logo
Canada’s Dance Magazine
  • PRINT
  • ONLINE
  • LIVE

Review

Patchwork but Persistent 

By Philip Szporer, Kaija Pepper, Kate Cornell, Bridget Cauthery, Marie Claire Forté
  • Mélanie Demers in  
  • Eric J. Miles in  
  • Marc Boivin and Anne Bruce Falconer in  
  • Marc Boivin and Anne Bruce Falconer in  

Canada Dance Festival 2004 

Canada Dance Festival

Ottawa  June 3-12, 2004

From Philip Szporer (Montréal): 

“Passare” by Ginette Laurin for O Vertigo Thursday, June 3 National Arts Centre Theatre It’s been a rough road for the Canada Dance Festival this year, first facing funding shortfalls, and subsequently narrowing the programming to fourteen performances, down from thirty-one two years ago. Organizers of the tenth edition, not willing to relinquish much else, splashed the slogan “Dare to turn up the heat” in riposte.

And so, the ten-day cavalcade of performance began with O Vertigo’s “Passare or Another Shape for Infinity”. Artistic Director/Choreographer Ginette Laurin mines an engaging urgency in her dances, and is able to draw subtle, inward, reflective dancing – and a precision– from her company of superb dancers. In “Passare” they perform with energetic appeal in a complex of movement sequences, as Laurin delves into thematic territory that is both personal and philosophical.

For this piece, Laurin worked with astrophysicist Claude Théoret on the research of space, time and movement in the universe. The idea of passage is treated in imaginative ways. Memory serves as an eloquent metaphor – equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful. She explores the way words and thoughts are transformed over time – how the distortion of “facts” plays out in larger ways, and how that brings into question our sense of self, the cognitive connection with others and events, the way we ponder decisions and intuit opportunities.

One clever sequence involves the dancers telling tales that at first seem scrupulously personal. After several repetitions, the details of the sequential thoughts become interchangeable from one story to the next, and initial amusement shifts to something more deeply unsettling. What’s most impressive, apart from the dancing itself, is Laurin’s use of space. Here, she solidifies her reputation as an architect of space, working with an immense depth of field, carving the area with her dancing bodies. A big video screen is used in subsections of the piece (the videography is by Oana Suteu), with magnificently enlarged, calibrated images projecting the live movement of the dancers in split second delay (evoking the staggered images in Norman McLaren’s classic film “Pas de deux”). However, in these scenes the real-time dancers seem insignificant as they dance alongside their high quality virtual images, and the simulation distracts us from watching the actual dancing. 

In her last large-scale production, “Luna”, Laurin used enormous magnifying lenses to examine the dancers close-up (Axel Morgenthaler was the genius behind the design concept). In “Passare”, Laurin uses video to provide another way of looking at her dancing bodies, also highlighting details of the movements. The tools are hardly radical, but the result is inspired, and looks very good; it’s just unfortunate that the technology proves so unbeatable.

There is a particularly memorable moment when one of the dancers (Kenneth Gould) climbs up a high, hooped metal structure to sit at an architect’s table. Once in place, he draws lines on what appears to be a transparent surface, using a marker and an architect’s scale ruler. Those particular drawings are caught on camera and the directions are then projected on-screen, while the dancers traverse the space in similar patterns, aligned precisely with the drawn images. The dancers themselves are shot from way on high, so that they appear as miniature figures. In a word, sublime. If there’s a downside to “Passare”, and there is, it’s that Laurin can’t seem to resist piling on the combinations of movement – there is an enormous amount of material that is conspicuous. It’s a discordant note that inadvertently dilutes the work. 

Chrysalis by Chick Snipper (Danstabat) Friday, June 4 National Arts Centre Studio Theatre

Chick Snipper’s Danstabat presented “Chrysalis” on Friday night, with four strong dancers from Vancouver – Anne Cooper, Andrea Gunnlaugson, Kathleen McDonagh and Kimberly Tuson. The choreographer vivifies a bare stage, working with a frontal use of space and a full-bodied dynamism, evoking images of energy and female power. The piece proceeds through phases of inventive kinetic possibilities and features determined feet and catwalk struts. Impressive resilient bodies rotate, swivel, splay, jump and slap. Possession and incantation seem fully formed in the piece, where the choreography reveals a specific progression, and where gesture and voice energize the individual dancer. Michael Maguire’s pulsating music is insistent, and James Proudfoot puts on a blazing light show. 

3 Duets and Crystal Pite’s “The Stolen Show” for Les Ballets jazz de Montréal Saturday, June 5 National Arts Centre Theatre

Saturday night’s powerful program opened with three twelve-minute duets – John Ottmann and Ziyian Kwan in Ottman’s “Untitled Tangle”; Evelyn Hart and Rex Harrington in Val Caniparoli’s pas de deux, “Unspoken”; and as part of the homage to the late Jean-Pierre Perreault, Marc Boivin and AnneBruce Falconer appeared in Perreault’s “Les Ombres dans ta tête”. The partnering was flawless in all three pieces. In Ottmann’s very physical piece, he places an emphasis on articulate arms and hands, and small gestures (he strokes her neck, she sits and reaches forward). The choreographer arranges the piece so that there’s a dark undercurrent to this intimate work – the couple seems to connect, and yet seems unaware of the other’s presence. In Caniparoli’s more conservative piece, Harrington and Hart distinguish themselves with their commanding presence, and one immediately senses Hart’s supreme musicality and her measured grace gently nudging Harrington into a more supporting role. Not surprisingly, the duet brought down the house. In Perreault’s work, the two dancers seem dogged and earth-bound. The strong spiritual connection between the two characters shines through in this personal, intimate work. There’s a knowing recognition between the dancers as they clasp hands, cross each other as they run in circles and exchange a glance, or when he engulfs her in his arms. The fact that we hear their breath makes us lean forward, and when she stands on his chest, it’s not a violent or malicious moment, but one that conveys trust.

Next up was Vancouver-based dancer-choreographer Crystal Pite, who has one hot program in “The Stolen Show”, a festival commission created for Les Ballets jazz de Montréal (or the newly named [bjm_danse]). “The Stolen Show” represents Pite’s final creation for the troupe as the company’s choreographer-in-residence since 2001. 

Pite displays exuberance with movement, and a willingness for dance to astound, to be entertaining and light-hearted. She knows how to work with her dancers and elicit the best from them. Pite has played with conceptual experimentation and an intellectual bent in work for her own company, Kidd Pivot, notably in the full-evening duet, “Uncollected Work”. In this new work, she walks a fine line between meeting and subverting audience expectations. In a remounting of “Short Works: 24” and the presentation of the two new pieces, “xspectacle” and “The Stolen Show”, Pite highlights the skilled BJM dancers, so that their limitless energy and effortless precision technique shines. She demonstrates that she’s also developing a unique voice, emphasizing theatrical devices and frothy fun. In short, with “The Stolen Show” she gains more ground as an intelligent breath of fresh air in the Canadian dance scene.

Leading nicely out of the movement-driven, personality-rich “Short Works: 24”, Pite has crafted a compact piece in “xspectacle”. There’s an edgy male duet, with full, fluid release work and a contact improvisation sensibility; a smart jazz section for five women; and a male-female duet, built with curves and lines, tension, humour and sensuality. Pite has big ideas, but she doesn’t have an overblown style. In the final title piece, danced on a wide stage open to the wings, she embraces an “It’s showtime!” sensibility, exploring and exploiting the jazz side of things, taking an almost Fellini-esque look at the world of dance and entertainment. When the audience reads projected lines upstage – such as “A Ballerina spins 32 times on one toe” or “A Bearded Lady sings a sad and beautiful song. The audience weeps” – Pite seems capable of making anything happen. There is no cast of thousands; it just seems that way.

Pite pulls out all the moves, from extravagant flights of stage fancy to some straight-ahead movement sequences. There’s wry wit, irony and energetic dancing; rubber chickens; a Spanish-speaking, highly driven entertainer-type with pompadour and spangled suit; an everyman in a Hawaiian shirt; and a couple of jazz chorines gone bad, toddling about on high heels with bleach-blond wigs slightly askew; and in the midst of it all, a cuddly brown bear lumbering through the fray. In the final section, playing a wound-down rendition of “Big Spender” from “Sweet Charity”, Pite seems to be tipping her hat to the phantasmagoria of Bob Fosse, the director/choreographer/former dancer, who was never afraid to experiment. 

 

From Kaija Pepper (Vancouver):

“Le petit Jean-Pierre, le grand Perreault” (a film) Sunday, June 6 National Gallery of Canada Two events made my four-day cross-country visit from Vancouver to the Canada Dance Festival in Ottawa eminently worthwhile: Paule Baillargeon’s film, “Le petit Jean-Pierre, le grand Perreault” (“Jean-Pierre Perreault: Giant Steps” is the less evocative English title), and Paul-André Fortier’s “Lumière”. 

The film, produced by Amérimage-Spectra and the National Film Board of Canada, was screened at an “avant-première” at the National Gallery of Canada. For writer/director Baillargeon, the project was an introduction to both the artist and his work. Thus her portrait of Québec choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault is built around two on-camera interviews she conducted with him in 2002, just before his death from cancer at the age of fifty-five. Brilliantly, from this kernel, she has created an intimate portrait of a man who knows he is about to die and faces the world – and the camera – with warmth and honesty. We learn about Perreault’s troubled relationship with his parents, his thoughts on being a choreographer – “An artist is someone who observes” – and the genesis of his much-loved masterpiece, “Joe”. The film’s great strength is the insight it gives into this important Canadian work, which Baillargeon situates firmly in Perreault’s early life, placing biographical details next to shots of “Joe” in performance.

Although numerous people were consulted while researching the film, only a handful of interviews made it into the final cut, including just one dancer, AnneBruce Falconer. Clearly, “Le petit Jean-Pierre, le grand Perreault” is not a comprehensive documentary; rather, it is a poetic meditation on the artist and his work. The insightful interpretation it offers of “Joe” would be enough on its own to justify the fifty-two-minute film’s existence.

“Lumiere” by Paul André Fortier Monday, June 7 National Arts Centre Theatre

“Lumière”, a festival premiere, was by another Québec artist, Paul-André Fortier. It was performed by four men (Fortier, Warwick Long, John Ottmann and Manuel Roque) and two women (Sandra Lapierre and Audrey Thibodeau), who come together in various friendly configurations, often in touch with each other but also, as often, alone. The age range of the performers is extensive, from fifty-six-year-old Fortier to two twenty-somethings, Roque and Thibodeau, who were in Fortier’s earlier work, “Risque”. Although Roque, for instance, glories more in physical power, and Fortier in stage presence, everyone performs with the same pure, clear energy. They walk purposefully on stage and engage in bursts of physical clarity before exiting as another situation evolves. Arms windmill in long, straight lines; legs kick up to the face; jumps are starbursts of energy.

The dancers are costumed in pants, shirts and t-shirts in combinations of solid black, white and shades of red, and they occasionally change costumes, or colours. Vividly costumed, vividly moving, they seem like strokes of paint dashing brilliantly about the stage, making the work a living, breathing painting. The costume design by Denis Lavoie is integral to this collaborative enterprise.

Also integral is Alain Thibault’s rumbling, sometimes thundering music. It was apparently too loud and dominant for some viewers, yet it created a definite environment that spoke of modern city life. At times it sounded like the hum of a motor, and not like music at all. Patrick Masbourian’s video, with its flickering lines of electronic colour, added a modern, high-tech note, as did the glowing, phosphorescent rectangular spaces on the stage floor by visual artist Pierre Bruneau. Bruneau also contributed the backdrop, made up of rectangles and squares that beautifully absorb the colours of John Munro’s lighting.

What is most impressive about “Lumière” is the way the work creates meaning without piling on narrative or emotion. Fortier works with a painter’s concern for colour and movement, but beyond brushstrokes he uses human bodies in motion, along with other theatrical elements. There is a certain minimalism: the work is not ornate, and there is repetition. However, this is not the empty shell of impoverished creation; rather, Fortier gives us the intense view of real abstraction. The surprise is the warmth at the centre of such a rigorous abstraction.

“Bell” by Anne Troake Sunday, June 6 La Nouvelle Scène

“Bell” was also a collaboration, this time between Newfoundland dance artist Anne Troake, and visual artist Peter von Tiesenhausen from Alberta. Here, however, the balance went awry and the setting created by von Tiesenhausen dominated. A large, wooden bell hung at one end of the performing space, with about a dozen long tree spines suspended throughout. The installation created a magical place that somehow left Troake mute. Her choreography for Blair Neufeld and herself was thin, and treated the spines and the bell with reverence rather than rigour.

The work starts with Neufeld moving mysteriously within a barely lit circle. Once the lights come up, Troake is revealed upstage, on hands and knees, one long tree spine balanced along her back. The dancers’ flexible spines and round human bodies confront the linear inflexibility of the tree spines with a great deal of standing, waiting, beside them.

The bell, too, was not particularly user-friendly. Troake climbs and straddles it awkwardly, soiling her skin and clothing. But one memorable image is created when she and Neufeld swing together, hanging on for dear life to each other and the bell.

Rob Abubo’s “drawn” and Karen Guttman’s “This Moment is Another Moment” Monday, June 7 through Thursday, June 10 Le Groupe Dance Lab Studio Theatre

Two emerging choreographers from Le Groupe Dance Lab, Rob Abubo and Karen Guttman, shared an afternoon show at Arts Court, which I caught on June 7th. Both artists presented sprawling, ambitious works. Abubo’s “drawn,” for five dancers, also offered interesting movement. At first, his dance is very much about musculature, with a solo by one of his male dancers that features pectorals and stomach muscles, resulting in the physical postures of body builders. The choreography moves abruptly to more typical street influences, with the dancers in sneakers and sweats, and some fast, classical feet offer a nod to tradition. In fact more than a nod, because the movement influences were well integrated, although the piece as a whole was all over the place. Nonetheless, the movement propelling “drawn” offers promise of a real choreographic mind.

Guttman’s “This Moment is Another Moment,” for seven dancers, opens in darkness, with floor-level illumination from lights underneath a low bench that runs the length of the studio’s back and sides. Slow rolls across the floor by one dancer become fast rolls by the group. Early on, Guttman stops the flow of movement to share amusing tales about misidentified photographs of herself and the piece lurches forward after that. The whirl of movement is continually broken up by jokes, including audience partici ation and a tedious section when the dancers munch on nuts next to a microphone. Unfortunately, it is these games and not the movement that one remembers. 

 

From Katherine Cornell (Toronto): 

“Lustrale” by Anik Bouvrette Tuesday, June 8 National Arts Centre Studio Theatre

Anik Bouvrette’s “Lustrale”, a tender movement study of water and light, had a soothing effect on the audience at the NAC’s Studio Theatre on June 8th. “Lustrale”, danced by Michèle Bastien, Shauna Elton and Jacqueline Ethier, evolved slowly, with a sense of anticipation.

Four stainless steel vessels stand alone on stage, as the audience enters the theatre. A cavernous tub, in the shape of a hexagon, is located downstage left. Upstage centre is a shallow pool that, even though forged of metal, resembles a child’s wading pool. Situated next to the pool is an attached set of five bowls that look like water dishes for a dog. The final vessel, a larger and deeper reflective pool, sits downstage right.

The dancers enter in darkness. The sounds of their hidden movements cascade through the space. The first light on stage emanates from two bulbs held by Bastien. Like a fading campfire, their eerie glow casts shadows on the dancers who are clad in earth-toned shirts and skirts that cling to the body, especially when wet. Together, they ceremoniously fill the bathtub, pools and bowls with water from two glass jugs. The sound of the water ripples in the audience’s ears like a caress.

While holding the orbs, Bastien dances a stationary twisting solo, reaching and curving the light through the space. With a bulb in each hand, her big arching movements materialize as trace forms (like children’s sparklers drawing lines and letters in the blank air). She dances to a humming sound like the buzz of a florescent light. In this evocative solo, she pours light like water and the stainless steel vessels reflect and refract her dance.

As the piece progresses, moonlight haunts the space. The dancers congregate at centre stage and move in canon to music that drips. They curve and ripple their bodies in this bacchanal. An exploration of the vessels and the water within evokes many images: Bastien looks like a child navigating puddles, as she cautiously tiptoes through the bowls. Elton dips her foot in to test the temperature. Ethier discovers a leak from above, dripping into her tub. Finally the dancers immerse themselves, each in her chosen vessel, to absorb the fluid power of water.

Bouvrette’s choreography evoked feminine strength. In “Lustrale”, Bastien, Elton and Ethier seemed to embody goddesses. 

 

From Bridget Cauthery (Toronto): 

“Mariposa: The Butterfly’s Evil Spell” by Theatre Flamenco Wednesday, June 9 National Arts Centre Studio Theatre

Theatre Flamenco’s performance at the NAC’s Studio Theatre on Wednesday evening marked the first flamenco fusion work to be presented at the Canada Dance Festival. The Winnipeg-based company presented their hour-long “Mariposa: The Butterfly’s Evil Spell” to an appreciative, primarily local audience, eager for some flamenco heat.

Based on a short play by Federico Garcia Lorca, “El Maleficio de la Mariposa”, that was performed only once in 1920 when the playwright was just twenty-one, Theatre Flamenco’s adaptation for four dancers rescued Lorca’s plot from obscurity: the Poet and Sylvia are lovers, Poet is seduced by the imperious Mariposa, Sylvia is devastated by Poet’s betrayal, Poet resolves to stay with Mariposa though it proves his undoing as foretold by the Sorceress who sets the scene at the beginning of the play. All is relatively straightforward and predictable except that Lorca imagined these characters as insects: the Poet, Sylvia, and the Sorceress are beetles and the temptress Mariposa is a butterfly.

Theatre Flamenco gamely took up the challenge and brings Lorca’s characters and their entomological idiosyncrasies to life. As Sylvia, Maritel Centurion’s clicking castanets and skittering footwork evoke a black scarab beetle, squaring off against the powerful yet delicate Mariposa danced by Claudia Marchand. Marchand gave a riveting performance, embodying a “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” dichotomy that was equally poised and deadly. Artistic Director Claudia Carolina as the Sorceress – looking like a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Glinda the Good Witch of the North – gave a reserved, praying mantis-inspired performance that allowed the younger dancers’ bravada to take centre stage.

Modern dancer Randy Joynt (Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers, Le Groupe Dance Lab, O Vertigo) gave a surprising performance as the Poet – surprising in that though he masterfully conveyed flamenco’s regal, arching postures and sculpted arm positions, he remained true to his contemporary roots. The result had none of dance fusion’s trademark cringeful moments when practitioners of two very different dance techniques naively attempt to blend their movements to create a hybrid vocabulary. Instead the cast, under Carolina’s direction, choreographed their own parts and the result, though eclectic, highlighted each dancer’s strengths and remained highly watchable and entertaining.

Flamenco guitarist Peter Mole, percussionist Sheila Ghosh and cellist Jonathan Glidden provided accompaniment for the Poet’s seduction and demise. The original score, composed by Mole et al, depended upon variations of traditional flamenco rhythms such as the heart-wrenching “siguriya”. Glidden’s melancholic cello and Marchand’s (who also sang between dancing) weighty vocals lent depth and poignancy to the work.

“Asylum of Spoons” by Allen Kaeja for Kaeja d’Dance Thursday, June 10 National Arts Centre Theatre

When CDF Artistic Producer Brian Webb commissioned Toronto’s Kaeja d’Dance to create a new piece for this year’s festival, I can only surmise that he did so after seeing a performance of “Resistance”, Kaeja d’Dance’s compelling work for six dancers and five benches that premiered in 2000. Though the benches made a comeback, “Resistance’s” edge and depth of purpose did not.

Choreographer and co-artistic director Allen Kaeja conceived “Asylum of Spoons” as an exploration of the nuances of the concept of an asylum as both a shelter from danger or persecution and as an institution for mentally incompetent or unbalanced persons. Kaeja developed his theme in a loosely conceived “home” – as homey as a desolate Depression-era homestead on the prairies during a drought – inhabited by a motley crew of dysfunctional family members. Amid an avalanche of two thousand metal spoons, the cast acts out – both literally and figuratively – a series of twisted vignettes that pits one dancer against another in a contest of wills and flatware. The result is a Mad Hatter’s tea party that gets some laughs, but remains benignly perverse.

Co-Artistic Director Karen Kaeja takes centre stage as a Cruella de Ville-styled matriarch who terrorizes her charges/children. Though fellow dancers Piotr Biernat and Susan Lee showed occasional spark – especially when dancing one on one with Karen – they and the rest of the cast never seemed to get out of first gear. When not throwing spoons or tantrums, group dance sequences were laboured and bland, repeating signature contact improv-inspired lifts and games of musical benches. The concept finally overwhelms the choreography and dancing takes a back seat behind character development and spoon antics.

Cheryl Lalonde’s arresting black, white and shades of grey costume designs were simultaneously Edward Gorey gothic and “Little House on the Prairie” frippery. Karen Kaeja’s corset of spoons, high collar and leg o’ mutton sleeves cut a clever silhouette as she strode about the stage. Lalonde was also responsible for the backdrop of suspended spoons that twinkled sweetly as the lights came up. Unfortunately, Lalonde’s costumes lost some of their original clarity of shape and texture as dancers removed their many layers. Ron Snippe’s lighting shed some much-needed drama on the increasingly dull and repetitive proceedings, especially a waterfall of light downstage during a duet between Karen Kaeja and Lee.

The evening’s curtain warmer, “Years Unsettled”, was a short work created for senior performance students at Ottawa’s Canterbury High School as part of CDF’s commitment to youth animation. The choreography by Karen and Allen Kaeja showed off the talent and integrity of the young dancers to better effect than the highly anticipated but ultimately disappointing main event.

“Nsamu” by Zab Maboungou & Compagnie Nyata Nyata Friday, June 11 National Arts Centre Studio Theatre

Perhaps what is universally acknowledged of Zab Maboungou’s performances is her level of commitment: when she enters the stage space, you cannot take your eyes off her. The Montréal-based performer of modern African dance is undeniably commanding: she is centred; she is here.

Maboungou, who is of Franco-Congolese origin, has performed and studied with various Congolese ballets in Europe and America. Since immigrating to Canada in 1973, she has turned her attention to learning the traditional dances of Mali, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Nigeria and Zimbabwe while continuing to enlarge her knowledge of the art and music of her native Congo. Her chosen metier is modern – as in evolving, new, challenging – African dance for the concert stage.

A work of abstract movement, in “Nsamu”, Maboungou plays with the themes of time and place. Nsamu means “the subject of debate” in Maboungou’s father’s native Kikongo and, true to her other vocation as a philosopher, Maboungou played interlocutor to her fellow performers. Maboungou’s “Nsamu” was a clean, crafted, eloquent performance for solo dancer, two musicians and art installation. Design artist Chryso Bashonga collaborated with Maboungou’s Compagnie Nyata Nyata and lighting designer François O’Hara on the creation of a metal and raffia sculpture seated on a Plexiglas light box covered in sand. The piece, called N’tchak, was inspired by traditional textile art of the Congolese Kuba region.

Maboungou conceives of her theatrical elements in equal parts and no one component is any more or less integral to the overall work. Although her interaction with the set piece was minimal – she made dancing footprints in the sand that were then lit in brilliant primary colours from below – her movements around the stage retained a sense of reverence for the installation. Maboungou’s dancing was rigorous, tightly choreographed, but also allowed for the traditional call and response interplay between instruments – dancer, musicians and drums.

Equal to Maboungou’s virtuosic dancing, musicians Dominic Kofi Donkor and Tiya Muaza Mudada (dit Moto) were nothing short of tremendous. Playing a range of exquisitely amplified traditional African drums and percussion instruments, their performance provoked and extended Maboungou’s choreography. Rarely is the cash-strapped world of independent dance able to afford musicians of Donkor and Moto’s calibre and Compagnie Nyata Nyata should be commended for bringing such talent to a national festival.

 

From Marie Claire Forté (Ottawa): 

“Dancing Americas” by Red Sky
“Pathways to Hopak” by John Pilchyk for Ukrainian Shumka Dancers
Saturday, June 12
National Arts Centre Theatre

The NAC Theatre was sold out but not full on the closing night of the festival and few of the festival participants were still around to see this surprising program.

Toronto-based Red Sky opened the evening with a Grass Dance solo, choreographed and performed by Matthew Pheasant, dressed in a traditional costume. He circled the space, shunting in perpetual motion, the bells on his ankles accompanying the recorded music. The earth-bound stomping and the costume covered in brightly coloured feathers looked somehow displaced on a barren black stage, but the performance was compelling.

Conceived by Red Sky’s Artistic Director Sandra Laronde, “Dancing Americas” was fraught with tension and rhythms. The choreography by Peter Chin was of a rare, abstract eloquence. The dancers moved to the textured score by Antonio Zepeda, a mixture of recorded and live music performed by the composer, who stood surrounded by an intriguing collection of instruments on a platform upstage right. The lighting was rather flat, not as sculptural as the dance, nor as engaging as the music. The dancers began walking up and down the stage, their arms and fingers articulate as the antennae of the monarch butterfly, the source of inspiration for the piece. Smaller groupings followed, with the dancers always engaged in a movement dialogue. There was a noted vertical polarity in the vocabulary, with many reaches to the sky and to the ground. All horizontal energy was directed from once dancer to another, or towards the audience. The muscular tension of the movement flowed from the extremities to the core as the piece progressed, culminating in a stomping, travelling and dramatically intense conclusion.

“Dancing Americas” would have been a sober but striking end to the festival. However, in the spirit of the cut (and cut) and paste of this edition, the Ukrainian Shumka Dancers closed the evening with “Pathways to Hopak”. Suddenly, the stage was a whirl of bright colours, with fifty-two fiercely smiling dancers presenting an epic dance about the joys and sorrows of life to a syrupy orchestral score. Jazzy kicks and canons accompanied traditional acrobatic displays by men and quick twirling by women, giving a somewhat contemporary flavour to John Pichlyk’s choreography.

While “Dancing Americas” was an engaging meeting between traditional and contemporary practice, “Pathways to Hopak” left me unsettled. This Broadway-type production was two-dimensional and at one point extravagantly religious, as large illustrations of Jesus and the Virgin floated down the scrim, providing a temporary backdrop to a mourning scene. The dancers, although enthusiastic and committed, were not always synchronised or spaced appropriately, making them look under-rehearsed. It was an incongruous conclusion to this somewhat patchwork yet persistent tenth edition of the Canada Dance Festival.

You May Also Like...

LISTINGS THIS WEEK