Paige Culley in Pour. Photo courtesy of PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Daina Ashbee & Alejandro Jimenez.
By Brittany Tiplady
It’s always a delight to see a local culture event packed on a rainy weekday evening when many would prefer to avoid this painfully soggy weather cozied up at home. The Dance Center was bustling on Thursday night for the opening, sold-out performance of Pour – a 60 minute contemporary piece choreographed by the acclaimed Daina Ashbee and interpreted by Paige Culley.
Admittedly, even as a former dancer and lover of theatre, I’m always skeptical of shows that only feature one performer. Maybe I’ve watched one too many laugh-track ladened sitcoms mocking indie performance art. However, I was intrigued by the synopsis of Pour: a deeply evocative solo that delves into the power and vulnerability of women, touching on femininity and launching through symbolism of menstruation, control, and suffering.
The lights go out, and the energy in the audience is instantly palpable: anticipatory and warm. The guy in front of me takes off his sweater, loosens his collar. It’s nearly pitch black but there’s a sense a dancer is onstage. The music is a steady, piercing, droning track. The audience stirs as the gentle crinkle of movement on the marley floor becomes increasingly audible; a ghostly silhouette begins to pace swiftly across the stage and through the lower audience. The piercing music becomes screeching, and, when it’s almost unbearable, the lights go on, revealing Culley topless centre stage.
As she undresses, Culley holds a gaze with the audience that is so powerful it’s borderline hypnotic. I am instantly in awe of her liberal craftsmanship, her vulnerability, her deep dive into raw storytelling using the one singular tool she has available to her: her naked body. However, as Culley writhes fully naked through a silky, goopy liquid on the powder blue stage, and as the music continues to drone lightly and the audience cocks their heads following her movement, I, unfortunately, become increasingly disenchanted.
I walked away from Pour feeling hungry. As I enter my own menstruation cycle, I was hoping for a deep and cathartic connection with the choreography. But for me, it lacked a necessary climax. I craved larger movement; leaps and turns and the moments of awe that contemporary dance can so powerfully evoke. It needed more. Ashbee’s attempts are noble: the subtleties of the set design, her use of imagery inspired by the seal hunt, the connection to her heritage, the replication of a throbbing uterus, blood, and pain, but the choreography, as jarring as it was, didn’t resonate with me. I wanted to leave Pour feeling a deeper connection to the female experience. I wanted movement that was less rudimentary and primitive and more technique-heavy.
Culley’s focus and strength is worthy of applause – I wish I had a sliver of her tenacity. I’m not disillusioned to the fact that my opinion may be unpopular, and I’m certainly not telling you to avoid this show. In fact, I encourage you to see it and chime in on the conversation. As as we all know, true art is open to individual perception that often knows no bounds.
Pour, presented by the 2018 PuSh Festival, takes The Scotiabank Dance Centre stage on Friday, Feb. 2nd and Saturday, Feb. 3rd at 8 pm. You can still grab your tickets for Saturday’s show here.
Brittany Tiplady is a part-time poet, a full-time Nasty Woman, and the co-founder of Loose Lips Magazine. She loves the indoors, fast wifi, collecting maps, and a generous glass of red wine. She is a self-proclaimed wizard of time management, and a notorious loud talker with a penchant for all things Internet.