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Taking a Road Trip with Susie Burpee and Linnea Swan

By Apartment613 on November 2, 2012

post by Melanie Brown

Who would you take on a road trip? With most journeys, the destination isn’t as important as how you get there, and the person you take can make the all the difference.  In their recent collaboration, Susie Burpee and Linnea Swan use the road trip as a metaphor to explore the wonderfully turbulent journey of friendship and what it means to experience this with someone along the way.

Burpee and Swan have been dancing together for a while. Both trained at the School of Contemporary Dancers in Winnipeg, where they met. Some may have seen Burpee perform as a company dancer for Le Group Dance Lab in Ottawa. Originally from Winnipeg, Burpee travelled around to continue her dance training. Born and raised in Saskatoon, Swan graduated from Main Dance Place in Vancouver, and like Burpee, studied in various places before ending up in Toronto, where they now both reside.

Road Trip marks the third piece Burpee has created in collaboration with other choreographers to explore the complexity of relationships. The first two were Mischance and Fair Fortune and the beautifully moving Fidelity’s Edge. Co-choreographed with Dan Wild, these pieces consider love, intimacy and the marks they can sometimes leave behind.

A tense tone is set right from the opening scene in Road Trip. The music and lighting are purposefully minimal and Burpee and Swan are dressed in chic, black dresses. This simplicity ensures that our focus remains on the dancers’ movement and interactions. With little to distract the audience or to help tell a story, it is left to Burpee and Swan to deliver the narrative. They do so by separating the piece into two distinct parts. The first uses choreography to abstractly explore the theme of friendship while the second uses spoken dialogue as the main component.

Throughout the piece they embrace a sense of theatricality in their choreography.  Both dancers studied Bouffon—a theatre technique that mocks and makes light by amplifying and exaggerating characteristics and conventions, and which ultimately engages the audience to react, laugh and contemplate. This works extremely well in Road Trip. The dialogue exchange in the second part is undeniably funny, but the subtext is unsettling. There is an imbalance and competitiveness presented between the two dancers. When watching some of their exchanges, you get the feeling you are witness to something you shouldn’t be. Slowly, we learn that Road Trip is not a tale of two friends out on a care-free adventure, but rather about how we need, influence and inadvertently (sometimes negatively) affect those we love.

The work is choreographed with a sense of cause and effect. Consistently, the dancers use the entire stage but are pulled back together to repeatedly make physical contact through surprise touches, comedic slaps, or mean-spirited actions. Whatever the gesture, one’s action has an effect on the other.  Their movements are articulated with exactness, and it is in this exactness that the mood of the moment is expressed to the audience. A back for forth in their spoken and physical dialogue, for example, is given meaning when the dancers grasp each other’s head in a moment of frustration. The intensity in their movement is arresting.

It is the moments before they make contact that captures the truth about relationships with aching accuracy. At one point, the two dancers take quick, wild and ultimately unsuccessful swings at each other. They begin to slow down their movements and become more exact in their attempts. Standing uncomfortably close, one reaches out for the other’s face while simultaneously leaning back so as not to be touched. The way we maneuver around and try to make contact with each other is never straight forward. It’s awkward and difficult and sometimes misses the mark. In this case, it ends with a slap, and Burpee falls into Swan’s arms. Lucky.

This is the success of Road Trip—through movement, it makes tangible the intangible emotions experienced. The beauty in this piece doesn’t always come from aesthetically graceful movement but in the emotion and feeling those gestures so perfectly portray.

Road Trip continues tonight at tomorrow in Studio B, Arts Court.

Presented by Ottawa Dance Directive, Series Dance 10.

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