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Review

Deconstruct/Disconnect 

By Lindsay Zier-Vogel
  • Sasha Ivanochko and Mike Moore in "The King and Queen of Ruins" / Photo by John Lauener 
  • Michelle Rhode and Michelle DeBrouwer of Company Blonde in Shannon Cooney's "written in the body" / Photo by Chris Randle 
  • L-R: Monica Dottor, Michelle DeBrouwer, Sunny Dixon, Michelle Rhode in Shannon Cooney's "written in the body" / Photo by Chris Randle 

The King and Queen of Ruins, In Good Company

Sasha Ivanochko, Lesandra Dodson, Shannon Cooney

Toronto March 13-15, 2003 

I am interested in the experience of art, especially the ephemeral art of dance. I aim to track my unconscious experiences of dance, letting the memories, images and ideas that rise from the stage translate directly onto the page. I feel a responsibility to find a voice, literal or figurative, for the layers and layers of experience the performers bring to the stage. Through short reviews and poetry, I have charted my experiences of DanceWorks’ double bill, The King and Queen of Ruins/In Good Company, performed at the duMaurier Theatre Centre in Toronto from March 13th-15th and featuring the work of choreographers Sasha Ivanochko, Lesandra Dodson and Shannon Cooney.

Ivanochko’s first piece, “Perfect Pretty” explores the world beneath illusion. Designed by James Robertson, the piece is set in a three-walled box wallpapered with large garish red flowers, which cover everything including the suspended window frame near the front of the stage. Ivanochko is costumed in the same red flowered pattern, and would blend into the surroundings except that her limbs move incessantly in a machine-like fury. The repetitive quality of the wallpaper sets the stage for the recurring movement vocabulary. 

Ivanochko moves as a woman on the brink of madness, not from her own impulses, but as though she is driven by outside forces. Her body moves in programmed, mechanical angles and there is a helplessness that lies beneath the sharp, automatic motion of her frenzied limbs. Gilles Goyette’s score creates an aggressive and mechanical landscape for the journey of a character shaped by external and potentially violent forces. At times, Ivanochko appears to be a maniacal puppet, at others, a robotic bird. Near the end of the piece, she paces round and round the wallpapered cell, her ferocity muted but with electricity under her skin. The flower-papered stage becomes claustrophobic, wrought with a lack of identity.

her shadows are sewn more tightly than her limbs, and it is an angular wind that fills the face of this bird puppet, this robot bird. her red joints have lost their water and when she tries to fly, there is only the push-pull of metal on metal, and the angle of once-flight remembered.

Ivanochko’s “The King and Queen of Ruins” begins with two dancers in a focussed spotlight, appearing as statues or buildings. Dancer Michael Moore begins standing vertically with Ivanochko upside down, and their bodies collapse – the King and Queen of Ruins begin their desolate reign. Together, they create a landscape with little life other than their solitary journeys. The characters do not even appear to see each other in this barren terrain. The movement carries the weight of collapse, of decay, and their bodies appear to be flung by a grey and faceless wind. The King and Queen rarely touch and when they do, they are unable to support the weight of one another. Defeat and deterioration have permeated all human interaction. Piano music remains at the very edge of Catherine Thompson’s score, as does the element of human emotion. The voice that rises throughout the score invokes the human reality that is lacking in this landscape of ruins. The King and Queen end their journey through the destructive world with muted reflection. The weight of their loss resonates in the stillness on the stage.

bodies as buildings and the bricks fall away – falling to piles of leg and limb and angled skull. The city is too full of noise to watch the buildings fall, but there is a window, an opened window in a building that still stands and the piano behind the window has the time to watch the bricks pool as rain, puddles below the long ago echo of a chopin waltz. ~ they map the streets that once held buildings their palms are forever white with the pale breath of leftover brick. and when their heads bow, it is not in prayer, but just the pull of gravity, pulling their skulls downwards.

The second half of the double bill, In Good Company, opened with Lesandra Dodson’s “Kuere”, a gestural and physical piece titled with the Anglo-Saxon word for question. The phrases “por que’ and “tell me” open the piece with lilting refrains of Spanish spoken by the dancers. The piece does not search for answers but instead the bodies of the four dancers, Bess Callard, Susanne Chui, Patricia Quevedo, Melanie Kuszirrckji, from TILT Sound + Motion embody the act of questioning; aptly so, as Dodson’s creation was inspired by Pablo Neruda’s “The Book of Questions”. The stage is filled with audible breath and precise hand gestures. The interruptions of the dancers voices in Spanish and English – sharp inward breaths and the slap of hands on body parts – punctuate the lulling rhythm of the Joel Klaverkamp’s score. The connection between the Anglo-Saxon title and the use of Spanish and English is not entirely clear, but the power of the question is evident in the dancers’ bodies.

she carves questions with her fingers, leaving the imprint of question mark spine as she traces the line of breath, her own, swallowing the secrets of collarbones and half wings disguised as shoulder blades. and when she asks again, three others reply, not in answer, but in question.

The stage is lit with three spotlights. Shannon Cooney enters costumed in white, layered with a cellophane skirt in “of the first water”. The post-modern quality of this costume is reflected in the absence of a set and in the minimalist choreography that remains on the extreme – subtle or explosive. Where the movement of Ivanochko’s “Perfect Pretty” is driven by external forces, Cooneys self-made solo is much more internal, uncovering the forces of the mind. There is struggle in this piece for control, for calm. Cooney’s expressive hands and torso are contrasted against intense physicality. The push-pull dynamic reveals something of the effort required to keep oneself on the edge of sanity. Cooney slowly bourées off the stage, leaving behind the remnants of her struggle, three large circles of light.

she traces the space around herself in a line as if to say ‘my own’. and when she leaves with arms, with fingers as knives, she leaves her thumb behind, printing the space with the ink of gone.

Cooney’s second piece, “written in the body”, set on the five dancers of Company Blonde, Michelle DeBrouwer, Sunny Dixon, Michelle Rhode, Stephanie Thompson and Tanya White (as a guest replacement for regular Blonde Monica Dottor), explores the consuming reality of secrets. The secrets shared by these powerful women are, at first, ambiguous. With limbs flung into space, bodies thrown into dives against the floor and a-rhythmic runs accentuated by the sound of shoe soles, the potential violence of these contained secrets is revealed. The structure of the piece from group to solo, group to solo grows slightly predictable. However, the string of solo performers evokes the sense of isolation that can come with keeping secrets. 

The piece ends as all but one of the dancers remove their heavy black shoes and it is evident that the shoes, not the secrets, have been weighing them down. The significance of the shoes is an underdeveloped metaphor in this piece, but the final image is stunning as the last of the secret carriers, still shod, balances her way across a line of empty black oxfords. Like stones in a river, they carry her across the stage until all of the dancers disappear from the shoe-filled, secret-filled stage.

she pulls secrets like threads, unravelling each, and ties them to the frayed ends of heart strings, the same secrets that push themselves through limbs, against belly wall, from tongue to teeth to almost lip only to be swallowed again, re-swallowed along her throat, swollen with secret.

Dodson’s second piece, “disconnected series of utterances” begins with an animated introduction of two distinct characters, the playful female figure (Susie Burpee) and the more austere male figure (Shannon Cooney). The piece is based on the deconstruction of film noir, with lighting that clearly indicates a film screen. In a square of white light, with Burpee dressed in a flapper-inspired red dress and bright salmon overcoat and Cooney in mens suit pants and a collared shirt, the dancers reveal their abstract language. There is a violent undercurrent throughout the piece, lying just beneath the surface of these precise, yet incomprehensible gestures. Julia Aplin narrates from offstage, deconstructing the structure of a film in the language of an academic lecturer. She enters the stage in a shaft of horizontal light and, above the noise of an old-fashioned video projector, dissects the composition of film. The theatrical piece is played out by expressive and well-directed performers.

they dress themselves in the square of morning window, slipping through fabric as they had slipped through each other. two, framed by morning busy, their hands speak, their mouths refuse to carving out this chapter with impatient chins and wanting thighs.

 

Comment:

I have just finished reading Lindsay Zier-Vogel’s review of “the DanceWorks’ double bill, The King and Queen of Ruins/In Good Company, performed at the duMaurier Theatre Centre in Toronto from March 13th-15th 2003”. I thought it was beautifully written and wonderful way to review a dance show. The integration of poetry was incredible and gave the review an entirely unique and fresh take on the pieces and opened me up to new visuals and ideas. I attended the second half of the double bill In Good Company, and was blown away by the talent and beauty of the performances. I too am a writer, and I frequent dance works for inspiration. I find dance to be a very literal yet abstract process (much like some forms of poetry and fiction) and that is why reading this article was very exciting, because it took the Dance Works one step further. I myself wrote that evening as well, but re-worked some of my poems after reading Lindsay’s review. I have included four of my own responses to both Lindsay and the Dance Works pieces. Congratulations on a great review, hope to see more like this in the future!

Rhya Tamasauskas

~ Gardening
She kneels in the dirt on the kitchen floor,
The mud from jess’s boots
The muck from the bottom of the bus
The dirt of family piled around her.
She runs her thumb through the transplanted mess.
Carving a circle around her body,
Revealing the citrus tile beneath the earth.
She quickly fills in the trench,
And packs it in with the flat of her palm,
And later the front of fist.

~Auntie
She speaks out with pointed Spanish,
a question tangled in her stirring attitude.
gasping hips dressed in a naked black,
stir with the sharp question,
and two fingers dance like a broken kite slapping low on thigh colliding with a thick sigh.
Her voice is different now, less naked and pointed.

~ Amphibian
she is alone
Two shoulders bull above the scaled torso.
And arching spine her words travel along the roof of the tunnel, dressed in an amphibian song,
And arching spine.
She waits,
Leaning on thumbs
Earlobes marking earth.
Her frantic speak quiets,
Hissing like electricity.
The shoulders begin to rock forward,
A leg less crawl,
And soon only a frail skin remains.

~ Radio Frame
There is a projected fear outside the frame.
A violent song alluding to the undressing.
Her red coat hangs in a pile on the floor.
The music ends,
He shut off the radio in the other room.
She lets out a long breath before reaching for his coffee.
A breath of noise and distraction
A breath of frustration
Scratching against her throat,
Mimicking the sound of her feet on the living room floor.
She detaches the breath with a coffee spoon before handing him his mug. He takes the coffee.
She turns her back to him
He turns the radio on once more,
A sustained narrative disguised in jacketed low notes.
The sound startles her,
And she breaths in,
Choking on a waited inhale.

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