One of the things that I love most about dance performance is its ability to tell more than just a story. Dance audiences instead watch for the skill and ingenuity of dancers, how they play with the music and space that surrounds them, and how a choreographer maintains the performance’s “big picture.” When this all comes together, a great dance performance can amount to a profound experience unlike anything else.
One such performance is concluding Crow’s Theatre’s 2022-23 season. Côté Danse’s X (DIX) continues the Québécois choreographer and National Ballet of Canada principal Guillaume Côté’s foray into interdisciplinary work and spaces. Connecting to themes from Homer’s Odyssey, this 60-minute piece premiered in 2021 at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur, responding to the renewed significance of journeys home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Anchored by a gifted ensemble of Toronto dance artists, Côté’s choreography creates an exciting, high-stakes world out of a sum of many well-curated parts. A remarkable musical score, alongside stark yet striking production elements, makes for a live performance that somehow feels cinematic. A beguiling night of dance, X (DIX) is what happens when a group of talented artists come together and let each other shine.
When I interviewed Côté about a previous production, it was clear to me clear that collaboration across a variety of artforms is central to his process. X (DIX) shows the value of this practice with choreography that gives dancers agency to play to their strengths in their solo work.
A five-dancer ensemble, clad in black costumes of nettings and shiny fabrics by designer Yso South, shines with unique artistry and unified technical excellence. Natasha Poon Woo demonstrates a quickfire succession of intricate steps that belies an intense level of technical rigour. Willem Sadler luxuriates in movement that trails past his many turns, while Martha Hart and Kelly Shaw both show a knack for intricate gesture work and dynamic partnering. Evan Webb wows with a solo that employs the character of a rock star, seemingly unstable, only to leap back with limber strength.
Côté’s partnering and group work also excels. Ballet is clearly the base technique of X (DIX), but it’s in the more daring contemporary moments that the choreography stands out and excites. X (DIX) is peppered with lightning-quick phrases where dancers hit gestures outside of ballet arm placement, while the partnering is dependent on weight-sharing. I’m particularly struck by Côté’s expertise in choreographing group partnering phrases; they flow with an ease that accommodates their many dancers.
But what is most appealing about Côté’s choreography is its musicality. He uses movement to animate the lush soundtrack, responding to experimental band Son Lux’s recordings. Perhaps best known for scoring Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All at Once, their work here stands as my favorite in a Toronto dance season already filled with innovative music. A lilting tenor states simple, enigmatic phrases, haunting this piece alongside strings and beats that sound as though the ground is falling out from beneath you.
Choreographically, X (DIX) showcases how narratives can serve as source material to produce a language built through movement, even if the source material may not end up being recognizable as such. The connections to the Odyssey feel ambiguous, but if anything, that ambiguity works in the piece’s favour. With clear intentionality in Simon Rossiter’s exemplary lighting design (employing bold spotlights that close and open with what goes on around them), I was given impressions of solitude and fleeing. The absence of specific texts and other storytelling devices meant I could place my own meaning onto the production.
X (DIX)’s greatness emerges from having done so many things well. Perhaps what I find so exciting about it is that in having done so, there was no need for a gimmick. Of course, innovating with interdisciplinarity advances the form. But so often in dance there seems to be a need to present something totally outside the box when something more simple would land better. Here, I got a lot out of watching great dancing to great music. Go and see it if that’s what you want, too.
X (DIX) closed on June 18. You can learn more about the production here.
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