Tag Archives: movement

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.

Static Electric

I’d seen mention of Mile Zero Dance and Gerry Morita around the Edmonton entertainment scene for some time, but I’d never attended a performance before.  Having now seen Static Electric, the Mile Zero Dance piece at Canoe Festival, I’d definitely seek them out again.

The two dancers, Gerry Morita of Mile Zero and Farley Johansson of Science Friction and Coastal City Ballet in Vancouver, explore a cluttered living space full of lamps, televisions, recordings, transmissions, a piano being played by Viktoria Reiswich-Dapp, a jukebox, and other electric apparatus.  At first, the two characters seem completely unaware of each other, although they overlap in space to the extent of tumbling over and around each other on an easy chair and a carpet.  Later, they come to interact more consciously, but eye contact is fleeting.  Sometimes they have normal-sounding conversation and exchange reminiscences through family-band radio walkie-talkies.  There is also some dialogue in German and, I think, in Russian (though it might have been Ukrainian or another similar-sounding language).  Morita plays with a cassette recorder, speaking into it and then playing it back, and she also disassembles a cassette tape, constructing streamers on a fan and then becoming tangled in a mass of tape.  Lighting designer Patrick Ares-Pilon moves intentionally through the space towing and adjusting carts of electrical gadgets.

The program says that the performance is improvised.  It works fascinatingly well.  Morita and Johansson are both powerfully athletic and expressive artists who are thrilling to watch.   My favourite bits were the ones with “Volare”, “Riders on the Storm”, and hockey play-by-play as the soundtrack.  The last bit of the show sounded as if Johansson was dancing in a box of broken glass, and the sound effects were so disturbing I could hardly bear it.

Their last show is in about half an hour (Saturday afternoon) but there’s lots of other good stuff to see and hear and think about at Canoe Festival.

Silence is powerful

Punctuate! Theatre‘s The Silence Project is an original work of theatre that takes place in almost complete silence.   There was no music before the show started, just the hushed talk of patrons getting seated in the darkened room of the TACOS space.  After a prologue with several characters chattering over top of each other and one playing a singing bowl, there were no sounds at all other than the unavoidable sounds of breathing and movement.  This made me very aware of those incidental sounds.

The five performers and creators, Julie Ferguson, Elizabeth Hobbs, Elliott James, Andréa Jorawsky, and Sheiny Satanove, combined to portray about twelve distinct characters.  The main character was wearing a silver mask with some peripheral decoration which made me think of an alien.  The others appeared with various stylized costume elements (an apron, a raggedy overcoat, a cleanroom suit, a sparkly bra) and props (a hipflask, a twinkly ball, a pocketwatch) allowing them to be distinguished.  There was also some effective use of lengths of shiny fabric to hide faces or turn bodies into non-human shapes.  It was the kind of setup which I would have classified as a modern dance piece if there had been background music … but there wasn’t.  Instead there was the rhythm of breath, and heightened awareness of the main character’s anxious and uncertain body language.

Like a modern dance piece, I started by just enjoying the shapes and wondering what I was missing, but gradually I was able to tell myself a consistent enough story that I felt as if I understood.  The repetition and patterns of encounters helped in this.  The confused isolated traveller is first unable to communicate with each of the strangers she encounters, although they all try to connect with her.  (I say “she” and “her” because the performer appeared to be female, but the character did not seem to be strongly gendered.) After the traveller receives a gift enabling her to share a language of gesture with each stranger, she encounters each of them again, learns from each of them, and communicates using the collection of gestures acquired, moving towards a climax involving the triumph of community over despair or death.

The program notes say

We follow our main character, a traveler, as she enters into a dream world in order to escape the isolation of her everyday life.  Through the use of a dream mask, she enters the world of her imagination.  On her journey she encounters a myriad of characters that represent psyche, her hopes and fears.  What will the outcome of this expedition be?  Will our traveler be able to recognize herself in each character and connect honestly in order [to] return as a whole being to her world of reality?

So I was close.

Since attending this performance, I’ve been interested to see some of its techniques echoed in my Rapid Fire Theatre improvisational theatre workshop, where we worked on the skills needed to create an environment without props, miming objects and maintaining consistency with the definitions created by our fellow players.  Similarly, in my Foote Theatre School acting class this week we produced some tableaux, moments frozen in time that could tell a story to our classmates from our facial expressions, body position, and interactions.  Both classroom experiences made me aware of how effectively the performers and show creators of The Silence Project had communicated their emotions and narrative to the audience, without dialogue, scenery, musical background, or sound effects to help them.  It worked.

One measure of how well it worked was that during the performance, I kept forgetting that the silver-faced character was wearing a neutral-expression mask, and thinking I’d seen changing expressions on a painted face.  But it was a mask, supported by very expressive eyes, head position, shoulder movement, and convincing story.  It really worked.