumental in building the Canadian Pacific Railroad which linked B.C. to the rest of the country. Jamieson herself dances in a section that recalls her own personal experience of surviving with Jeff Corness a head-on collision with a truck on an ice-covered hill in northern B.C. in 1995.

Echoes of that history could be seen in the very building the performance was taking place in. At the western terminus of the CPR, The Roundhouse was the centre of a complex of buildings designed to service the steam locomotives that linked B.C. with the rest of the country. More recently, Vancouver’s citizen activists saved the building first from the wrecker’s ball and then from being turned into boutique shops.

In the first part of Collision, I found myself like the other audience members moving form spot to spot to get a better view of the performance. On the walkway above, I looked up to see Squamish Chief Ian Campbell speaking the original language spoken in this part of the world. Projected onto the concrete floor below was a welcome in English to Squamish territory as well as the word Senakw, the largely forgotten village on False Creek forcibly removed for the railway.

The audience flowed into different configurations in the unconventional performance area. We hugged the walls around one group of dancers on the floor and looked up to another bent over on the stairway. I kept making sure I didn’t bump into anyone behind me while still giving the dancers enough space to perform in front of me. With audience members moving as well as the dancers, the traditional clear line separating the two classes of people in a performance was blurred.

The preamble or first act of the performance ended when the big wooden doors to the main exhibition area were dramatically opened and all the dancers rushed into the open space. The opening dance sequenced reminded me of particles in orbit in the way they moved in circular patterns around each other. Dancers leaned inward as they circled each other in spirals that moved forward and backward.

Collision uses both professional and community dancers in a way that plays to both their strengths. Because the community dancers perform choreographed movement that isn’t as physically demanding as the professionals, the difference in skill level really never draws attention to itself. In one section, the non-professionals moved on the floor following the path of one of the train tracks left from the original building. Moving like a human train, they struck the metal rails with their own spikes and created a sharp haunting sound that recalled the mechanical sounds that once must have once echoed throughout the building. Later, they stood tightly packed side by side against one of the exposed red brick walls and moved in unison like they were a group working with a common purpose.

My only criticism is that the advance information for Collision makes no mention of the unconventional seating arrangement for the dance work. Some chairs are provided in the two performance areas for people who require seating. Otherwise, audience members are encouraged to sit on the floor and get as close to the dancers as possible without impeding their movement.

Collision features a haunting score with recorded and live music by John Korsrud, Corness and Kristen Roos.
Collision is part of the 23rd annual Dancing on the Edge Festival which is in its final weekend. Collision will be performed again tonight and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

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