Dance Review: DanceWorks/Hanna Kiel’s Chasing the Path

Photo credit Sam So

The cheers, whistles and standing ovation that greeted choreographer Hanna Kiel’s new work Chasing the Path was heartfelt and profound. Clearly her exploration of the intersection between memory, experience and life had touched people’s very soul. Choosing to choreograph abstract themes can be difficult to convey, but Kiel has been able, in this work, to command the bodies of her excellent dancers to express the inexpressible, as it were.

Photo credit Sam So

Four characters (Luke Garwood, Ryan Lee, David Norsworthy and Kelly Shaw) clearly represent a family unit of some sort. Set designer Joe Pagnan has created a living room whose dated furniture conjures up the past. A doorframe dominates one corner of the set, and it is Lee’s coming through that door that unleashes the memory train. What is fascinating is that the movement dialogue can be interpreted in many ways. For example, my guest and I had very different views of the relationships between the four protagonists. Another intriguing aspect of Chasing the Path is that sometimes the dancers appear to move from being human incarnations to being their own memories, shadowing each other through carefully crafted synchronized movement patterns. The memories seem to bounce back and forth between the past and present as the dancers execute solos, duets, trios and quartets in waves of motion. What is clear is that regardless of their actual relationship or the specific incident that triggered this flood of thought, these are people who are suffering or who have suffered. Lives have been blighted.

Photo credit Sam So

Kiel has a very singular movement signature. Every part of the body is in motion. Her choreographic language is filled with small, intricate, staccato twitches, impulses and out-thrusts that seem to circle around each other. A dancer’s head, arms, legs and torso are forever being tangled together in a St. Vitus dance of electric currents. When two or more dancers perform together the effect is even more charged. Kiel’s dance is alive with nervous energy. The most repeated movement is manoeuvring the head, whether it is a dancer using his or her own arm to twist the head position, or twisting the head of someone else. These headlocks occur in a split second amid a jumble of other movements. but they stand out as a metaphor for the mind and body being held in the grip of a torrent of feelings.

Photo credit Sam So

Kudos to composer Greg Harrison who has crafted an electronic score that is tailored to the many moods of the piece, from sombre reflection to a driving rhythm that is an outpouring of pain. Oz Weaver’s lighting is similarly melded to the ebb and flow of the journey as experience is forged from memory.

Kiel is a dance artist who is not afraid to tackle big subjects. Her movement is meticulous in defining meaning, and taken as a whole, her choreography explores and presents the human condition in compelling ways. Her dance company’s name, Human Body Expression, says it all.

Hanna Kiel’s Chasing the Path, part of DanceWorks’ mainstage series, continues at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Mar. 15 to 17, 2018.










Dance Preview – Life Eternal choreographed by Janak Khendry

Janak Khendry

Introduction to Janak Khendry and his new dance piece Life Eternal

Life Eternal is at the Fleck Dance Theatre Nov. 9-11.

At 78, choreographer/designer/sculptor Janak Khendry is the doyen of Indian classical dance in Canada. Roughly every two years, he produces a gigantic dance piece of sumptuous beauty and deep philosophical inquiry. This year’s offering is Life Eternal, which examines the pathway to immortality in three great religions – Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. When it comes to themes, Khendry is always willing to take on the big picture, so to speak. His repertoire is filled with epic works of lofty purpose. He also designs the gorgeous array of costumes.

Khendry was born in Amritsar in the Punjab, North India, and was a dancing whirlwind from the age of five. His forward thinking parents allowed him to study dance as long as he maintained a high level in his academic studies. Over time he became proficient in four distinct styles of Indian classical dance: bharatanatyam, kathak, sattriya and manipuri. He maintains that his years spent with bharatanatyam guru Swami Muttukumar Pillai in a tiny village in South India were the happiest of his life. After graduating with a B.A. in English and Art History, he took a second B.A. in metal sculpture.

Khendry moved to the United States in 1961, where he attended Ohio State University for his Masters in sculpture. He also studied modern dance, including Graham, Limon and Cunningham techniques. He then relocated to New York City where he spent 16 years, both as a performer of Indian classical dance, and as the gallery director of the New York Sculpture Centre.

Canada became his new home when he met Toronto dentist Herschel Freeman who became his life partner. Khendry moved to Toronto in 1979 and opened the first gallery in Canada specializing in glass sculpture. The gallery was a fixture in Yorkville for 22 years. He also founded his dance company which has been going strong for almost four decades.

The Interview (wherein Janak Khendry talks about Life Eternal).

Paradise Lost

I have to say, Janak, that you don’t shy away from vast topics when you make your dances.

Simple themes are not for me. I’m a sucker for punishment, but I also want to create a work of art on the stage.

Where did the idea for Life Eternal come from?

It was during a conversation with friends when we were discussing different paths to immortality. The idea just jumped out and I grabbed it. I envisioned a work showing three different religions, each with its own language and traditions, and all of them striving for the universal truth of immortality, but in different ways. It was very tough creating the piece because I had to come up with three parallel stories. I did not want to preach religion. Rather, I wanted to explore the philosophy behind achieving immortality. Originally, I wanted to call the piece Immortality, but my advisors felt the word had too much religious connotation.

Life Eternal

I know you consult with what you call your research advisors as part of your mammoth preparation for a new work.

Dr. Tulsiram Sharma and Dr. Narendra Wagle are both specialists in South Asian Studies. Their input and guidance is invaluable. I’ve known them for years.

Why did you not include Islam in Life Eternal, the other great religion of the Indian subcontinent?

I’m very careful. Religion in general is a touchy subject, but with Islam, especially so. I felt I would need permission from Moslem leaders to broach the subject, so it seemed easier not to go there.

What is your next step in the creation process after research?

Women Liberated

I write a complete step-by-step draft of the story line, which I send to my music director, Ashit Desai, in Mumbai. Ashit and I have worked together for over 20 years. I also send the lyrics I want, which for Life Eternal, are verses from the sacred texts, the Vedas and the Gita. When the music is composed, Ashit then sends back a CD. This is done three or four months before rehearsals start. I listen to his compositions over and over again until my body absorbs the music. Slowly, movement starts to come in my head, and I make drawings of the choreography under the musical notes on the score. I document everything.

I see that to explain something so abstract as striving for immortality, or freedom that transcends time and space, as you call it, you use concrete narratives to illustrate the concept.

Yes. The Buddhist section has four characters: the Buddha, his young son, who is about 14, and two converts. One is a poor, downtrodden female street sweeper, while the other is a cruel man, a murderer, a thief, yet, as followers, both come to sit at the feet of the Buddha. The have all found love, peace and happiness.

And the Jain story?

The main character is King Payesi who is a horrible person until he hears the sermon of a Keysi, a holy man, that touches him deeply. Everything changes for him and he gives up his earthly treasures. In disgust, his wife Suryakanta poisons him, but he is reborn as a very pious human.

And the narrative that illustrates the Hindu path to immortality?

Markhendye is a sage who has reached a high level of spirituality. The god Indra sends all kinds of things to tempt the sage to betray his spiritual self, but Markhendye does not react. The gods are pleased that a human being is so pious, and he is given the blessings of the supreme god Shiva and his consort Parvati.

These are three very distinct sections. Do you bring them together at the end?

Three dancers, one representing each story, are seen walking to the back of the stage together. They symbolize freedom.

How did three different stories, representing three different religions, impact the choreography?

The movement came about according to what the subject matter dictated. Some of it is in definite styles of dance, other parts are my own movement creation. There is no end to what the human body can do to be expressive.

There are 14 dancers, seven men and seven women. Are they all local, or did you have to import some from India?

Life Eternal Dancers

All of them are from Toronto, but have different backgrounds. Most are of Indian descent, but there are dancers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, for example. The dancer playing King Payesi is a Moslem. I treat my dancers with love and respect because they give life to my work, which makes them a very important part of my life.

Eternal Life, choreography by Janak Khendry, is at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Nov. 9-11.


abrahamKYLE ABRAHAM/ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION. THE RADIO SHOW. You only have until Saturday to catch this World Stage offering. Abraham is one of New York’s brightest lights. The supple dancers execute fluid, total body choreography in this show about memory and communication. As a dancesmith, Abraham knows how to rivet the eye with movement that always catches you by surprise. No wonder he won a genius grant from the MacArthur Foundation. An ambitious show in content that maybe doesn’t get quite get to where it should in substance, but the choreography rocks. (Closes Feb. 8, Fleck Dance Theatre,

DANCE IMMERSION. CELEBRATING OUR MEN IN DANCE. This show, also on a short run, is part of Black History Month. Curator Vivine Scarlett has opted to program 8 male choreographers to present black men in a positive light. They hail originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique, and Jamaica, while two are Toronto born. The dance ranges from traditional to contemporary and presents a wide spectrum of themes. While the quality is uneven, the bill of fare is entertaining. This is an important show because it speaks to Canada’s multicultural mosaic. (Closes Feb 8, Enwave Theatre,

Mirvish Productions. Heartbeat of Home. This new production, from the team that brought you Riverdance two decades ago, is an immensely enjoyable, professional-looking, polished dance show where everything hangs together as smooth as silk. The music score is sensational and the band it hot. Despite some weaknesses to the look of the show, it certainly deserves a long shelf life. (Closes Mar. 2, Ed Mirvish Theatre, See full website review,

Mirvish Productions. ARRABAL. There’s mostly good news about the dance theatre show Arrabal. The choreography is sharply-edged sensuality and the music is scorching hot. On the down side, the book is weak, but, in the final analysis, who cares. The look of the show, from the gorgeous Argentinian dancers to the towering projections and sexy costumes, is scrumptious. In this coming of age story, the virginal heroine Arrabal (Micaela Spina) discovers that her father is one of the desaparecidos, a dissident who was arrested by the ruling military junta and made to disappear. (Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo and Julio Zurita, book by John Weidman, Closes May 11, Panasonic Theatre, See full Globe and Mail review (

Paula’s Picks and Pans – Dec 11th 2013


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