Not every dance piece opens in darkness with the performers sprawled all over the stage, but sometimes it seems that way. Certainly Rubberband’s “Ever So Slightly,” which Global Arts Live presented at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre on Saturday, was no exception. When the curtain rose, only the two musicians, Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux, were visible on a raised metal platform stage left. Gradually, through a red haze, we could make out 10 dancers in coveralls lying supine, rocking, rolling, twisting, inverting, waking from (or into) nightmare, inevitably rising to their feet and just as inevitably falling back down. It was the predictable start to a predictable evening, though there were a few surprises along the way.
Rubberband was founded in Montreal in 2002 by Victor Quijada, a Los Angeles native who grew up breakdancing and went on to perform with Judson Dance Theater, Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld, and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. Global Arts Live brought the company to Boston in 2010 and again in 2015, when it performed “Empirical Quotient” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
“Ever So Slightly,” a Global Arts Live co-commission that debuted in Montreal in 2018 and had its US premiere at the Joyce Theater in New York City last September, is yet another “evening-length” brief encounter, running just 70 minutes with no intermission. When the lights come up, we can see that the dancers — five men, five women — are caged in a high-ceilinged industrial warehouse, or maybe a prison. Once everybody’s on their feet, the men start throwing the women around. Then, with lights (searchlights?) blinding the audience, violence erupts, the dancers turning on one another in a kind of prison riot as they’re assaulted by the music. After a moment of painfully literal finger-pointing accusations, we get an impressive string of high-energy breakdance solos; it’s an obvious choreographic development but welcome all the same.
Gradually the dancers strip to their underwear — yes, they’re revealing themselves, and what we see isn’t pretty as five of them have coveralls wrapped round their heads and are forced to kneel, with their captors standing behind them. The victims slump and fall and are dragged upstage. Blackout.
The second half of “Ever So Slightly” finds everybody in a kinder, gentler frame of mind at first, as they lift one another straight up, over and over. Straying sheep are brought back into the fold; eventually, however, the red lights come back on, fights start up, and one dancer is made the scapegoat. After his apparent death, all 10 dancers shroud their heads in the coveralls, but the scapegoat is still the outsider. It’s not till the other nine make him a coverall offering that a tenuous peace breaks out and the push-and-pull of the dancing becomes harmonious.
All this seems to be taking dictation from the score performed by Gahunia (bass, drum machine, keyboard, turntable) and Lamoureux (violin, guitar, keyboard). When the music is savage, the dancers are savage; when it’s companionable, the dancers follow suit; when an uplifting note is needed for the conclusion, a chorale materializes out of nowhere. There’s no discernible arc to the score or to the dramaturgy, and Quijada’s stretchy slow-motion choreography, with its transfers of weight, quickly grows tedious. His interest is in the collective, yet it’s those rare moments when his dancers become individuals that propel “Ever So Slightly” into life. Otherwise the piece feels like a sociopolitical sermon, and a generic one. The curtain falls on five dancers holding the other five aloft and spinning. Nothing we haven’t seen before.
“EVER SO SLIGHTLY”
Choreography by Victor Quijada. Music by Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux. Costumes by Cloé Alain-Gendreau. Lighting by Yan Lee Chan. Performed by Rubberband. Presented by Global Arts Live. At Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Saturday, Jan. 25.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.