THE FOUR HORSEMEN PROJECT conceived/ directed by Kate Alton and Ross Manson, with Jennifer Dahl, Graham McKelvie, Naoko Murakoshi and Andrea Nann. Presented by Volcano in association with Factory, Crooked Figure Dances and Global Mechanic at Factory (125 Bathurst). In previews, opens Wednesday (February 21) and runs to March 4, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. Pwyc-$35.50. 416-504-9971. Rating: NNNNN
Can you dance a poem? Sure can, if you tap into the work of The Four Horsemen, a quartet of 70s Canadian sound poets (Rafael Barreto-Rivera, Paul Dutton, Steve McCaffery and bp Nichol), who enlivened the staid world of verse.
For the past six years, director Ross Manson, choreographer Kate Alton and a set of dancers have been saddling the inventive work of the Horsemen, bringing it life through movement, voice and animation.
"Over time, it's become an in-and-out, multitasking extravaganza," says performer Jennifer Dahl, who's been with the project since its start. "We began back in 2001 with a six-minute piece called Allegro 108, trying to do everything with voice, singing and movement.
"Now there are characters and an arc for the four of them that includes solos, duets and group work. It's easier in some ways," she gives an engaging laugh, "but there's more on our plates, too."
An independent dancer/choreographer who's also performed in Obsidian's The Adventures Of A Black Girl In Search Of God, Dahl verbally and physically inhabits several works by McCaffery.
"I've watched and listened to tapes of what he does with his voice, making it low and resonant. The pieces have a sort of absurd quality, and in performing he's loose with his face and lips and jiggles around a lot."
But like the other three dancers, she's also created a persona of the period.
"She's called Shan'qua, an amalgamation of Pam Grier, Tina Turner and a few other black women - a tough, funky broad who likes to get down and is pretty positive about life. She's aggressive, but not a Black Panther."
Dahl sees the mind-blowing animation by Vancouver's Global Mechanic that shares the stage with the dancers as "a fifth diva," a component that adds tremendously to the production.
"The Four Horsemen sometimes printed their text playfully on the page, and animation director Bruce Alcock's taken that idea and run with it. I think the visuals help the audience interact with the performers and the space in a lighthearted, fun way."