still here by Heidi Strauss

 still here

Choreographed and performed by Heidi Strauss

Set and costumes by Julie Fox

Soundscape by Jeremy Mimnaugh

adelheid at the Factory Studio Theatre, Toronto

April 7-17, 2011


Strauss moves on a slippery, unpleasant-looking plastic covering that extends under the disconcerting set. Her face is gaunt and tortured, with pale lipstick and bleached hair, and her body language has a deathly look to it, whether splayed out, corpse-like, or sliding down from a chair. The waifish image is extended by her rumpled, long-sleeved blue-grey t-shirt and khaki shorts.

Her robotic twisted movements repeatedly freeze into sculptured, still images, as if the dancer is suffering from a mental block that constantly stops her in mid-movement. She has a boyish androgynous look, like a newborn, not quite gendered.

Julie Fox has designed an elevated wall, covered with a drawing of a large grey window that looks out on grey trees, with a massive table jutting in front with sharp edges, that is creepy and menacing—like a huge altar to current times? A monitor with snowy screen that she adjusts, or turns on and off periodically, sits on a shelf high up on the elevated wall. Over the course of the piece, the television screen gradually begins to give natural images. She seems to be controlling her environment more and more. At one point her movements, pressed against the wall, suggest sleep and a dreamlike state.

The soundscape ranges from scratchy noises, to actual snippets of music, to metallic and urban sounds in a minimal way, and ratchets off and on, underpinning Strauss’s movement beautifully and subtly.

The lighting, like the television and the sound, varies from spotlit to washes over the space, to creating localized play areas—including underneath the table, like a playhouse. The lighting is subject to Strauss’s manipulation, as she returns to the wall’s edge, adjusting her environment—ironically—since she seems so trapped within her rectangular playing space. The harshness of her containment intensifies her powerfully expressed wide range of emotion, from horror to jubilation.

The wall seems to represent her physical and mental journey in life, which is one of constant discovery and evolution. She works her way through the blocks that impede her, until she rips through the wall, tearing down the wrinkled wallpaper that has, perhaps, been put up mentally, to stifle her development.

A superb use of nature images begins to take over, including waves of blue lake that spill from the television across the set. The gradual heightening of light singles her out and suggests enlightenment and the birth of a new life.

still here ends in a zen-like pictorial: she is in darkness again, sitting in the corner on the chair where she began. Things have changed: she has danced more freely, changed into a bright dress covered with flowers, and what was once the grey-paper wall now bursts with half-hidden, burgeoning green plant life. Still, it seems, she waits to recommence her journey of self-discovery. This is a mesmerizing, intriguing and dreamlike show.