The stage is a circle measuring 32-feet in diametre. Lit only by a spotlight, a percussive tapping builds to a crescendo as dancers start to gyrate.
On the edge of the circle, a man moves his feet faster and faster to the swingin’ jazz score as strobe lights start to bounce shadows on the walls. “Tap, tap, tap, boom,” the sound explodes in what feels like 1,000 beats per minute.
One of the dancers calls “cut,” and the stage falls silent.
Known around the world for his contemporary dance productions, choreographer, performer and martial artist Shay Kuebler is a familiar figure to Vernon dance fans.
Locals who caught his show Karoshi (meaning death from overwork) in 2014 will remember the physically demanding performance, complete with taiko drummers and video backdrops.
Kuebler and his company of dancers from Radical System Art have made Vernon their second home as of late.
They are not only bringing their 2015 dance creation, Glory, to the Vernon Performing Arts Centre April 1, they were in Vernon two months ago to conduct a residency of Kuebler’s latest project, Telemetry, which features one of Canada’s brightest tap dance talents, Danny Neilson.
“I have had a really positive reception here,” said Kuebler when interviewed by The Morning Star in January. “It’s been fantastic to dedicate time to get this show ready at this venue… It’s one of the best residencies I have had. We have a good team and the communication with the theatre has been great.”
While Glory is currently making a spring tour around B.C., Kuebler hopes to bring Telemetry to Vernon in the near future.
The performance made its world premiere at Vancouver’s Chutzpah Festival in February. Heralded for its “balls-to-the-wall movement, a physical spectacle, [Kuebler] loves to build to insane crescendos as the music pulses faster…” (The Georgia Strait), Telemetry uses technology in a new way.
The dance is an automated communications process by which measurements and other data are collected at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for monitoring.
“(Neilson) wears two wireless micophones on his shoes and controls the lighting with an infra-red camera, which tracks where his body is moving,” said Kuebler. “We have micro cubes, little square LEDs around the tap floor, so when he taps fast, it’s like strobe lights.”
While Telemetry explores more technical elements in an abstract way, Glory, like Kiroshi before it, explores a more socio-political topic. It examines the complexities of violent behaviour and its glorification in our media-drenched culture.
It also incorporates Kuebler’s martial arts experience. He has studied Shito-ryu and genbu-kai, both forms of karate, as well as Brazilian capoeira and aikido, a form of boxing.
“I like to give a reasoning to a piece first and then pull the abstract out of it,” said Kuebler. “I grew up with action films, Van Damme and Chuck Norris and with a form of controlled violence, primarly defence. There’s a sanctity in the violence I grew up with. I learned that it should not be played with.”
The performance includes a company of six dancers who create that physical essay around numerous themes of glorification.
Today’s culture has been desensitized to the level of violence that is parlayed through the media, especially through video games and movies, where ratings on violence are normally lessened to PG or PG-14, rather than R-rated, said Kuebler.
“Glory speaks about it more indirectly. It’s not a PSA. It’s a commentary of the glorfication and the way we normalize violence, that sense of shock,” he said. “It looks at how violence is socialized. It’s a blown-out product that we all consume. It has become the normal.”
The Vernon Performing Arts Centre presents Glory Saturday, April 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30/adult, $27/senior, and $25/student at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca