Reviews

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Evi-Dance is now providing space for reviews of dance performances; the hope is that there will be ongoing insightful reviewing of dance and physical theatre shows. Watch this space!

 

Elvis & The Man In Black

Choreographers Laurence Lemieux / James Kudelka

The Citadel Ross Centre For Dance

Mimi Herrndorf Studio Theatre

May 2-5 & 9-12 2018

Reviewed by Ted Fox

This double bill features works by noted choreographers Laurence Lemieux and James Kudelka. Lemieux's Looking For Elvis is a challenging work loosely based on Elvis Presley recordings and songs. Kudelka's The Man In Black is a tightly choreographed intensely danced work to Johnny Cash recordings of six songs written by others.

Looking For Elvis 

Choreographer Laurence Lemieux

Dancers Erin Poole, Christianne Ullmark, Daniel McArthur, Michael Caldwell, Tyler Gledhill, Luke Garwood, Andrew McCormack

Opens with the dancers walking around what could be an auditorium or rehearsal space complete with moveable lights.

The dancers begin one by one walking into this space, seemingly assessing it, each other and us. Bright floor lights make their bodies indistinct. Each sits with the others in a line in front of these lights while one begins to explore a movement vocabulary.

All isolated in their own space engrossed in the process of rehearsing their movements. Each does similar moves of long elongated movements of hands, arms and legs. In slow motion. Freezing occasionally into animated cutouts like jigsaw puzzle figures. Then come together in a short segment all making these same moves in synch with each other.

Initially there is a hesitation in coming to interact with the others to create a piece. Awareness of eyes observing and assessing each other's moves. One scene has Christianne Ullmark smiling confidently doing her moves. One in group gives her a so so not bad facial reaction. Whereupon her face takes on a disgruntled look as she goes back into the watching group.

Interesting that she wears an eye-catching springlike green dress. The other woman in the piece, Erin Poole, is in black blending in and disappearing in the group.

How conscious are they of us observing them? Do they adjust according to what vibes come from us?

Throughout John Gzowski's sound design includes recordings of Elvis in conversation interspersed with snippets of his songs. Elvis talks about influences on his life, his relationship to his mother and other private thoughts. His need for privacy contrasts with the uncomfortable feelings he has of being a success,

A thought-provoking meditative work well-performed by the dancers.

 

The Man In Black

Choreography James Kudelka

Dancers: Erin Poole, Luke Garwood, Tyler Gledhill, Daniel McArthur

The Man In Black is totally different. A shorter piece in which the dancers, one woman and three men, perform six entire songs sung by Johnny Cash.

They are decked out in Western style clothing complete with cowboy boots.

Their movements are a high-adrenalin charged blend of country dance including square dance, step dancing and line.

There is a fierceness and desperation in their interpretation. They are always linked together in some way. Muscular arms pulling each other forward, back and around, shaped as if driven by a compelling force within in addition to the music without. Has the feel that they are bound together in loneliness and isolation.

Erin Poole is the only woman in it. This fact and the way she is repeatedly lifted and swung around create a mood of testoserone-driven violence.

The climax is electrifying in its intensity. They move in waves towards us. Both the music and their movements permeate our bodies so intense are they.

A really effective ending to a superbly danced work.

 

 

 

The Return of Ulysses

Opera Atelier Presentation

Featuring Kresimir Spicer as Ulysses and Mireille Lebel as Penelope

Music: Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis

Dancers: Atelier Ballet

Choreographer: Jeannette Lajeunesse Zing

Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street
April 17-18 2018

Reviewed by Ted Fox

The Opera Atelier production of The Return of Ulysses features dancers from the Atelier Ballet. They come from a variety of dance backgrounds, including contemporary dance and ballet. Many have been with the company for years, Jeremy Naismith since 1986.

The Return of Ulysses begins with a prologue in which Ulysses bemoans suffering mortals who are subjected to the whims of Time, Fortune and Love.

Penelope laments the non-return of Ulysses after five years in Troy. Frustrated suitors compete for her hand in marriage. They set up an entertainment in which they will present her with expensive gifts, each trying to outdo the other.

Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zing's choreography is based upon Late Renaissance and Early Baroque eras. In the suitors' entertainment, the dancers' movement consists of the male dancers leaping in awesome scissored leg extensions. All stamp their feet, clap and and use castanets and finger cymbals.

At another point the women become Naiads, displaying Ulysses' treasures. They form a frieze, moving together, backs to us in a wall, back and forth. Their billowing dresses twirl splashing out bright resplendent shimmering color including yellow, green blue and yellow.

Closes with a rousing celebratory dance over which Jupiter (Kevin Skelton) appears on a mechanical cloud sprinkling sparkling confetti vaudeville-like over all.

Throughout are hilarious innuendos. One refers to the suitors as "shafts of love tipped with gold".

Many parts verge on absurdity, including the irritating yet funny reaction to Ulysses when he does return. Face to face with his undisguised presence Penelope expresses doubts that it is really him.

Kresimir Spicer as Ulysses tonally conveys pathos in the beginning, gradually opening up in emotional outbursts of joy. Mezzo-Soprano Mereille Lebel as Penelope vocally embodies her anxiety and frustration re Ulysses non-arrival and having to thwart her suitors' constant advances.

Soprano Meghan Lindsay excels as Minerva, her red lips ovalled into roboust voaclizations. Even at one point effectively transforming into a shepherd boy

Tenors Michael Taylor and Kevin Skelton provide comic relief as two of the suitors. The third Bass-Baritone Douglas Williams creates tension by his aggressively macho and threatening violent approaches to Penelope.

Set Designer Gerard Gauci's painted sets are evocative, becoming scarely present when sharp lightning flashes and loud claps of thunder announce the gods, as per usual in operas, meddling in these humans' affairs.

All is heightened by the nuanced interpretation of Monteverdi's score by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra conducted by David Fallis.

Driector Marshall Pynkoski gives us a satisfying psychologically dramatic production fused with comic moments and tension.

Alone Together

Solos by Jane-Alison McKinney / Naishi Wang
The Citadel
Ross Centre For Dance
Mimi Herrndorf Studio Theatre, April 11-14 2018

Reviewed by Ted Fox

 

Taking Breath

Choreography & Performance Naishi Wang

In his program notes, Wang states that he is exploring breath as a form of communication.

His hands, palms facing his body, slide down his face and over his eyes; then, palms cupped together, he releases his breath into them like blowing away seeds or an insect.

His body becomes semaphoric, suggesting tai chi meditation and other movements impelled by varying modulations of breathing and vocalization. Some come from deep within, molding the body into a visual expression of the release of painful memories. Others become a preparation for his walking towards us, confronting us, staring, lips puckered into kisses accompanied by sucking sounds.

At two points he leaves the stage through a doorway. We hear off stage his breath creating rasping and gasping noises. As if he is in death throes. His hands clasp the door frame. Falls face down onto the stage. For me, even though his physical presence was not there I could see him.

Wang's body language is compelling and at times emotional. Too many repetitive movements for me became anticlimaxes, creating a disconnect from this expressionistic body language. A shorter running time would have created a tighter more fully involved experience. 

The lighting design at times hyper illuminates his body and pulsating breaths, or dims and accentuates his breath's voice.

There She Was

Choreography & Performance Jane-Alison McKinney

Jane-Alison's piece is divided into two segments. Her tall figure is suggestive of a statuesque goddess. She moves to sweeping music that seems to propel her forward, then works against her. A sense of breaking through a barrier. And at the end, liberation. Fragile. Human. 

In the second part she herself creates impediments to her movements by putting on a dress and a pair of black high heels. Turning her body image into a stereotyped fashion statement. Hobbled by this footwear she arduously pushes her body forward, legs twisted an distorted

At the end she talks to us about living in a crazy world. Yet convincing herself all is fine. "I mean we are, we're here. We have a roof over our heads." And goes on to say that life can be overwhelming and all of us need an escape--get dressed up, drink, smoke, read or become someone else. "What matters is that sometimes you have to put your blinders on. Forget everything else, and jump. And it can be really good--it can be fun."

McKinney reverses these sections so this last becomes a There She Is. The other what she could have been. As McKinney's recorded voice says just before first part begins: "We probably shouldn't end it like this."

An ironic, thoughtful and disturbing beautifully choreographed work.

Chasing the Path

Choreographed and directed in collaboration with the dancers by Hanna Kiel

Performed by Luke Garwood, Ryan Lee, David Norsworthy, Kelly Shaw

Lighting designed by Oz Weaver

Set design by Joe Pagnan

Composition by Greg Harrison

Human Body Expression

DanceWorks at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

March 15-17 2018

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

The rooms and houses in our dreams are, according to the gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls, expressions and projections of our own psyches. It is a trope of theatre to use interiors of houses—a famous Broadway version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman used a house in the shape of the main character’s head, open at the front—as representations of obsessive thoughts or imagination or memory, or a combination of all of these. Hanna Kiel’s living room set for Chasing the Path quickly seems familiar, dreamlike and imaginary.

The piece is framed dramatically by the dated living room with its curtained window; by three characters who pose from time to time as if in a painting; by rising music that sounds like small bells, a glockenspiel, or high notes on a piano; by costumes that could be worn by guests on their way to a wedding or a funeral; and by the disembodied voice of an older woman, invoking memories in poetic phrases. Her voice is warm but sad, caring but distant. She seems dismayed, and surprised, by something she laments, barely able to keep hold of fragments of whatever has happened: “the smell of a wet sweater,” “the lost event…”

The green door of the living room to one side opens and admits a fourth dancer/character, whose presence—ghostly? or remembered?—upsets the other three dancers’ calm demeanour and tips the show into ornately danced energy.

Soon the furniture has been turned on its sides and pushed back out of the way—another reference to past, old-time habits-- and the dancers have traded their more formal clothes for t-shirts and khakis. The show is permeated by a sad nostalgia. The theatrical elements are like bookends and contain and hold the piece, in a hermetic way emotionally and in terms of story: Chasing the Path feels like a closed system.

Throughout this piece, the dance is exquisite, magical and intricate. Each dancer, whether gesturing with isolations or moving full-bodied, arms and legs extended, whether in tender and sensitive duet, in combinations, or in solo, draws and holds space with power and just the right amount of energy. This control feels social, as if the work is exploring the emotions raging beneath the calm of a family gathering. It is hard to describe how precise yet fluid the movement is. There are recurring themes—quick alterations in pacing, swift synchronizations, hands held up in the air, fingers moving as if playing the piano, awkward stumbles, falling-walks that drift across the stage, and a constant attention to balance, in the sense that positions teeter and tend crookedly just off the upright.

The lighting shifts from gentle washes to square spotlight shapes that focus attention and change the perspective, to wide stripes of light that contain the dancers. Greg Harrison’s variegated and wide-ranging soundscape uses, among other instruments, bass, cello, piano, and the sound of children playing. The score is an ardent partner and supporter of the movement, shifting from hard guitar twang to tentative and delicate bell tings that linger around a duet between Ryan Lee (the guest/ghost) and Kelly Shaw, to mysterious melody for the elegant movement of Luke Garwood, to a rousing pounding percussive rock beat during a long and particularly challenging and beautiful solo by David Norsworthy.

As the show comes to a close, the older woman’s voice returns briefly, the furniture is righted, and Kelly Shaw performs a long, internally focused solo. It is as if balance has returned, and she can dance by herself now.

 

 

 

He Who Falls
Conceived, directed and staged by Yoann Bourgeois
Performers: Julien Cramillet, Dimitri Jourde (alternating with Jean-Baptiste André), Elise Legros, Jean-Yves Phuong, Francesca Ziviani, Marie Vaudin

March 1-4 2018, Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto

Reviewed by Ted Fox

Yoann Bourgeois, artistic director of Compagnie Yoann Bourgeiois, conceived and directed He Who Falls. He is an acrobat, actor, juggler and dancer.

He Who Falls is the English translation of the original French title Celui qui tombe which actually translates as The One Who Falls. It is not gender specific.

The set design consists of a mechanized platform/raft that represents our planet, our world, our society in which all are striving to survive whatever is thrown at them-- whether it be wars, nature or just being alive. All must stick together as a group. It's all for one and one for all. In the end they are left hanging and drop one by one.

As this production is from France It could be inspired by French painter Theodore Gericault and his famous work, Raft of the Medusa. This painting powerfully portrays the aftermath in 1816 of the wreck of a French frigate in which a raft had to be built for over 100 people to survive. This painting is displayed in the Louvre. The text on their website states that this "painting stands as a synthetic view of human life abandoned to its fate." For me this exactly sums up the content of this piece.

The performers are not choreographed but react to the centrifugal force of the mechanized platform. Their agility, physical strength, coordination and timing are awesome. They spin, move and interlock, while the set moves: swaying backwards, forwards and pushed around constantly by gravity changes. It spins like a planet in orbit or a raft snared in a whirlpool. Or lurching and tilting back and forth in a storm.

A woman runs and leaps over the others splayed on the surface as it constantly spins and tilts, never falling or missing a step. It looks so easy to do as she never flags for an instant.

Two figures wearing headlights appear in the dark beneath and dismantle the rotation device. The platform is now grounded yet still hanging from cables.The performers push the platform up and over. As it returns they wait, standing till the last second, and roll under it as it straightens. One waits too long and seems to be hit full force. Others jump and hang on the sides.

The lighting design highlights their facial expressions so we can easily read them. This unspoken facial dialogue includes, What do we do now? Are you dropping now or me? What is going on here? Oh, no, not again! There is humour here as there is in the whole piece.

It's also brightly luminous at times, turning what happens into a painting. They move up a 45 degree angle till their shadows move behind like truncated crabs. Many times the platform radiates a golden glow, its texture and surface glistening like an abstract painting. Occasionally one leaves the group and goes it alone, walking to the edge, his weight causing the platform to tilt down with him. The others adjust to the new gravity.

The music selection is a mix of classical, pop and seemingly improvised polyphonic operatic vocalization. This amid the sounds of the creaking floor and the whirring machine sounds are really effective, including an amusing use of Frank Sinatra crooning "I did it my way."

This show skillfully fuses contemporary dance with circus arts to create a highly entertaining and somewhat political production.