One of the most exciting aspects of small dance performances for me is the opportunity to be physically close to the performers. I’m pulled further into the experience and it allows me a tiny insight into what the dancers may feel, physically and emotionally, as they perform. In seeing Wen Wei Wang’s Dialogue I was offered a chance to briefly inhabit the six male worlds of each of these excellent dancers. I decided before the performance not to try to identify Wang’s meaning of each segment within Dialogue and instead to pay attention to the emotions the performances evoked in me. This was difficult. However, I was not disappointed by the result as Wang’s piece began with an anxiety-inducing, scratching, grating electronic sound running in the background, instantly creating a sense of discomfort. Emotion evoked, powerfully. Dialogue begins with six men moving their chairs to centre stage near one another, clearly feeling detached, suspicious and defensive. Their uneasiness is obvious. Slowly, they begin communicating through hand gestures and exchange. From here the performance often focuses on singular dancers with supportive dancers in each scene. A standout for me was the performance of Nicholas Lydiate, a versatile, physically hyper-strong dancer originally from England and raised in the Canadian Prairies. Lydiate’s entry into one scene wearing only his underwear, moving erratically almost as if battling the devastating effects of a neurological disorder was both frightening and confusing. At the same time it was fascinating as seeing the human body move in this way is not something we often experience. Later, we see Lydiate again with dancer Arash Khakpour in a scene depicting power and struggle between the two men. Khakpour repeatedly holds his open hand against Lydiate’s face, directing and moving him. Lydiate is weak and powerless, in one sense evoking the helplessness of addiction. Khakpour also shares a scene with dancer Ralph Escamillan in which Escamillan is both engaged with and repeatedly rejected by Khakpour, who retreats at will to his chair and pulls his black shirt over his face, rejecting Escamillan’s love. Later the group of dancers confront Khakpour, his face still covered, and force it off of him in a segment that might seem either aggressive or compassionate or both. This theme of coming together or pulling apart runs throughout Dialogue. This relationship is again shown in a segment with the athletically gifted dancer Tyler Layton-Olson at stage right, convulsively moving his prone body toward the audience while struggling to remove a shirt causing him extreme discomfort. Dancer Andrew Haydock then gently takes the discarded shirt and puts it on casually in what I saw as a gentle, kind moment of taking on the burdens of another.
What intrigued me most about Dialogue however was Wang’s ability to convey a sense of what it might be like to feel the emotions and physicality of a man versus my own as a woman. This was new to me as I find it is my tendency to minimize gender differences. Whether this was Wang’s intention is irrelevant as this is simply my own interpretation and experience. There are movements and segments conveying loneliness, rejection, male sexuality, madness and fear in Dialogue. Wang seems to portray an aggressive, frustrated, erratic energy through his dancers but also conveys moments of gentleness, humour and compassion. I saw Dialogue twice, first as an emotional experience and second to try to understand this experience. It is a joy to watch the dancers perform as their body awareness is very high and integrated into their being. For me, Wang’s Dialogue was a triumph because he showed me something new in inhabiting the masculine and his choreography was successful in portraying a wide variety of complex emotions.