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!

James Kudelka’s Against Nature is remounted May 22-25 2019 and May 29-June 1 2019 at The Citadel in Toronto. (Below is EvidanceRadio's review of the 2016 premiere of the show.)

For ticket infomation go to http://citadelcie.com/against-nature-2019/

 

Against Nature

Original Cast-- Performers: Alexander Dobson, Laurence Lemieux and Geoffrey Sirett (replaced in the remount by Korin Thomas-Smith)

May 22-25 and May 29-June 1, 2019

Ross Centre for Dance, The Citadel, Toronto

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox

 

The Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie music-dance-opera theatre production of Against Nature (A rebours) is based on French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans' novel of the same name, written in 1884. It explores the life of eccentric Jean des des Esceintes (referred to in this work as The Master) who abhors the nineteenth century and leaves his life of Parisian decadence to retreat into the isolation of his country house in Fontenay.

 

He lives with two servants (dancer Laurence Lemieux and Baritone Geoffrey Sirett). They interact with their master (Bass-Baritone Alexander Dobson), commenting like a Greek chorus on his decadent past, his deteriorating health and his current actions and state of mind.

 

They morph from being servants from time to time, moving the few props when necessary and interpreting other characters. Lemieux has a striking moment when she morphs into a tortoise onto whose shell the master has set gemstones, their heaviness causing its death. In another sequence, she incarnates Salome and does the famous veil dance. She and Geoffrey Sirett at one point dance in a pushing, pulling, twirling duet, in which they waltz like mechanical dolls, then exhausted, lie side by side, splayed out like marionnettes with no Master operating their strings.

 

Director and choreographer James Kudelka uses his dance background to bring out subtle nuances in Dobson's singing of Alex Poch-Goldin's libretto and his own movement vocabulary. Dobson articulates, pauses, and elongates vowels. His body language is triggered by his conjuring up of past memories, and the effects of the Jesuit educuation, sufferings and sexual decadence embedded in his body. It's marvellous to see the many shades of emotions, varying from humorous to dark, crossing over his face. How he sniffs a vial of perfume or registers his bliss as he holds a favorite book is just magical. His interpretation is also influenced by the striking claustrophobic set design and the lighting that conveys a feeling of melancholia.

 

At the back of the stage is a large portrait of The Master, enclosed within a framed screen, with projection design by Jeremy Mimnagh. As we enter, this portrait looms, one eye lit in an observing stare. Gradually, the image on the screen transforms into birds, a leafless tree, art objects, flowers, his library-- until all becomes more and more abstract and ends with a stark figure, "his face is like clay, lips bloated and dry." We last see The Master on the verge of going back to civilization, where he muses:

 

"The nobility is dead

Aristocracy is finished

Is there left one man who values

The meaning of a phrase,

The gesture in a painting,

The pattern of his days."

 

The live music features a trio of three muscians: Steven Philcox (piano), Parmela Attariwala (violin) and Carina Reeves (cello). Composer James Rolfe has used throughout a repetitious playful motif relevant to the resurgence of the Master's memories. For me, the score also has a music hall theme in it. All this while at the same time fully suggesting the mental stress and discomfort experienced by The Master, torn by living a life of isolation in which he is constantly assaulted by the past, and returning to a civiilization he detests

 

Dance, music, text and theatre were perfectly integrated, resulting in a beautiful hypnotic work, heightened by the intimacy of the performers with the audience within the small theatre in The Citadel.

 

 

 

 Amorous Playlist

Choreographer: Social Growl Dance / Riley Sims in collaboration with the performers

Live music performed by Blunt Chunks, singer-songwriter Caitlin Woelft-O'Brien

Danced by Clarke Blair, Ana Groppler, Jean-Benoit Labrecque, Kay Kenney, Genevieve Robitaille, Riley Sims

Social Growl at The Citadel, Toronto

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio 

 

The set is like a bar with a dance floor—in fact, there is an actual bar on one side, where the performers pick up cans of beer and drink them. The audience sits on the sidelines in a horseshoe shape around the composer/ singer with her guitar, mic, and electronic sound equipment.

 

Amorous Playlist is aptly titled: the show is basically a concert by Blunt Chunks (the one-woman band of singer-songwriter Caitlin Woelft-O'Brien), fronted by programmatic dance performances that express the songs physically, extending their meaning into and through the dancers’ bodies.

 

Woelft-O'Brien is a powerful performer (and former dancer) who occasionally drifts to different parts of the stage to perform songs, once sitting on the floor among dancers with her guitar, once standing far from the stage proper. Her songs are twee and heartfelt, with charming, sharp and bittersweet lyrics, peppered with Canadian ironies and twists. Her voice is high and light as thin steel wire, and holds the entire show together.

 

In the dance performance, we see the coming together of real people, the fragile, the lonely and the vulnerable. Survivors of previous relationships.

 

They dance solo, in duets, in threes, as a group, in different combinations of love, loneliness, connection and rejection. There is quite a bit of anger verging on violence in the dance in this work, which is interesting and unusual. They drink beer, interact, are expressive, and slowly build a kind of shrine to past relationships with kitsch and flowers and meaningful objects, on risers up behind where Woelft-O'Brien has set up to play. Their body language consists of a wide variety of desirous movement and moments of dislike, from embraces to shoves to reaching out skyward as a group, and to each other.

 

Woelft-O'Brien’s lyrics, like the dancers’ body language, are permeated with melancholy, sadness and frustration. Example:

 

My love, my lover, my love says he is unable to move

Depressed with no humour left in him.

He lays in his underwear, on the unmade bed feeling so bad

As my heart sinks I feel so sad,

because

He doesn't wanna move, and all I wanna do is get out.

 

This last is repeated three times, as many of the lyrics are, reflecting repetitive futile existence, and the locks and delights and private traps of love and relationships.

 

Idomeneo

Director and Co-Artistic Director, Opera Atelier: Marshall Pynkoski

Dancers: Artists of Atelier Ballet

Opera Atelier

Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto

April 4-13 2019


Reviewed by Ted Fox

Begins with Neptune (Douglas Williams. Bass-Baritone) standing holding his trident and orchestrating a violent storm destined to leave Idomeneo (Colin Ainsworth) and his crew shipwrecked on the shores of Crete. He is the only survivor. Neptune has him vow to sacrifice the first person he meets. Wouldn't you know, that person turns out to be his son.

Idamante (Wallis Giunta, Mezzo Soprano) is in love with Ilia (Meghan Lindsay, Soprano). She loves him even though he is a Greek. Elettra (Measha Brueggergosman, Soprano), daughter of Agamenon and Clylestemnestra) also loves Idamante. Sigh.

Giunta as Idamante has a slim build with a physical presence that belies her stature. She leaps, falls and seems constantly on the move. Her colourful vocalizations and radiant voice are a joy to hear as she expresses her love and she takes on a role originally sung by a castrati.

Elettra is not featured that much throughout but when on she is a force of nature. Her face and singing are expressive of her anguish, clashing with the shades of angry jealousy flickering on her face and energizing her song. She excels near the end with her vocals rife with all these emotions battling within. Clutching a knife, she wields it as she frantically scurries back and forth across the stage. Since this takes place in front of a scrim cutting her off and isolating her frustration and loneliness it is really felt.

The dancers of the Atelier Ballet are a strong feature in this production. The choreography is by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zing and beautifully integrates the dancers into the show as minor characters. In the festive celebration at the end they radiate rebirth, twirling and moving in and out as if blown by a spring breeze. The colours of their dresses are a mix of pinks blues and greens.

There is subtle humor embedded in this presentation. In the tsunami flashbacks Neptune has a campy presence, standing with a bared chest and wearing tights, his muscular build looking like an incredible hunk. That Idamente can battle and conquer (offstage) a sea monster brings cartoon images to my mind. And her endless longing for Ilia combines humor and sadness in a touching way.

A highly entertaining production beautifully sung.

 

Revisor

Created by Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young

https://kiddpivot.org/works/revisor/

Kidd Pivot at Canadian Stage, Toronto

March 7-16, 2019

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio

 

In Revisor, Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young, whose last collaboration, the acclaimed Betroffenheit, was also dramatic dance theatre, have engaged in a postmodern exploration and adaptation of Gogol's 1836 satire, The Inspector General. In it a lowly clerk is mistaken for a high ranking government investigator from the centre of power. Upon realizing this, the impostor takes advantage of their error, accepting bribes from petty officials and, gaining their trust one by one, leading them to betray each other and tell him all the dirty secrets of how this corrupt bureaucracy operates.

 

The performers mouth the dialogue, which was pre-recorded by a different group of actors and is played as a voice over. This gives a hollowing, distancing effect that is eerie, while allowing extreme physicality for the performers, who never run out of breath for speech. The odd atmosphere is compounded by Crystal Pite's choreography, which consists of grotesque distorted body language shaped by their pliable rubbery bodies, creating a nightmarish cartoon look. When they slide downwards they look like marionettes with their strings cut. The dialogue rushes as they expose their web of sleazy activities; it is uttered quickly and cleverly, loaded with the meanings embedded in it.

 

There are sharp details throughout. A woman appears to wear a mustache. A hysterical red haired woman has the frenzied exaggerated look of being in an old silent movie. The officials and their cronies have the mannered appearance of vaudeville villains, with an added feeling of the sinister that Pite and Young have infused into the action. The dancers are incredible: precise, elegant, swift, powerful, and intense. The use of sentinel lights flashing throughout zeroes in and exposes as well, a man hiding under a bed for example.

 

And then, a bit more than halfway through the piece, Revisor breaks Gogol’s story open to reveal a contemporary dance work. Gone are the nineteenth century uniforms and costumes. The performers appear in casual modern dress, and human movement returns, in the flowing, gorgeous celebration of physical possibility that has always characterized Pite’s choreography.

 

At the same time, this section is a philosophical exploration, suggesting a link between political structures and the hierarchies of art, including dance, and the responsibility of the subject, the individual, and those with power within any human system.

 

Revisor ends with a return to Gogol for the denouement of the play. Seamless transitions, and powerful lighting that shifts mood and tone flawlessly, effectively remind us how societal structures costume people and can oppress the individual through forces of insincerity and power, here manifested in deformed and unnatural movement and exploitive interactions. The performers are no longer individuals but a tightly controlled regiment moving as one, appropriate to a totalitarian regime that misleads and confuses the masses. The movements are deconstructed and reconfigured by repeating without the dialogue what has gone before. A voice over instructs them in segments with phrases along the lines of figure six moving left, figure four taking two steps forward, figure one moving to desk. This exposes the subtext hidden in the dialogue of the play. It also shows the recreation of a work into a dance work.

 

In their program notes, Pite and Young explain that Gogol wished The Inspector General to be considered as serious satire rather than frothy farce, and they have returned to his intentions. Overall, Revisor is an intriguing work that takes a farce that has us laughing in the first half and then becomes a disturbing dissection of totalitarianism.

 

 

 

 

 

POUR

Artistic Direction, Concept, Choreography and Scenography by Daina Ashbee

Interpreted by Paige Culley

Produced by TO Live in association with Native Earth Performing Arts

The Theatre Centre, Toronto

February 22-24, 2019

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

POUR is a touring, full-length solo work by Daina Ashbee, originally shown in Montreal in 2016 and recently performed at the Theatre Centre by Paige Culley. The floor of the upstairs theatre is covered with 4 by 8 foot sheets of styrofoam building material in white and pale blue. They form a performance base of artificiality that is like a giant blank page or screen.

While the audience enters the theatre, the stage is dark. Someone is moving around in that darkness; we see occasional flashes of arms or a face without identification. Eerily, this person emits extremely high pitched notes. They are not quite screams, but almost. They are long, piercing, painful to the ears. They are like anguish embodied in sound.

When the stage lights come up, brighter lights hit the audience and stay there. It is like being hit by headlights while driving at night. These audience lights remain on for perhaps the first third of the piece.

In silence, we see the stage has had liquid poured onto it—clear liquid, and yellow liquid pooling on the left side. Paige Culley stands in the middle, at the front of the stage, facing and staring at the audience in a challenging, firm, strange attitude. She is naked except for a pair of jeans. Her chin length brown hair has been slicked back with oil. Her demeanour is powerfully ambiguous. She eventually removes her jeans and curls onto the stage, naked.

Ashbee’s approach to nudity reminds me of some work by Daniel Leveille—where the naked human form works in sympathy with the audience’s bodies, vulnerable, small yet full of strength, essential and somehow manifesting the soul. This is a kind of magic that dance has that is rarely used. Ashbee has used detail to control every aspect of this presentation.

Culley is an incredibly strong dancer and performer. This piece is so physically and emotionally demanding and challenging that it is almost unimaginable how she gets through it. The theatre is not warm, and Culley, naked and covered with oil, must be cold. She is also required to contort and writhe and hold odd and uncomfortable positions, to push herself. In one segment more than halfway through the piece, Culley lies on her back and begins to drum using her elbows against the floor. This looks very painful, and her elbows turn red. She pounds the floor with different parts of her body in turn, sometimes while sideways, holding balance with just a foot and her shoulders or head and hips.

As she travels in a long rectangle around the stage, slowly—this traverse takes up more than half the show—we are given flashes of many different bodily images, from childbirth to intercourse to ballet to rape to mental pain and many more. Culley, who is a very strong and elegant dancer, is always in an uncomfortable, awkward position, and for most of the show she is prone or horizontal, balancing on her side, or on her stomach. The images remain ambiguous and implied, but she is pressed low, kept down. Ashbee has constructed these images to flash at us, to remind us, to perhaps taunt and repel us, but to never be graspable. At its core, this piece presents a woman who is inutile in societal terms—she is engaged in art, in expressiveness, in a material sense completely unproductive. Culley’s confrontational looks at the audience are constructed to implicate society in something—it is almost an accusation—something that is intended to work on us after we have left the theatre.

The work mostly occurs in bright light and silence, and there are only two sections that use a soundscape, a kind of deformed violin/cello keening that is scrapy, harsh, and pressured. The lighting changes rarely—once to turn down the brights lighting the audience, once to turn them back on, and again near the end, when the darkness returns at the back and Culley returns to further renditions of the disturbing almost-screams from the opening.

POUR is disturbing on many levels; it is offputting, if powerful, to watch; it is an indictment of the cages society puts people in, and of the lack of response to and care about the suffering that many experience. It is also hard to accept its lack of offered hope. The cycle of anguish is presented and then begins again at the end when the screaming returns. Even though Culley stands at the front of the stage with her back to us, stepping sideways, surveying the performance space, outside the fray, upright, she is still naked and in the suffering space. The beauty of the dancer is used in harshness, and in movement that not just lacks, but actively rejects, joy and freedom. The piece insists on the dancer’s strength and power and endurance, on her deep integrity, which is perhaps a kind of encouragement. Yet one leaves the theatre saddened. And without even a glimpse of an implication of hope.