Jolts and Wonders: Crazyfish and JD Dance at The Distillery

It’s delightful to see young companies using innovative presentation and production practices. These two shows from Crazyfish Collective and JD Dance happen one after the other each evening of the run, in the same performance space, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, effectively making co-promotion and doubling of theatrical space use possible.

The Drowning Anthology—Crazyfish Collective

ink to flesh—JD Dance

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Distillery District, Toronto

October 13 to 16 and 20 to 23, 2010

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

It’s delightful to see young companies using innovative presentation and production practices. These two shows from Crazyfish Collective and JD Dance happen one after the other each evening of the run, in the same performance space, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, effectively making co-promotion and doubling of theatrical space use possible.

First of two pieces in The Drowning Anthology is The Wasteland Variations (choreography by Lynndsey Larre, performed by Heather Berry, David Kraft, Erika Leigh-Stirton, and Jessica Wilson), previously shown at the Fringe Festival of Toronto. This version is a little less dark, and less sharply punctuated than the earlier version, while maintaining a physical and sonic narrative power that transcends the stage and climbs into the imagination. From that review:

Sound is muffled. While one woman lies over a prone man downstage, two dancers’ femininity is disguised by khaki jackets over skirts, an unmerciful draping that feels socially sullen, resonating with the frustrated, strange interaction of the dancers. Movements are jerky, and it is as if the tension is contagious, travelling from dancer to dancer in interrupted, dysfunctional connections. “As if there were water,” the male dancer says.

Proceeding in sections that could be compared to stanzas, the performance has appropriately jagged lines, but seemingly effortless configurations. One dancer is lifted horizontally, laughing; dancers roll across the stage, group together, or are left by themselves, in half-nightmarish, half-recognizable social gatherings. The use of T.S. Eliot’s own reading of sections of “The Waste Land” is extremely effective; when his voice clarifies, it is as if the dance itself coheres—“Hurry up, please. It’s time,” rings in repetition.

Visually and sonically arresting, Larre’s choreographic style would be painterly were it not so kinetic, intense, and multi-dimensional. Her movement vocabulary uses much contrast between tense musculature and softer physicality, drawing on the casually normal, as well as sharp turns of limbs, bodies, and necks, as the dancers twist, pull and push each other, using vertical and horizontal planes, as well as the full stage, to great effect.

In one particulary moving segment, one dancer is held from breathing until freed by another with a touch, while plaintively asking, “Speak to me, stay with me.” Abrupt, then flowing, human and compassionate gestures are repeated, deepening and altering the mood. Coupled with skewed lifts, and both sexual and asexual ignoring and belonging, the swirls of the dancers are by turns scary and affectionate. In the end, the first dancer has become capable somehow of kindness; her gestures are looser, and she is awkwardly pulled into joining with the others. A hand is gently placed on her chest.

Larre challenges her dancers emotionally and physically. Erika-Leigh Stirton, Heather Berry, David Kraft and Jessica Wilson all bring intense commitment and expressiveness, as well as elegance and commanding performances to their complex and difficult roles.


 (A full review of the premiere of The Hollow Show [of which The Wasteland Variations was part] last year can be read here on

The second piece is Untitled Riot (choreography by Sasha Ivanochko/blackandblue dance projects, performed by Heather Berry, Michael Caldwell and Erika-Leigh Stirton, with an original score by Aaron Lumley). Three dancers are isolated, each in his or her own area, and ranged across the stage. Erika-Leigh Stirton curls, face invisible to us, over a simple white-upholstered dining chair; Michael Caldwell has a plain brown wooden chair, and sits facing the audience; Heather Berry is lurching without support, vibrating as if driven from within, inside a rectangle of muted light that seems to both trap and agitate her.

Untitled Riot contains jolt after dizzying jolt, in movement and in sound. Aaron Lumley’s score creates a landscape that is a screech of metal on metal, jangled and dangerous; its harsh beauty at the same time impels the dancers and provides for us an external sound manifestation of their dream demons. As Stirton writhes and struggles lithely with her chair in a metaphysical gymnastics, Caldwell moves toward us and away, and Berry is suspended in a kind of horrific body rattling: we are appalled and empathetic, helpless and fascinated. Do the dancers represent what they simply seem at first, drug addicts lost in some separate urban hell? As the piece progresses, the mystery deepens: have they been poisoned? Are we witness to a kind of searing warning about the environment, about the depradations of humans’ contemporary awful draping and soaking in a violent world of overwhelming pollutions, of light, stimulation, noise, irreality and poverty of connection?

Ivanochko leaves this work open to interpretation. When the dancers eventually move out of their constrained spaces, washed in a new, temporary blue light, there is a kind of hope. That hope is even more deeply seated within the performers’ absolute, brilliant commitment to the physical and emotional challenges this work asks of them. Untitled Riot is disturbing, and serious: the only text occurs when one dancer says, through the turmoil, Hello, and a couple of minutes later, another says, Hello. Small, human words, requesting words, wishing words.

Like Larre’s The Wasteland Variations, Ivanochko’s Untitled Riot is not pretty, and it has weight. If you like ideas, philosophy, and the mysterious raising of questions, as well as work into which the dancers appear to have thrown themselves fully and impeccably as if into life itself, with wild dedication, courage, and stamina, you will deeply appreciate this show, which I highly, highly recommend.




In ink to flesh, JD Dance present three varied pieces, all danced by Jesse Dell and Jordana Deveau, Tattwo and Skin Deep (Army of Barbies), choreographed by Dell and Deveau, and A Mark (choreography by Kate Franklin with Jesse Dell and Jordana Deveau).


In Tattwo (previously shown as part of Dance Matters, and briefly reviewed here on, below), the dancers wear flesh-coloured body suits painted with colourful, flowery-looking tattoos. The mood is upbeat and friendly, the movement ranging from smooth and muscular to stretchy and writhing, within and outside circles of paint-like light that provide simple and effective defining areas on stage.


Skin Deep (Army of Barbies) creates a sad narrative of femininity lost over time. A playful and open energy and sisterly closeness declines over the course of the piece, as light and dark plain summer dresses that evoke and facilitate freedom of movement are switched gradually to highly sexualized short red skirts, white belts, pink tank tops and plasticky looking blonde wigs. Competitiveness takes over the relationship of the two dancers, as artificiality subsumes their individuality and their movements become stiff and limited. The piece creates a palpable feeling of loss, as the dancers’ transmogrification into fallen, expressionless dolls is complete.


Though the shortest, A Mark felt the strongest piece in this show, demonstrating the dancers’ abilities and skills, and offering abstract elements and evocative movement vocabulary. One dancer is inside a large, fuzzy circle of light, while the other walks around this marked off area, outside. They are dressed in pristine white t-shirts and khakis. When the dancers begin to interact, we see that their hands are covered in a kind of black powder, so that every contact leaves a handprint over cloth and skin, symbolizing the effects people can have on each other, referring perhaps to original sin, to the light and dark potential of touch.