Dance Review – DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation

DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation takes place at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 16-18.

Mimi Beck

When DanceWorks began 40 years ago, it was one of several presenter dance series in Toronto. Now, as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, it is almost the only game in town, which makes its longevity all the more notable.

One expects tributes to the past on such an anniversary and DW curator Mimi Beck’s program certainly gives us that look back. There are also several premieres, and this old/new viewpoint makes for an enjoyable totality. Pieces from 1981 and 1995 are given new life, while the other three works are brand new.

How good it is to have Learie Mc Nicolls back on a Toronto stage. The dancer/choreographer is another Torontonian who has moved to Hamilton in search of cheaper housing. Mc Nicolls is responsible for two works on the program, and both reflect his quirky approach to movement – those tell-tale, abrupt changes of direction, those short, quick, staccato body impulses, for example. The solo

Learie Mc Nicolls
The Night Journey

The Night Journey has Mc Nicolls as a bold, commanding and dominating presence on stage inspired by a soundscape of Dutch musician Wilbert de Joode’s solo double bass riffs. Judith Sandiford (another ex-Torontonian) is responsible for the eye-catching if moody, grainy live projections of Mc Nicolls, which adds to the mystery of the piece. The excerpt duet from Mc Nicolls’ 1995 Dancing with the Ghost, wonderfully performed by Jennifer Dahl and Robert Glumbek, is a witty girl-meets-guy parody. They go through a physicality of angst before giving up in a “what the hell” attitude of resignation as they leave the stage in separate directions.

Robert Stevenson and Holly Small

Evan Winther
Cheap Sunglasses

Another blast from the past is Holly Small’s 1981 Cheap Sunglasses, but with the twist of gender reversal. Originally, Small danced while composer Robert Stevenson’s sound poetry score was performed by men. This time male dancer Evan Winther takes centre stage (sporting the cheap sunglasses) while a quartet of women (Jocelyn Barth, Minjia Chen, Bea Labikova, Laura Swankey) vocalize the very peculiar soundscape of noises. Small has always had a wry sense of humour and this piece shows that attribute to the max – an individual seemingly at the mercy of the music, but showing a devil-may-care attitude nonetheless. Winther, a York University student, is a most eye-pleasing dancer to watch, at once supple, graceful and crisp of attack.

Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique

Twenty years ago, kathak dancer Joanna de Souza and flamenco dancer Esmeralda Enrique created their duet Firedance, a smash hit which travelled far beyond DanceWorks. Now the women have added Amalgam to their distinguished careers. What is so delightful about this work is how they move in sync. They perform the same steps, but as a flamenco dancer and a kathak dancer would. Of more importance is that these women of a certain age still have the fire in the belly when it comes to their solos. The fabulous original world beat score, composed by the performers, contains a flamenco guitarist (Caroline Planté), a tabla player (Santosh Naidu), a bass guitarist (Ian de Souza), and the always marvellous and brilliant Arabic singer Maryem Hassan Tollar. This performance by dancers and musicians a like, is a class act.

Moving Parts

The most surprising piece of the evening is Denise Fujiwara’s Moving Parts, a finale that has armies marching, meaning nine dancers, two musicians and a huge choir led by Cathy Nosaty. I say surprising because Fujiwara is Toronto’s queen of the dark, deep and melancholy butoh dance, yet she has come up with choreography that hops, skips and jumps for joy. The score features tuneful pop songs with lyrics proclaiming hope in the face of disaster, culminating in the Parachute Club’s Rise Up, which becomes a community sing.

Long may DanceWorks continue to present Toronto and Canadian dance artists.

DanceWorks 40th Anniversary Presentation, featuring works by Learie Mc Nicolls, Holly Small, Denise Fujiwara, and Joanna de Souza and Esmeralda Enrique, takes place at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Nov. 16-18.








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.)