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 Review (Reprint) – Wayne McGregor|Random Dance/Entity

This review of Wayne McGregor’s Entity originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 8, 2011. The performance took place at the Grand Theatre in Kingston ON before moving on to Ottawa and Montreal.

Entity is back in Canada, appearing at the Fleck Dance Theatre as part of Harbourfront World Stage, Feb. 28 to Mar. 3, 2012.

England’s Wayne McGregor, and his company Random Dance, produce works of immense depth, and his fusion of dance and technology have made him one of Europe’s hottest choreographers. McGregor’s intriguing full-length piece Entity (2008) is currently on a three-city Canadian tour, and contemporary dance doesn’t get more sophisticated than this.

Entity is a quintessential example of McGregor’s intellectual and artistic inquiry. On one hand, he’s fascinated by dance as science, or how the mind and body work together to produce movement. On the other, cold experimentation goes hand in hand with images of stunning beauty.

McGregor sets his thesis right from the start with a grainy movie of a running dog, which looks like an experiment from the work of motion picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. The dog is an entity, a body viewed in the abstract, and so are the bodies of the 10 dancers that follow. Through a series of solos, duets and ensembles, they are entities moving through space. The way McGregor works the body, and combinations of bodies, however, is a fascinating process.

But Entity is not just cool science. Abstract though his movement is, little stories seem to be happening to individuals, to couples and to larger groups of dancers. The humanity of the entities cannot be suppressed. The movement is also living sculpture, beautiful in its conception and striking in its visual impact.

McGregor’s signature is a body that seemingly has no rigid interior structure. In the Q&A that followed the performance, words such as double-jointed, boneless and extreme were used in an attempt to describe McGregor’s physical calling card.

The basic McGregor body, with a nod to Bob Fosse, has the shoulders back, the chest and pelvis thrust forward, with the deep concave arch of the spine raising the buttocks to almost impossible heights. The limbs pivot through the sockets at unbelievable angles. Movement travels through the body as fluid waves. No matter how distorted the position, the body is always limber and supple. Nothing jars the lyrical flow.

In terms of partnering, bodies combine in such convoluted ways that often, one can’t discern which limbs belong to which dancer. In trios and larger groupings, the individual actions of the dancers become almost impenetrable. The quicksilver physical changes are a kaleidoscope that moves too quickly to allow the eye to rest on one detail for any length of time.

Hand in hand with the movement are the visuals. The digital video of Ravi Deepres is projected on a curved mesh screen designed by Patrick Burnier. Burnier’s costumes begin as unisex white T-shirts and black briefs. In the latter stages of the dance, the men are bare-chested while the women wear black halters. This increased exposure of flesh becomes the landscape for Lucy Carter’s arresting lighting.

The mostly black and white videos are fleeting abstracts of algebra equations, bar codes, DNA spirals and microscopic cells. Numbers hurl by at dizzying speed. Mathematical calculations and laboratory specimens are superimposed upon one another to blur the focus. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of body parts. The tools of hard science have been rendered into video art that is beautiful in and of itself.

The original music by Joby Talbot and Jon Hopkins is very dramatic, more cinematic soundscape than dance accompaniment. Whether edgy electronica, melancholy strings, lyrical pastorals, or nerve-wracking scratchings, the score is always atmospheric and evocative.

In the finale of the dance, the image of the running dog returns, but this time we look at the entity differently because of McGregor’s choreography. We can isolate the rippling muscles, see the gorgeous symmetry of the legs in motion, and be aware of the effortless beauty of a body pushed to the extreme.

(Wayne McGregor|Random Dance appears at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Feb. 28 to Mar. 3, as part of Harbourfront World Stage.)

A New Addition to the Website – Interviews

I’ve now introduced interviews into the mix on my website. The first interviewee is Harbourfront’s Tina Rasmussen, artistic director of World Stage. Please click on Interviews. Tina was most gracious in talking about this all important international theatre and dance series.

I feel the interviews give the right tone of gravitas to the website. They are also wonderful backgrounders to Canada’s performing arts.


An Interview with Tina Rasmussen

Tina Rasmussen is director of performing arts, and artistic director of World Stage at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. In the latter case, she walks a fine line programming Canadian and international artists for one of Toronto’s premiere series.

Calgary-born, Rasmussen graduated from the University of Alberta in Edmonton with a degree in theatre, winning the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts Gold Medal. She worked at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company before coming to Harbourfront. Independent of Harbourfront, she runs Culture Shark, a small artist development and special projects atelier. Rasmussen is a frequent member of international arts juries and panels.

With the opening of World Stage on Saturday, Feb. 18, sat down with Rasmussen for a wide-ranging discussion including the raison d’être behind her WS programming.

Your first job put you right into the big league.

That’s right. I joined Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre both as an actor and a general management intern. Iconic director Robin Phillips was head of the company and it was exciting times.

How did you get to Toronto?

At the Citadel, I met Albert Schultz. Albert needed an assistant to help out with his various projects so I drove across Canada in 1994. When I arrived in Toronto, I didn’t know anyone. I helped Albert and the other 11 charter members to start Soulpepper. I always said that there were really 14 founders of Soulpepper, with me and producer Diane Quinn being the extra two. We were in the background, but we did a lot of work. It was a tumultuous experience.

But you left Soulpepper a few years later.

Albert was a one-man show. It was Diane who encouraged me to get out from behind his shadow. I joined Harbourfront in 1999, and I haven’t looked back. At first I was on a six month contract, but I became full time in order to assist Don Shipley, then manager of performing arts. That included working on World Stage 2000. I also helped Bill Boyle, Harbourfront CEO, to produce World Leaders: A Festival of Creative Genius in 2001 which honoured 14 cultural icons such as Harold Pinter, Pina Bausch and Bernardo Bertolucci. You could say I was at the right place at the right time.

There was a lot of disappointed when Harbourfront dropped the international dance series.

Dance was one of our signature series, but it was a matter of money. The performing arts are very expensive, particularly when tickets are subsidized to keep down the cost. We ultimately decided to merge dance into World Stage. Harbourfront is an entrepreneurial enterprise. It was a way of tightening our belts. Remember, in 2005, we lost the du Maurier money when tobacco advertising was banned.

The World Stage that exists now went through various phases.

Yes. When the crisis of 2005 happened, we did a SWOT analysis – that means an in-depth look at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats –  to determine the future of World Stage. In the meantime, we mounted a bridge festival in 2005 called Flying Solo featuring one-person shows. That was the last of the original format World Stage that was strictly theatre and tightly programmed. The new World Stage that emerged in 2007, modelled after BAM’s Next Wave festival, was a multidisciplinary season that ran from September to May. Now it runs from February to May. In experimenting with the model, it was decided that the shorter season was better in terms of marketing. It’s now an international performing arts series, much like Festival d’Automne in Paris, or London’s Barbican Bites.

You were appointed director of performing arts 8 years ago. What special qualities do you bring to the job?

I have an incredible love of artists. For me the performing arts are all about the artists and their work. I understand their struggles. I also realize that Harbourfront is a big institution with a brand, so I see myself as bringing the two together – Harbourfront and the artists.

But love of the arts is not enough to hold a prestigious performing arts position.

That true. You need other assets. First, I’m not resistant to change. Secondly, I am culturally curious. I’m always on the look out for the new and the different. I travel to see a lot of shows, and I also search the internet. In a way, I don’t have a life outside the job. I’m known for sending my staff emails at 4 in the morning.

What is your mantra in terms of programming?

I don’t believe in themes. I compare programming to building with fragrances, and World Stage is an amalgam of perfumes. I’m interested in work that starts a conversation, that’s stimulating for both audiences and artists, with a judicious balance between theatre and dance. I also have to work around our specific facilities. I choose local and Canadian companies that are ready to be programmed within an international cultural context. Commissioning original work is also important. Programming is not just taking pieces at will. I’d say our choices are thoughtful and considered, but not mainstream. We exercise out muscles here. We take chances.

I understand that World Stage is more than just performance.

That’s right. Because we are a permanent site, we can have a long-term relationship with artists. That’s one of Harbourfront’s strengths. There is a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of nurturing and mentoring. Besides working on development of local talent, we invite presenters to Harbourfront so that Canadian artists can create an international profile through touring. We can change their lives.

How would you describe World Stage as a totality?

Inviting. Cheeky. Personal. Evangelical. And conceived with love.

(What follows is Rasmussen’s rationale for choosing the eight shows that make up this year’s World Stage. As she says: “There is so much choice, that it’s exciting to create the program.”)

Everything Under the Moon, Canada (Feb. 18 to 23)

This was designed to be a family show and is a wonderfully imaginative cross-discipline collaboration between visual artist Shary Boyle and composer Christine Fellows. We’ve had an eye on these artists and their magical works for a while. This was a Fresh Ground new works commission.

Entity – Wayne McGregor|Random Dance, England (Feb. 28 to Mar. 3)

McGregor is one of the hottest choreographers in the world right now. The National Ballet had a huge hit when they first presented Chroma, and the fact that they are remounting the piece this season is a real help to us. We’re catering to the sophisticated dance audience with McGregor’s full-length Entity.

The Wooster Group’s Version of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré, United States (Mar. 28 to 31)

Toronto and New York have a strong connection. Wooster Group is a company that deliberately put aside the well-made/proscenium arch play to become one of the most influential and experimental theatre companies in the U.S. Director Elizabeth LeCompte has taken a very radical approach to Williams.

Ajax & Little Iliad, Canada (Apr. 4 to 8)

This is a world premiere performed by local artists. Evan Webber and Frank Cox-O’Connell have taken on the epic Greek format of Sophocles to create a political arena where art meets war. It’s also a dialogue about citizenship, and everything that the word means.

Paris 1994/Gallery – The Dietrich Group, Canada (Apr. 25 to 28)

Toronto choreographer D.A. Hoskins is ready for the next plateau.  His works are all about risk and vulnerability. His visual arts components are as good as anything out there. He should be better known. We’re helping him rework his website and do follow-ups with presenters.

Agwa/Correria – Compagnie Käfig, France/Brazil, (May 2 to 5)

Algerian/French choreographer Mourad Merzouki has elevated hip-hop to high art. He does evangelical work which is right up my alley. For this piece, he went to the shantytown favelas of Rio and found 11 dancers. The program represents a perfect fusion of ethno-cultural diversity and contemporary expressions.

The Shipment – Young Jean Lee’s Theatre Company, United States (May 9 to 12)

Lee is a rising star of American theatre – a young woman who riffs on the Afro-American experience by talking about uncomfortable things. What she has to say about race borders on scandalous, but she is very brave, protected by the safety of theatre.

Dance Marathon – bluemouth inc., Canada (May 18-19)

We commissioned this piece for the 2008-9 season through Fresh Ground new works, and it has gone around the world, which is a great payoff for us. We’re bringing it back as a fun way to end the season. It’s participatory theatre as the audience becomes the contestants in a dance marathon. It’s a high for both the dancers and the viewers.