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!

Factory

Choreographer: Michael Caldwell

Performers: Lori Duncan, Louis Laberge-Cote, Benjamin Landsberg, Kaitlin Standeven and Heidi Strauss

Soundscape: Phillip Strong

Lighting: Noah Feaver

The Citadel, Toronto

September 20-23, 2017

REVIEWED BY TED FOX AND BEVERLEY DAURIO

On the postcard for Michael Caldwell’s new show, Factory, the performers are lined up, looking at us with stern, unhappy faces. Like workers on a factory assembly line, together, but isolated from each other. Focused.

In Factory, three women and two men (Lori Duncan, Louis Laberge-Cote, Benjamin Landsberg, Kaitlin Standeven and Heidi Strauss) concentrate on their tasks, but their actions seem pointless. They appear to be moving into a new space to live together. Their sparse furniture includes a tall fan, a red carpet, a low table, and a vintage radio. Each arranges these to their individual taste, only to have another rearrange things again. They are working against each other, or opting out and lying down in the way. They act aimlessly, with determined, wooden facial expressions.

Lori Duncan moves to the fan, basking in its refreshing tactile mechanical wind blowing her backwards: twirling, whirling, spiraling like an autumn leaf lifted up and blowing in the wind. The others watch. Then they begin taking on her body language, following her around, then falling and rolling, as if driven by the soundscape.

Kaitlin Standeven, alone and breathless, is joined by Louis Laberge-Cote in an attempt to connect. In the ensuing duet, Laberge-Cote and Standeven move awkwardly in and around each other, over and over, pulling each other into nearly physical closeup contact only to push away, in a broken pas de deux of mutual dismissal, while the others huddle in the corner.

At one point, Laberge-Cote yanks off Landsberg’s dark glasses. Landsberg, unbalanced, moves blindly about and is violently assaulted by Laberge-Cote. Laberge-Cote moves in aggressively, confrontational and controlling, slapping him around and even slapping himself. This scene is hard to watch as the brutality and cruelty depicted between them is so intense. Strauss, whose body language becomes agitated at what is happening, moves in, pushing Laberge-Cote away and soothing and encouraging Landsberg, whose own solo is moving and tentatively free, now that he has escaped his tormenter.

The dancers begin acting tipsy, roughhousing in giggly near-violence. In a wash of blue light, Heidi Strauss rolls up a corner of the carpet, creating a spatial division between her and the others. The four become like a family, gathered around the vintage radio in a retro nostalgic home sweet home setting, listening to forties and fifties radio shows, news and music. Strauss, outside this zone, alone in her black shift and stocking feet, moves in solo in a frenzy, as if releasing inner demons. The five dancers lift the carpet over their heads, and dump it to crumple unceremoniously against a wall.

The choreography throughout, like the fans’ movement, ritualistically circles each dancer around and around. Sometimes their artificial wind bunches them together, forcing them into relationships they are afraid of. Movement vocabulary seems to come from a fascination with the fans; these objects attract and mesmerize the dancers. Each of the dancers has a long emotional solo in this piece, and each follows vertical swirling patterns with animated and expressive extension of arms and legs—but each solo is entirely individual, appearing to reveal each character’s real self.

In Factory, light, sound and colour washes are used impeccably to control mood. Phillip Strong’s soundscape begins with the sound of an off-station radio being tuned in, and includes bells, gongs, crowds, barking dogs, traffic sounds dominating the sound of children at play, all mixed with sirens, throbbing electronic beats, and the grinding of car engines, with a mechanical, driven feel.

We often see dance that is all about the technique of the body; here, Caldwell takes the technique that society imbeds within the body and manifests it, as philosopher Jacques Ellul alludes to in his 1964 book, The Technological Society.

As the piece closes, the dancers go back to lugging the furniture around; at times their movements are synchronized. They put their shoes back on, as the radio talks about climate change; they gather in warm light, in rising noise, and leave the stage together as the lights go down. Perhaps to return later and start again. Interacting with each other in a friendly way. A new beginning.

Factory is a thought-provoking, beautifully danced work that powerfully depicts the technological world we live in and how it attracts, compels and affects us as human beings.

 

DANCE made in Canada/fait au Canada

Desnoyers Series

August 17-20, 2017

Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto

REVIEWED BY BEVERLEY DAURIO

Yvonne Ng, Director of the DANCE made in Canada festival, has designed the mainstage in three series, each curated by a different Canadian choreographer. Daniele Desnoyers’ program consisted of one premiere and two works new to Toronto audiences, from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, all with an experimental ethos tinged toward performance art.

“The Eventual De-expression of RGSa,” by Ottawa choreographer Yvonne Coutts, transforms the conflict of nature versus nurture, of genes versus will, and an exploration of the manifestations of depression, into a charming and alarming physical narrative. Performer Kay Kenney, dressed in a soft, gold-sequined evening gown, sits despondently at the right side of the stage in murky light. She appears to be disconnected from the space and events around her. Percussionist and musician Jesse Stewart starts at centre stage, toying with a single snare drum, from which he unwinds a long wire, moving backwards to the left and away from Kenney. He begins creating sound intently, using a violin bow on the wire. Coutts works here with the large, open, unadorned Betty Oliphant stage, strewn with props that echo and amplify Kenney’s personal and emotional disarray.

Accompanied by Stewart’s rhythms, Kenney slides across the stage and turns on a light. She seems rattled by the music, anxious and agitated; at the same time though, the mood is very casual, and her activity intermittent. Stewart twirls a wire above his head and she seems driven by it, running in large circles until she takes a long pause, focused on her breathing. Then, standing, she kicks out a rolled-up green carpet, and dons a white ermine jacket and a golden crown; the percussionist plays a drum roll. This vestigial queen shivers and wriggles, arms out, reaching up, eyes closed, transfixed. The two performers appear connected by the louder drumming; she seems sad, whimpering, but moving and alive. As he stands closer, with a tambourine, she punches out with her hand. At the last moment, they both look down. This is a calm and abstract emotional journey from passivity to action, confrontation, and courage. Like all of the pieces in Desnoyers’ program, Coutts’ is highly visual and painterly in its effects, with many tableaux burned into memory like photographs.

“the way we are,” new work by Lauren Cook and Troy Feldman, (created with and performed by Amanda Davis, Nigel Edwards, Caitlin Amodeo, Drew Berry, Luke Garwood, and Valerie Calam* (replacing Caitlin Amodeo in performance)), begins with a visual opposition between casually dressed dancers on the left side of the stage and a large wooden contraption on the right side of the stage, loaded with thick black wires and microphones. To the right of this tall contraption sits the sound designer, James Kendal, who performs the soundscape live. While four of the dancers begin to move in the large free space at the left of the unadorned stage, one dancer grabs a microphone and speaks: "Getting from one place to another.... How do you find where you are meant to be?" he asks, and then, "through the fog to connect the dots."

The dancers employ the large stage space with energy, gathering and dissipating in counterpoint with the shifting soundscape, connecting and disconnecting. At one point, a mock fight breaks out, using dance rhythms and arresting visual combinations as a group, as couples and again as individuals. They separate and are unified again by the beat, and their connection builds. Their voices are modulated, as they all grab mics from the contraption; a lot of reverb makes it difficult to hear specific words, but the dancers enjoy the moment, first caught in the mic wires then freed in sudden solos, before regrouping. The piece ends with a dancer saying, "Wherever we are, and wherever we are going, this is where we all are now." This is an entertaining, beautifully danced and thoughtful piece.

The last performance on the program is Sasha Kleinplatz's "Chorus 11", (performed by Ellen Furey, Simon Portigal, Sovann Prom Tep, Lael Stellick, Sebastien Provencher, Justin de Luna, Hrair Hratchian), which begins with the transformation of the plain stage at the back by an array of red, yellow, green, blue, and white lights. The dancers rush into partial darkness at the front of the stage, rocking and rolling about horizontally. They are dressed casually and appear to be responding to pop music that has been sharply altered so that it sounds both familiar and fractured. When the music stops, we hear loud breathing as the dancers recover, spreadeagled on the stage floor.

The piece varies back and forth between darkness and general light, between music and silence, the dancers on the floor extending arms and legs, sometimes doing workout or athletic moves, torquing slowly, breathing, awkwardly stretching, rushing about, changing head directions, changing shape as if they are floating cartoons. They stand on their heads, or take karate positions, punching hard. The men, and one woman, dance to an explicitly sexual love song. Then in silence, the woman pulls one male dancer around by his head in the crook of her arm, then suddenly lets go. Behind them, the other couples have switched partners as the music returns. The dancers perform a series of cartoon lifts again, as if falling through space. To droning, grinding sound, they move into fetal position on stage, legs up and then down again; when the sound stops they are all on one foot, standing, facing in the same direction, before rolling again on the floor; to the sound of flamenco guitar, a pop song, and lots of laughing, they re-enter the darkness, running and breathing.

Kleinplatz has created an engaging mash-up of pop, silence, electronic sound, darkness, primary colours, athletics, and the joy of movement. The piece is casual on the surface, but reflects a carefully structured, essentially breathing meta-rhythm, that is both entertaining to watch, and somehow evokes in audience members their own wish for movement, extension, physical responsiveness and freedom.

 

 

 
Lipstique
Creators:  Emily Law, Ashley Perez
 
Cast:  Jelani Ade Lam, Kristine Flores, Jasmyn Fyffe, Sze-Yang Lam Ade, Sarah Tumaliuan
Toronto Fringe 2017
Randolph  Theatre
 
 
Reviewed by Ted Fox
 
In Lipstique dancers from different cultural backgrounds rise up, question and break through the stereotype branding put on women in today's multicultural society.. 
 
It begins with Jasmyne Fyffe poising like a Vogue fashion model, wearing a silver sequined dress and ever so slowly turning like on a pedestal. Her movements stop, back facing the other dancers who walk toward her. They are dressed like everyday pedestrians, handbags dangling from their shoulders. She walks as one of them but so not.
 
Flip to the dancers sitting down putting on the makeup, the wigs, the clothing that will transform them into the ideal image of a women. When the music clicks in they rise up and dance their individual body languages coming out despite the facade.
 
The dance vocabularies consist of whacking, hip hop, house, voguing and a touch of martial arts to name a few. There is a disco feel to it with tracks from artists like Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer and Grace Jones, artists who have played a role in shaping women's herstories. I sense that the music choices inhabit and strengthen the dancers' expressive movements.
 
One segment hit home for me personally. In it there are references to the expression of gender within the body and allowing the masculine to come out. This triggered a scene from my past. Years ago I was walking down a street when two men approached me and told me to "walk like a man". Also when I was a child I took tap lessons and was quite good however nuns and bullying classmates forced me to quit. But that was then and this is now. I wish. It still happens to me today every now and then.
 
So for me Lipstique with its terrific high-octane choreography and spontaneity of movement was an emotional experience.
 
 
Wild/Walled
 
Producers: Alison Daley, Half Second Echo & Tracey  Norman 
Choreographers:  Alison Daley, Miles Gosse, Tracey Norman
 
Cast:  Justine Comfort, Sarah Dowhun, Miles Gosse, Nikolas Markakis, Denise Solleza
Toronto Fringe 2017
Al Green Theatre
 
 
Wild/Walled consists of three pieces by choreographers Tracey Norman, Miles Gosse and Alison Daley. These are linked together in exploring the theme of releasing the barriers that wall in and self-censor the natural instincts within our bodies
 
Norman's work comes first. Dancers clasp each other's hands which encircle an outsider and rope her in, imprisoning her.They build their walls with blocks. Then tear them down. Their body language with its constant hold and release patterns reflects their putting up barriers and then tearing them down and letting their natural humanity emerge. 
 
In Gosse's piece they line up side by side, create a wall with a large plastic sheet. Letting in no one in or out. An outsider comforts herself by clutching a balled-up plastic sheet. 
 
These choreographers are so attuned to each other's individual choreographic approaches that both weave together seamlessly. 
 
There is a slight break until choreographer Alison Daly shifts focus to a hospital lab where the dancers become like rats or hamsters in a research experiment. A researcher watches, collating their research patterns on a scale of 1-10. Stephanie Fromentin reacts going into seizure mode as if triggered by an electric current.
 

Wild /Walled is quite emotional and beautifully performed. A production that reflects how our society is affecting our mental and physical behaviour

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Montreal Fringe 2017 Reviews
Note: Interstellar Elder currently showing in the Toronto Fringe 2017

 

Interstellar Elder

Performer: Ingrid Hansen

Director: Katherine Greenfield

Choreographer: Britt Small

Montreal: La Chapelle Theatre, St Ambroise Fringe Festival 2017

Toronto: Theatre Centre, Toronto Fringe 2017, July 7-15 2017

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox

 

Interstellar Elder is an emotional and very funny multi-disciplinary physical theatre production.

 

An elderly female astronaut is cryogenically frozen among her sleeping human cargo-- which is us. They are orbiting earth until it heals from a climate related disaster that has made the earth uninhabitable.

 

She is woken early in this journey by the HAL voice of a robot monitor advising that she has been designated as custodian. She is assigned duties through this voice.

 

What it does not tell her until much later is that there were other custodians before her. After she has served her time she will be uploaded into a cloud and cremated. And we find out that when awakened, some of us could suffer permanent brain damage and loss of eyeballs.

 

The set looks like a child's bedroom—small, with bright summery colours like red, yellow and green. There is even a toy robot on a table. And a box of kleenex which will play a role. And she is wearing a brightly coloured spacesuit.

 

This cheerfully coloured set counterpoints the monotony and boring tasks she has to do throughout this century-long journey. One of her tasks is to take a brush and remove from our bodies the dust accumulated over the centuries. As she begins with those nearest to her, we the awake audience give sighs of relief, until we find the brush handle can be extended further and further and further.

 

There is a sequence in which her tasks are speeded up and repeated over and over, effectively conveying the unrelenting routine over the centuries.

 

Though Hansen is not at all elderly, her performance quickly allows us to suspend our disbelief. Maybe the longevity is due to unexpected freezing properties?

 

Various shades of emotions move across her face constantly, fully conveying her loneliness and desperation for human contact. At one point, in a poignant and sad moment, she takes one sleeper's hand and rests it on her face.

 

Hansen's skilled performance makes Interstellar Elder a very funny and emotional experience.

 

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The Merkin Sisters

Creators and Performers: Ingrid Hansen & Stephanie Morin-Robert

St. Ambroise Montreal FRINGE Festival

La Chapelle Theatre

June 12-June 18 2017

Ingrid Hansen also performs in The Merkin Sisters, which is a very funny multi-disciplinary show with dance segments created and performed by Ingrid Hansen and Stephanie Morin-Robert. Underlying the comedy, it raises issues centered around the empowerment of women and ownership of their bodies.

 

Ashamed of their body parts and bodily functions. Obsessive about their image in relationship to others. At one point there is a song with the repeated lyrics: "My hair is mine. It is not a wig."

 

Also addressed is competition and control in relationships between women. One reclines regally, her body all furry. She masturbates through the hair of her vagina, looking suspiciously like a mouth. The other, reclining unseen behind her, springs up, asking: “Why am I always the vagina?”

 

Surreal images like this abound. In some their bodies are completely furry. One vomits baby hairballs, one of which gobbles up another. One clutches the mother’s fur, making squeaking momma sounds. The sisters go into the audience examining our heads and actually pull out hairballs.

 

A sister puts on a shirt. Puts her legs where arms should be. Her water breaks. Gives birth to a glove.

 

There are several dance pieces. Heads attached to a puppet doll while the legs do a step-dance routine. Another has them leaping and pushing a dust towel in a circle. One tells us: “This is an example of contemporary dance.”

 

Morin-Robert's facial expressions are grim and pouty. Those of Hansen are more soft and fragile.

 

Thoroughly enjoyable hysterically funny physical theatre with a touch of dance.
 

 

 

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.