Pulse: Claire French and Julie Lebel

Dates and Venue 18– 19 September 2009 | The Dance Centre (677 Davie, Vancouver)

Reviewer Kim Alison Fraser

When done well, dance can elevate the spirit and send the soul soaring. When anticipating a great evening of dance from two strong women choreographers and their female soloists that ends up falling flat - it's painfully disappointing. Much of Pulse at The Dance Centre on Friday night felt like a dress rehearsal - as a walk-through, not full out.

Interdisciplinary, multimedia works usually sit in a really captivating pocket for this reviewer (once mesmerized by a video installation at MOMA of snow falling on a typewriter). Field Notes, choreographed by Julie Lebel and performed by Karine Gagné was inspired by nature walks and the visceral - almost spiritual - encounters we have with nature. Incorporating dance, music and video, this piece should have had the audience on the edge of its collective seat. In what was supposed to be a motionless, soundless, dramatic connection with the audience, it took 10 minutes for Gagné's first dance step, as she paced back and forth, looked at the audience and made hand gestures to invite us in to experience nature through video. The video was comprised of lovely montages of a solitary woman sitting in a field of tall grass, then on a sand bank that seemed almost consumed by an advancing high tide, and extreme close ups of water, pebbles and branches.

There were brief glimpses at greatness, where Gagné would showcase her sheer power and grace. But while she clearly had the training, feet, arms and power to make this piece soar, her performance had a vapid quality and there was no emotional connection with the audience.

The third and final piece in the evening was Inside Outside In, one of two pieces from choreographer Claire French. Intended as an exploration of the link between thinking and doing, this piece incorporated the sound of a very tactile and thoughtful process - the sound of someone writing or drawing with pencil on paper. We also hear a discussion - seemingly between the choreographer and her collaborators - about how to represent through dance the notions of being misunderstood, and confused. Ultimately the lackluster and often sloppy physical interpretation of this complex and riveting concept was lost in Laura Hick's performance. It was more a physical improvisation of what it feels like to be misunderstood, than a strong dance piece taking the audience on a journey into their own struggles with the gap between thinking and doing.

Outside Out, also from French, held the most promise. Heather Laura Gray was captivating in her spotlight as a representation of the great leading ladies in the golden age of Hollywood musicals. While white ladies sport socks are a bit of an anachronism, a costume to fit the era (perhaps tap shoes and tap pants) would have helped take this piece to another level. A more refined version of this piece with all the timing and lighting kinks worked out is sure to be sheer brilliance. Gray was the standout performer of the evening, her ability to connect with the audience showcased her talent as a dancer and actor.

© 2009 Kim Alison Fraser