Review: “Dog Rising” is a flood of energy and transforming pulses

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      Never mind the Arctic outflow that brought temperatures of -14 to Vancouver on Friday—a keen, bundled-up audience packed out the Roundhouse to see Dog Rising by Montréal-based choreographer Clara Furey.

      It was a wild ride from the quiet start—three dancers moving from the edges of the red-lit stage to find positions of rest on the marley dance floor—to a sensation-smashing assault of sound, light, and movement somewhere between urgency and transcendence.

      The shift begins when a watchful Be Heintzman Hope turns slowly to the audience, their expression both relaxed and focused, body held just so. As the other two dancers—Brian Mendez and Baco Lepage-Acosta—slowly fold themselves into impossible origami-like shapes upstage, Heintzman Hope suddenly thrusts their hips back and forth. The violence of this motion is unexpected yet it continues for minutes, sneakers squeaking above the synthesized score. The pulse slowly infects them all with repetitive motions that grab hold of the dancers and won’t let go for the next hour.

      Bouncing hips, chest-inflating pumps, flicking wrists, pulling one arm up from the floor like revving a motor—it is odd yet pleasing to witness all the ways human bodies can bend. Dissociated from the emotional expression normally associated with these moves (such as pumping a fist in the air or twerking), the gestures become curiously mechanical. But the performers are not automatons; within Furey’s study of cyclical motion, we see their styles and personalities shine through.

      Clad in candy colours that pop against the rusty brick of the back wall—a lively array of mesh, crop tops, shiny shorts, and stripes—the dancers transform impulses endlessly, moving around the stage like video game characters stuck in a loop. Here and there, they fall into unison for brief, shimmering moments that satisfy the eyes’ need for order. How much of this is choreographed? It’s hard to say, but some motifs are too good to be spur of the moment (like the cheeky, hip-swing-knee-breaks that keep coming back).

      Furey builds the tension to tautness, with the sound taking a backseat for the first half. When the electroacoustic score finally arrives with force (composed by the choreographer’s brother Tomas Furey) it is like a tidal wave harnessing all the potential energy generated by the dancers. Rhythmic but unpredictable—with enough loud crashes to make it threatening—the score gives the work a wild, delicious edge, causing this author to fight the urge to leap out of the audience and join in. If the dance is the body of the work, the sound is its lifeblood—a calculated pairing that reveals the years of collaboration between the Furey siblings, who are both classically trained in music.

      The dancers ride this sustained high to moments of individual expression—in one, Heintzman Hope jumps repeatedly, palms and eyes upturned to the sky as if pulling power from the beat. In another, Mendez throws one arm in the air, jumping as if to signal his location over the heads of the others. In a kind of early dénouement, where they all toe-heel themselves around the stage, Lepage-Acosta searches the faces of the audience with a confident smile. The performers’ physical effort is obvious, but in moments they seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

      At the end, when lights begin to flash and screeching sounds blast through the theatre, it’s like the dancers are caught in overload, trying to escape their skin. Is this a study of futility, necessity, never giving up, a release? Maybe all of it. But there’s something strangely cathartic about the excess of sound, light and movement—it’s hard to take, but I also don’t want it to stop. After that heart-pounding climax of Dog Rising, an enthusiastic audience brought the dancers back for two curtain calls.