Summerworks 2019: Four pieces-- Closer, Fadeout, Des-Echoes and Black Ballerina

Four Works from Summerworks

August 8-10, 2019

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

Closer

A movement installation

Directed and Choreographed by Jenn Goodwin in collaboration with Sarah Doucet, and performers Lua Shayenne, Sarah Doucet, Brandy Leary, Ravyn Wingz, Anita Nittoly; Diana Reyes (aka Fly Lady Di); Francesca Chudnoff; Costumes by Sarah Doucet; Sound by Paul Shepherd & Valerie Calam/Company Vice Versa

Summerworks Festival Lab programming

Site-specific work: Laneway running south from Queen Street, Toronto

 

After a walk through the sunny afternoon from the Toronto Media Arts Centre on Lisgar Street south of Queen Street West, the audience members for Jenn Goodwin’s site specific piece, Closer, are seated outside, on stools or folding chairs at the corner where two Toronto laneways meet. Our view is a long one, maybe 300 yards to the south. Two lines of garages in varying states of repair, with colourful doors, line either side of a stretch of rough grey asphalt, defining the laneway and framing our view.

Music starts, an ambiguous but pleasant soundscape that implies ocean waves, shopping malls, wind, background music with a vague rhythm—an un-pin-downable sonic accompaniment by Company Vice Versa (Valerie Calam and Paul Shepherd). Suddenly, far down the laneway, a rectangle of pink smoke puffs thickly up, obscuring the view, and a line of performers somewhat magically appears, walking together toward us, all wearing white. The effect is impressive—the dancer/performers give off strength and presence, even at such a distance—and as vague as the music. This vision of far away women in white—united—are they a sports team? models? soldiers? bakery workers? brides?

It is the genius of Goodwin’s abstract structuring that the performers themselves offer a clinic in how we, as a culture, are used to defining people, particularly women, by searching through stereotypes—are they TV doctors? Reality TV stars? Nurses?

The women process through a variety of struggles and get closer to us, fighting off spirits, making their way  through more pink clouds, disagreeing with each other, being affectionate, struggling together, some falling, some going back to help them up.

Things change. The music is suddenly emitting, not just smoothly from the large, expensive, manufactured speakers, but from a range of small, distinctly different devices each dancer holds, and the music is no longer clear and silvery—now it has edge, grind, and hiss and buzz—it is not simple and homogeneous.

As they approach, the individual faces and expressions of the dancers become readable and present to us; their postures and attitudes and costumes are unique. They disappear out of the stereotype of distance, and emerge, each person, as themselves. A lovely, moving piece.

 

Fadeout

Choreographed and performed by Anne-Flore de Rochambeau; Rehearsal direction and artistic advice by Marijoe Foucher; Lighting design by Hugo Dalphond; Sound design by Hani Debbache

When Anne-Flore de Rochambeau appears, in silence, out of the pitch dark of the stage in Fadeout, we cannot see her face or upper body or arms. She is standing facing us, behind a metre-wide strip of harsh white neon that hangs above waist level at centre stage. She is wearing khaki jeans, her feet bare.

Slowly, she begins to writhe, her hands appearing in the light, looking pained, twisted, crooked, and her lower body movement is uncomfortably limited and seemingly controlled by the small area that is lit. It is as if she is pushing her way out of a container of electric light, or an imaginary egg of darkness. The powerful white light of the neon shines into the eyes of the audience, making it hard to look directly at Rochambeau, so that we are as discomfited watching as she is in moving.

Live bird sounds come out of the dark, and the neon light occasionally flashes off, allowing Rochambeau to appear again in a different spot, giving a sense of disjointed time. We hear thunder and rain sounds—as if Rochambeau’s body is trapped in an artificiality somehow isolated from nature.

Is she a person, or a creature, or an idea? Impossible to say, as the soundscape shifts to bombing and violence, and she very slowly extricates herself, twitching awkwardly, until we can see her entirely and she has attained independence from the small space where she was trapped.

She is crawling, extended, alive, with expressive face and delicate hands, free but under an onslaught of sound, metallic scraping and distressed voices—then she is upright, and all we hear is her breath. Fadeout is a show that seems simple, but that is emotionally complex and resonates with the audience long after it is over.

 

Des-Echoes

Choreography by Daniel Bear Davis and Caro Novella; Sound Sample by Gretchen Jude;
Sound Arrangement by Daniel Bear Davis;
Text by Karen Barard, from "On Touching -- the Inhuman That Therefore I am;" Special Thanks to Guillermo Gomez Peña, Saul Garcia Lopez, John Zibell and the cast of Glitchbody and Nanostalgia

Des-Echoes begins with a man in a mechanic’s or janitor’s long-sleeved overalls walking a stage that is empty except for a broom and another set of overalls hanging from a wire stage left. He moves to the sound of a woman’s voice speaking a poetic text about intimacy: “When two hands touch,” and “finding the otherness of oneself” in touch.

It slowly becomes clear that the man has another person grotesquely zipped inside his overalls—and as this person struggles to be free of this encapsulation, he seems to have four hands, then four feet, and two heads, in a humorous sequence where they roll on the floor, she pops out more, and they struggle to control their oddly connected and restrained two bodies, one suit and two wills, trying to decide what to do.

For a while he continues to lug her around, until they fully unzip and she emerges, half naked and surprised. The next sequences show the two people negotiating a relationship, as she dresses in the other pair of overalls. Work is a subtext of this piece: who does the physical and emotional work, and how does a pair of people manage their concerted activities?

Their separation, as they sweep with the broom, confront, comfort, dance around as divided into two entities, seems hard on them. The light is general and diffuse and changes little during this piece. The sound includes extensions of the same female poetic voice, and Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me,” to which they dance together. By the end of the piece she is tucked back inside his suit, with him.

Is this piece about work and drudgery, emotional and practical? About our own dual natures, the feminine and masculine in all of us, and how imbalance or division is problematic? The text is about touch and intimacy, perhaps about our own intimacy with ourselves.

 

Black Ballerina

Created and performed by Syreeta Hector; Movement Dramaturgy by Seika Boye; Outside Eye -- J. Adam Brown; Set Design by Wesley Mckenzie; Musical Composition by Zarnoosh Bilimoria

Before the performance of Black Ballerina begins in the intimate incubator theatre at the Theatre Centre, the show’s creator and performer, Syreeta Hector, speaks through the sound system, offering a moving, different kind of land acknowledgement, that describes her own mixed heritage comprising Mi’kmaq and other ancestry, and explaining the condition in which this work is shown.

Black Ballerina is a work in progress, presented as part of the Lab segment of Summerworks, and was currently about half (or so) of its finished length, at around 30 minutes.

This solo show proceeds in sections, each demarcated by a new costume, music and performance change. Hector is wearing a blond wig, in silence, when a British man’s voice begins to speak in a documentary way and documentary voice, discussing how octupuses manage to avoid predators. She is sitting motionless in a pool of light, while sounds of water flow around, then begins to dance on pointe. Slowly, a disco beat plays, and becomes more ominous, speeding up. She runs in place, and goes faster and faster, until off comes the blond wig and the music shifts.

Hector moves through a number of dance incarnations, from ballet to hip hop to urban to Indigenous, transforming fluidly and elegantly, with seeming effortless delicacy and power of these different forms, flowing with the changes in music. The final segment has a bittersweet charm that seems at the same time constricting and sad, as she dons a tutu and turns, balletically, while music box music plays.

Because Black Ballerina is shown in somewhat mysterious mid-process, it is impossible to guess at a solid read of where it is going, or might end up in its final form. Its inventiveness and sense of exploration and play, and Syreeta Hector’s beautiful, moving performance, make me very eager to see the finished work.