Hanna Kiel's Chasing the Path

Chasing the Path

Choreographed and directed in collaboration with the dancers by Hanna Kiel

Performed by Luke Garwood, Ryan Lee, David Norsworthy, Kelly Shaw

Lighting designed by Oz Weaver

Set design by Joe Pagnan

Composition by Greg Harrison

Human Body Expression

DanceWorks at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto

March 15-17 2018

Reviewed by Beverley Daurio


The rooms and houses in our dreams are, according to the gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls, expressions and projections of our own psyches. It is a trope of theatre to use interiors of houses—a famous Broadway version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman used a house in the shape of the main character’s head, open at the front—as representations of obsessive thoughts or imagination or memory, or a combination of all of these. Hanna Kiel’s living room set for Chasing the Path quickly seems familiar, dreamlike and imaginary.

The piece is framed dramatically by the dated living room with its curtained window; by three characters who pose from time to time as if in a painting; by rising music that sounds like small bells, a glockenspiel, or high notes on a piano; by costumes that could be worn by guests on their way to a wedding or a funeral; and by the disembodied voice of an older woman, invoking memories in poetic phrases. Her voice is warm but sad, caring but distant. She seems dismayed, and surprised, by something she laments, barely able to keep hold of fragments of whatever has happened: “the smell of a wet sweater,” “the lost event…”

The green door of the living room to one side opens and admits a fourth dancer/character, whose presence—ghostly? or remembered?—upsets the other three dancers’ calm demeanour and tips the show into ornately danced energy.

Soon the furniture has been turned on its sides and pushed back out of the way—another reference to past, old-time habits-- and the dancers have traded their more formal clothes for t-shirts and khakis. The show is permeated by a sad nostalgia. The theatrical elements are like bookends and contain and hold the piece, in a hermetic way emotionally and in terms of story: Chasing the Path feels like a closed system.

Throughout this piece, the dance is exquisite, magical and intricate. Each dancer, whether gesturing with isolations or moving full-bodied, arms and legs extended, whether in tender and sensitive duet, in combinations, or in solo, draws and holds space with power and just the right amount of energy. This control feels social, as if the work is exploring the emotions raging beneath the calm of a family gathering. It is hard to describe how precise yet fluid the movement is. There are recurring themes—quick alterations in pacing, swift synchronizations, hands held up in the air, fingers moving as if playing the piano, awkward stumbles, falling-walks that drift across the stage, and a constant attention to balance, in the sense that positions teeter and tend crookedly just off the upright.

The lighting shifts from gentle washes to square spotlight shapes that focus attention and change the perspective, to wide stripes of light that contain the dancers. Greg Harrison’s variegated and wide-ranging soundscape uses, among other instruments, bass, cello, piano, and the sound of children playing. The score is an ardent partner and supporter of the movement, shifting from hard guitar twang to tentative and delicate bell tings that linger around a duet between Ryan Lee (the guest/ghost) and Kelly Shaw, to mysterious melody for the elegant movement of Luke Garwood, to a rousing pounding percussive rock beat during a long and particularly challenging and beautiful solo by David Norsworthy.

As the show comes to a close, the older woman’s voice returns briefly, the furniture is righted, and Kelly Shaw performs a long, internally focused solo. It is as if balance has returned, and she can dance by herself now.