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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!


The Infinity Machine

Written, Choreographed and Directed by Sharon B. Moore
in collaboration with the Theatre Performance and Production Programs of Humber College

Humber College Movement and Drama

The Theatre Centre, Toronto

April 11-13, 2019

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio

Spiritual labyrinths and swirling rings of damnation, limbo and salvation twist and flower at the centre of many of the world’s great stories, from Greek myths to Dante. And one could argue that these whirlpools of thought nestle within a moral, energized philosophy that touches on the concepts of Yin and Yang, the zodiac and the mandala: in fact, they represent the constantly changing cosmos.

In The Infinity Machine, Sharon B. Moore has pulled together multidimensional quantum theory and spirit and body and the magic of philosophy, the history of such imagery, and clever character splicing into a dancing, rushing maelstrom of physics, clown, zombies, time as flexible concept, dance, and humour, with a generous vision of what meaning is and how it resides in and can be expressed by the smallest gestures and moments, in objects, and in human physicality.

We enter the intimate Incubator Theatre space at the Theatre Centre—a theatre with a sunken square centre, like a 1960s suburban living room, with one row of seating around all four sides—and immediately confront an apocalyptic scene of young people dressed in motley white outfits, their faces made strange by zombie-esque makeup, though nothing too violent or severe. They are moving, in circles, around and around, walking and looking, and the impression is strong that they have always been there.

This timelessness and sense of the eternal are part of what The Infinity Machine addresses. At centre stage stands a figure who is part circus ring master and part Joel Grey character from Cabaret—in a top hat, white collar and off-kilter tails. This character returns and recycles on occasion throughout the piece, as does the song “When I Wish Upon a Star,” providing punctuation and short, recognizable rest points.

All of the performers’ characters are complex splices, as the program list suggests. One actor’s roles are “Star the Horse, Polaris, a cosmic star, lizard, burlesque dancer, writer of stars” while another is “Doll face, Alberto the fish, Lover of the letter Q, Charlie and detective.” This fountain of creativity at the core of the piece is brought to realization, generating a responsive creativity in the audience.

It is a delight to watch these young performers limn their multiple characters with clean lines, strong presence and joyful emphasis—making it clear that they exist differently in different dimensions, going from sketch to feeling real in moments. This is difficult to do, and it is part of the magic of this piece that the structure—the conceit of the maelstrom as multidimensional universe, manifested in the constantly moving bodies of the performers—their presence as atoms, as ectoplasm, as the winds of time—also provides a sense of each individual, as the faces and complicated characters emerge and play their plays within the play. It is always implied that these are glimpses of the complex dimensions and lives out of which they appear to us—that these other lives are ongoing, beneath and beyond the dimension that we are allowed to experience in that moment.

For over an hour and a half, twenty-two performers move almost constantly on a small stage in shifting, swirling and directional changes without a hitch, while hitting a series of complex nodes where dramatic actions occur (an autopsy on a large plastic doll, a wedding with quirky uses of veiling, a song, and many other short sections) with precision. The effect is of angelic and demonic visions emerging out of a cloud of humanity, representing choices, events, and all from an inexhaustible cornucopia of the imaginary.

The use of props in The Infinity Machine is highly inventive and organic. Not only is the timing—again, through twenty-two constantly moving bodies over a long show— impeccable, but the props are hidden along the edges of the stage lip and so are not a distraction for the audience in anticipating their use. The performers subtly dip and claim cloth fish, spoons, long pieces of tulle, benches, soft fabric pigeons, costume changes, a fake pregnancy belt with a light inside it, and many other expressive and telling objects. These objects are lifted and blended into the waves of legs and arms and faces as we are pulled into a celebration of thought and spirit.

The performers are impressive. They move in and out of individual character at a moment’s notice, command the space for the duration of their solos, then return to the cloud of movement like birds being absorbed back into a flock seamlessly. At the same time, the individuality of each performer is also indelibly stamped on the work. Each actor is present, focused and individually expressive; every spot on the stage is populated by ingenuity and activity and the kind of light that comes from believing in a work and performers supporting each other. That this show was put together in three weeks is a testament to the performance program at Humber.

unmoored

Text and performance by Peggy Baker

Choreography and direction by Sarah Chase

Peggy Baker Dance Projects at The Citadel, Toronto

May 1-4, 2019

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio

Peggy Baker’s performance of unmoored, directed by Sarah Chase, features Baker in a solo one-act play, sharing her memories of her 20-year marriage to the musician, activist and composer Ahmed Hassan, who died of primary progressive MS.

The set is simple: at the front and slightly to the left, there are a mic stand and a mic; also slightly on the left, are two chairs placed side by side, facing us; and to the back right, there is a table holding a couple of small objects that we can’t quite identify, and two sheafs of paper. These different parts of the stage are physical foci for different sections of the piece, and for different parts of the text. Baker moves between these focal points, and repeatedly returns to the chairs, sitting erect in one of them. We become conscious of the invisible presence of Ahmed, whose chair we imagine the empty one is, and who resides in her state of mind.

Baker holds herself erect, regal and proud like a tree that has survived all weathers. Her arms are like branches. Her hands the leaves. Her rings have recorded the cycles of her life. Her voice is steady and warm.

A segment of a wall behind her, and the table, are lit only occasionally throughout, as if indicating her feelings of loss and his absence cutting her off from him. Every bit of lighting, every gesture, every movement, is spare and powerful.

The text of unmoored was written by Baker, and she speaks some sections from memory, and reads most of it from white sheets of paper that have been placed around the set—on a table, on a chair—that Baker reaches for and holds with her hands like loved relics.

Beginning with images of an unmoored boat floating empty in moonlit waters, the work consists mainly of stories of the events of Ahmed’s physical failing and death, and how he, and she, travelled through this very difficult terrain.

Throughout the show, through the saddest, most painful and difficult sections as well as through delight, Baker’s voice and face are full of love and joy. The tension between that pleasure—her pleasure in Ahmed’s music, his love of life, his conversation, his physical presence—and his sufferings with severe MS, forms a mystery. Near the beginning of the piece, Baker explains that, describing Ahmed to a friend who had not yet met him, it never crossed her mind to mention his illness. She did not think of her husband as in any way defined by his disability, in spite of his eventually profound physical limitations. It is this beautiful transcendence in Ahmed’s spirit and presence that Baker evokes as that mystery’s answer. As audience, we feel and are drenched in that love and its manifestations. Baker’s text is strong and spare, like her voice—as she tells story after story about Ahmed’s courage and pleasure in life—and it is a powerful teacher. It would be hard to leave the theatre less awed by the possibilities of joy in life.

As Baker recovers from her grief and celebrates Ahmed’s life, her elegiac journey of healing embeds itself in ours. Her soul is open and encourages joy and openness in us.

During the short sections with movement, when Baker does dance, her gestures are very evocative. Arms and hands become waves crashing on a shore. Pulling a white sheet off his wasted body. Embracing his lifeless body.

Unmoored ends with Baker placing the two chairs so they face away from each other. Suggesting a new beginning.

 

 

James Kudelka’s Against Nature is remounted May 22-25 2019 and May 29-June 1 2019 at The Citadel in Toronto. (Below is EvidanceRadio's review of the 2016 premiere of the show.)

For ticket infomation go to http://citadelcie.com/against-nature-2019/

 

Against Nature

Original Cast-- Performers: Alexander Dobson, Laurence Lemieux and Geoffrey Sirett (replaced in the remount by Korin Thomas-Smith)

May 22-25 and May 29-June 1, 2019

Ross Centre for Dance, The Citadel, Toronto

 

Reviewed by Ted Fox

 

The Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie music-dance-opera theatre production of Against Nature (A rebours) is based on French writer Joris-Karl Huysmans' novel of the same name, written in 1884. It explores the life of eccentric Jean des des Esceintes (referred to in this work as The Master) who abhors the nineteenth century and leaves his life of Parisian decadence to retreat into the isolation of his country house in Fontenay.

 

He lives with two servants (dancer Laurence Lemieux and Baritone Geoffrey Sirett). They interact with their master (Bass-Baritone Alexander Dobson), commenting like a Greek chorus on his decadent past, his deteriorating health and his current actions and state of mind.

 

They morph from being servants from time to time, moving the few props when necessary and interpreting other characters. Lemieux has a striking moment when she morphs into a tortoise onto whose shell the master has set gemstones, their heaviness causing its death. In another sequence, she incarnates Salome and does the famous veil dance. She and Geoffrey Sirett at one point dance in a pushing, pulling, twirling duet, in which they waltz like mechanical dolls, then exhausted, lie side by side, splayed out like marionnettes with no Master operating their strings.

 

Director and choreographer James Kudelka uses his dance background to bring out subtle nuances in Dobson's singing of Alex Poch-Goldin's libretto and his own movement vocabulary. Dobson articulates, pauses, and elongates vowels. His body language is triggered by his conjuring up of past memories, and the effects of the Jesuit educuation, sufferings and sexual decadence embedded in his body. It's marvellous to see the many shades of emotions, varying from humorous to dark, crossing over his face. How he sniffs a vial of perfume or registers his bliss as he holds a favorite book is just magical. His interpretation is also influenced by the striking claustrophobic set design and the lighting that conveys a feeling of melancholia.

 

At the back of the stage is a large portrait of The Master, enclosed within a framed screen, with projection design by Jeremy Mimnagh. As we enter, this portrait looms, one eye lit in an observing stare. Gradually, the image on the screen transforms into birds, a leafless tree, art objects, flowers, his library-- until all becomes more and more abstract and ends with a stark figure, "his face is like clay, lips bloated and dry." We last see The Master on the verge of going back to civilization, where he muses:

 

"The nobility is dead

Aristocracy is finished

Is there left one man who values

The meaning of a phrase,

The gesture in a painting,

The pattern of his days."

 

The live music features a trio of three muscians: Steven Philcox (piano), Parmela Attariwala (violin) and Carina Reeves (cello). Composer James Rolfe has used throughout a repetitious playful motif relevant to the resurgence of the Master's memories. For me, the score also has a music hall theme in it. All this while at the same time fully suggesting the mental stress and discomfort experienced by The Master, torn by living a life of isolation in which he is constantly assaulted by the past, and returning to a civiilization he detests

 

Dance, music, text and theatre were perfectly integrated, resulting in a beautiful hypnotic work, heightened by the intimacy of the performers with the audience within the small theatre in The Citadel.

 

 

 

 Amorous Playlist

Choreographer: Social Growl Dance / Riley Sims in collaboration with the performers

Live music performed by Blunt Chunks, singer-songwriter Caitlin Woelft-O'Brien

Danced by Clarke Blair, Ana Groppler, Jean-Benoit Labrecque, Kay Kenney, Genevieve Robitaille, Riley Sims

Social Growl at The Citadel, Toronto

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio 

 

The set is like a bar with a dance floor—in fact, there is an actual bar on one side, where the performers pick up cans of beer and drink them. The audience sits on the sidelines in a horseshoe shape around the composer/ singer with her guitar, mic, and electronic sound equipment.

 

Amorous Playlist is aptly titled: the show is basically a concert by Blunt Chunks (the one-woman band of singer-songwriter Caitlin Woelft-O'Brien), fronted by programmatic dance performances that express the songs physically, extending their meaning into and through the dancers’ bodies.

 

Woelft-O'Brien is a powerful performer (and former dancer) who occasionally drifts to different parts of the stage to perform songs, once sitting on the floor among dancers with her guitar, once standing far from the stage proper. Her songs are twee and heartfelt, with charming, sharp and bittersweet lyrics, peppered with Canadian ironies and twists. Her voice is high and light as thin steel wire, and holds the entire show together.

 

In the dance performance, we see the coming together of real people, the fragile, the lonely and the vulnerable. Survivors of previous relationships.

 

They dance solo, in duets, in threes, as a group, in different combinations of love, loneliness, connection and rejection. There is quite a bit of anger verging on violence in the dance in this work, which is interesting and unusual. They drink beer, interact, are expressive, and slowly build a kind of shrine to past relationships with kitsch and flowers and meaningful objects, on risers up behind where Woelft-O'Brien has set up to play. Their body language consists of a wide variety of desirous movement and moments of dislike, from embraces to shoves to reaching out skyward as a group, and to each other.

 

Woelft-O'Brien’s lyrics, like the dancers’ body language, are permeated with melancholy, sadness and frustration. Example:

 

My love, my lover, my love says he is unable to move

Depressed with no humour left in him.

He lays in his underwear, on the unmade bed feeling so bad

As my heart sinks I feel so sad,

because

He doesn't wanna move, and all I wanna do is get out.

 

This last is repeated three times, as many of the lyrics are, reflecting repetitive futile existence, and the locks and delights and private traps of love and relationships.

 

Idomeneo

Director and Co-Artistic Director, Opera Atelier: Marshall Pynkoski

Dancers: Artists of Atelier Ballet

Opera Atelier

Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto

April 4-13 2019


Reviewed by Ted Fox

Begins with Neptune (Douglas Williams. Bass-Baritone) standing holding his trident and orchestrating a violent storm destined to leave Idomeneo (Colin Ainsworth) and his crew shipwrecked on the shores of Crete. He is the only survivor. Neptune has him vow to sacrifice the first person he meets. Wouldn't you know, that person turns out to be his son.

Idamante (Wallis Giunta, Mezzo Soprano) is in love with Ilia (Meghan Lindsay, Soprano). She loves him even though he is a Greek. Elettra (Measha Brueggergosman, Soprano), daughter of Agamenon and Clylestemnestra) also loves Idamante. Sigh.

Giunta as Idamante has a slim build with a physical presence that belies her stature. She leaps, falls and seems constantly on the move. Her colourful vocalizations and radiant voice are a joy to hear as she expresses her love and she takes on a role originally sung by a castrati.

Elettra is not featured that much throughout but when on she is a force of nature. Her face and singing are expressive of her anguish, clashing with the shades of angry jealousy flickering on her face and energizing her song. She excels near the end with her vocals rife with all these emotions battling within. Clutching a knife, she wields it as she frantically scurries back and forth across the stage. Since this takes place in front of a scrim cutting her off and isolating her frustration and loneliness it is really felt.

The dancers of the Atelier Ballet are a strong feature in this production. The choreography is by Jeanette Lajeunesse Zing and beautifully integrates the dancers into the show as minor characters. In the festive celebration at the end they radiate rebirth, twirling and moving in and out as if blown by a spring breeze. The colours of their dresses are a mix of pinks blues and greens.

There is subtle humor embedded in this presentation. In the tsunami flashbacks Neptune has a campy presence, standing with a bared chest and wearing tights, his muscular build looking like an incredible hunk. That Idamente can battle and conquer (offstage) a sea monster brings cartoon images to my mind. And her endless longing for Ilia combines humor and sadness in a touching way.

A highly entertaining production beautifully sung.