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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!

The Return (Il Ritorno)

Creators Yaron Lifschitz and Quincy Grant and The Circa Ensemble

Composition/Musical Direction/Arrangements  Quincy Grant

Acrobats  Circa Ensemble

Spotlight Austalia Series

Canadian Stage 

Bluma Appel Theatre

May 3-7 2017 

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox

The Creator of The Return is Yaron Lifschitz. He was inspired by Monteverdi's baroque opera Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, about the sufferings of Ulysses and his return to his homeland after surviving the Trojan Wars, and also by Primo Levi's account of the horrors of Auschwitz.

Circa is a circus company that tackles a serious political issue with this show. It goes against the traditional view of a circus as focusing on exciting daredevil aerobic entertainment featuring exciting trapeze work, impressive animal acts and scarily funny clowns.

The action takes place in front of a metal wall that spreads across the stage. It is a barrier representing a refugee camp inhabited by those who had to flee their wartorn homelands. The metal wall also suggests the hellish cargo holds that got them there.

The acrobats play very realistic characters. There is a Waiting for Godot feel to the piece, in the sense of awaiting the unspeakable. Their eyes are wide open in fright and horror.

It's as if they are caught in post-traumatic memories playing over and over in their bodies. They scurry about like ants with their homes destroyed. Trying to get out. Climbing the slippery walls. Getting to the top but sliding down. To face us looking at them. Caught in the blazing lights of a car, like kangaroos about to be slaughtered

The physicality is extreme. The spontaneous bursts of energy. The flailing of hands and arms. Death-defying gravity movements that punctuate the piece like bullets. Bodies pile up like twisted and contorted corpses,

The males have a dominant feel with their weight and muscular builds. The women seem much less so. Yet one holds two men on her shoulders. Another stands solidly atop a pyramid of male bodies. One walks on the men's heads.

Body language is also evoked in dance vocabularies. When women are hurled across the stage and caught, they flip upwards and over the catcher, slide upside down, flip erect and run. All at very high speed. Its like watching Louise Lecavalier when she was in La La Human Steps.

Really effective is one woman who, hanging in a stirrup above the stage, does grotesque contortions ending up hanging like meat.

The music composed and arranged by Quincy Grant is performed live by four musicians and opera singers Kate Howden and Benedict Nelson. It is a blend of Grant's own compositions, Monteverdi and folk song.They are placed on the right side of the stage. We are always aware of their presence. It gives the impression of two different classes side by side. The well-heeled and those who are not. Occasionally the musicians watch what is happening but stay distanced from them and their situation.

Featuring compelling circus and dance body language, The Return effectively addresses the traumatic suffering of those displaced from their homelands. And illustrates how circus can be thought-provoking while entertaining. 

****

Meeting

Choreography, Direction, Performance: Antony Hamilton

Instrument Design & Construction, Composition, Performance: Alisdair Macindoe

Spotlight Australia

Canadian Stage

Bluma Appel Theatre

April 26-30 2017 

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox

Choreographer/Dancer Antony Hamilton performs Meeting with non-dancer Alisdair Macindoe.

They explore the robotization of their body language via internalizing the percussion instrumentation of 62 robotic pencils attached to levers on wooden blocks programmed to act as hammers tapping the floor. Macindoe designed and constructed these bots and programmed their compositions.

They commence by standing and making various gestures with their hands and arms that progressively become faster and more complicated. They isolate the muscles in their arms, neck and torso and tighten and release them.. These movements occur during the gaps of each beat. Their faces are devoid of expression. There is though a feeling of intense concentration emanating from them.

Hamilton states in the creators' notes that they employ "a complex counting sequence as a score for phrasing." They reach a point where they count numbers aloud, resembling somewhat sound poets in performance.

The mood changes when each of them spreads their legs and lift them one at a time in sync over the bots. Released from the circle they take on b-boy movements in slow motion that are human and fluid.

They then slowly replace the instruments into little groups. Placing a metal disk under them including an old pipe for one of them. The groups reflect a human orchestra where the musicians are seated according to their instruments.

After they leave we are treated to a five minute recital. The reconfiguration gives a totally different textured soundscape.

A thought-provoking, intensely performed illustration of human bodies reprogrammed by technology. Even an orchestra is replaced by robots.

 

 

Baseline/Multiform

Baseline/Multiform

Heidi Strauss (adelheid) and Amanda Acorn

Baseline: choreographed and performed by Heidi Strauss

Sound and projection design by Jeremy Mimnagh

Lighting by Kaitlin Hickey

Multiform: choreographed and performed by Amanda Acorn

Lighting design by Paul Chambers

The Citadel, Toronto

March 31-April 1, 2017

REVIEWED BY BEVERLEY DAURIO

Baseline/Multiform is an ambitious program produced by Heidi Strauss’ adelheid and Amanda Acorn, and presented at The Citadel Theatre in Toronto. Both performances use experimental audience arrangements, eschewing the theatre’s usual banked seats on risers, with viewers on the same level as the performers.

Heidi Strauss’s Baseline begins with the audience randomly placed, sitting, slouching or standing around the undemarcated flat theatre. We do not know where our attention should go. The light is pale but we can see clearly. People try to figure out what’s going on, and eventually the room settles, as Strauss, on the floor, dressed in a formal modern dance costume of black sleeveless top and cropped black pants, travels around the room slowly, approaching different people gently and touching or greeting them softly, gaining verticality. This has the effect of grounding the audience and focusing energy both on Strauss as dancer and on the process of her invitation to us as participants. She climbs, so that she is standing in a window well very high up in the wall. She asks for help to get down, and receives it from an audience member.

This is the first of several segments that form the piece. Strauss tells us that she is “thinking about you right now” and “our first encounter.” She thanks us for “the situation.” We are treated to large projected “selfies” Strauss took, projected on the wall, and a commentary on how uncomfortable selfies can be to look at; she shares a strange experience she had, seeing someone who looked like her, in a German train station.

Next is an exercise in semi-dark, where audience members gather around a long diagonal of light on the floor, facing each other in lines, disperse, then gather again for a re-try. In the re-try, Strauss makes her way, dancing in the light between the two lines of audience members, speaking here and there to people, thanking the young man who helped her down from the window well, encouraging, noticing, and present. In the next segment— a game show with an ’80s disco theme— Strauss invites us to pretend to be a different audience, and includes the semi-ritualistic unlooping and spreading of light strips, and the opening of a bottle of champagne, sharing it around the audience. The projections and soundscape change to a mechanical uproar, and Strauss, in the most dance-like section of the piece, performs a robotic, exploratory few minutes that contrast sharply with the humourous and friendly sharing that surrounds it, and especially with the next segment that follows, about ecology, the planet and our fragile existence.

The lighting and sound beautifully support every movement of the piece. The mood shifts are magical and make the kind of sense that dreams make— except that this is a consciously constructed experience. Underlying themes, from daily life to high culture, are subtle: we experience elements of a yoga class (including closing our eyes when asked to, re-opening them, and lying on the floor, breathing, at the end of the show), of corporate team-bonding exercises, of a family keeping faith with a father whose hearing and health are failing. Gently and circuitously— and courageously— Strauss informs us that we create situations and our ways of dealing with them. There are moments when Strauss is more direct, suggesting that “we” (“the audience”) have been “sitting in rooms for 25 years”— and all that that asks and implies. Societal structures are good to question, even when, as with Strauss leading the room, there is mutual trust.

As a performer, Strauss has a commanding presence, a precise and elegant fluidity as a dancer, and an excellent practised voice. She wears a mic and speaks to us through the different phases of the work as they emerge, in her effective, casual and deeply emotional poetry and narratives. The projections of large images— from silvery mathematical formulae to a country highway to verdant forest to words and phrases— punctuate and enhance the performance. Strauss has a rare capacity for melding the present, the philosophical, and the personal, in an entertaining, moving, impelling and thought-provoking hybrid of writing, dance and theatre.

***

“Multiform” is a term applied by art critics to the transitional phase of Mark Rothko’s painting, between earlier, more image-populated work (think the broken up and colourful abstract elements in Kandinsky or Chagall) and his mature, spare style of stacked, soft-edged rectangles of bold colour. Acorn draws on Rothko’s ideas and theory in this piece. Its particular focus on movement also calls to mind the photography of Eadward Muybridge. The lighting does not change. The soundscape is pulsing and mechanical. Acorn performs naked, both strong and vulnerable, present and not present. For much of the performance, her eyes are covered by her long hair, which hangs over her face and swings with her movements.

This is an intellectual show. It is not a show about prettiness, nor is it a show about dreaming. As Acorn says in her program note on the piece, “a singular body is both mechanism and magician.” Acorn becomes a human clockwork. Her limbs and body expand and contract, expand and contract, moving just a little further across the floor, arms angular, legs angular, her body curled around what might be an idea. She turns and returns to positions as if her spine is a fulcrum.

She pivots on the ground. We feel for her skin pressing and turning against the not entirely clean floor. She works very hard and her intensity marks a line in time. Her body moves with a measured continuous force. Viewers, on chairs in a semicircle around her, experience Acorn’s mild harsh repetition that seems neither compulsive nor driven. Rothko sought a life force, attempting to capture passion, life, and energy, in abstract colour shapes. It is the power of the colours, how they are contained, and how they interact that concentrates their effect. The remarkable discipline of Acorn’s work refocuses the viewer on a similar limitation, as she circles to the same spot where she began. She iterates the uniqueness of each human body, the circle of time, and the effort we expend in movement. Acorn herself becomes a propelled human heart, beating, making us think, making us want to move out of stillness.

 
 
Medea
 
Director: Marshall PynKoski
Choreographer: Jeanette Lajeuness Zingg
Conductor: David Fallis
Set Designer: Gerard Gauci
Dancers: Atelier Ballet
 
Opera Atelier
Elgin Theatre
April 22-29 2017
 
Reviewed by Ted Fox
 
Medea is  a gripping and visually arresting Opera Atelier production of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's opera, Medea.
 
The opera begins after Medea and Jason flee to Corinth. She has murdered her father and enabled Jason to capture The Golden Fleece. She is obsessively and madly in love with Jason. After all she has done for him, Jason betrays her for the hand of Creuse, daughter of King Creon. Creon deceives Oronte, Prince of Argos, also promising him Creuse in marriage, while doing the same to Jason. Creon banishes Medea on the grounds that it is the will of the people.
 
All these circumstances combine for Medea, including living in a foreign country unsupported by those around her, with their plotting, lies and betrayals. Her internalized rage will eventually erupt, transforming her into a supernatural entity. Being a sorceress, she calls up demons to help her. They drive Creon to suicide. She saturates the golden gown of Creuse with poison and murders her. Then Medea slaughters Jason's children.
 
The characters circle, move in on, and confront each other throughout, all with their egocentric agendas. Conflict intensifies; they are caught in the web of the gods.
 
Soprano Peggy Kuka Dye gives an intense performance as Medea. She sings her lyrically tragic harmonic arias with force and passion. Her physical movements become more and more frenzied. When she brings Jason to his knees, we feel like she is clutching him like a devouring mantis. Dye forcefully conveys the disintegration of her humanity.
 
Tenor Colin Ainsworth creates a not very sympathetic character in Jason. One who is arrogant, and a manipulative controller. At the end there is a sadness expressed in his bereavement and isolation. 
 
The only likeable character is Love, who descends in a golden chariot, a lovely young woman delightfully cementing the relationship of Creuse and Oronte. She leaves pleased with herself. Happy with getting them together. So it would appear. However there is emblazoned on the chariot's side a heart pierced by an arrow.  Perhaps she is mischievous or malicious, enjoying the after-effects of her matchmaking.
 
Choreographer Jeanette Lajeunese Zingg recreates dance styles of the seventeenth century with flair and beauty. The dancers come from a variety of backgrounds, including contemporary dance and ballet. Here they play Corinthians in Creon's court, and all the demons and furies. 
 
The female dancers at one point lure Creon to his fate by becoming seductive ghostly phantoms in white dresses with bands across their eyes. The men portray the guards. There are riveting choreographed sword fights, including one where under Medea's spells they turn on each other. All the dancers  leap about in black leotards as black divinities and furies.
  
Set designer Gerard Gauci uses painted backdrops of buildings and settings enveloped in mist and fog. One scene has a building imploding into itself. A tree fully leafed becomes defoliated and skeletal in a burnt-out apocalyptic landscape. Another has a fragmented unhinged look, reflecting Medea's state of mind.
 
When Medea's internalized rage erupts like a forest fire, destroying Corinth, the effect is created by a spectacular use of billowing red satin. The skilled lighting design gives the illusion of moving flames.
 
This production has a contemporary feel to it. It has all the ingredients of a soap opera melodrama cum horror parody. Films like Fatal Attraction and Carrie come to mind. And the BBC TV series The Musketeers.
 
Director Marshall Pynkoski  has made  a thoroughly engrossing, highly entertaining show that is strikingly visual and beautifully sung, filled with humour and pathos.
 

Native Earth Performing Arts Presentation
NIIMI'WE Indigenous Double Bill

light breaking broken
Choreographers/Performers: Margaret Grenier & Karen Jamieson

the NDN way
Soundscape, Movement and Visuals: Brian Solomon
Interpreter and Creative Contributor: Mariana Medillin-Meinke

Aki Studio, Toronto
March 30-April 1, 2017

REVIEWED BY TED FOX


Both of these works deal with the effects of the westernization of indigenous culture.

An image running through "light breaking broken" is of two women, an elder (Karen Jamieson), and a younger one (Margaret Grenier) walking in and around a circle. This circle resembles a tree ring in which its life history from birth to death is recorded. Another circle suggests a forest and nature.

At one point heavy percussive bangs in the soundscape suggest gunshots and genocide. The elder's body jerks back as if hit by bullets.

Both women are trying to reach out through time to connect. I see the elder as an ancestor and the younger woman representing the current generation. When hands almost make contact they are impeded by an electrical discharge. At one point the misty smoke becomes a fence barrier.

This all takes place in a twilight zone of murky darkness. Thunder cracks at times. The lightning flashes embed in the elder’s body, and she reacts as if electrocuted.

This piece comes across like a ritual. A spiritual healing. At one point the performers’ bodies are back to back but not quite connecting.

A day or two later I read an article about NIMII'WE online in the First Nations Drum (March 29 2017 issue) in which Margaret Grenier states that she was inspired by the Canadian government amending the Indian Act in 1884 and banning potlatches. This ban was only lifted in 1951, thus severing for 70 years the passing of traditional culture to each generation.

I wish program notes had told us this, as well as the significance of the circles and the ritual we see. Perhaps a pre-show chat would have been worthwhile.

**

"the NDN way" title refers to the ‘noble Indian,’ the racist stereotyping and romanticization of indigenous culture and nature. An ironic nostalgia for what we attempted to destroy.

It is choreographed and performed by Brian Solomon and Mariano Medillin-Meinke. Solomon takes an actual 1974 recording of a CBC Ideas program in which Ron Evans, a young Metis-Cree, eloquently evokes the Cree culture and its traditions.

Evans is a word painter, vividly capturing the passage of life to death to rebirth within the sweat lodge. And the pipe ceremony, where the souls of those present and those past become a part of each body attending.

Solomon remixes this recording and punctuates the text with western culture music. Hearing what sounds like a radio station and the loud sound of Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Snoop Dog and others is a startling surprise. The reaction of the dancers with hyper movement and faces erupting with joy is a treat. Traditional and contemporary cultures meeting.

Solomon's background as a visual artist comes through with striking lighting and rich golden colours. A carton's interior becomes a miniature sweat lodge. Other objects transform into a globe where electrical pathways connect indigenous cultures worldwide. Magical sculpted white paper birds lie on the stage.

This work is richly textured, weaving words and dance to show the Cree way of life today. A new generation dealing with western culture in their daily lives, while maintaining their traditions.

 

 

Saudade

Choreography: Joshua Beamish
Music: Hildur Gudnadottir
Lighting Design: Mike Inwood
Performers: Joshua Beamish, Lloyd Knight, Daniel Marshalsay, Kévin Quinaou, Dominic Santia and Scott Schneider
 
Friday March 10 2017
Fleck Dance Theatre
Harbourfront Centre
 
Reviewed by Ted Fox


Choreographer/Dancer Joshua Beamish, founder of MOVETHECOMPANY, gives us the World Premiere of his production of Saudade. This is a Portugese word defined in the programme notes as a "profound melancholic longing," "a constant desire for a reality that does not, probably cannot exist."
 
Soulade illustrates the human condition of men seeking relationships in today's technological society. A mating ritual of connecting and luring the object of desire through a plumage of expressive body language. Searching for Mr. Right who exists only in their fantasies. Driven by a compulsive need that cannot be filled. Endless longing. Endless frustration of never finding him.
 
The surface messaging of the body attracts yet creates a distance between how they see each other and the real person within. There is no joy of sex here. No eroticism. Each dancer takes on and mirrors the others' language. Perhaps more attracted to images of themselves? One dancer raises his hand, palm toward him looking into as if into a mirror. More feeling is expressed in the solos where their language seems to be more open.
 
The repetition of relationships ended--pause--new one beginning-- creates anticlimaxes and a feeling the piece is about to end. I find myself ever so slowly disconnecting from this repetition of encounters and dance vocabulary. Each segment becomes anticlimactic.
 
A humorous segment occurs at the end. Two dancers sleep side by side. When they both awake, their faces visually vocalize the unspoken: Who the hell are you?
 
Saudade has the feel of a deeply personal work addressing a human condition Beamish has experienced himself.
 
Beamish's choreography is executed with aplomb by he and the other five dancers. Their fluidity of movement and flexible articulation of hands and limbs mesmerizes. The lighting and music enhance the overall atmosphere of melancholia..