Friday, May 24, 2013

Russian Ballet



Based on the torturous relationship between Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, this timeworn tale that addresses the objectification of the female body is a beleaugured journey through madness and the muse. In the hands of the acclaimed Eifman Ballet the story becomes a harrowing ninety minute journey punctuated with gorgeous moments of dance and and creative movement. At times the overall piece lapses into flashy cliche that, although effective, tends to provide an awkward contrast to the drama at hand. 

The use of large pieces of fabric in order to create sculptural reliefs, and the frequent tableaus of human bodies arranged in pyramid fashion, or draped on large grid like structures provide impressive, fleeting scenes that add to the general pastiche effect of the narrative. 

The opening sequences in the asylum where Claudel has been confined are at times both lilting and haunting, yet frequently dwell upon simplified movement that possesses a kind of one note style and effect. The varied and complex shades of mental illness are reduced to rather predictable, simplistic grimaces and physical contortion. The execution of these gestural citations by the company is flawless, yet marked by choreography that loses some of its impact through repetition and uniformity.

In the second act a kind of folk dance, grape crushing scene is a lively contrast to the seriousness of act one, yet detaches from the central narrative in a somewhat confusing manner. Similarly, a can can sequence, although beautifully performed, skirts the Rodin/Claudel theme, and appears somewhat random.

Nevertheless, the overall program, depicting the life and loves of a brilliant and notorious sculptor is a breathtaking, eclectic pastiche of sight and sound. With selections from Maurice Ravel, Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, and Erik Satie, the general mood is at once romantic, harrowing, heart thumping, and even lighthearted. And there is a subtly performed 'catfight' between two of Rodin's paramours that moves the seriousness of the scene into a rather unexpected moment of entertaining camp.

Some of the tones set by this varied collection of choreographic styles and design elements, including second act scenography that is reminiscent of the set for Jailhouse Rock, may have been unintentional, slightly comic gestures. But they do serve to add life and vitality to an evening of great physical agility, gorgeous balletic gestures, and torturous emotion. And the bodies (simulated nudity included) are heavenly.

at the sony centre May 23-25

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

in association with Harbourfront Centre's NextSteps

The current offering from kaeja d’DANCE, at the Enwave theatre until May 11th, is a disarming and beautiful exploration of simple movement that relies upon a precise, at times deeply intimate commingling of voice, body, and risky camaraderie.

What begins as a casual collection of audience members and pre-selected ‘couples' - all in pairs dancing, then being gracefully led out of the playing space as the lights dim - ends in a delightful cacophony of professional dance artists, and a selection of new couples, frolicking onstage in a refreshing array of choreography, directed mingling, and apocalyptic denouement.

…why we think and behave as we do, in love, to love, for love and to be loved.
 Karen Kaeja

Beginning with CRAVE, subtitled ‘intimacy: into-me-see,’ Karen Kaeja’s choreography leads the daring and powerful bodies of Stéphanie Tremblay Abubo and Michael Caldwell through a labyrinth of casual and highly crafted patterns, filling the stage with what the choroegrapher calls “the emotional landscape of intimacy.” 

In her program notes Kaeja speaks of imperfection and “the commitment to excavate a rich and fertile relationship “ that “keeps digging, bearing its gifts in all its sweet and hideous colors.” And this is precisely what Crave achieves as the two dancers flirt, entangle, smoke, collapse into large  cushiony props and each other, ultimately representing, in gorgeous individual form and casual interplay, the rich, clumsy, eloquent, and unexpected layers we reveal when we attempt to couple.

Weaving with intimacy and flight both aerial and interpersonal.

Allen Kaeja

X-ODUS, Choreographed by Allan Kaeja, takes on a somewhat more boundary resistant tone as a new set of spectators are led onstage. Beginning as mere onlookers on benches, they gradually become an integral part of the intimate goings on. An almost tribal arrangement of dancers weave themselves across the stage, meeting for tableau moments from time to time, amidst the rhythmic, initially frolicking music of Edgardo Moreno, and ending with a haunting, ominous musical climax. 

By this time the non-dancers have been integrated - directed to follow and at times mimic - into the movements of the dancing cast. Moments of syncopated staccato physical touching - a kind of gestural contact dance - punctuate X-ODUS, finishing with powerful groupings, and finally a line of professional dancers and audience/dancers surrounded in a decidedly less lighthearted, more somber musical landscape. Sharp musical contrast and physical prowess give the finale a near apocalyptic tone, as benches are moved and a single dancer becomes a kind of caged, writhing prey to those around him. Onlookers have been integrated seamlessy in  a way that has drawn the rest of the audience into the “distracted connections, vulnerability and depth” of what Allen Kaeja calls “their fragile and explosive journeys.”

The overall evening is indeed a fragile and explosive journey as both Karen and Allen Kaeja take the ultimate audience-performer risk by inviting their guests onstage. On opening night they succeeded beautifully with a layered, impeccably directed arrangement of movement, music, and choreography that began with intimate beginnings and flirted with what were simultaneously delightful, explosive, risky and magically unexpected endings.

At the ENWAVE THEATRE, Harbourfront,
until May 11th, 8PM

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

“The small things of life were often so 

much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasures like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard."


Inspired by the comic novels of Barbara Pym, Sky Gilbert's latest play uses drag as a way in which to expose the poignant, often hilarious details of sisters in love - with themselves and the very different lives they have chosen to lead. Ed Roy and Gavin Crawford give impeccable performances as they explore opposite ends of the drag spectrum. Crawford's perfectly mannered reserve is matched by Roy's outrageous form of 'hysteria' as he responds to life circumstances that have not brought his character, Penny Pie, as much fulfillment as she might have liked - and at fifty she is not about to give up trying. Pursuing the much younger vicar who has just arrived in town allows Penny to pull out all the stops in a madcap romp through forms of exoticization and racist assumption that shed outrageous light upon ethnic stereotypes that some people tend to rely upon when they are trying to insert themselves into the lives of the 'exotic other.'

Zahir Gilani as Mr. Gupta, the new vicar, gives a strong, sharply conceived performance that allows all three 'women' to revolve around his presence with diverse forms of reserve, gossip, and sexual prowess. A fanciful and hilarious dance around Gilani's bewildered couuch-sitting gaze is a highlight of the evening  and reveals the delicate balance Ed Roy is able to achieve as he goes over the top with a complex sequence of choreographed hysteria, yet manages to pull it all off with flying colors. His take on titillating, scarf waving, skirt billowing majesty is priceless beyond belief.

Phillippe Van de Maele Martin as Nora Tweedy is a delightful visitor to  the sisters cosy spinsterly home, and presents a wonderful comic contrast to Roy's manic mature queen as he gives the younger woman a somewhat lighter queenly deportment, yet reflects Roy's physicality in subtle ways through mannerism, vocal nuance, and feminine gait.

Sheri Tam's set, wigs, and costumes populate the stage with an impeccable Babrara Pym'esque sense of  “The small things of life" - allowing them to appear "so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasures like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.” In Sky Gilbert's hands, these material surroundings complement a seamlessly directed slice of comic writing that begins with a parade of belly laughs and ends with gorgeous, touching speeches from both Crawrford and Roy on the nature of living, loving, loneliness, aging and sexual predation of the most amusing kind.