The wave, in free-flow dance form: Water, a Fringe review

Water, Viva Dance Company. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Water (Westbury Theatre)

The creator and the destroyer, the enigmatic element that makes us who we are, floats our boats, and drowns our hopes…. Water is the inspiration (and title) of an imaginative, free-flow new contemporary dance production by Viva Dance Company.

Its prevailing metaphor is the wave, a veritable wellspring of invention for a director/choreographer/designer/playwright (Viva’s artistic director Stephanie Lilley) with an ensemble of dancers at her disposal. But in its series of dances, Water comes to us in splashes, too, in stormy lashings, whirlpools, ebbs and flows, from white-water tempests to tiny drops.

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Water is in perpetual motion in Lilley’s production. Dancers accumulate gradually onstage, gather force and speed in synchronized wave movement, then subside. Storms are generated in collisions of bodies. A solo exploration of depression as drowning, the feeling of being at the bottom of the sea or the proverbial ‘slough of despond’, weighted down and unable to move — “how can nothingness feel so big?” — happens under a fine-web net. Dancers break free, come up for air so to speak, and vigorous athletic bursts of movement happen.

The crash/subside cycle is reflected both in lighting, and in the way groups of dancers form, then re-form. The lyrical gives way to the acrobatic, with music from pop-rock ballads to more hard-driving choices. The image of a tableau of dancers to one side, with a soloist centerstage, then joined by others, is repeated.

There is nothing prosaic about the way Lilley sets her cast in motion to music. The spoken text, though, is less poetic than the movement text. Calling water a “basic necessity,” true as it is, feels a bit like someone wearing a suit and oxfords to a deep dive, an intrusion from a land-locked medium of communication. Ditto “Clean water is a right not a privilege.”

But once you get, er, splashed by the visual metaphor, there’s a kind of immersion to the experience. Water is free-associative fuel for the artists at work here. Surf’s up and they dive in.

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