Dance Made in Canada-- Desnoyers Series


DANCE made in Canada/fait au Canada

Desnoyers Series

August 17-20, 2017

Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto


Yvonne Ng, Director of the DANCE made in Canada festival, has designed the mainstage in three series, each curated by a different Canadian choreographer. Daniele Desnoyers’ program consisted of one premiere and two works new to Toronto audiences, from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, all with an experimental ethos tinged toward performance art.

“The Eventual De-expression of RGSa,” by Ottawa choreographer Yvonne Coutts, transforms the conflict of nature versus nurture, of genes versus will, and an exploration of the manifestations of depression, into a charming and alarming physical narrative. Performer Kay Kenney, dressed in a soft, gold-sequined evening gown, sits despondently at the right side of the stage in murky light. She appears to be disconnected from the space and events around her. Percussionist and musician Jesse Stewart starts at centre stage, toying with a single snare drum, from which he unwinds a long wire, moving backwards to the left and away from Kenney. He begins creating sound intently, using a violin bow on the wire. Coutts works here with the large, open, unadorned Betty Oliphant stage, strewn with props that echo and amplify Kenney’s personal and emotional disarray.

Accompanied by Stewart’s rhythms, Kenney slides across the stage and turns on a light. She seems rattled by the music, anxious and agitated; at the same time though, the mood is very casual, and her activity intermittent. Stewart twirls a wire above his head and she seems driven by it, running in large circles until she takes a long pause, focused on her breathing. Then, standing, she kicks out a rolled-up green carpet, and dons a white ermine jacket and a golden crown; the percussionist plays a drum roll. This vestigial queen shivers and wriggles, arms out, reaching up, eyes closed, transfixed. The two performers appear connected by the louder drumming; she seems sad, whimpering, but moving and alive. As he stands closer, with a tambourine, she punches out with her hand. At the last moment, they both look down. This is a calm and abstract emotional journey from passivity to action, confrontation, and courage. Like all of the pieces in Desnoyers’ program, Coutts’ is highly visual and painterly in its effects, with many tableaux burned into memory like photographs.

“the way we are,” new work by Lauren Cook and Troy Feldman, (created with and performed by Amanda Davis, Nigel Edwards, Caitlin Amodeo, Drew Berry, Luke Garwood, and Valerie Calam* (replacing Caitlin Amodeo in performance)), begins with a visual opposition between casually dressed dancers on the left side of the stage and a large wooden contraption on the right side of the stage, loaded with thick black wires and microphones. To the right of this tall contraption sits the sound designer, James Kendal, who performs the soundscape live. While four of the dancers begin to move in the large free space at the left of the unadorned stage, one dancer grabs a microphone and speaks: "Getting from one place to another.... How do you find where you are meant to be?" he asks, and then, "through the fog to connect the dots."

The dancers employ the large stage space with energy, gathering and dissipating in counterpoint with the shifting soundscape, connecting and disconnecting. At one point, a mock fight breaks out, using dance rhythms and arresting visual combinations as a group, as couples and again as individuals. They separate and are unified again by the beat, and their connection builds. Their voices are modulated, as they all grab mics from the contraption; a lot of reverb makes it difficult to hear specific words, but the dancers enjoy the moment, first caught in the mic wires then freed in sudden solos, before regrouping. The piece ends with a dancer saying, "Wherever we are, and wherever we are going, this is where we all are now." This is an entertaining, beautifully danced and thoughtful piece.

The last performance on the program is Sasha Kleinplatz's "Chorus 11", (performed by Ellen Furey, Simon Portigal, Sovann Prom Tep, Lael Stellick, Sebastien Provencher, Justin de Luna, Hrair Hratchian), which begins with the transformation of the plain stage at the back by an array of red, yellow, green, blue, and white lights. The dancers rush into partial darkness at the front of the stage, rocking and rolling about horizontally. They are dressed casually and appear to be responding to pop music that has been sharply altered so that it sounds both familiar and fractured. When the music stops, we hear loud breathing as the dancers recover, spreadeagled on the stage floor.

The piece varies back and forth between darkness and general light, between music and silence, the dancers on the floor extending arms and legs, sometimes doing workout or athletic moves, torquing slowly, breathing, awkwardly stretching, rushing about, changing head directions, changing shape as if they are floating cartoons. They stand on their heads, or take karate positions, punching hard. The men, and one woman, dance to an explicitly sexual love song. Then in silence, the woman pulls one male dancer around by his head in the crook of her arm, then suddenly lets go. Behind them, the other couples have switched partners as the music returns. The dancers perform a series of cartoon lifts again, as if falling through space. To droning, grinding sound, they move into fetal position on stage, legs up and then down again; when the sound stops they are all on one foot, standing, facing in the same direction, before rolling again on the floor; to the sound of flamenco guitar, a pop song, and lots of laughing, they re-enter the darkness, running and breathing.

Kleinplatz has created an engaging mash-up of pop, silence, electronic sound, darkness, primary colours, athletics, and the joy of movement. The piece is casual on the surface, but reflects a carefully structured, essentially breathing meta-rhythm, that is both entertaining to watch, and somehow evokes in audience members their own wish for movement, extension, physical responsiveness and freedom.