Saturday, November 28, 2015

FACING HOME: love & redemption

FACING HOME love & redemption

And Now This

I woke up one day, for the first time with no doubt in my mind
& that scared me the most. I knew what my grandfather said
about that man with the plum sweet walk, about that girl
with the shoulders and no hair. I knew that boy Michael
from round the corner didn’t get along with his daddy,
what sins blackened his eyes those summer days,
I knew all the holy water, black like mine fist & flesh
thirsty fire that wanted to wipe me clean or clean
off the face of this earth. I knew where I belonged
but wasn’t wanted. I knew about my home’s
not so secret teeth. So I ran from my black sun
for lily white snow skinned people who let me
know everyday the color of my one and only skin,
who cared less of the rainbow dancing in my sweat
but the way my body looks caught in its own shadow.

- Danez Smith
Rarely does a dance performance integrate so many varied production values in such a seamless and intense manner. ‘FACING HOME love & redemption’ takes on the issue of homophobia in Jamaica, utilizing spoken word, news broadcasts, Bob Marley’s music, and an amazing array of dance styles all rendered with an amazing intensity. Moving through thirteen separate segments, a company of twelve dancers render each section with such fluidity and power that the overall program becomes a spectacular and moving piece of dance theatre mixing medium and message in an entertaining and thought provoking way. 
 The primary discourse, around liberation and interrogation, is so strikingly integrated that there are countless moments of pure gorgeous dance that are, paradoxically, never far from the central narrative that both laments the oppression of sexual liberation and celebrates the joy and power it can bring once it is set free from oppressive forces.

Choreography by Chris Walker and Kevin Ormsby mixes strikingly athletic movement with strong balletic gestures and the sheer grace of sharp expressive ensemble formations. Moments of seemingly routine, casual corporeal energy bursts into sudden impeccably executed bouts of fluidity and gestural individuality - subtly belying the contrast of stylized physicality and day-to- day movement. Walking and running seamlessly become a complex mingling of intricately choreographed bodies and/or individual limbs as various arrangements form duos, quartets, and then the entire ensemble… High energy mixes with segments of slower rhythmic exploration and inter-connected body symmetry.  The overall choreography possesses a diverse cohesive quality that ultimately creates a ninety-minute tour de force comprised of solo, duo, and choral virtuosity.
No Woman No Cry includes young women (Tereka Tyler Davis, Elina Valtonen and/or Gabriella Parson) taking part in powerful moments of separation and union. Bodies explore the playing space in an intriguing relationship that brings them together in a strong tentative manner, at times a kind of loving entanglement of limbs and torsos - moving into shades of intimacy - at other times distant and free yet always lurking within the realm of desire and physical allure.

In My Shadow is a very moving and empowering solo performance by Pierre Clark where he embarks on vivid, challenging, and expressive movement evoking everything from archetypal feminized gestures that playfully mock the abject mockery of homophobia, to powerful fleeting tableaus – set in high relief against a double shadowed effect. Accompanied only by the sound of a voice in the audience reciting Danez Smiths’ powerful poem, And Now This, (beautifully performed by Chris Walker) the piece becomes a superb integration of voice and body as they commingle and create a haunting and empowered response to, and release from, the power of homophobic language and action. Clark’s brief physical characterization of the poems’ reference to “that man with the plum sweet walk” becomes a perfect expression of movement meeting narrative in a powerful incisive manner. All of the references in the poem reach out with an inter-textual grace and power toward the overall program, bringing the choreography of the entire program together in one powerful moment.

One, the final selection of the evening, unites all of the dancers in a joyful celebration of all that has come before, reprising the primary narrative strength of the program as solo and choral expertise both unites and separates. An ensemble of bodies and stories live individually and collectively and act as a force against an oppressive global thematic that speaks to victims of homophobia worldwide and hearkens back to the final lines of a pivotal poetic theme -

lily white snow skinned people who let me
know everyday the color of my one and only skin,
who cared less of the rainbow dancing in my sweat
but the way my body looks caught in its own shadow.

Set within the narrative framework of specific homophobic practice, these words, like the overall choreography of FACING HOME: love & redemption, render the specific universal, and act as a cry against homophobic injustice and the perceptions around the analysis and deconstruction of hate crimes and complex homophobic discourse that moves beyond regional boundaries. As the choreographers so eloquently state in their program note –

“FACING HOME” is meant to impact migrant populations, generate change and ignite the LGBTQ community, it’s supporters, and service workers everywhere it’s performed and beyond. We hope, with this work, to initiate an ongoing conversation with you and provide spaces for the LGBTQ narratives of displacement from home.

One Love!
Chris Walker and Kevin A. Ormsby

FACING HOME love & redemption runs 
at Aki Studio 585 Dundas Street East, 8pm November 26-29

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Andrew Kushnir’s Wormwood is an epic drama that mixes fable-like scenarios with the gritty realism of political unrest amidst the aftermath of social and environmental upheaval. The poetic strength of the writing is reminiscent of some of Tony Kushner’s work (Slavs and Angels In America in particular) and transcends the very bleak events and images that place names like Chernobyl evoke.
photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
The eight actor ensemble brings this delicate balance of beauty and bitterness to life through vivid, moving performances that simultaneously tug at the heart strings and make spectators brutally aware of the sheer hopelessness one may lapse into in light of history’s repetitive and catastrophic nature.
Luke Humphrey as Ivan brings a convincing array of layered emotions to a central role as he epitomizes the bright-eyed optimism – diving stubbornly and charmingly into romantic idealism - that the central narrative plays with. As a young Canadian man of Ukrainian origin his identity takes on a fractured, charismatic quality as he searches for some form of truth regarding the political climate that led to the Orange Revolution of 2004 where “a million people draped in Orange in Kyiv’s Maidan Square, in peaceful protest, [called] out for their dignity after a rigged election.” *  The whole notion of fighting for one’s personal and national dignity is represented by each character as they take on individual responses to the social upheaval at hand.
Ben Campbell as the freewheeling Professor attempting to procure safety and security is a fine study in ruthlessness and heartfelt sincerity. Chala Hunter as Artemisia, in perhaps the most symbolic role, portrays a layered wonderment filled with the memory of a beloved parent who gives her a complex legacy to unravel as she comes to terms with her own personal and political position. As a child becoming a woman she is asked to free herself through symbol and metaphor from male enterprise and domination. Hunter tackles a difficult role with grace and a form of gradual awareness and powerful self-assurance.  The uninhabited island image that arises in the second act becomes a kind of feminist-oriented focal point for all that she struggles to become – and to become liberated from – without losing a sense of her own powerful yet corrupted identity.
Chala Hunter, Luke Humphrey
Nancy Palk’s ‘Housekeeper’ and Amy Keating’s ‘Daughter’ are broad, effective portraits of a kind of stock character that simultaneously imbeds and explodes stereotypes of Eastern European identity. Palk in particular effectively takes on strident, entertaining poses that evoke the fable like aspect of the drama as well as the strength that the character’s care-giving qualities demand. 

Ben Campbell, Nancy Palk, Amy Keating

Ken James Stewart in a double role as Markiyan and The Cossack contributes beautifully to the musical motif that runs throughout, and displays a fine talent for subtly crafted caricature, as well as a credible and realistic supporting foil for Ivan’s wide-eyed personal/political blunders. Victor Mishalow as the Bandurist provides onstage accompaniment adding haunting vocals and musical counterpoints that help to create that delicate balance between near fantasy-like fable and political realism.

Scott Wentworth as The Kobzar and The Doctor brings the whole narrative together as his intense, charismatic acting style and his dual character status gradually develop over two hour long acts. His seamless onstage movement from one character to the other reveals the complexities of a script that, although rich in detail and brilliantly conceived through intricate interwoven forms and ideologies, rambles somewhat in act one but recovers quickly in the second half.

Richard Rose’s detailed direction gives Camellia Koo’s spare and evocative dual-purpose set/backdrop a prime role in the creation of the symbolic garden. This allows the story to come full circle, revealing the doubling as a gesture toward the idea that no one is who we think they may be - nor who they think they may be. Everyone has a double agenda/identity that they may never fully realize.
Amy Keating, Nancy Palk, Luke Humphrey

In a world of repeated nuclear reactor disaster, run on wars morphing into new interminable combat, the hope at the end of the play – at the beginning and end of each new century – becomes the dream that history’s repetitive nature may in some small way rejuvenate, through reiteration, aspects of humanity. Kushnir has crafted beautiful and moving speeches late in the second act that give glimmers of hope through the possibility that nature may ultimately rise above it all. Wormwood makes no promises for the future, but it does explode stereotypes, turns them inside out, and serves it all up as a way of peeling away layers of idealism, personal perception, and culturally constructed misinformation in order to make some sense of a mind boggling past.




Monday, November 23, 2015



Sinha Danse, created by Roger Sinha in 1991 in Montreal, merges contemporary choreography and storytelling with martial arts, new technologies, digital performance, spoken word and Bharata Natyam. *

Constantinople, a trio of musicians created in Montreal in 1998, brings vocals, viola de gamba, setar and tombak together through the skillful musical talents/collaboration of Kiya Tabassian and Pierre-Yves Martel.

Together, Sinha Danse and Constantinople have created Sunya, a multi-media dance performance that speaks to ideas of migration in a haunting, explosive, and beautifully layered manner.

Visual design by Jerôme Delapierre, with lighting by Caroline Nadeau and Video Management by Elysha Poirier – under the technical direction of Julien De La Sablonnière, plays a pivotal role as bodies and sounds move exquisitely across the stage, providing impressions of movement aligned with narratives of migration from one state to another.
Kiya Tabassian’s haunting vocals, as they mingle physically – at close proximity to the dancer – while he plays the setar, provide a powerful interactive quality to the overall piece as the dancer’s body leaps toward and away from the sound the corporeal beauty and subtly of the musician’s presence and craft.

The dancers –  supported by Sinha’s diverse choreography (Thomas Casey, Tanya Crowder, Marie-Ève Lafontaine, and François Richard) present singular and ensemble precision a and they deliver solos and group moments that speak subtly of the hard won joy, physical hardship that migration can represent. The potential for movement through fear into relative safety emerges as migrating bodies flee through complex physical and cultural projections that suggest, simultaneously, waves, sands, languages, and the passage of time.

There is a very powerful section part way through where a mound of moving bodies rises up, down, across, and through the changing light – both bright and shadowy, opaque yet vivid – whereby a writhing ensemble of dancer and projection collaborates to create a visually stunning upheaval that simultaneously reveals the intimate bodily movement of single muscles, backs, limbs and sublime emotional gesticulation...


(*a form of dance originating in southern India)


precision & grief


John Tannahill’s Late Company explores layers of grief and denial in a complex entertaining and heartbreaking manner. A plausibly implausible dinner party begins, late, and the guests have come to grieve everything from the window treatment to the allergenic taste of a pescatorean entrée amid complex layers of teen angst leading to intense tragedy and misidentification. Without lapsing into too many spoiler alerts this beautifully written, finely crafted work takes the dinner party formula for acerbic theatre and turns it inside out, exposing all of the niceties and formal endearments for precisely what they are, and are not. There is even a pun’ish laundry joke that provokes a hearty half embarrassed laughter from an audience on the edge of their comfortable seats.

A politician and a sculptor, played respectively by Richard Greenblatt and Rosemary Dunsmore, are the perfect mortified match as they craft lives out of particular social poses that quickly crumble under the weight of some of society’s ugliest phobias. There is an especially fabulous scene where Dunsmore, the sculptor, describes her work as portraiture – of the very biting kind. The idea of oblique, revelatory portraits looms large in a seventy-five minute play where people’s foggy exterior facades hide their most intimate and hidden interior facades. It is a game of internal/external mirror shifting and re-shifting as conversation moves in and out of explosivity and polite dinner repartee.

The entire ensemble, under the very precise direction of Peter Pasyk, is brilliant as they enter an arena of fear and misdirected self-hatred. The dining room table treads that fine line between IKEA and fine upper middle class wood and metal functional furnishing, much like the commingling of popular and highbrow references that delineate class and culture throughout the script. It is Rosemary Dunsmore’s performance however that takes the central emotional thematics of precise and focused grief and elevates it to a complex balanced level of self-restraint and devastating emotional outburst. She is well supported by a cast that allows for every beat to loom large as they carefully choose their words and modes of denial. Richard Greenblatt, Fiona Highet, John Cleland, and Liam Sullivan (as the sullen teen object of disaffection and ultimate catharsis) give very strong layered performances. And yet there are times when one longs for a bit of Albee - in the script and the direction - at his uncontrollable best when the likes of George and Martha just go – like wolves – for the jugular. But unlike Albee’s drawing room dramaturgical war fare there is nothing faintly absurdist, flirting with naturalism, at the end of the dinner party in Late Company. No phantom baby, no mythological biographical fixations, just very real people trying to talk to each other about the unbearable lightness – and darkness - of being queer in an unspeakably homophobic world.


Friday, November 13, 2015


For all the non-specific meaning that some modern dance embodies, EUNOIA – created and choreographed by Denise Fujiwara (Fujiwara Dance Inventions) and based on Christian Bok’s acclaimed book of poetry - overwhelms with meaning of at times whimsical, gendered, heteronormative, racialized and annoyingly nonsensical proportions - at times morphing into seemingly (but not really) happenstance opaque profundity as sparse definition emerges from singular syllabic obsession.

EUNOIA (the book) is a slim volume of five sections, each section utilizing a single vowel in order to create paragraphs of meandering narrative that may or may not appeal to one’s sense of meaning. For example, allow me to give it a go;

popcorn pops orbs of o’s on pool floors


ether even enters eels necks

How ‘bout that eh? The sixty-minute dance version of the poetry suite is comical, at times entertaining, and filled with game show like strategies, beginning with a bout of vowel ridden hangman placed on a chalkboard-like prop front and centre. It is all very day to daytime TV-like shenanigans as the casual costumes even fulfill a very practical, alphabetic approach to language and living. Where is Vanna White in a devastatingly understated evening gown  when we really need her?

At one point an air powered popcorn maker pops onstage, only to have it’s built in bowl disassembled and passed around the audience. I love popcorn but can only manage so many greasy palms rummaging through it by the time it gets to my eager lap. By the eighth row I refrained and politely passed it along. But it was all such fleeting fun.

Unfortunately, the choreography, at times - unintentionally perhaps - plays second banana (banana has three vowels and they are all the same? Wow!) doesn’t quite stand up to the flimsical (yes, flimsical) strength of sheer cleverness that Bok’s poetic premise foretells. Large video screens tend to become more interesting than the rather pedestrian movement onstage. A lack of dynamic interaction - singular reiterative dance phrasing that might have echoed the poetry’s dependence on systematic repetition and sheer bravado through an obsession with the A E I O U of language - might have pulled the piece out of the popular milieu of the overall party like tone of the primary mise en scene.

But it was fun, for a time, and then, after the popcorn pops and the bodies unboldly bounce and the contestants win the game of vowelistic hangman, well, there’s not much left to wonder at or about.