On the Ground


By Lee Slinger, Brittany Duggan, Sarah Lochhead
  • LEO by Y2D Productions
  • Limitless by ILL-Abilities Crew
  • Bryan Arias, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey, Tiffany Tregarthen and Jonathon Young in Betroffenheit by Crystal Pite
  • Paula Rivera in Niágara ~ A Pan-American Story by Veronica Tennant
  • Mix by Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker

Buzz, not only for the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in Toronto, but PANAMANIA, the cultural event surrounding the games, began well over a year ago. Now in full swing, the thirty-five-day arts and culture festival showcases a diverse range of cultures and artistic excellence from Canada and the Americas through music, theatre, dance, visual arts and fashion. The Dance Current team is on the ground taking in this unique event. Here is a roundup of what we’ve seen in dance so far. 


LEO by Daniel Briere
LEO, produced by Y2D Productions (Montréal) in association with Chamäleon Productions (Berlin) and presented by Théâtre Français de Toronto, was a slow start for me. Without trying to know too much about this solo physical theatre work beforehand (I prefer an uninfluenced slate), I couldn’t help but notice it had won a handful of awards, setting my expectations before I took my seat. The work plays with our sense of gravity: there are two rooms on the stage, one is a projection of the other, with blue walls, a blue ceiling and a red floor (as seen right side up, with the floor at the bottom, in the projection), making performer Julian Schultz’s room on its side, and he along with it.  This makes it look like Schultz is floating in the opposite projected scene, providing many a funny moment as he realizes his new relationship to gravity and goes about his business in this new reality. Schultz as a performer and acrobatic is magnificent, and though a bit cheesy, like mime feels to me, LEO was received with the biggest and most unwavering standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed in the Fleck Dance Theatre, and possibly ever in Toronto. There were a few kids in the audience but this work is impressive to anyone who can appreciate extreme physicality and choreographed specificity – Schultz never missed his mark. ~Brittany Duggan


Limitless by ILL-Abilities
Toronto’s Historic Distillery District is right beside the Pan Am Athletes’ Village and on July 17, when I went to catch Limitless by ILL-Abilities, a PANAMANIA event, it was filled with excited people from Toronto and much farther afield. The enjoyment of a warm summer evening spread into the Young Centre for the Performing Arts for this international breakdance crew led by well-known Canadian dancer and spokesperson for the 2015 International Dance Day in Canada, Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli, and comprised of differently-abled dancers. The audience seemed to be composed of Toronto families reaping the benefits of the PANAMANIA program, tourists and athletes looking to relax and a more seasoned cultural crowd. The dancers of ILL-Abilities are simply inspiring. Their presented work featured solos by company members, accompanied by a voiceover in their own voice, explaining who they were, what their limitations were and how they had overcome them. “The only place I’m a monster,” says Sergio “Checho” Miranda in his voiceover, “is on the dance floor.” While the piece pulled a bit hard on the emotional strings, as a whole it worked by emphasizing the skills, abilities and possibilities of each dancer. I particularly enjoyed their group choreography that closed the piece, which featured many gravity-defying stunts. What I liked most about it was the pleasure the dancers themselves seemed to get from watching, challenging and supporting each other. At the end, I couldn’t help but want to express my gratitude for their bravery, their perseverance and their amazing skill. ~Lee Slinger


Betroffenheit by Kidd Pivot and Electric Company Theatre
I’m still digesting after seeing the premiere of Betroffenheit, a PANAMANIA commission. It was a powerful meeting of theatre and dance between Kidd Pivot, led by Crystal Pite, and Electric Company Theatre, led by Jonathon Young, both of Vancouver.
Pite created choreography for and directed Betroffenheit, a two-hour performance with, at its core, a very personal story of trauma and loss experienced by Young, who wrote the text and who plays a version of himself onstage. Betroffenheit begins with Young alone, huddled in the corner of a cold room (onstage: two walls, each with their own door). The atmosphere escalates to one of emergency, but from the perspective of witnessing an emergency and the human thought process throughout. We hear voices, all similar, but coming from different areas of the stage. Lights flash, Young finds himself on his feet, growing more and more frantic, yelling about systems failing, pleading for answers. And then silence. The mood dramatically shifts and Young is working through how to be prepared for next time; repetition is key.
Betroffenheit progresses to feature Kidd Pivot’s cast of phenomenal dancers – a collection of individuals Pite has met throughout her various choreographic commissions around the world, it would seem from their bios. Each one a curious character in “The Show”, a bizarre cabaret with references as broad as sinewy jazz and brutalist clowning. Here, the individual dancers – Bryan Arias, Cindy Salgado, Jermaine Spivey and Canadians David Raymond and Tiffany Tregarthen – were showcased to their strengths with Raymond stealing the spotlight with a tap dance (he started dancing in tap), for example. It would be hard to replace any of these dancers who so specifically fit their parts and were imperative to the creative process, as Pite admits in her program note.
Without going through scene by scene – because Betroffenheit is broken up into many distinct scenes, and out of context they’re all a bit strange, they need each other – I will say that the act after intermission takes place in an entirely different context. Movement patterns we’ve seen earlier repeat, only without the set from the first half, and the physicality is really pushed – Pite’s choreography is as smooth as silk, sprinkled with all kinds of quirky accents. The dancing replaces the text in act two and it’s equally as potent.
Betroffenheit is a complete roller coaster of a journey. It’s almost exhausting for an audience member, if only out of empathy for the performers. It is absolutely a work to see. A work to experience. Like I said, still digesting. ~Brittany Duggan
Betroffenheit was a PANAMANIA commission. 


Niágara: A Pan-American Story by Veronia Tennant
Watching the theatrical production Niágara, I was looking for director Veronica Tennant in the details. Tennant began her career as a ballerina with The National Ballet of Canada, established as a national and international star in the 1970s, and when, after twenty-five years, she moved on to a new career, she found success there too, in film projects and work as a director/producer. In Niágara, I found her unique influence in the transitions and moments where text couldn’t communicate as well as a simple gesture could.
Niágara is the story of José María Heredia, a poet and revolutionary who was exiled from his native Cuba in 1824. His cathartic poem, Ode to Niágara, written on the precipice of Niagara Falls at the age of twenty immortalized him as the first Romantic poet in the Spanish language and the first “Poet of the Americas”, according to the program. Cubans cherish this poem, but for Canadians, this fact is hardly known. The work, presented at the Daniels Spectrum theatre in Toronto on July 23-26 as part of the PANAMANIA festival, uses video recordings of waterfalls, African dancing (by Toronto Dance Theatre’s Pulga Muchochoma), a corridor, a garden, a star-filled sky, to establish location and memory. Actors René Millán and Paula Rivera tell the story of Heredia’s life: Millán as Heredia and Rivera as his mother, first love and wife. Vocalist Brent Carver is the third body onstage, bringing this story, written by Guillermo Verdecchia, to life. But again it was the details: the movement emphasis of the bodies around the stage – an added twirl as a scene changes or a slow head circle indicating time passing – that I caught as I watched this theatrical production. It’s the details a dancer knows – how powerfully movement communicates – that tie the story together. ~Brittany Duggan
Niágara was a PANAMANIA commission. 


Connected Creation of Creative Connections with Canada’s National Ballet School
On July 15, I made my way to the Betty Oliphant Theatre to see Connected Creation of Creative Connections. The night consisted of student choreography from Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) and a new work by Canadian Shaun Amyot and Argentinian Demis Volpi titled of the People.
Of the student works, the piece Luminous by Thomas Leprohon was captivating. Each movement performed by Leprohon and Masha Shcherbyna, whether a large lift overhead or a gentle taking of the hand, appeared necessary and genuine, precious and strong. There was sincerity to the movement and to each other that came across through facial expression and continued right down to their expressive feet. I look forward to following the career paths of these two young artists and hope they will continue to work together as they appear matched not only in their incredible technical proficiency but also in their authenticity of presence.
of the People consisted of six dancers, each representing a different PanAm country: Brazil, Cuba, Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United States. Half of the cast were NBS students and half were visiting artists. Artistic Director Mavis Staines explained in her introductory speech to the performance that the visiting dancers from School of Ballet Theatre Municipal Santiago in Chile, National School of Classical and Contemporary Dance in Mexico and the Houston Ballet Academy in the United States learned their part by video before coming to the school to rehearse as an ensemble.
The soundtrack of guitar and voice was very calming and unobtrusive. In one section, the dancers made raindrop sounds by clicking their tongues on the roofs of their mouths. The piece also used wooden stools in innovative ways – sitting on them, stacking them, dragging them across the floor – all adding to the musical accompaniment while also supporting their upper bodies and extension of lines.
The program notes state that, “The work intends to celebrate their cultural differences and emphasize their human similarities by creating space for each of them to express themselves as an individual and part of the people.” This was certainly clear in the structure of the piece, from the solos and group transitions to the supporting roles of the group during each solo section.
The section representing Canada was danced by NBS student Khayla Fitzpatrick. The entire solo was in slow motion, right down to the details of her eye line. I wasn’t exactly sure how to read this choreographic choice. Is Canada laid-back? Do we have a slow and steady persona? Is this a representation of our economic climate? Perhaps it was simply for contrast from the previous sections.
In the final section, American dancer Mackenzie Richter took the iconic pose of Lady Liberty. The stools were rearranged in a flourish by the dancers into wide platforms and vertical structures. Richter held her shape with rigidity and was carried by the other dancers and placed in an upright position on these platforms. The audience seemed fully invested, audibly gasping as Richter’s feet were slowly placed on the top of each platform. I’ll digress from political interpretation of this section and leave that to you.
Overall, personal political reading aside, the work was playful, joyful and captured the excitement and celebratory nature of the PanAm Games. The evening’s performance was sold-out but of the People was shown again the following day at Nathan Phillips Square. ~Sarah Lochhead


Mix by Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker
“I’ve been waiting for her company to return to Canada for about ten years,” said dance fan Joanna Birenbaum, who was seated behind me on August 8 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, where we were both about to see Mix by Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker. She recalled that the last piece she saw of Colker’s had a Ferris wheel - a memorable image all these years later. It was, in fact, in February 2000 that Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker made their Canadian debut with a work entitled Rota containing a Ferris wheel – like prop. I know Colker as the director and choreographer of Cirque du Soleil’s mesmerizing show Ovo; that, combined with the anticipatory energy in the theatre, my pre-show chat with Joanna and learning that Mix won Colker a Lawrence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance built high expectations as I waited for the show to begin.
The curtain rose to reveal two large banners, one with a black and white image of a nude man and the other of a woman. Three male dancers stood equidistant from one another in white tank tops that appeared padded. In unison, the men fell forward landing in the lower third of a push-up position followed by extremely fast rolling. In waves, groups of men and women executed this phrase adding sequences of precise arm gestures and jump combinations as the piece progressed. The elevation the dancers achieved was breathtaking. My jaw dropped open at what looked to be a perfectly executed switch spilt. I wanted to turn around to my new acquaintance Joanna and ask, “Did you see that?”
The program unfolded as a series of sections. The one following the drop and roll featured a set of enormous chairs and hoop skirt cages as attire. The third showed a series of powerful duets in front of a large draped curtain that slowly lowered towards the floor like lava. The duets were fierce and intense, like a pas de deux but without the artifice and niceties of classical ballet; here, it was pure raw athleticism, intricacy and power.
As the third section began, the music shifted from an ambient club track to a cacophony of snippets of music. A distant scratchy version of a Bach cello suite, a Motown track, a French love song – they shifted as soon as they were somewhat recognizable. I found this to be unsettling, but rather than disengaging, I found myself drawn in closer to the movement itself, hanging on for some sense of stability in the ever-shifting score. The incredible sense of unison and repetition of movement phrases gave a visual anchor to the work that the music did not. I hadn’t realized how much I’d come to rely on music to guide me through a dance production until that crutch was taken away. I wondered if Joanna, behind me, felt the same way. Alas, I didn’t get the chance to ask her.
Intermission came and went. The second half had two sections. The first piece again had large group unison. The flooring had a blue square and an outline of green or yellow strips. There were phases that resembled soccer, wrestling and running. The dancers were clad in numbered shirts.
This transitioned into the finale, featured in the promotional images, of dancers on a large wall with rock climbing grips. As if my senses weren’t scrambled enough from the lack of auditory cohesion, I now found my sense of spatial perception on the fritz. The dancers entered from above the wall, beside the wall and from the ground. The choreography not only showed clarity of lines and incredible strength and agility but also an appreciation for stillness and innovative navigation of the immense prop. It was no surprise that when the curtain fell, the audience rose to their feet, myself included. High expectations were certainly met. Mix was a fitting title in more ways than one. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker to return to Toronto. ~Sarah Lochhead





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