Story, story, die, a new dance work from winter guests, presented by Harbourfront Centre, is entirely relatable yet simultaneously confounding. The world the piece builds is both real and conceptual, pulling from common experiences and warping them into peculiar configurations. It takes us from a lip-sync of Mr Roger’s “I Like You As You Are” to a man in a bear suit to live body painting.
Alan Lucien Øyen’s choreography is intricate and varied—full of minute, fluttering gestures and sweeping, balletic maneuvers. A wide variety of human dynamics and social interactions are explored here. We glimpse an array of common interactions from flirtation to adoration to mockery.
What seems like a support group session suddenly becomes an intimate performance art experience. After being surrounded in a distinctly threatening manner, one dancer is simply painted to look like a skeleton—fully exposed, metaphorically devoured?
As the piece progresses, this paint gradually rubs off on the other dancers, creating smudges that echo the marks that we leave on each other, sometimes after only the briefest encounters. The performance is very much concerned with such visceral markers.
It also relies quite heavily on text—conversations, exclamations, pleas and taunts. Some of this is removed from context and we must invent it for ourselves. These snippets of dialogue seem lifted from different stages of development—some interactions are very adult, whereas some seem pulled from the schoolyard.
The collaborative creation process drew from each performer’s experience. They frequently address each other by name. Though I’m not if sure this is intentional, one performer (Jacob) seems to figure most prominently. Of the seven (Olivia Ancona, Scott Jennings, Yi-Chin Lee, Waldean Nelson, Jacob Thoman, Tom Weinberger, and Cheng An Wu), he (Thoman) is the one we’re most invested in. His relationship to the audience is the most direct. Fixated on us during the pre-show warm-up, he tries to catch our eyes as individuals—open, generous and a little naive.
Or was I just obsessed with him? It’s hard to draw that line. And perhaps that is an essential aspect of this show’s immersive charm.
There is little in the way of props: a megaphone, a door, some chairs. It’s Torkel Skjerven’s lighting design that makes the various abstracted spaces feel intimate and tangible and expansive.
There was a brief period of about ten minutes, towards the final stretch, where the momentum of the performance—consistent throughout—stalled slightly, the energy and dynamic stuck in rut.
It is funny and frightening and sexy, but what, ultimately, is Story, story, die about? Is it snapshots from a life? A portrait of a mental breakdown? Though much of this is open to interpretive invention, our human yearning for acknowledgment and affection is a clear through-line.