Performance: Steph Cyr, Alison Denham, Kate Franklin, Bynh Ho, Vanessa Kwan
Lighting Design: James Proudfoot
Artistic Support: Susan Gibb, Josh Martin
Production: Susan Gibb, Ben Wilson
Thinking about “steady” by Benjamin Kamino
“I remember late nights, steady rockin’ the mic..” [Black Thought, “Act too (Love of My Life)”]
I think that to be both satirical and uplifting of a subject is quite difficult. Satire as an antagonistic gesture, I think, is quite easy; Alec Baldwin sports a wig and with pursed lips buffoons through a dialogue on stage in attacking (rightly so) the character of Donald Trump to the effective roar of laughter on the SNL stage. But to build a satire around a subject that bears no grievance of it, rather even the opposite; a glorification of said subject is something quite rare and special (precious even?). And this is what I saw on stage at the Western Front on Thursday June 24th from 7:15 – 8:30 pm (PST).
Maybe something about nostalgia clouds my vision. Before entering the theatre I hear Joyce Rosario ask Justine Chambers: “Is it hot in there?” pointing to the open windows covered by blackout screens. Justine admits that the room is hot, that there will be smoke, and I remove my coat in expectation of a discomforting hour of porting my COVID protections whilst I sweat into a small puddle.
I enter the room, and a dancer is already in action. Chambers has made a “stage”; colourful LED ERS’, white-light par cans, and a disco ball all point to the singularity of a solo dancer at “center-center”. The hazer is on and I note that the scenography is at once quite contemporary and quite “oldschool”. Contemporary in “colour” and “oldschool” in placement maybe? This theme to me is repeated clearly in the costume of performer Byhn Ho who sports a 70s style pointed colour (beige even?) suit with a multi-colour sequence emblem on their back only becoming visible once they begin turning about two and a half minutes into their dance.
While on the topic of costumes: I feel this piece would make such a glorious replacement to the current standard of what I know to be a fashion show. I know Justine Chambers as a friend, and I am very aware of their interest, effort, and fascination with “fashion”. I cannot help to think that this work, as much as it is a staging of bodies, is a staging of apparel (garments and jewellery). For example: only once before in my long career as a dancer has a costume designer given me a gold chain to wear (Claudia Fancello for a piece by Ame Henderson). And I remark how rare it feels to have this concern for apparel to be a crucial choreographic concept and not (as often costumes can become) an afterthought for staging a dance.
It becomes clear by the arrival of the third dancer that the work is a series of overlapping “solos”. Each solo will be a sequence of 4 or 5 songs. Each solo overlaps the next for the duration of a song. I suspect that the dancers themselves choose their playlist. This suspicion is underpinned when during Byhn Ho’s solo I am delighted to hear some Korean language. Byhn Ho is not of Korean decent but I know them personally (and I may be saying this wrong) to be committed to a study of non-white artwork and artists. Regardless of origin it is clear, through the music, that Chambers is busy with a certain effort or interrogation of “pop” aesthetics.
The dances being done are slowly moving forward, steady rockin’, and in this way seduce a certain and special form of spectation from my body. In reading Chambers’ description of her event “the rock is a whole and joyous dance that can tap into the parasympathetic nervous system” I am somewhat shocked to realize that yes, indeed this was the “feeling” I had. The music is so loud and heavy, the lights are so colourful, flashy, and club-like, the haze and heat is so disorienting, and yet there I sat pleasantly swaying alongside this calm motion of the dancer.
I remember in grade 8 my school hosted a Much Music Video Dance. This was a school dance in which music videos were projected on a screen whole while music blared. It was actually quite a great form for a dance at that awkward age in grade 8, wanting to dance together, wanting to touch, but not knowing how nor where to look. I remember vividly this moment when the music video for “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer came on and my crush (Meave Gallagher) was swaying with her friends gazing up at the screen as they all sang along to the song together. I, from across the room, watched her sing, welling up with feelings, and just swayed with her from afar. And, for me, too scared to walk up and ask her to dance, that was enough for me to feel connected to her.
In Steady, by Justine Chambers, in 2021 — while still living under protocols of separation in regards to health and safety — I was able to be again at the club, flirting with a stranger and hiding in a crowd. In this way I do not complain of the heat, in fact, the heat was crucial in melting away my sorrows accumulated in my body from this past year of isolation.
And of course, also, the work is hilarious. This “parasympathetic dance” contrasts with all expectations ever begotten by pop music or pop aesthetics as pop, traditionally speaking, is massively loud and brilliantly fast moving with stark drops and high rises of motion and feeling. This “very little” and “almost nothing” being presented through the performing bodies of Steady, satirises pop aesthetics, however without antagonizing the form. Steady bears no complaint but rather proposes a new “sexy”. A place, I must say, when the world does re-open, where I would much rather be.