Tucked inside the Royal Alberta Museum is a delightful little theatre, a 417-seat facility with a nice sized stage. Last night it was the venue for the Kathleen Hughes Dance Association presentation of Biota, a melange of new and established dance pieces that together captured many different shades and nuances of biodiversity.
I was there at the invitation of Kathleen, who is interested in sharing this sinuous, magical, organic show with other communities across Alberta. Within that context, I was imagining how something like this would work in a community like ours, wondering if it could find an audience.
Sitting on my own in the theatre last night, I had the sense that most of the people there were connected in some way or another to one or several dancers in Biota. I know the lady sitting in front of me was likely the mother or aunt of one of the lead dancers, as every time she appeared, out came the iPhone. It felt a little off-putting to me when her flash went off multiple times throughout the 60-minute presentation. It was equally distracting listening to the camera of the person who appeared to be the official photographer for the night.
Click, click......Click, click, click, he shot in rapid succession, each press of the shutter release button creating a discernible percussive mini-blast that was especially pronounced during the quiet parts of the songs. Click, click.....Click, click, click.
Those were my two complaints, both of which had nothing to do with what was happening on stage. Biota was really cool, as new and established dance creations were woven together - one, A Beautiful Woman Has Come-As Goddess Bast, was conceived 10 years ago - each adding texture, colour, and narrative to the complexity and beauty of life.
The performances, choreography and vision of Kathleen Hughes were amazing. I only figured out who she was at the very end, when she grabbed a microphone and said a few words of thanks, out of breath, physically exhausted, and emotionally elated at the incredible work of her ensemble.
The highlight of Biota, for me, was the sinuous performance of Tony Olivares as the mud/earth creature. His body moved at a snail's pace, set to the earth-rumbling sounds of Hunn-Huur-Tu, a music group from Tuva, a Russian Federation republic situated on the Mongolian border. Each piece of his sculpted form extended, pulsed, plunged, independent of one another yet connected by sinews of invisible muscles. His humanness cast aside, he inhabited a new form, one that was hauntingly beautiful to watch.
Apart from Kathleen and Tony, Biota featured a strong cast of dancers including Justin Hughes, Amanda Bealing, Mariel Day, Charlene Laplante, Samantha Marion and Kristen Tullis.
Congratulations and thanks, for a wonderful evening in the big city and a dance performance that was extraordinary.