cypress, flotsam & jetsam choreography by yvonne ng and bill james with music by juliet palmer presented by princess productions and Palmer at Artword Theatre (75 Portland), December 5-8, Thursday to Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $17, stu/srs $12. 416-533-8577.
It's hard to miss yvonne ng in a dance show. Not only is she the one burning up the stage with her powerful technique and visceral emotion, but -- let's be honest here -- she's usually the shortest person around."I'm an inch shorter than Tammy Faye Bakker," she jokes. "I'm 4-foot-10, the shortest person in my family. Even my Singapore grandmother's over 5 feet. I'm the runt of the clan."
The Bakker reference, mascara streaks aside, isn't totally off the mark. There's something wildly evangelical about Ng's enthusiasm for dance.
Her face lights up when she discusses the subject. Her eyes narrow, her voice jumps an octave and she flips her black hair, which reaches almost to her knees. ("It's the only thing I can grow, so I want to grow it," she says.)
"I think if I were bigger I would still have this energy, this enthusiasm. It's in my personality. I move fast."
Having earned a solid rep dancing for independent choreographers like Bill James, Bill Coleman and Marie-Josée Chartier, Ng's recently taken to choreographing her own works, like last season's stunning solo, Garam Shift, and also to producing.
She wears both choreographer and producer hats in her latest show, Cypress, paired with Juliet Palmer's and Bill James's multidisciplinary piece, Flotsam & Jetsam, this weekend at Artword.
Cypress began two and a half years ago as a dance exercise. Ng giggles nervously when she tells me its genesis.
"I used to live in an apartment that had a patio, and every summer I would weed out the dandelions," she says. "By the end of every summer, they'd all come back. I thought it was amazing. No matter what you do, however you try to block things, nature will adapt. We humans have that same quality. You can't prevent something from growing."
We're in a dance studio where Ng's just seen a run-through of the 30-minute piece.
Set to Palmer's richly suggestive score for bass and bass clarinet, the work is an intense, intricate trio. The three similarly built dancers (Susan Lee, Justine Chambers and Susanne Chui) begin intertwined, like branches of a tree or Cerberus, that three-headed watchdog of hell. One by one, as the music wails or squeaks, they disconnect, try to find freedom and then get absorbed in some difficult but somehow inevitable reconfiguration.
The dancers' movements are extremely exposed. Ng's choreographed solos for each dancer, but often makes them dance while surrounded by the two others. One wrong move and the house of limbs could collapse.
"What interests me is how you find freedom in claustrophobia," she says. "How can the dancer allow herself to be expansive even though if she makes a wrong move she can step on the others and hurt them or herself?"
It's tempting to detect a metaphor here about the artist trying to adapt to life. And how has Ng adapted?
"I'm always in transition, always growing," laughs the woman who at age four, watching Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly films with her mom in Singapore, knew she wanted to become a performer.
"Even when you achieve something, if you're wise or mature enough you realize there's so much more to do. I'm constantly trying to figure things out."
Her family doesn't know how to describe what Ng does to their friends. "They tell people I'm a teacher," she says. "It's easier to grasp. Even here, people aren't really aware about the different layers in the arts. When you say you're in contemporary dance, most people think maybe you dance in The Lion King."
Obviously, others know and appreciate what she's doing. Earlier this year, she received the prestigious K.M. Hunter Award in dance for up-and-coming artists.
"I was terrified when I found out," she says. "Encouraged, honoured, thrilled, happy and surprised, but also just terrified. You don't do this for a prize. You're not an artist to accept a present.
"In dance, even when you create solos you're not in the process alone. A group comes together and makes a vision a reality. That vision evolves and isn't what any of you expect.
"I'm not here," she says looking around the studio, "because of me. Otherwise, I'd just be dancing by myself in my living room."email@example.com