Minor Matter at the Progress Festival: presented by Toronto Dance Community Love-In


Minor Matter

Production, concept and choreography by Ligia Lewis

With Corey Scott-Gilbert, Ligia Lewis, Tiran Willemse (in creation with Hector Thami Manekehla and Jonathan Gonzalez)

Curated and presented by Toronto Dance Community Love-In

Progress Internationl Festival of Performance and Ideas, Theatre Centre, Toronto

February 16-18, 2018

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

Minor Matter, the program explains, “is the second part of a trilogy (BLUE, RED, WHITE) performed by three dancers.” The influences and cultural waves involved in this show include the Dominican Republic, the US, and Germany.

We enter the theatre to discover a well-lit audience section, and a dark stage, from which grey-white smoke billows. The smell is strong and the air is dense with floating, bitter clouds that assault our eyes and lungs.

The performers (Corey Scott-Gilbert, Ligia Lewis, and Tiran Willemse), it seems, have also been levelled by this miasma. As lights at the top-back of the stage brighten, their shapes appear, angular and still—three people made vague and geometrically abstract by their uncomfortable positions and the dimness and acrid, fogged air. Then a male voice recites these lines:

I will like to turn you inside out and step into your skin

To be, that sober shadow in the mirror of indifference...


And because you shift, you shift, you shift and shift

I can tell you cringe to see the hypnosis of your own silence


For I am the last tomb of an invisible age of the dead

I am the first to spread the resilience of resurrection

[Opening lines of “Dreamtalk,” by Nigerian poet Remi Raji]


The work proceeds, not with narrative, but in pulses of sections. As the smoke clears a little, we can see that the dancers are dressed as if for athletic training, in cross trainers, gym shorts and workout tops. Training, working out, military movement and marching drums drive the front of the action.

Rampage. Eruption. Toxicity: the smoke thickens and wanes and clouds up again throughout the show. Does this refer to Hell, to war, the burn-clearing of land, to decimation of territory? Is fire and brimstone what the artists are depicting as surrounding dance and by extension aesthetics these days? Do I understand the references the piece is making? Some yes; many, I don’t think so. This is a constantly shifting and complex piece, where there is little time to sit back; the audience is challenged to keep up. The soundscape moves rapidly between baroque music, opera, military, and contemporary sounds.

Are we looking at the ruins of hegemonic culture and a nascent return to healthy culture, or a breaking down of old orders? The program suggests that the show is also about the theatre’s elements—foundational and material. Elements of colonialism and contemporary power structures are constantly implied in this piece. The soundscape charges in and out, rapidly moving between cultural memes, baroque to marching to a performer’s voice explaining how to protest—this is “Bitch 101,” he says. The sound provides the base for segments of highly active dance and periods of inaction that resemble stupour and exhaustion. The movement is intense, powerful and executed with precision by the dancers. They are also highly expressive—confronting and challenging the audience, facing us from a couple of feet away, with strangely ambiguous demeanours—is this frustration, anger, feelings of violence, a desire to convey overwhelming memories? What is constantly clear is the performers’ command of the stage and the theatre that they maintain at a high pitch throughout the show.

The lighting is also integral, blasting from blackout to black light, from dim to full stage light. One sequence is performed in hard red light, and red lasers are used to strong effect, pointing out in shining arrays that in part target the audience.

From the theatre world, there are shades of Handke here, and Osborne—and many references not in my cultural vocabulary. The audience is assaulted—constantly by the smoke (eyes and lungs especially) throughout, and one worries about the dancers exerting themselves and breathing in this poisonous fog—and by the sense of societal breakdown, the shredding of meaning, and desperation within the piece.

For a long while, the performers intermittently seek ways to engage with each other, whether running together, exercising, touching while lying on the floor evading the red lasers, even hugging. But in theme throughout are their attempts to make higher and higher pyramids with their three bodies— which attempts eventually fall into a randy but unsexual romp—and which are material manifestations of unfairness, of exploitation, of trying to put down the others by literally climbing over them and using their bodies as a platform. This process ends with them against the wall, then falling, then piled up and against audience seats in a corner of the theatre, where they struggle in ugly effort to maintain their imbalance.

What fights to be heard through this noise and movement is the performers’ expression of the human scale, art, connection and love. Here are discipline, focus, belief, power, enchantment. Minor Matter is like a poem; its ocean of surface, texture and expansive exploration—in spite of the limitations of the stage itself— implying depths of hope.

[Research thanks to Ted Fox.]