Monday, May 9, 2016

James Kudelka's Against Nature, with a beautiful and concise narrative from Alex Poch-Goldin, is an elegant and engaging piece of dance theatre that incorporates grand operatic overtones in a lush, intimate manner. The sensual and complex text, based on the novel by Joris Karl Huysmans, is a psychological jigsaw of puzzling proportions located within the Symbolist aesthetic movement.

As an example of what has formally been considered Decadent Literature, Huysmans explores the principal character's distaste for - and revelling within - bourgeois society. A well dressed retreat (gorgeous costumes by Jim Searle, Chris Tyrell, & Hoax Couture) into a reclusive, self-constructed life finds the protagonist/anti-hero indulging in art, beauty, and just plain decadent living. Oscar Wilde, James Whislter, and Paul Valery - among others - were among Huysmans' greatest fans. Wilde and Whistler considered the book a kind of bible for living.

Poch-Goldin's libretto, included as a program insert, is crafted in fascinating and well balanced free verse format - with delightful couplets and envelope rhymes carefully scattered - echoing the Symbolist poet aesthetic of the late nineteenth century, and yet ringing true for a contemporary ear through direct and accessible language that allows the drama to unfold within three distinct forms - music dance and theatre - as an elegant and powerful representational triumvirate of sight, word, and musical motif.

The beauty of the music by James Rolfe, sung by Alexander Dobson (with a strong recurring musical counterpart coming from Geoffrey Sirett) integrates well yet overwhelms slightly - as opera so successfully can - the overall narrative. Including the libretto in the program allows audiences to take home ideas and images from this extravagant and layered experience and consider the possibilities that the live dance/drama gestures toward in a variety of lush and provocative ways.
top, Alexander Dobson - bottom left, Geoffrey Sirett - bottom right, Laurence Lemieux

Laurence Lemieux, as the mostly silent servant, has the ability to retain a smooth, haunting rhythm throughout, never faltering - slithering and moving sensually across the stage, revealing slight moments of eroticism, and always in complete control of a fine dancerly form that embodies the story and the action in enthralling gestural ways. When she dances with Sirett - who seamlessly takes on the role of singer and dancer - they glide through a beautifully furnished spare playing space  (set and props by Joe Pagnan) with rhythmic dexterity - a perfect contrast to the theatrical modern dance movement that accompanies Alexander Dobson's near continual, sung narrative.

Dobson's presence opens the sixty minute piece with a subtle bout of direct musical address, and journeys through the score with vocal precision, beauty, and power. Sirett's secondary singing role, not really secondary at all, is foregrounded in perfect unison with Dobson - at times joining him in brief moments of sung text - as they take on a kind of dual reflective shadowy pose within the story that depends upon class separation, subservience, and subtly suggested erotic interplay between the three characters as duos, trios, and individual bodies commingle and conspire.

And yet it is not really about story when you are right there - confined comfortably within the Citadel's intimate performing space. It is all about an impeccable commingling of dance music voice and theatre as they wash over us and manage to bring together distinct forms in a seamless and powerful manner.
Projection by Jeremy Mimnagh provides a background framing device that consolidates the central characters taste in art through fades and focused images that create a kind of Dorian Gray effect as a large gilded frame contains lovely, haunting, and moveable images. Nell Coleman's delightful  puppet appears suddenly and surprisingly, mimicking the action and providing a snapshot of post modern reflectivity as Lemieux manipulates her own presence against the duo of male power she is surrounded by - a duo of homosocial proportions that never fulfills the continuum homosociality promises yet never fully provides. This a wildly successful example of three's company, two's a crowd, and there is never enough when decadence abounds. That was confusing - as sentences come and go within decadent and divine, faintly euphuistic symbolic modes, tra la...
                  Laurence Lemieux

Kudleka's concept, his direction and his varied, gorgeous choreography, combined with his connection to Coleman Lemieux & Comapgnie - it all becomes an impeccable assemblage, a multi-disciplinary project that is wonderful to behold. Onstage musicians round out the spectacle with an integrated grace and costumed unity that set the stage, at the outset, for a kind of up close and personal experience of fully fleshed out dimensions.

The overall skill and precision can be summed up in a single unlikely image. Lemieux, as a gilded turtle crawling under a desk, moving out of the beautiful bodily forms she creates as one of two servants, is an example of how a perhaps odd and difficult task - performing a gesturally anthropomorphized four legged creature - can become mesmerizing. Her arms and legs, fully enabled by a wholistic corporeal talent for presenting a complex idea in a singularly evocative way, make one believe in tortoise elegance in a lovely, gradually haunting, and beautifully quirky manner. Like the title of the show, she moves against nature, becoming nature, then moving seamlessly back into a natural aesthetic presence she executes flawlessly throughout - representing the overall effect of all of the elements and artists involved.
STRING TRIO - Piano Steven Philcox, Violin Pamela Attariwala, Cello Carina Reeves
Against Nature / À Rebours
Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie
Choreography by James Kudelka
Toronto Dates:
May 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 2016  |  8pm
Sunday May 8 & 15, 2016  |  4pm
The Citadel
304 Parliament Street, Toronto
$50 General Admission
Box Office by phone: 416.364.8011 xt.1
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