Ravages, by Quebec City choreographer Alan Lake and his quartet of dancers, is the first production to start off the new season of Danse Danse at Place des Arts, and it’s a fitting title for the extensive exploration that it brings to the stage. Contemporary dance always promises to be challenging in some ways, and I’m glad to see that Ravages continues in this tradition of prodding the audience to think like crazy.
Ravages plays with themes such as the “body as landscape,” and the effect is mostly cerebral. But Lake’s use of film images, with the dancers caught in a real forest setting, smeared in black paint and covered in leaves and mud, goes right to the subconscious and connects the natural world and humanity within it. The merging of live dancers and their alter-egos on screen work well together expressing a variety of poses, but when it’s just the quartet alone, backed by lighting and industrial structures, that’s when Ravages takes on more layers of abstract meaning. A deeper progression from birth-growth-joy-sex-excess-war-death-annihilation gets hinted at.
The stylised presentation keeps you at a distance, mulling things over, but still intrigued, and then it descends into the stuff of nightmares: Quick little shifts of boy-on-boy-on-girl-on-girl fighting, loving, sexing, and whipping large dust-covered balls at each other. It’s a strange, noisy fury (or ecstasy) that celebrates human nature and all its struggles. There are no spoken words, but the dancers often have their mouths stretched wide open, stifled, making me think of the Munch painting, The Scream. Ultimately, Lake might be suggesting that a little insanity is par for the course as the dancers’ embrace and push each other away violently.
Just as the dancers have “taken their last breath” and are sprawled out as the lights dim, the film screening in the background reveals a woman running frantically, with her back to the camera, and it’s unclear whether she’s running towards something or running away from it. As she fades from view, another woman is shown near a lake, holding a smoking flare, almost like a sign of defiance, with one arm extended in the air. It’s a wash of messages, delivered in a way that dance and movement alone might not have been able to capture. Ravages opens your mind with its multi-disciplinary approach and leaves a strong impression, most notably in your dreams. Believe me.
Ravages is at Place des Arts, 175 Rue Ste-Catherine Ouest, April 14-18.