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!

Citadel Dance Mix 18

Works by Allison Cummings, Tori Mehaffey and DA Hoskins

The Citadel, Toronto

November 21-24 & November 28-December 1, 2018

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio and Ted Fox

 

Allison Cummings’ new short work, As She Shall Obtain Such Command of Her Mass Vein Passageways, is, like its title, an intriguing and very abstract dance made from emotional, intellectual and exploratory ingredients. A solo for Kaitlin Standeven, performed with live music created by Valerie Calam, this is a focused, polished and difficult work: challenging in its physicality for the dancer, and challenging for the audience in its notional and philosophical intensity.

The musician is seated at the front, at the audience’s left; the stage is bare except for two sculptural objects. Toward the back, on the same side as the musician, there is a hanging “king” sculpture (crown, plus metal neck and ribs, with thick ribbons trailing below)—through which Standeven peers at us at the beginning of the piece—and on the other side of the stage, a kind of knobby, gangly sculpture that is like an imaginary metal plant with a glass heart at the top.

Standeven is incrediblly lithe and powerful in her ambulatory travels back and forth across the stage, zigzagging, bumping, rushing awkwardly—on her knees, or bent backwards, scrambling, pulled by her arms, in a harsh crouch—and she is constantly expressing a deep discomfort and pain, that is pushed through, dealt with, by her relentless progress. Every step is about balance—how is balance made, kept, what is it?—with complex ways of meaning. At the end, when she touches the metal plant sculpture, her arrival is felt. The soundscape is a strong and upholding companion to the movement; it works in sections that create another layer of shapes that define different segments of the work. The piece is an embodiment of how we move through difficulty, how we manage, using the imaginary; it is both earthy and transcendent.

Tori Mehaffey’s Avoidance is a refreshing and charming ensemble piece that works on many levels. Luke Garwood, Daniel Gomez, Connor Mitton and Kelly Shaw are dressed up in suits, with energy. Initially one sees the dancers all dressed in white, giving the feel of being in an asylum. The colour suggests innocence, their bodies a blank slate. Their movements are stiff and awkward. A lone chair is onstage, painted an angry or passionate intense colour of red. They move in and around it, curious and attracted by it, in awe, yet also disturbed by it and avoiding interaction. Each takes a turn trying to put the other on them. The chair's presence takes on a personality of its own. At times, they converge around the chair, that gathers and emits emotion under a confection of fluorescent lights, the largest part of which is unlit and looks like a neural network hung from the ceiling. There are moments of humour in duets, trios, and ensemble trips around the stage—especially in some odd lifts, funny gaits and interactions with the chair— and drama as the troupe approaches, avoids, hides behind and even seems to worship The Chair, that takes on a kind of iconic or cargo cult personality at the centre of the dance.

DA Hoskins’ Lady Baby, performed by Danielle Baskerville, Brodie Stevenson and Sebastien Provencher, is a moving, ardent, wild and intense revisioning of an earlier work based on a related theme—the love of certain moments in mainly American film, where actresses are like goddesses. We watch Garbo and other silver screen idols in their condensed and shaped beauty on the screen at the back of the stage, while the beautiful performers—Baskerville, Stevenson and Provencher—are mutable, fascinating and scintillating on stage. They discuss and are discussed as sissy boys. Lady Baby reaches deeply into the connection between men’s beauty and women’s beauty, and how the Masculine in our culture wounds and oppresses non-conformity and seeks to destroy that link.

The piece also explores two contemporary Canadian texts, one abstract, widely spaced and lovely by Jordan Tannahill, and one by Jill Battson, a dirge in angry spoken word that literally calls out and seeks to shame those who abuse other men for not exuding an Ideal of Masculinity that is socially sanctioned. There are strange resonances here and a limning of both ugly and gorgeous excess; many women in the audience may feel a similar twinge at the Ideal of Femininity reproduced again and again on screen, clearly adored by the male dancers; but this piece is not really about women. It is complicated, evokes emotion, and is sharp and brave.

Citadel Dance Mix 18 was one of the most innovative anthology shows we saw in 2018; kudos to curator Laurence Lemieux for providing space and support for such edgy, pushing-the-boundaries work here in Toronto.

 

Cut the Sky

MARRUGEKU | AUSTRALIA

Rachael Swain | Director

Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly | Choreographers

Eric Avery, Josh Mu (role performed by Joshua Thomson), Edwin Lee Mulligan, Dalisa Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Miranda Wheen | Co‑Creators, Performers

November 23-24 2018

Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox and Beverley Daurio

 

The dance company Marrugeku is located in the remote town of Broome in Western Australia. Their production of Cut the Sky recently showed in Toronto.

 

Cut the Sky opens with a cyclone on stage. Real footage of resultant devastation taken by drones is projected on a cloth scrim that fills the back stage wall. White and Indigenous people huddle on the stage floor, most wrapped in raggedy plastic, inhabiting a sort of dystopean landscape. The centre right of the stage is dominated by a massive pipe with a valve wheel; the pipe is coming from somewhere and going somewhere, containing what, we don't know.

 

The six inhabitants— played by performers with impressive backgrounds— wear tattered clothing and appear to be marginalized victims of climate change and corporate mining interests in Kimberley, Australia. They include a sex trade worker, miners and a white activist. The notes say nothing about who they are. So we have to work from the cues and clues on stage. They are ciphers who remain unfleshed out throughout. One is Edwin Lee Mullgan, a poet/ storyteller well known in Australia. He delivers traditional storytelling throughout.

 

For the duration of the show they are the lamenting voices of anguish and protest in a devastated world, trying to prevent further destruction.

 

This production consists of a series of monologues, songs, poetry, dance, video and storytelling, each section puncturing the previous mood. The show attempts to be very inclusive of different generations, countries, indigenous and Western European worldviews, including new and ancient stories, different genders, animals, the land, and science and Traditional Knowledge.
 

These disjointed segments lead to a confused vision suggestive of a nightmarish dream; we often feel that we are witness to an otherworldly cabaret. At one point, for instance, the performers move from being a herd of wild quadripeds running in circles, trying to escape the noise of a helicopter, to performing a spirited rendition of Buffalo Springfields's 1960s protest hit "For What Its Worth.” These jarring combinations reach for a larger connection, but the focus is frequently blurry.

 

The recurring theme is corporate raping of the land people need to live on, mining for mercury and other minerals, for profit above the good of living things. Milligan warns us of the Dunghabah Poison Woman, a mythical representation of spreading pollution and the dangers of disturbing the deep earth.

 

For a dance company, there is little dance. Miranda Wheen does a frenzied crazed dance. Her body, distorted by pain and anguish, speaks volumes. Two performers dance to a mesmerizing violinist.

 

The set is malleable, with only the massive pipe a constant in the scenes, while the footage of devastation on the screen continues unabated.

 

At times the feeling is surrealistic. In one scene, everyone seems to be hanging out in a bar or perhaps a house of ill repute. One has a gas mask on and coughs incessantly. Another wears a very realistic kangaroo mask. He weaves drunkenly across the stage. Thick and smokey toxic haze spews out, blanketing the stage, suggesting industrial toxic air.

 

A politician shown in real video footage tells indigenous people to live quietly on their allotted land and that they should allow the land to be mined and the water polluted. His voice and commands are infuriating and patronizing. They reinforce a story Milligan tells about the difference between white and indigenous relationships to the land and water.

 

Singer/song writer Ngaire sings songs written by her, by others, and two songs by Nick Cave. The lyrics of Cave’s The Weeping Song fit in well with the show's content:

 

Go son down to the water

And see the women weeping there

Then go up into the mountain,

The men they are weeping too

 

The show ends with real water falling through light onto the performers. They bask in this, celebrating perhaps the end of the long drought. It also comes across as a feel-good all-will-be-well ending offering some hope to the audience.

 

This production highlights and delineates the importance of attention to environmental issues, and offers different, healthier ways to approach these problems. What is happening in rural Australia is is happening worldwide and Cut the Sky urges everyone to act now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humans by Circa

Artistic Director: Yaron Lifschitz

A Civic Theatres Toronto presentation

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto

Friday, November 9, 2018

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio

 

During interviews when Evidance was a radio show airing on CIUT, many dancers talked about being in the moment and trusting/relying on the others for intricate movements that could maybe end in serious falls or other body injuries. In their show Humans, CIRCA tests their performers to their physical and mental limits. Any mistiming or slip could have serious consequences, which at times in some shows does happen.

 

In Humans, Yanon Lifshitz, CIRCA’s Aartistic Director, blurs the line between movement theatre, contemporary dance, circus and clown.

 

The show begins as we enter the brightly lit theatre. One by one the male and female performers do mundane tasks and then walk off-stage. They fold and swap their clothes, putting them on or undressing to reveal their costumes. In so doing they break down the barriers between their everyday and performing personas, as if they are like us, as they show us their regular selves. As the lights dim, all ten come onstage and slide, crash and spin across the floor, leaping over each other with acrobatic delight.

 

With awesome physicality and stamina they stack themselves atop each other. In some acts of extreme lift and balance, a body’s weight is sustained by one holding another up with only one hand. One woman stands with her back to a man and backflips up and over onto his shoulders. Another woman walks atop the lined up men’s heads casually, relaxed as if she does it every day. Another woman curls up and rolls over them. One woman is held aloft by two men, one on each side suspending her, creating a bridge between them.

 

Bodies interlock in all sorts of sculptural shapes, like living building blocks. The performers are sometimes all on stage, tumbling and rolling, sometimes in solo, sometimes in duet, and sometimes in different configurations. This gives the show another level of rhythm of presence and absence, almost like a street scene over the course of a few hours.

 

There is hand balancing throughout, with awesome demonstrations of core strength, upper body strength and flexibility. At one point all of the performers cooperate to pile people four high; at another, the strongman of the group balances five troupe members on his shoulders and neck. There are also daring dismounts from pyramids of performers, and a beautiful sense of flow in the piling up and using the entire width and depth of the stage.

 

 

In a hilarious scene of contagious effort, the performers try to kiss their own elbows, with varying degrees of near success. Again, there is a line drawn between the kind of extreme physical ability that they are demonstrating, and normal human limitation, with silliness and humour.

 

A man pulls and manipulates a woman, throwing her about like a rag doll; he hangs her upside down in front of him, faces with deadened expressions. A woman trapezist bends over and locks and unlocks her pretzel shaped body.

 

A woman comes out and, in a microsecond, falls from being upright to extreme splits on the floor, legs splayed out. She then does a variety of moves that must be quite painful arranging and re-arranging her legs, trying to get up, falling. We really feel her pain. She looks at us with disbelief at what her body is doing, and gauging audience reaction,

 

In one section, a woman literally jabs her hand into her partner's mouth, forcibly trying to shape it into a smile.

 

The music varies and is astutely selected, creating moods expressed in the segments. In many tunes the lyrics are very relevant.

 

The tempo varies. There are quiet scenes, some in slow motion, that evoke sadness and emptiness. There is a poetic feeling to these moments, many of them dimly lit.

 

The minimalist set design—an empty stage with only occasional dropped silks and trapeze—conveys loneliness and isolation, and creates powerful contrast with the performers’ human forms.

 

Humans is a highly entertaining and very gripping production rife with humour that conveys individuals reaching out in desperation to bond with each other rather than be alone. Creating building blocks in their effort to survive. The choreography has a mathematical, geometric feel to it.

 

 

Opera Atelier: Acteon & Pygmalion

Director: Marshall Pynkoski

Choreographer: Jeanette Lajeunesse Zingg

Dance Artists of Atelier Ballet

Elgin Theatre, Toronto
Oct. 25-Nov. 3, 2018

Reviewed by Ted Fox

Choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zngg celebrates 33 years as choreographer/dancer with Opera Atelier, a company founded by her and her partner in life, director Marshall Pynkoski. This latest production features a double bill of short operas, Charpentier's Acteon and Rameau's Pygmalion.

I have seen practically all of the shows staged by Opera Atelier. And Zngg consistently choreographed movements faithful to the originals, while evoking her personal variations. Her dancers come from a variety of backgrounds, including contemporary, modern and classical dance. Zngg always integrates them into colourful tapestries of fluid seamless movements. A joy to watch.

Charpentier's Acteon is a a pastoral work centred around Acteon and his hunter friends, setting out on what promises be the best hunt ever. It certainly turns out to be a memorable one.

Acteon spies Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, and her nymphs, bathing in a woodland pool. Diana is so enraged she turns him into a stag. His friends wonder where he is, only to discover that the stag they just arrowed to death was their friend-- now, horror of horror, dismembered by the dogs. Very appropriate for Hallowe'en.

This a relatively quiet and humorous piece before this sudden event. There is always, though, an undercurrent of dread.

The second half begins with a brief excerpt from Inception, a work in progress featuring co-creators dancer Tyler Gledhill as Eros and violinist Edwin Huizinga. A sort of prequel to Pygmalion, Inception is shown here as the world comes to life from nothingness. Composer/violinist Edwin Huizinga is joined by choreographer/dancer Tyler with red slatted wings sprouting from his shoulders. Gledhill dances in and out around the musician. A beautiful imagistic and haunting excerpt of a work that once completed will be Opera Atelier's first commissioned work. A perfect segue to Eros' creation of Pygmalion.

Tenor Colin Ainsworth's richly textured voice eloquently incarnates Pygmalion. He falls in love with the sculpture he has just created. He conjures up Venus to breathe life into it. Soprano Meghan Lindsay as the statue Galatee manages to stay frozen with not a quiver of movement for probably about ten minutes before she is brought to life. Really convincing as a statue.

This piece pulsates with life, taking on a colouful celebration featuring ten segments of superb dance throughout, seamlessly blending dance from different time periods, including 18th century and contemporary. Strikingly rich colour in the costumes with confetti falling vaudevillian style onto the perfomers.

In Acteon, set and costume designer Gerard Gauci employs subdued coloured backdrops with scrims and a trompe d'oeil effect, creating an illusion of reality particularly in the bathing nymphs scene. For Pygmalion he creates a phantasmagorical dream-like space, a chiaroscuro of light and shade. A Magritte-like look of a world suspended in clouds.

These two works make for a sparkling charming, visually rich and highly entertaining evening.

Battleground (Mille Batailles)

Choreographed by Louise Lecavalier

Performed by Louise Lecavalier & Robert Abubo (dance) and Antoine Berthiaume (live music)

Fou Glorieux in the Torque Contemporary Dance Series

Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

October 5-6, 2018

 

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

Louise Lecavalier is a force of nature. When she enters the stage she changes it; the energy of the space gathers force in her and radiates out as fascinating and elegant movement, that is at the same time deeply expressive and nearly impossible in its precision and focus.

Mille Batailles, French for a thousand battles or fights, is the original title of this Fou Glorieux production that was first mounted in 2016. At once avant-garde and accessible—the driving beat of Antoine Berhiaume’s score, performed live on stage to the left of the set, keeps the audience members’ hearts racing and bodies rivetted as the spectacle unfolds. Berthiaume plays guitar filtered and extended by various digital manipulations, including loops, sampling and synthesizer, so that he produces a deep range of sound and rhythm, from bell-like tones to percussive brushings, from moody funk to streaming hard rock.

The set is dominating and spare at the same time—a giant abstraction of a wall at the back is built of 4 x 8 foot sheets of plywood that form a two-storey backdrop; these shapes are echoed in the grey flooring that is broken by lighting into 4 x 8 foot shapes. Their rectangularity forms a constant field of straight-lined frames, hard and clear, against which Lecavalier’s body, in almost constant motion, forms human vulnerable shapes. The lighting continues and extends this shape respectfully—outlines, lines and rectangles, in white, grey and mild red appear and disappear as the sections and moods change.

Dressed in a technical zipped black hoodie and metallic carbon coloured soft wide bottom pants, Lecavalier begins by occupying the stage with action—shaking her hands in perfect isolation, quick head to profile and back, arms out in sudden perfectly straight lines, in triangles, while engaging in swift footwork delicate as embroidery, almost floating across the stage floor in lines and diagonals: fast, magical, exhilarating. The forms sometimes resemble animals, or birds; Lecavalier takes the shape of life.

A few stops are built into the piece; Lecavalier sits on a chair beside Berthiaume and drinks water, studying the stage.

During one such pause, Abubo is conjured onto the right side of the set. Bulkier, also dressed in a dark hoodie and trousers, he is ballast, balance, male contrast to Lecavalier’s powerful femininity, a become-material alter-ego, a partner, a competitor. He shadows her, lifts, dances the masculine; and they engage in various pas de deux full of flexible motoring, verticality and dream shapes—until the end, when she carries him, and they are, in a way, reunited off to the side of the stage, sitting, looking at us in amazement at what they have wrought, as the lights go down.

Were they two halves of the same person, pulled in different directions? The essence of male and female? Competitors? Partners? Though this is deeply physical dance, it is also philosophical and intellectual—its demands and challenges are beautiful and multiple. What are humans capable of; what extremes of discipline, control, elegance and joyful expression can be extracted from the human body—what is possible? The generous and exquisite choreographer and dancer Louise Lecavalier shows us.