Review: Shay Kuebler’s Telemetry fails to connect

Shay Kuebler's Telemetry is at the NAC until Saturday. Photo: David Cooper

In Telemetry, Shay Kuebler’s recent full-length work, bodies become mere conduits for external forces of rhythm, sound, and movement — like living fibre optic cables with no will of their own. It’s an interesting concept, but one that ultimately felt underdeveloped, detached, and unevenly executed.

The piece opens with a lone dancer — the magnetic contemporary tapper Danny Nielsen — clickety-clacking his Morse code along a semi-circular wooden path set up along the perimeter of a central bare, white area. As Nielsen taps to a groovy electronic beat, lights flicker and stutter, eventually turning into a violently strobing call and response (as someone whose migraines can be triggered by strobe lighting, I’ll be very glad when this particular design fad passes out of fashion.)

Eventually Kuebler and five dancers from his Radical System Art company are summoned by Nielsen’s footwork. They start reacting in the same way the lights did: rolling, jerking and swaying in time to his taps, pulled this way and that likes a human tide as he moves around the outside of the stage.

It doesn’t take long, however, for the choreography to become repetitive. There is never any true interaction between Nielsen and the other dancers; they remain siloed and isolated not only spatially, but stylistically. Nielsen may be a tap virtuoso but he’s a capable generalist and a wonderfully instinctive dancer, and I would have liked to see Kuebler sometimes use him as a more organic part of the ensemble.

I also thought the five other dancers did not always match Kuebler and Nielsen’s slick execution and passionate physical commitment. The program notes said Telemetry references martial arts and swing, but I saw a lot of rough edges, bobbled balances, unintentional collisions, and half-hearted B-boy tricks. Maybe it was the physical drain of touring, but the overall quality of the movement — the spit and polish — just wasn’t there from the ensemble members.

While Kuebler attempts to explore ideas like manipulation and control in Telemetry, his digging remains superficial, never delving far enough. I left the hour-long performance feeling like I’d just been subjected to a lot of white noise.

Telemetry is on again Friday and Saturday nights at the NAC’s Azrieli Studio.

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Natasha Gauthier has been covering classical music in Canada and the US for more than 20 years. She was the classical critic at the Ottawa Citizen, and was one of the founding critics of Montreal's HOUR Magazine. She has served on the classical music and dance juries for the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. You can also read her at her blog, Natasha has a BA in Journalism from Concordia University.