Reviews

We would love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact us!

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!

SKOW

Choreographed by William Yong/Zata Omm Dance Projects

Performed by Johanna Bergfelt

The Citadel, Toronto

January 30 to February 2, 2019

 

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

SKOW is a full-length solo work by William Yong for the powerful and elegant Johanna Bergfelt, with ingenious lighting by Simon Rossiter and a minimalist set design that includes large paper “rocks” that light up, small, defined “performance areas” and an old fashioned black dial telephone. Bergfelt first appears facing away from us, straightbacked and speaking into a mic, spotlit in front of a vast, crinkled back wall covered with white paper.

The program notes tell us that this work intends to “create a kind of soliloquy from personal experience” and is an “expression of inner musings.” Indeed, the work proceeds in episodes of varying lengths that jump like thoughts do, through time, mood, and memories. Bergfelt dances with angular extension and incredible flexibility within set geographies within the stage—in a rectangle of light, along a short line of carpet, exploring within these limits the extension of limbs and of the body, travelling through the kind of time that the stage represents.

Bergfelt is dressed in a squarish brown lace over-vest, a t-shirt, beige capris and a blond wig that she later removes. The music is an odd collection that begins with the haunting tinkling of a jewellery box and goes on to include a variety of sounds and songs, from eighties lounge music to harsh, comic jazz.

In one sequence, the entire back wall is lit with moving, active, graphic images by Elysha Poirier, and Bergfelt is at once dwarfed by and an energetic participant in the acrobatics of light by echoing the drawings with physical acrobatics of movement, including a handstand at the back wall.

Another sequence, possibly the most dramatic in the show, has Bergfelt rolling a mic’d silver medical cart on wheels to centre stage and performing surgery, telling us what she is doing as she proceeds, using cleavers, pliers and other brutal tools, on a gourd, a parsnip and carrot and lime—demonstrating how hip replacement surgeries are done. The bald straightforwardness of her actions and her talking us through this segment, until she literally staples the gourd closed again, is charming, comic, and oddly educational.

At one point Bergfelt calls out “the black cat,” and begins a comic dance to jazzy cartoon music. Much later in the show, Bergfelt announces “black cat again,” and this time, dressed in a furry black cat outfit with ears, she proceeds to prowl across the stage, as the crinkled paper back wall glows red.

A phone call from her father asking about her hips resonates with the earlier surgery section, and adds weight and meaning to the “operation” section.

There is also much humour in this piece, which insists on a goodnatured insistence on fun as an element of art. With her back to the screen, facing us, Bergfelt precisely speaks a crying woman’s lines from a tender love scene with Clint Eastwood in a film, including all the woman’s sighs and sniffs. Bergfelt’s performance amplifies the screen romance, humanizing it and rendering it more immediate and strange.

Those who put together this show have succeeded in their stated intention of twining together “the profound and the ridiculous” into an emotional, visual, very human collage.

 

 

This Shape, We Are In

by Jeanine Durning (with the performers)

Performed by: Valerie Calam, Alana Elmer, Mairi Greig, Megumi Kokuba, Pulga Muchochoma, Erin Poole, Roberto Soria

Toronto Dance Theatre

Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto

January 24 to February 2, 2019

 

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

 

The wing curtains are tied up and the stage is empty except for an isolated closed door, in a frame, at the middle of the right of the stage, and a small room that is part of the theatre at the back left. The stage is lit and the house lights remain on. A clicking and banging sound starts and metal sticks poke out through or bump against the door frame of a small room at the back left of the stage. This goes on for a little while, and then a performer emerges through the portal and into the space—he has been trying to fit a school student’s table through the doorway, and he succeeds in a small moment of triumph.

This student’s table multiplies, and emerges again at the end of the piece. It may not be too far a stretch to suggest that the student’s table is a symbol for the choreographer/creator’s struggle to bring philosophy and learning into dance, and how awkward this attempt is, and yet mysterious. The table is carried off-stage; it is brought back; performers carry the tables through the long hallways beside the risers where the audience is seated; more tables appear and are carried in and out by dancers, and scraped and jerked noisily and creatively against the stage floor.

The dancers wear casual, colourful, slightly eccentric street clothes, and shoes: a wildy coloured workout suit, plaid bermuda shorts, lace, wool, pleats and so on. Their movements are individualized, too—as they make their way around the stage, or off and on stage, and each has a particular style. They are excellent dancers, and their movements, whether angular and vertical or awkward and loping, are arresting and powerful. But in the strangest way, in the context of this piece, they seem isolated from each other and stuck within a self that is limiting. They are atomized, and this “individuality” feels like a distancing cage.

This casualness, of movement, dress and organization, proceeds apace. In such a formal situation—professional theatre, incredible dancers, acclaimed choreographer, almost sold-out audience— this disintegrated centre creates palpable tension. Audience members literally lean a bit forward—what is going to happen?

The answer is, a lot, and not very much.

The dancers’ movements, in solo, duets or in groups, often seem obtuse or random, even when done in tandem. In one long sequence near the beginning— one of the few sections accompanied by music or soundscape— the performers bob up and down in place, standing, hopping and jiggling to the beat. A similar spareness and randomness holds for most of the texts spoken by the dancers. At different points, dancers stand on the stairs in small groups and speak directly to the audience, but the things they say are mostly lyrically surreal, a bit comic, and reflect a failing, if desperate, desire to communicate—to communicate “something.”

The lighting changes little throughout the show—house lights up, full wash on stage—except at two points when the house lights dim for a few minutes, and the audience feels a certain relief from the discomfort of full visibility in a theatre. This is a subtle trick to include the audience in the performance, for their identification with the dancers to be felt, and to blur the line between performance space and audience space. The stage lights also dim a couple of times for a period long enough to be noticed. These alienation techniques—think Brecht, Osborne, Handke, and Canadian influences like Ame Henderson and Michael Trent—are applied gently and subtly.

The use of music is spare and also clearly used to play up the chaos or to foreground it. The one sequence of organized joy, more than three quarters of the way through the piece, lasts for a few minutes, as Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” plays, with all the lights up full. This segment is a centre of “order” in the piece, providing comfort for audience and dancers in terms of recognizable beat and familiarity; but its unsatisfactory nature cannot be overstated.

This Shape, We Are In coheres as an acknowledgement of formlessness in our society, relief at the wrong things, connection over the ephemeral and non-productive, constant urgency without goals, and distraction. There are clustered activities—including sudden simultaneous dancing, funny gatherings in the small room at the back left corner, and a long scene at the end focused around knocking on the isolated, standing door and being let in, or invited in, or pushing through, all excitedly and as if this segment is abstracted from a party in someone’s apartment. There are loud declarations, from “It’s over!” to surreal or philosophical musings, like the phrase repeated throughout the show, “We have all been here before.” We have been to the dance theatre, they have danced, we have watched, they have socialized.

When dancers leave the stage to speak on the steps beside the audience, leave the stage to actually exit the theatre, leave the stage to party in the small room at the back, they stitch the production to “reality,” or the reality outside the performance. The off-kilter vocalizations are openings into the surreal and imaginary—but without cohering into graspable meaning, just as the show refuses to cohere into graspable sense or meaning, and the movement refuses to add up or build, and even the meme near the end: one student’s school table and one empty chair facing it—are we meant to learn?—is purposefully vague and insubstantial.

The dancers are sublime; the precision, focus and energy of Valerie Calam, Alana Elmer, Mairi Greig, Megumi Kokuba, Pulga Muchochoma, Erin Poole, and Roberto Soria electrifies the space. Their physicality is transformed, as if they could be butterflies flitting across a summer garden, woodland creatures frolicking, or shapes in an abstract painting that keeps rearranging its forms and colours before our eyes. This is a challenging work that demands many complex arcs from the performers.

Durning’s disorder and pseudo-chaos is meaningful whether or not the production inspires the audience sufficiently to spend time considering the many questions the piece raises, including: what is the role of the artist/choreographer? If the artist’s role is, even in part, to dislodge complacency and ask people to question their own purposes and activities as part of a greater social reality, then This Shape, We Are In succeeds, and its subtle, complex philosophy has been made manifest. This is a very difficult achievement.

 

Slow Dance

(double billed with This Shape, We Are In, which is reviewed separately)

Choreographer: Marie Lambin-Gagnon

Dancers: Yuichiro Inque, Peter Kelly, Devon Snell, Imogen Wilson (though she did not appear in the show reviewed here)

Winchester Street Theatre, Toronto

Jan 23 – Feb 2 2019

Reviewed by Ted Fox

The set design resembles an alien landscape, not unlike those of old Star Trek TV episodes, or those outer space films like Queen of Outer Space with Zsa Zsa Gabor as the queen who walks around wearing a tulle dress trailing behind her. Like these, Slow Dance also has a set and costume made of garish synthetic materials. And like them the predominant colours are orange, blues and gold. These costumes are draped on tall mounds created by props like chairs, crutches, stools and an assortment of objects.

For audience seating, there are only 30 chairs placed in an L shape around, and close to, the set. We gradually see sleeping human forms encased within the mounded displays. One can be seen through a gauzy material. Below, another slumbers. Initially one is hidden from our sightlines so only those to the left can see him.

They slowly, very slowly awaken, their eyes mostly closed. Gradually they slide down from their high positions and move like sleepwalkers. The costumes they are wearing slowly slide down their bodies. They pull on the materials, attempting to re-dress themselves. They fall, writhe, twist and turn; they stand and fall like unbalanced malfunctioning automatons. A sense of heaviness is created as the objects making up the display weigh down their bodies.

The costumes and objects seem to become living entities wearing the humans. One could say the humans have transformed into fashion victims. The result is that they demolish the structures, resulting in a battleground image with objects and costumes strewn everywhere.

It is very impressive watching each performer's agile movement adjustments as the structural objects fall on their heads. Each night the show changes because of their improvisations.

Asa-Sexton Greenberg's electronic score conveys a dreamy meditative state. Occasionally it becomes heightened and energetic, counterpointing the lethargic atmosphere, like a fast urban environment versus a slow more natural state.

I find I am interacting with this. It raises questions such as how the costume's colour, natural or synthetic texture and weight affect a dancer's performance.

Innovative, visually and orally arresting and very humorous.

Citadel Dance Mix 18

Works by Allison Cummings, Tori Mehaffey and DA Hoskins

The Citadel, Toronto

November 21-24 & November 28-December 1, 2018

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio and Ted Fox

 

Allison Cummings’ new short work, As She Shall Obtain Such Command of Her Mass Vein Passageways, is, like its title, an intriguing and very abstract dance made from emotional, intellectual and exploratory ingredients. A solo for Kaitlin Standeven, performed with live music created by Valerie Calam, this is a focused, polished and difficult work: challenging in its physicality for the dancer, and challenging for the audience in its notional and philosophical intensity.

The musician is seated at the front, at the audience’s left; the stage is bare except for two sculptural objects. Toward the back, on the same side as the musician, there is a hanging “king” sculpture (crown, plus metal neck and ribs, with thick ribbons trailing below)—through which Standeven peers at us at the beginning of the piece—and on the other side of the stage, a kind of knobby, gangly sculpture that is like an imaginary metal plant with a glass heart at the top.

Standeven is incrediblly lithe and powerful in her ambulatory travels back and forth across the stage, zigzagging, bumping, rushing awkwardly—on her knees, or bent backwards, scrambling, pulled by her arms, in a harsh crouch—and she is constantly expressing a deep discomfort and pain, that is pushed through, dealt with, by her relentless progress. Every step is about balance—how is balance made, kept, what is it?—with complex ways of meaning. At the end, when she touches the metal plant sculpture, her arrival is felt. The soundscape is a strong and upholding companion to the movement; it works in sections that create another layer of shapes that define different segments of the work. The piece is an embodiment of how we move through difficulty, how we manage, using the imaginary; it is both earthy and transcendent.

Tori Mehaffey’s Avoidance is a refreshing and charming ensemble piece that works on many levels. Luke Garwood, Daniel Gomez, Connor Mitton and Kelly Shaw are dressed up in suits, with energy. Initially one sees the dancers all dressed in white, giving the feel of being in an asylum. The colour suggests innocence, their bodies a blank slate. Their movements are stiff and awkward. A lone chair is onstage, painted an angry or passionate intense colour of red. They move in and around it, curious and attracted by it, in awe, yet also disturbed by it and avoiding interaction. Each takes a turn trying to put the other on them. The chair's presence takes on a personality of its own. At times, they converge around the chair, that gathers and emits emotion under a confection of fluorescent lights, the largest part of which is unlit and looks like a neural network hung from the ceiling. There are moments of humour in duets, trios, and ensemble trips around the stage—especially in some odd lifts, funny gaits and interactions with the chair— and drama as the troupe approaches, avoids, hides behind and even seems to worship The Chair, that takes on a kind of iconic or cargo cult personality at the centre of the dance.

DA Hoskins’ Lady Baby, performed by Danielle Baskerville, Brodie Stevenson and Sebastien Provencher, is a moving, ardent, wild and intense revisioning of an earlier work based on a related theme—the love of certain moments in mainly American film, where actresses are like goddesses. We watch Garbo and other silver screen idols in their condensed and shaped beauty on the screen at the back of the stage, while the beautiful performers—Baskerville, Stevenson and Provencher—are mutable, fascinating and scintillating on stage. They discuss and are discussed as sissy boys. Lady Baby reaches deeply into the connection between men’s beauty and women’s beauty, and how the Masculine in our culture wounds and oppresses non-conformity and seeks to destroy that link.

The piece also explores two contemporary Canadian texts, one abstract, widely spaced and lovely by Jordan Tannahill, and one by Jill Battson, a dirge in angry spoken word that literally calls out and seeks to shame those who abuse other men for not exuding an Ideal of Masculinity that is socially sanctioned. There are strange resonances here and a limning of both ugly and gorgeous excess; many women in the audience may feel a similar twinge at the Ideal of Femininity reproduced again and again on screen, clearly adored by the male dancers; but this piece is not really about women. It is complicated, evokes emotion, and is sharp and brave.

Citadel Dance Mix 18 was one of the most innovative anthology shows we saw in 2018; kudos to curator Laurence Lemieux for providing space and support for such edgy, pushing-the-boundaries work here in Toronto.

 

Cut the Sky

MARRUGEKU | AUSTRALIA

Rachael Swain | Director

Dalisa Pigram and Serge Aimé Coulibaly | Choreographers

Eric Avery, Josh Mu (role performed by Joshua Thomson), Edwin Lee Mulligan, Dalisa Pigram, Ngaire Pigram, Miranda Wheen | Co‑Creators, Performers

November 23-24 2018

Fleck Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox and Beverley Daurio

 

The dance company Marrugeku is located in the remote town of Broome in Western Australia. Their production of Cut the Sky recently showed in Toronto.

 

Cut the Sky opens with a cyclone on stage. Real footage of resultant devastation taken by drones is projected on a cloth scrim that fills the back stage wall. White and Indigenous people huddle on the stage floor, most wrapped in raggedy plastic, inhabiting a sort of dystopean landscape. The centre right of the stage is dominated by a massive pipe with a valve wheel; the pipe is coming from somewhere and going somewhere, containing what, we don't know.

 

The six inhabitants— played by performers with impressive backgrounds— wear tattered clothing and appear to be marginalized victims of climate change and corporate mining interests in Kimberley, Australia. They include a sex trade worker, miners and a white activist. The notes say nothing about who they are. So we have to work from the cues and clues on stage. They are ciphers who remain unfleshed out throughout. One is Edwin Lee Mullgan, a poet/ storyteller well known in Australia. He delivers traditional storytelling throughout.

 

For the duration of the show they are the lamenting voices of anguish and protest in a devastated world, trying to prevent further destruction.

 

This production consists of a series of monologues, songs, poetry, dance, video and storytelling, each section puncturing the previous mood. The show attempts to be very inclusive of different generations, countries, indigenous and Western European worldviews, including new and ancient stories, different genders, animals, the land, and science and Traditional Knowledge.
 

These disjointed segments lead to a confused vision suggestive of a nightmarish dream; we often feel that we are witness to an otherworldly cabaret. At one point, for instance, the performers move from being a herd of wild quadripeds running in circles, trying to escape the noise of a helicopter, to performing a spirited rendition of Buffalo Springfields's 1960s protest hit "For What Its Worth.” These jarring combinations reach for a larger connection, but the focus is frequently blurry.

 

The recurring theme is corporate raping of the land people need to live on, mining for mercury and other minerals, for profit above the good of living things. Milligan warns us of the Dunghabah Poison Woman, a mythical representation of spreading pollution and the dangers of disturbing the deep earth.

 

For a dance company, there is little dance. Miranda Wheen does a frenzied crazed dance. Her body, distorted by pain and anguish, speaks volumes. Two performers dance to a mesmerizing violinist.

 

The set is malleable, with only the massive pipe a constant in the scenes, while the footage of devastation on the screen continues unabated.

 

At times the feeling is surrealistic. In one scene, everyone seems to be hanging out in a bar or perhaps a house of ill repute. One has a gas mask on and coughs incessantly. Another wears a very realistic kangaroo mask. He weaves drunkenly across the stage. Thick and smokey toxic haze spews out, blanketing the stage, suggesting industrial toxic air.

 

A politician shown in real video footage tells indigenous people to live quietly on their allotted land and that they should allow the land to be mined and the water polluted. His voice and commands are infuriating and patronizing. They reinforce a story Milligan tells about the difference between white and indigenous relationships to the land and water.

 

Singer/song writer Ngaire sings songs written by her, by others, and two songs by Nick Cave. The lyrics of Cave’s The Weeping Song fit in well with the show's content:

 

Go son down to the water

And see the women weeping there

Then go up into the mountain,

The men they are weeping too

 

The show ends with real water falling through light onto the performers. They bask in this, celebrating perhaps the end of the long drought. It also comes across as a feel-good all-will-be-well ending offering some hope to the audience.

 

This production highlights and delineates the importance of attention to environmental issues, and offers different, healthier ways to approach these problems. What is happening in rural Australia is is happening worldwide and Cut the Sky urges everyone to act now.