Michael Caldwell's "Factory" at The Citadel


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


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.