Tag Archives: celeste tikal

Two flavours of playful dance

In the last week or so I’ve seen two dance performances – both talented and creative, and neither of them taking themselves too seriously, but still very different.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is the New York City-based all-male company that’s been around since the 1970s, doing the repertoire of a classical ballet company but with all the roles played by men.  I had wanted to see them since I first read about them in the Globe and Mail sometime in the 1980s.  When I heard that the Alberta Ballet was hosting them for a few days in Edmonton, I was excited.

I enjoyed the performance.  I think I would have liked it more if I was more knowledgeable about ballet, because I don’t think I picked up on all the inside-joke-y parody bits.  They performed part of Swan Lake, a piece from Les Corsairs, a Balanchine-esque piece called Go for Berocco,  a dying swan solo, and a Spanish-themed piece called Paquita, with variations.  The twelve performers were costumed suitably for male or female dancers for each piece (simple flowing dresses for the Balanchine piece, pancake tutus with Spanish-dancer decorations or matador-type jackets with white hose for the Paquita, classical outfits for the Swan Lake).  The performers dancing female parts danced competently en pointe and their male-dressed partners executed graceful lifts,  and they were all graceful and strong enough that it was clear we were watching talented dancers.  But they were also very funny, with facial expressions and little bits of stage business adding what the characters were really thinking about each other, and with all the dance gestures just dialed up to parody.  The scene-stealing curtain-calls were a good example of that.

Then at Canoe Festival this weekend, I enjoyed a dance/movement performance created by Jake Hastey of Toy Guns Theatre, called “Fortuitous Endings (What to do when you wake up drunk in a BBQ cover in your neighbour’s backyard)”.  This one had an ensemble of nine performers: Christine Lesiak, Celeste Tikal, Mark Sinongco, Robert Halley, Dario Charles, Richelle Thoreson, Rachel Gleiberman, Krista Posyniak, and Cory Christensen, along with singer Must Be Tuesday. It had a similar playfulness and natural sexiness to the Toy Guns pieces at the 2014 Fringe.  It was longer, running almost two hours with an intermission, but the pacing was good and it did not feel too long.   Between movements, various members of the ensemble read aloud the last paragraph of a variety of books, from Existentialism for Dummies to Le Petit Prince and Where the Wild Things Are. Couples connected, struggled, and parted, with regret, wistfulness, resentment, or anger. They made use of the aisles in the Westbury Theatre and sometimes slipped between rows of seats and engaged audience members directly.  The musical score included both Wonderwall and Nessun Dorma.   Costumes seemed both natural and beautiful, and good use was made of occasional nudity.  And parts of it were hilarious.

Several of the dancers performed compelling solo pieces.  As in the summer I was struck by Robert Halley’s grace and control making him stand out as a technically skilled dancer.

The closing piece involved each of the twelve performers setting up some solitary comfort on the stage and then engaging with it oblivious to the others, as if getting on with post-breakup life – making and drinking elaborate coffee drinks, working out, creating origami, sunbathing on a beach, and so on.

In the Ballets Trockadero show, the choreography responded to traditional expectations of rigid gender in dance by sending them up in an over-the-top way.  Although the performers were all male, they were performing as exaggerated versions of ballet character male and female, makeup, costume, and all.  Amusingly, the program contained not only twelve performer biographies under the performers’ real names, but twelve bios of the female personae and twelve of the male personae, with delightful pun-filled names like Nadia Doumiafeyva and Sergei Legupski.  Fortuitous Endings basically just ignored those traditional expectations, with couples of various genders and age differences expressing fluid sexuality in a natural way, and with female performers sometimes lifting male performers as well as vice versa.  And in 2015, I found myself preferring that treatment to the parodic stereotype-breaking of Les Trocks, which would have blown my mind in an earlier era.

The Rimers of Eldritch – disturbing glimpse of small town life

There is an improvisational-theatre narrative format known as a Spoon River, in which a set of monologues by residents of a small town tell the story of how an event on the town affected each of them.  The improv performers sit or stand facing the audience, and when it’s done well, the story unfolds with an interesting set of characters showing several viewpoints on an important event.

My first impression of The Rimers of Eldritch, the Lanford Wilson play directed by Jan Selman and performed this weekend by the second-year BFA Acting class at University of Alberta, was that the ensemble taking their places on various levels of risers and chairs, facing the audience without much interaction with each other, was about to perform a Spoon River.

I saw immediately that they were going to be speaking about a significant event, because one of the first identifiable characters was a Judge (Morgan Grau) swearing in a witness to a trial (Celeste Tikal as Nelly Windrod, a woman in work trousers contrasting with the other female performers in skirts and dresses).   Throughout the performance we have occasional glimpses of trial scenes, but we gradually piece together the truth of what happened as we see small-group scenes set before, during, and after the climactic night.

The ensemble of 12 plays about 17 characters.  Working out who they are, how they’re connected, and what’s significant in each of their conversations was like the pleasure of reading a murder mystery, the kind where everything mentioned in passing becomes meaningful.  Martha Truit and Wilma Atkins (Carmen Nieuwenhuis and Sarah Feutl) are a pair of older women discussing everyone and everything as they sew and fold linens, with a judgemental limited view.  Corben Kushneryk is Harry Windrod, a frail old man who insists he saw the crime, but I soon decided that he too was an unreliable narrator.  Kushneryk did a great job of conveying his character’s physical and mental frailties without caricaturing.  Kristen Padayas’s character Eva was a young girl with a physical disability, protected by her religious mother Evelyn (Natasha Napoleao), naive, joyful, and isolated.   Her only friend is Robert (Bradley Doré), a slightly older boy dealing with a family tragedy and some identity issues.   Other inhabitants of the failing US midwest town include café owner Cora (Jessy Ardern), Walter (David Feehan) a young man whose presence in the café leads to gossip, and the Johnson family of farmers, parents Peck and Mavis (Jordan Sabo and Jessy Ardern), restless daughter Patsy (Natasha Napoleao), and her casually cruel older brother Josh (Morgan Grau).  Various other townspeople are added by double-casting and simple costume shifts.  Many of the stories are about an unsavory homeless man, Skelly Mannor (Stuart McDougall), who lurks about the stage as about the town, in a hunched-over unnerving way.  McDougall plays the character with a slight Irish-like accent, which puzzled me a bit but added to the impression of him being a misfit in the town.

Near the end of the performance, I formed the theory that maybe the only reliable narrator in the whole performance was Skelly Mannor, whom most of them are ignoring or vilifying.  And that theory seemed to work.  Nobody else in the town really finds out the truth about what happened the night Skelly Mannor was shot, and mostly they don’t seem to want to.  And there aren’t any obvious positive outcomes or character developments from the set of events either.  People’s lives are just going to go on, messy and unhappy, trying to find comfort and cutting out people who don’t fit in.   It was disturbing and real and I liked it.

The multiple casting gave many of the ensemble members the opportunity to create characters of different ages and viewpoints, which was fascinating to watch.  I look forward to seeing what else this ensemble does over the next few years, together at U of A and separately in local productions.