Dance Review – Citadel + Compagnie/Citadel Dance Mix 18: choreography by Allison Cummings, DA Hoskins & Tori Mehaffey

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

Dance Review – Citadel + Compagnie/Citadel Dance Mix 18: Choreography by Allison Cummings, DA Hoskins & Tori Mehaffey, The Citadel/Ross Centre for Dance, Nov. 21 to Dec. 1, 2018. Tickets available at 416-364-8011, ext. 1 or

It’s hard to remember a time when the Citadel was not a part of the dance life of Toronto. Artistic director Laurence Lemieux’s latest venture, as part of the company’s Bright Nights Series, is Citadel Dance Mix 18, where she invites three choreographers, both veteran and emerging, to mount works, thus providing performance opportunities in the hard-pressed dance market. Lemieux has chosen the triple bill to reflect “daring and exciting” dance creators, and the results would seem to justify her description.

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

The choreography of Allison Cummings is almost non-choreography because it is so organic. The movement seems to arise naturally out of the body. There never seems to be any “dance steps” per se, but, within its simplicity, it packs a wallop. Add to the mix a completely quirky outlook on life, coupled with a wry sense of humour, and a Cummings’ work is bound to be as troubling as it is delicious.

As she shall obtain such command of her mass vein passageways, (the title is pure Cummings), is a work for the captivating Kaitlin Standeven. She begins standing behind a maquette of accoutrements that look like they belong to Queen Elizabeth 1 – crown, ruff, breastplate, gloves etc. – all strung together like a skeleton, hence the command metaphor. She then proceeds to delicately step around the stage, occasionally engaging in swooping arm movements, and rolling floor work. Diametrically downstage from the maquette is a bleeding heart dripping into a vase. This is her goal – to reach that heart and squeeze the life out of it. Cummings’ notes describe the work as a duet between a dancer and the desire to control. She also uses adjectives like unraveling and despairing.

On the surface, the piece is seemingly straightforward, effortless and uncomplicated, but at one point, Standeven has to dance with one eye shut, and the other one wide open, which can’t be easy. In other words, the woman keeps throwing up her own obstacles. The dancer herself is mesmerizing as she draws us deep into her inner journey. The expression on Standeven’s face is one of pure ecstasy. In other words, once again Cummings manages to present a portrait that is mysterious, beautiful and dark, all at the same time. Valerie Calam/Company Vice Versa provided the evocative sound and costume design, while, as always, Simon Rossiter has come up with the perfect atmospheric lighting.

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

What can you say about DA Hoskins/The Dietrich Group except his choreographic vision is provocative, puzzling and at times, downright funny? His dances may follow a logical path in his own mind, but they present themselves as a parade of images that wash over the audience. The best way to enjoy a Hoskins’ piece is to absorb it, rather than consciously search for meaning. The meaning will reveal itself over time by osmosis.

LadyBaby is a reimagining of LADY: Images in a Melodramatic Setting from 2010. Hoskins’ premise remains the same – an exploration of identity, although he says that this latest incarnation further explores the evolution of the individual. The central figure is a woman (the great Danielle Baskerville), and, as Hoskins tells us in his program notes, through her myth, her sexuality and her stories, we try to determine who she is. Is there just one definition of identity peculiar to her? Does the audience conjure up identities for her based on the images we see? Functioning as a Greek chorus are two male dancers – Brodie Stevenson and Sébastien Provencher – whose movement seems to reflect the woman’s musings. For example, at one point she reads a long passage discussing the meaning and cultural impact of the term “sissy boy”, while the two perform a homoerotic duet. Other images that Hoskins presents include a clip from the 1936 Greta Garbo/Robert Taylor film Camille, a bitchy picnic, a naked bath in a tin tub, projections from a collage of Miss America pageants – all fascinating Hoskins-isms that, presumably, relate to identity. Omar David Rivero’s pulsing score matches the many mood changes, along with Angeline St. Amour’s very focused lighting. The wry text is credited to Jill Battson and Jordan Tannahill, and the video to Nico Stagias.

Photo by Jeremy Mimnagh

Citadel + Cie. commissioned emerging artist Tori Mehaffey to create Avoidance, and she certainly shows talent. The first image is absolutely stunning. Four dancers (Kelly Shaw, Luke Garwood, Daniel Gomez and Connor Mitton) suddenly appear under a bright, vertical neon bar. They are garbed all in white, and stylishly so, courtesy of Hoax Couture. The men’s attire, even on the lone woman, includes suits, vests, shirts, suspenders, bowties – everyone is dressed just a little bit differently. The fifth character is a red wooden chair that they dance over, on, under and so forth. The chair also travels around the stage. Mehaffey created her own ominous drone-like score, and Rossiter has given her a lighting design to kill for, particularly the effective use of the vertical neon bar which seems to be trauma central.

Mehaffey sees the piece as portraying people who have distanced themselves from personal events due to the fear of the responses they evoke. Shaw is the central player, and both the chair, and the three men, seem to function as the events to be avoided. Mehaffey has certainly created some interesting images, particularly in partnering, but there is much repetition and she needed a good editor. The piece is too long and loses interest over time. Nonetheless, a young choreographer who takes on an abstract topic and designs attractive movement to reflect that concept, has talent and promise that will come to fruition in the fullness of time.


Dance Review: National Ballet of Canada/Frame by Frame (An Homage to Norman McLaren)

Dance Review: The National Ballet of Canada/Frame by Frame directed by Robert Lepage & choreographed by Guillaume Côté

Photo: Karolina Kuras

The world premiere of the National Ballet of Canada’s Frame by Frame left me stunned and speechless, the former due to the work’s eye-popping, even mind-boggling, visual assault on the senses, the latter because words can’t possibly capture the piece’s immense canvas of creativity. In short – Frame by Frame is a work of genius (directed by Robert Lepage and choreographed by Guillaume Côté) about a man of genius (Norman Mclaren).

The ballet is an homage to McLaren (1914-1987), the great film pioneer and founder of the animation department of The National Film Board of Canada, who made the name of the organization famous throughout the world. In fact, there is an oft-repeated belief in Hollywood circles that whoever is accepting an Oscar for best animated short subject, it is probably a Canadian.

I realize it is bad journalism for the writer to impose herself as first person into a review, but for this production, I can’t help myself. Viewing Frame by Frame is an intense personal experience. At the opening night, the bond between the stage events and the audience was so strong it was palpable. We were willing and able, so to speak. Our job was to react, and we did with enthusiastic response throughout the dance. The audience was totally alive, and I’ve never seen its like before at the ballet. We energetically clapped at the end of each scene, and tossed in whistles and whoops when we really, really liked something, not to mention our wholehearted laughter at some of the more humorous elements.

Photo: Karolina Kuras

The work itself is built around a succession of short vignettes devoted to a McLaren film, and usually highlighting one of his many collaborators. For example, we see McLaren (Jack Bertinshaw) and Evelyn Lambart (Greta Hodgkinson) portraying, in movement, their innovative technique of creating images directly on filmstrip for Begone Dull Care (1949), while behind them is projected an explosion of colours from the film. In fact, several of McLaren’s famous movies are actually recreated on stage, notably Neighbours (1952) and A Chairy Tale (1957). Some scenes also focus on McLaren’s personal life such as his relationship with his life partner, actor, director, producer Guy Glover (Félix Paquet). Clearly, this ballet has made second soloist Bertinshaw a star given his luminous performance, and the young dancer was inundated with a rousing chorus of cheers during his solo bows.

Photo: Karolina Kuras

At over two hours without an intermission, the piece is overlong, and at some point, my inner clock was telling me that Lepage needed a ruthless editor. Lepage, however, has always taken his own sweet time when it comes to showcasing his creative imagination and critics be damned. And to be truthful, just which of the divine cameos would you throw out? – and the answer is, absolutely nothing. Each of the scenes is a gem, bursting with a radiance of imagination that demands to be seen.

Lepage is one of Canada’s theatrical superstars with a world-wide following. His name is also synonymous with technology, and Frame by Frame is a tour-de-force of the astonishing images that can happen when lighting, video and projections meet live action. The play with light and shadow on a dancer’s body is eye-popping. Particularly fetching is when this production actually copies McLaren’s animation techniques and out does McLaren at his own game! At times it is even impossible to tell what is real life and what is recorded. Each vignette has its own breath-taking singularity. One prime example is the scene where NFB founder John Grierson (Tomas Shramek) meets with McLaren and Glover to invite them to join his organization. The three men are seated at a table while an overhead camera captures on a big screen their lively conversation portrayed by the patterns made by three pairs of hands. (See what I mean? These words just don’t cut it in describing the brilliance of the vignette.)

Photo: David Leclerc

Which brings us to choreographer Côté, the National’s choreographic associate, who has covered himself in glory with this ballet. His modus operandi is a combination of McLaren’s actual movement from his films and Côté’s own original steps. In the latter case, he has come up with unique movement for each vignette and there is never a hint of repetition. Completely delightful, for example, is the choreography for McLaren when he is in the throes of imagining a new animation technique. Bertinshaw’s body shimmies and shakes with supple ease while his arms twirl in circles. He is literally a whirling dervish with every part of him breathlessly alive and alert. He is the quintessential cartoon character with a light bulb over his head. Because Côté intimately knows the National’s dancers, he is able to cast judiciously, and in return, the company does him proud. In summary, Côté’s choreography is at the heart of the piece as it embraces McLaren as creator and collaborator. Solos, pas de deux, ensembles – every movement detail seems a perfect proportion of expression.

During the curtain calls, and there were many, I counted 19 performers and 13 members of the creative team. I don’t have the words to convey the triumph of the score, sets, costumes, and particularly the lighting and video designs. To do these elements justice would be an overwhelming task. Lepage always works with an army of collaborators when he is developing a new work for his Ex Machina company, and clearly, for Frame by Frame, he brought along his A-team.

Photo: Karolina Kuras

Collectively, Lepage, Côté et al. have created one of the greatest ballets ever made in Canada/fait au Canada. It is a masterpiece.

Frame by Frame, The National Ballet of Canada, directed by Robert Lepage, choreographed by Guillaume Côté, Four Seasons Centre, Jun. 1 to 10, 2018.


Link to Frame by Frame tickets: