Dance Preview: Catching up with Matjash Mrozewski – the choreographer/director has two premieres

Introduction to Matjash Mrozewski

The next two weeks feature two Mrozewski premieres. Future Perfect Continuous, created with Anna Chatterton, (ProArteDanza, Nov. 1-4), and Abiding, a solo for Evelyn Hart (Older & Reckless, Nov. 10 & 11).

Mrozewski graduated from the National Ballet School in 1993. During his career as a dancer, he performed with the National Ballet of Canada, Le Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. Early on he had shown a penchant for choreography, and his promise was revealed in the widely acclaimed A Delicate Battle created for the National Ballet of Canada in 2001. That year he stopped dancing, and given his enormous gifts as a dancesmith, it was expected that he would launch a successful international career. The proof lies in his creations for over 13 ballet companies that span the globe. He also choreographed for films, flash mobs, galas, classical music concerts and musicals. The road ahead seemed very clear – a lauded career as an international choreographer.

While the dance pathway is still very much in his life, Mrozewski has also added a new skill set. In 2016, he graduated from the two-year York University/Canadian Stage MFA program, whose focus is large-scale theatre direction. Subsequently, he has directed Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors in High Park, and Jordan Tannahill’s Botticelli in the Fire, which won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production, and netted Mrozewski an Outstanding Direction nomination, which joins his two Dora nominations for Outstanding Choreography.

Mrozewski’s world premieres for ProArteDanza and Older & Reckless, which debut over the next two weeks, reflect both his choreographic and theatrical hats. (Note: in the next few months, he also has new dance and/or theatre pieces for Ryerson University, George Brown Theatre School, the George Randolph Academy, and a Secret Shakespeare performance.)

The Interview (where upon Mrozewski, now 41, talks about his MFA and his two new pieces).

Let’s begin with your going back to school. That was a big bite of two years out of your life.

I had been a dance professional for 20 years, but at that point, I felt I needed to take stock of where I was in my career. I needed different challenges. I had a hunger to learn something new – to step away from the obvious track. A lot of needs were colliding together, and the MFA program seemed to provide a solution.

Why stage direction?

I had always had an instinct for text, and I felt that this MFA course would put me in touch with the tools I needed to work with language and dramaturgy – to develop my theatrical side. It would also open doors to the worlds of theatre and opera. My main motive was a desire to become an opera director – it still remains a strong interest.

How different was it to work with actors?

I love working with actors, because I really enjoy analyzing text. With dancers, you guide them from the outside. With actors, you give them clues to manifest ideas internally. Words are concrete and can get to the heart of things, while movement deals with abstract states. When I started the MFA program, my eye was strong but my ear was weak. The greatest lesson I learned was how to lift the text off the page – to develop a point of view about what the playwright is trying to say. I was clear in my mind on the “why” of the text, but I had to learn to articulate these thoughts in words.

Your ProArte piece, Future Perfect Continuous, is certainly text driven, which is a departure for the company.

Artistic director Roberto Campanello wanted to push his dancers in new directions, and he thought they were ready for that kind of stretch – the marriage of text and movement. In truth, the performing arts are all playing in the same zone. The walls are blurring between the disciplines, and I had been moving in this direction. A recent work I did for the National Ballet School included a long spoken monologue, while a new piece for Ballet Kelowna used the dancers’ voices.

How did you come to work with playwright/librettist Anna Chatterton on Future? She’s a really creative force in both the theatre and opera worlds.

A mutual friend suggested her, and I saw her work Quiver at Buddies. She’s certainly very versatile. We met for dumplings and really got along. In our first workshop, it was inspiring to watch Anna toss around language and text.

What is your point of departure for the piece?

Anna and I started with a discussion about the future – what in our lives were we most concerned about? For both of us, the question was, how do hope and optimism cope with denial and ignorance? We discovered that the place of hope was high in both our lives. It was important, however, that we not make the work a lecture. The dancers are not on a soapbox. We wanted to leave room for the audience to reflect on the subject, to relate to the dancers in their feelings of frustration and inadequacy, to think about the concerns we raise. Things are not tied up neatly.

 

Just how much text do the eight dancers have to deal with?

 

It’s 35 minutes long, and contains about 25 minutes of spoken word, which includes monologues and conversations. The dancers are really meeting the challenge of moving and talking. The audience is going to need their ears opened as much as their eyes to catch what they’re listening to.

What’s the choreography like?

It’s not classical dance, but there is still formality in the structure. It’s very physical – ritual-like gesture, floor work, contact partnering. It’s fluid, responsive and quite earthy.

What about Anna’s text?

The dancers are seen working out their frustrations about the future in both rage and hope. As the size of the problems facing them grows, the text descends into doubt and vagueness and incomplete sentences. It’s very human. It’s about life. There is also humour, which is one of Anna’s trademarks.

Did you fit in music with the text?

The underscore is an orchestral version of songs by the alternative British rock supergroup Minor Victories.

Let’s talk about your Older & Reckless piece for the great ballerina Evelyn Hart, although in terms of dance, she’s a senior citizen.

Claudia Moore, O & R’s artistic director, wanted Evelyn on the program, and she thought of me as choreographer. Like Evelyn, I’ve had the experience of ups and downs. The solo is a character study of a woman of a certain age, which utilizes Evelyn’s remarkable skill as a dramatic actress. I’ve set it to a luminous Handel aria.

Is Evelyn still a perfectionist? She used to demand a lot from her choreographers and dance partners.

We spent ten hours in a rehearsal room, meeting once a week. Dancers are trained to make choreography work, but with Evelyn, if something didn’t fit right, we fixed it. She’s very organic, quiet, delicate and powerful. Abiding is about her in this moment. Because it’s a piece for Older & Reckless, time has a bearing.

ProArteDanza, Fleck Dance Theatre (Nov. 1-4); Older & Reckless #40, Harbourfront Centre Theatre (Nov. 10 and 11); both shows are part of Harbourfront’s Next Steps Season (www.harbourfrontcentre.com/nextsteps).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post Tiff Dance Wrap – ProArteDanza, Peter Chin’s Woven, and Toronto Heritage Dance

No one in the performing arts who is in their right mind plans an event during TIFF. That is just plain artistic suicide. The great tragedy of this fact is that just after TIFF, you tend to get dance bunched together. Thus, the first weekend after TIFF had three wonderful dance events running opposite each other and competing for audiences. In one word – bummer, but on the plus side, what a feast for the eyes!

proarte ProArteDanza

ProArteDanza is one of the best contemporary ballet companies in the country, and it’s a scandal that the troupe is not better known. While the choreography might sometimes be flawed, it always makes the dancers look good, and it is a joy to watch them perform. In short, a ProArteDanza program never allows a dull moment on the stage.

This latest program featured three new works that introduced two choreographers new to the company. Italian Mario Astolfi is artistic director of Rome’s Spellbound Contemporary Dance. Ryan Lee is a company dance just breaking out as a choreographer. Both shared a vocabulary of frenetic movement as well as the use of many entrances and exits set to electronica scores. Both pieces were for large ensembles. Astolfi used eight dancers, and Lee nine.

In his program notes, Astolfi explains that his piece “(don’t) follow the instructions” was generated by doubt – should we follow or not follow instructions? To be perfectly frank, I did not see this in the dance at all. What he did do was create strong images about relationships, be they family ties, or friendship, or romantic entanglements. Astolfi also likes props. At one point, Anisa Tejpar’s two feet were planted on two towels while men pulled and pushed the towels around causing her legs to go off at all angles.

Astolfi’s greatest strength is quirky, jagged movement that included some dangerous partnering. The eye is always taken by surprise. Nonetheless, he is very European in his approach to dance, meaning, philosophical inquiry that seems disconnected from actual physicality. In other words, the jury is still out on Signor Astolfi, despite some eye-catching choreography.

Lee also presented an abstract theme in his “Replace/me”. His premise was a commentary on the relationship of lost and found, and the human need to duplicate people from our past. Lee’s leitmotif was continuity of some sort. For example, one vignette dissolved into the next by adding a new person while another dropped away. In fact, the piece was a series of encounters.

In terms of choreography, Lee is very physical. His dancers were in constant motion which made for showy dance. His future promise is certainly there, given the force and vigour of his athleticism. The weakness of the piece, however, was in its repetition. Lee needs to develop his themes to deeper layers.

After two pieces that used electronica scores, it was a relief to get to Roberto Campanella and Robert Glumbek’s Beethoven’s 9th – 2nd Movement. The first and third movements are already under their belts so we can look forward to the 4th Movement in 2017, and what a joy that will be when the entire symphony is brought together.

The chairs are still there to be manipulated all around the place. Glumbek appears as a mysterious old man. Two of the dancers seem to conspire together and then infiltrate the crowd. The main thrust of the choreography is rambunctious youth, and the pace is relentless as the dancers move as a mob, matching Beethoven’s shifting themes with blood and thunder mass movement. Stamping feet, pounding arms – the effect is glorious and worrisome, all at the same time. I’m in breathless anticipation for the final movement.

(ProArteDanza, Fleck Dance Theatre, Sept. 23 to 26, 2015.)

 

Woven-Chy Ratana, Kathia Wittenborn, Kassi Scott-Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh-smTribal Crackling Wind/Peter Chin’s Woven

DanceWorks opened its season with a new work by Peter Chin. There is only one word to describe Woven and that word is stunning.

Chin’s program notes tell us that he was inspired by the interconnectedness that exists within all woven art, no matter where it is from. These ties that bind cloth can also bind people, and his choreography presented images of both the differences and the commonality that exists among weaving communities around the globe. While his dancers were individuals, they were also part of humanity at large. The epic sweep of the piece was akin to a feature article in National Geographic, and I mean this in the best possible way.

The dancers came from Mexico, Indonesia, Cambodia with two from Canada. Chin used their strengths to create his physical picture. Marina Acevedo was raw, earthy and intense, even angry. In complete contrast to her Mexican fire was the inherent lyrical grace and serenity of Boby Ari Setiawan and Chy Ratana, the men from South East Asia. The two young Canadian women – Kathia Wittenborn and Kassi Scott – projected Western confidence and control. In Woven, the dancers performed singly and together weaving choreographic images of worlds colliding, yet ultimately finding a harmonious existence between them. There were also many images related to nature, and jobs of work. It’s important to note that at times, the two Canadian dancers seemed to overwhelm the two Asian men with their forceful energy, raising the colonial spectre.

And of course, there were the woven cloths which were like a sixth dancer in the piece. They were worn, sat upon, manoeuvred through the air, all the time evoking images of the passing parade of life. The one constant in the piece was young Caleb Bean, an 11-year-old who was backstrap weaving throughout the performance. (I had to look up the term.) The beautiful ending had Bean joining the others in quiet contemplation.

Chin is a polymath who also composes and designs. The clever costumes evoked both the East and the West with their tunics and pantaloons. The score was perfect to the piece as it was made up of archival music recorded in villages in Mexico, Indonesia and Cambodia, with the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso thrown in for good measure. Live percussionist Debashis Sinha was on hand with an array of drums and gongs to layer rhythms over the indigenous music.

In short, Woven was a dance piece you could lose yourself in.

(Tribal Crackling Wind/Peter Chin’s Woven, Harbourfront Theatre, Sept. 24 to 26, 2015.)

 

heritage-1Toronto Heritage Dance

Let’s hear it for Patricia Beatty, Nenagh Leigh and Mary Jane Warner for Toronto Heritage Dance and its celebration of modern dance. The biannual series takes us back to the pioneers of Canadian dance by reviving classic works of the repertoire. For those old enough to remember, it is like visiting an old friend. For the younger demographic, it is a history lesson. You can’t have post modern without modern. By looking at the past, you can see the future.

What is astonishing is how gorgeous these dances look on the well-trained dancers of today. The cast was extraordinary. Any show that has Danielle Baskerville, Jessica Runge, Louis Laberge-Côté, Michael Caldwell and Nicole Rose Bond on the same stage sure ain’t chopped liver. There were also a whole slew of new kids on the block who danced with their hearts and souls.

While most of the works came out of the past, there was also contemporary modern dance such as Patricia Beatty’s The High Heart (2011) and Holly Small’s Apparadiant (2015). As attractive as these pieces are, the greatest pleasure is to be bathed in the glow of the classics – Peter Randazzo’s A Simple Melody, Danny Grossman’s Curious Schools of Theatrical Dancing, Part 1(1977), Beatty’s Gaia (1990), and Robert Desrosiers’ Full Moon (1991).  The major realization is how these creators managed to include such profound depth of the human condition into their pieces, even into works of broad humour. Modern dance has substance.

This is the long and the short of things. While there is money for new creations, there seems to be none for revivals. Toronto Heritage Dance is a good beginning. The funding councils should give an operating grant to THD so it can become living dance history and branch out into reviving classics on a national level, not just works from Toronto. The original creators aren’t going to be around forever to oversee life breathed into their creations once again. You can’t have dance in a vacuum. The classics that laid the groundwork for the dance of today deserve a shelf life.

(Toronto Heritage Dance, Winchester Street Theatre, Sept. 23 to 27, 2015.)