Pie On The Cherry

Liliana’s adventures and interests in dance and art

Review: Androgén

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Tibor Trulik and Jakub Jeno in “Androge”, Photo credit: Divadlo Studio Tanca

Androgén is a 50-minute duet and the second full-length piece choreographed by Tibor Trulik. It is performed by Tibor Trulik and Jakub Jeňo. As the name suggests the work makes reference to themes of masculinity, manhood, manliness, strength and virility. The name of the piece refers to the steroid hormone that is responsible for triggering the development and maintenance of physiological male characteristics. The compound nonetheless is present in both males and females. It is derived from the Greek word for man: Andros.

The movement vocabulary throughout the performance perfectly describes these themes. Masculinity and what it represents is arguably much better expressed in the movement of male bodies than in words. The opening of the piece was loaded with tension. Enveloped by silence and semi-darkness Jakub Jeňo explored, interrogated, sniffed and licked a long, narrow wooden staff, like the ones used in the martial art of Bojutsu. This visual experience was strange and almost uncomfortable. The wooden staff at times seemed to be Jeňo’s lover, while later it brought to mind the image of a phallus.

Having brought along two friends who had never seen contemporary dance before, I wondered what they must have been thinking and I could hardly contain myself from bursting out in laughter; the type of nervous laughter one has when feeling uncomfortable. The tense silence was finally pierced with upbeat music, just in time to save me from making embarrassing sounds. Jeňo exploded into dance like a ball loaded with potential energy that had been waiting to be released. Then came the turn for Trulik to engage with silence and with the wooden staff, he was gentler in his approach, caressing the staff, at times kissing it softly as if it was a beloved woman.

At some point during the performance Jeňo took off his t-shirt, he lay curled-in on his side with his back facing the audience and started slowly crawling on his side across the stage. All of his back muscles clearly delineated, twitched in convulsion as he slowly moved. With his head tucked-in between his arms, only his back was visible. The bare piece of flesh reminded me of a skinned, headless piece of chicken meat moving slowly in convulsion. The image was haunting and memorable at once.

Another highlight of the performance was when the men used the wooden staffs to swing them with full force a few inches away from each other’s faces. At this point the performance became genuinely scary and exciting. The unconditional commitment and energy of both dancers throughout the performance became amplified at moments in which it seemed that one wrong move could seriously injure either of them.

Although the men swung the wooden staffs in front to each other dangerously, I had the impression that the main struggle happening throughout the performance was a very personal one. It was the struggle of each one of the two men trying to define and understand manhood in terms of their own individuality and their self-identity.

The main theme of masculinity seems to allude also to the notion of primitive men, of rudimentary and primal instincts. This image was, once more, suggested to me by the wooden staffs that, more than mere gadgets seemed to play a third character along with the two performers. In other parts of the performance the staffs were used to build and destroy imaginary ideas and desires. They were thrown across the stage as if the dancers were playing “hot potato”. The dancers attempted to leave the staffs standing vertically, only to have them collapse after a few seconds. Sections of the choreography involved dancing with them. The staffs were subsequently smashed against the back wall of the stage. Did the wooden staffs represent men’s ego?

I have still not made up my mind on whether I think the performance fell into perpetuating stereotypes or not. The notion of masculinity is a very broad one. Arguably it can encompass anything since it is a very personal concept, one that is understood by each individual differently. The performance definitely highlighted aspects of elements generally associated with masculinity, but as I already mentioned androgen is a hormone also present in the female body. Strength, energy, vitality, force and even aggression are constant themes throughout the performance but so is vulnerability.

Towards the end of the performance both dancers stood facing us with their legs spread-out in a wide, parallel second position; they created an M-shape with their bodies. “M” of course stands for “men” or “muži” in Slovak. In this position the men convulse and tense their muscles like body builders.

In terms of the dance vocabulary and scenic energy this is one of the most satisfying performances I’ve witness in a long time. The dance is explosive, raw, and genuine. The physicality of the dancers is exciting and captivating. At times during the performance I had to pinch myself to make sure my adrenaline levels kept up with the performance. The absolute commitment of the dancers to their work is contagious. The music by Matej Štresko is outstanding and an integral part of the performance. The underlying beat of the music, like the heart, empowers the dancers throughout the performance. Overall, this is a performance I will cherish and remember for a long time to come. If you are looking for an intense dose of adrenaline (a different type of hormone), make sure to check out Androgén!

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Review: “Around Centre Group”‘s “Mourners”

Placzki fot Marcin Pawelec

“Mourners”, Around Centre Group, Photo credit: Marcin Pawelec, 2016

“Płaczki”, or in English “Mourners” is a 40 minute-long performance choreographed by Agata Moląg and performed by the dancers from “ Grupa Wokół Centrum” (eng. Around  Centre Group): Agata Moląg, Monika Świeca and Marta Wołowiec. It premiered on March 13th, 2016 as part of the 3,2,1…Dance! Choreographic Competition and Workshops at the Cultural Centre in Nowa Huta, Poland.

In spite of the somber title, “Mourners” is surprisingly light and enjoyable and this in itself is quite an accomplishment. The choreography explores different subjects associated with the act of weeping and crying. Rather then focusing on the emotional state of “mourning” it focuses on the purely physical act of “crying”.

“Crying on command” is one of the main themes throughout the performance. At one point during the show, the dancers position themselves downstage, close to the audience, and standing firmly grounded start weeping one after the other. For approximately the next 10 minutes the audience is treated to an entire range of vocal orchestration, from gentle sobbing to frantic weeping and unrestrained howling. The extremely varied gamma of vocal emissions is quite physically demanding and probably exhausting for the dancers. It also confirms the importance of vocal training for today’s aspiring contemporary dancers. Wołowiec has the longest and most difficult part in the crying repertoire. When it seems like she has exhausted all possibilities of further crying she is encouraged by Moląg to try a little harder. Moląg insists that the crying is not yet convincing and the entire situation becomes at once both pathetic and comic.

Many moments in the piece bring to mind references related to childishness and caprice. A lot of the “crying on command” alludes to familiar behaviours of “empty attention-seeking”, over-dramatization and melodrama. The work can be taken as a commentary or even a satire of these types of behaviour.

In spite of the humour, the piece also provides material for more serious consideration. How can performers emanate honest emotion? Is the emotion during a performance fake or unnatural? What makes for a good performer? Should performers be able to “cry on command”? As one of the dancers explained to me after the show, the work is inspired by “professional mourners”; people, often women, who in certain cultures are hired to “cry professionally” during funerals.

Choreographically, “Mourners” is full of interesting and adventurous choices both in terms of movement vocabulary as well as use of space. A memorable part of the performance involves the dancers using the sidewall of the stage to produce different patterns with their legs while in a handstand position. Among the many good ideas there are occasional misses; some parts seem too long or out of place. The beginning of the piece, with the dancers walking in a large circle, is too long. Similarly, the piece looses momentum in the middle. However this is all compensated towards the end of the piece. My absolute favourite moment is the “second ending” of the piece. After a simulated, anti-climatic end to the performance the dancers come back on stage to dance to the song “It’s My Birthday” by Lesley Gore. The choice of song could not be better; it is exactly in line with the general subject of the piece on “playful crying”. The dancers reproduce parts of the choreography from the original music video. The cheerfulness of the music and the dancing are contagious!

Overall “Mourners” is a piece that explores new concepts and ideas in terms of choreographic and performance vocabulary. It is a piece that explicitly refuses to give in to the misconception that art needs to be “profound and serious”. The work of Moląg and the group “Wokół Centrum” embellishes and advances the Polish contemporary dance scene. If you have not seen the work, I warmly recommend that you don’t miss the next opportunity to see it on April 16!

Review: ProArteDanza’s 2015 Season

ProArteDanza 2015 Photo credit: Makoto Hirata

ProArteDanza 2015 Photo credit: Makoto Hirata

Three new works were presented at the opening night of ProArteDanza’s 2015 Season on September 23rd at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

All three creations feature bold, challenging and highly physically demanding dancing. Company dancers are up for the challenge. They imprint the movement with their own, unique personality and sensibility. Their physicality and innate understanding of movement are of the highest caliber.

Chorographically both, Mauro Astolfi’s and Rayan Lee’s works, feature impressive, fast dance of exceptional fluidity. The dancers seem to have no bones as they bend in all possible directions.

Many sections involving partnering are memorable due to the visible understanding that exists between the dancers and their obvious familiarity with one another. The dancers respond to each other’s touch without exaggeration, honestly and organically.

Mauro Astolfi’s “(don’t) follow the instructions” is a piece, as the title suggests, that questions the value of following instructions in every day life but also, more interestingly, “when it comes to important decisions that can change the course of our existence”. The piece is perhaps too literal and naïve in the presentation of its concepts. As the curtain opens we see dancer, Anisa Tejpar, dressed in a white chef apron. Behind her stands dancer, Daniel McArthur, he controls all of her movements as she “does the dishes”. The image is very much theatrical. The way Astolfi chooses to represent and address the questions of decision-making, rule breaking and free will, seemed to me over-simplified and almost cartoonish. The imagery of a kitchen worker/maid/housewife struggling between the everyday obligations and her inner desires is perhaps a little cliché. Company dancers dressed wearing grey-tone clothing seemed to embody both temptation and responsibility; they are the incarnation of Tejpar’s inner struggle. The rebellion does not only pertain to washing the dishes, it also encompasses the use of towels and benches in a conventional way. The use of probes in the piece is creative and intriguing as well as physically challenging. The dancers use towels to slide and spin on the floor. Later they wrap themselves in them and lay on the ground, like if they were cocoons. A wooden bench is also cleverly used as a probe to produce some exciting choreographic effects.

Rayan Lee’s choreographic debut “Replace/me” is about repetition. A memorable section from the piece includes a series of movements executed in the forward direction that are later reproduced as a backwards sequence. Lee pairs up different dancers to repeat sequences, copy them, synchronize and desynchronize movement.

The last piece of the evening is the most intriguing one. Roberto Campanella’s and Robert Glumbek’s choreography to the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony is part of a long-term project to choreograph the 9th symphony in its totality. The most interesting, and at the same time, distracting element of the work are the costumes. Glumbek appears on stage wearing a long, beige trench coat. He resembles a detective or a pervert. The rest of the dancers wear dark green and beige costumes that resembled working class and peasants clothes. The probes include a row of chairs that are moved around and on which the dancers stand up during parts of the choreography. Although the chorography is intelligent and the dancers embody the music beautifully all this became secondary to me in light of the perplexing choice of costumes. Due, in large part, to the costumes the work had the air of a mockery, joke, prank. It was jovial, refreshing and very unique.

Overall ProArteDanza’s ensemble of new works delivers what a company with its reputation is expected to. Above all, the evening is a display of the company dancers’ athleticism. Chorographically all three works featured interesting movement sequences, innovative use of probes and space and great, visually stimulating moments of “ahhh”. However, often they failed to deliver in terms of thematic content and depth.

ProArteDanza 2015 Photo credit: Makoto Hirata

ProArteDanza 2015 Photo credit: Makoto Hirata

Review: The Morrison Series, Dance made in Canada |fait au Canada

The Morrison series, part of the Dance: made in Canada| fait au Canada (d: mic| fic) (August 13th-16th, at the Betty Oliphant theatre) included works by Kate Hilliard, Marie France Forcier and Throwdown Collective.

The series opened with “La Jeune Femme et La Mort” by Kate Hillard. This is a piece with a very specific and carefully thought out visual aesthetic, that at times feels theatrical (even cinematic). A performance space, smaller then the stage is delimitated by a white dance floor. Videos and images are projected during the performance on a white screen of equal proportions as the dance area. A DJ set is placed to the left of the dance area. Sound and video designer, Jeremy Mimnagh, manipulates the music on stage while Kate Hillard and Robert Abubo perform. The costumes, designed by Julia Lee, are an important element in the visual construction of this work. The overall color/ mood of the piece seems to be light gray.

Abubo’s stage presence, as he stands still at the beginning of the piece, is striking, as are his intensely sparkling eyes. Hillard emanates a sense of inaccessibility and loneliness. She interacts with Abubo constantly during the performance, however there is a sense of isolation and miscommunication throughout the work. There is a duo in the piece, in which we can observe the dependence of the two performers on each other. Abubo catches Hillard as she lets herself fall; the dancers seem to need one another even when they do not understand each other.

The piece succeeds in setting up a very specific sense of strangeness and “communication breakdown”.

Marie France Forcier’s “Little Guidebook for Using your Suffering Wisely” is a short piece based on her own interest in post-traumatic stress. The solo choreographed and performed by Forcier is set to a recording, which simulates an audiobook on how to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. Forcier, seems to be trapped in darkness as she dances with only a small spotlight illuminating her.

The work is not complex technically, but it is highly emotional. It is not an easy piece to watch and it requires determination and strong will of the audience, in order to be understood and appreciated. It reminds me Guillaume Côté’s “Being and Nothingness”. Forcier’s work can also be considered an existential analysis.

My favorite work from the series is Throwdown Collective’s “Various Concert”. This work, choreographed and performed by Zhenya Cerneacov, Mairéad Filgate and Brodie Stevenson, is a creative and ambitious investigation into movement. It is an abstract piece focused on developing new dance vocabulary rather than on a specific subject. The program description is dead-on: “Various Concert sculpts space and time in a constantly shifting dynamic trio of action and reaction. With the anticipation of connection, tension builds as recognizable structures fade in and out of visibility and the performers gradually find points of intersection. What emerges is a highly attuned dance of unsettled interdependency”.

The common point for all the works in the program is that the three choreographers are also performers in their own pieces. Curator, Yvonne Ng, notes that this fact adds intimacy and proximity to these works. The Morrison series includes three very distinct and innovative dance performances.

Review: Lina Cruz’s “Waiting for a Sleepless Night”

Alan Lake, Jean-Francois Duke Photo by Mireille Racine

Alan Lake, Jean-Francois Duke Photo by Mireille Racine

Waiting for a Sleepless Night” by Lina Cruz, premiered on August 13th as part of the Robinson series for “Dance: made in Canada | fait au Canada (d: mic | fic). In this work Cruz manages to create a new dance language. Most importantly she manages to create an entire Micro-cosmos in which this language does not seem foreign. A Universe that supports her language in a way that seems natural, organic and harmonious. This Universe comes alive with the help of light-design by Arun Srinivasan and live-music by Philippe Noireaut. In this strange world, performers, Jean-François Duke and Fabien Piché are like subjects of a psychological experiment, exposed to the spectators’ cold, analytical eyes.

The Universe is a desolate place with no stage design or probs. The only thing visible in the semi-darkness is a piano. Duke and Piché seem isolated on a deserted planet. They have only each other and Noireaut’s music to interact with. The choreography seems to be a conversation among the two dancers and Noireaut’s music.

Both dancers resemble “creatures” rather than human beings. Duke and Piché are clearly out-of-this world since they have no clue about money. Piché attempts to roll a 20-dollar bill in order to smoke it, whereas Duke’s creativity induces him to chew it.

There is an endearing strangeness to their movements and the vocal sounds they emit; at times children-like at times feral. Dressed in dark, baggy clothes, with messy hair and scruffy beards they resemble cavemen. They are like Robinson Crusoe on a desert island.

In my mind Noireaut represents the all mighty creator of this bizarre Universe, setting up its tempo, direction and mood with his music. About midway through the piece Noireaut performs an impressive percussion solo, using the piano’s resonating box and his hands as instruments. Duke responds to the rhythm by clapping. This gesture reminds me of a mother teaching her youngling essential survival-skills.

Another memorable moment in the choreography involves one man standing upright and holding the other dancer’s leg to assist him with a “headstand”. The image is reminiscent of a “Yin-Yang” symbol and of the number “69”. This choreographic moment is repeated a second time towards the end of the piece. This time the men invert their positions.

There are moments when the dancers become so interdependent in their movement, so aware of one another that they seem to merge into one being, other times they “decouple”. The conversation created out of choreographic language includes elements of contact dance, weight-shifts, leg-extensions, flopping the fists in the air, slipping on the floor, jumping and mirroring the partner. At times the quality of the movement conveys a feeling of “itchiness”. The cavemen seem to have leeches all over their bodies.

Waiting for a Sleepless Night” is an ambitious investigation into the power of dance as a form of communication, one that complements words and expresses what they cannot.

Review: Andrew Tay’s “You can’t buy it (but I’ll sell it to you anyway) SUCKA”

Andrew Tay Photo by Andrew Tay

Andrew Tay Photo by Andrew Tay

Andrew Tay’s new work “You can’t buy it (but I’ll sell it to you anyway) SUCKA” premiered Thursday, August 13th, at the Betty Olimphant Theatre as part of a two-piece series curated by Tedd Robinson and presented at the festival “Dance: made in Canada| fait au Canada” (d:mic/fac).

You can’t buy it…” starts with Tay hopping on stage from an audience seat and addressing the dolls and teddy bears arranged on stage: “Did you come here to be saved?” “I can’t save you”. Next, Tay faces the audience and directs the same question towards us. He repeats: “I can’t save you”. Since he can’t save us his next proposition is: “Let’s party”. What follows is a confusing series of random attempts at what I assume was intended to be thought-provoking art.

Early on in the performance Tay undresses down to his briefs, puts on nude-colored panties on top, takes out a tube of hair gel and squirts some gel on his stomach. Next, he squeezes his stomach in such a way as to make the gel come slowly running down his crotch. At the same time he rubs his nipples and tenses his muscles. The action is loaded with sexual tension. It is slightly uncomfortable to watch but nothing more.

When this is done Tay takes off his nude-colored panties and a black curtain is rolled up to reveal two large, colorful signs one with “What the fuck do you want?” and another with “Text: 4——–5”. The audience is now able to anonymously inform Tay and everyone in the theater of their desires. Someone wants “the 80’s”, someone else “money”, another person “to get laid”. Other wishes include: “a new government”, “to eat Pekin duck” and “dick”. I want Tay to start spinning around. Unfortunately, he does not grant us our wishes, instead he insists with perseverance on what I suppose, is called dancing these days.

The pathetic comedy continues, the list of wishes grows to include: “seizure”, “innocence”, “less resistance”, “go further”, “there is a voice reading out the texts”, “is there a bathroom break?”, “to see what you see”, “the sweet release of old forms” and a number of other wishes I did not understand. In the mean time Tay starts to convulse on stage. He seems to be in excruciating pain as he slowly crawls back towards a microphone to let us know that he is giving us the opportunity to anonymously launch our desires out into the Universe (I’ll admit that this is a very generous offer and would have been an interesting project if better contextualized). The agonizing manner in which Tay offers us this opportunity (as if he, like Jesus Christ, needed to pay the dues of humanity) is confusing and takes away from the overall experience.

Tay insists we should “get deep” as he fishes for a beige baseball cap with testicles and a penis on it and puts it on. Someone in the audience wishes for Tay to “do a cartwheel”. He does not follow the instruction, instead he demands “more” all the while contorting and breathing heavily into the microphone. Then he stops to pose, plays with his feet and contorts some more.

After all this, there is nothing left for Tay to do other then to get naked, put a latex hand in between his legs and dance around, albeit not very skilfully, then use a Hawaiian skirt as a blond wig and eventually exit.

In a note addressed to the audience Robinson describes Tay’s work as intriguing and curious. I strongly disagree. Despite his best intention to be controversial and provocative Tay’s work is really quite trivial. I don’t like Tay’s work not because I don’t get it (that would have been a better alternative as it would imply that there is a depth to it that I did not grasp), I don’t like it because I get it and it really isn’t that clever.

You can’t buy it…” is a shallow piece, product of a desire to be “hip”. It is a not so original portrait of our “oh” so shallow, consumerist and pleasure-driven society. Yes, we get it, art is a mirror of society, sadly Tay does not  unlock any hidden life-secrets for us. Instead his piece seems to propagate the shallow trend into the realm of art.

“We’re going through a period where it’s so easy to turn anything into a spiritual event” Tay told Kathleen Smith during an interview for NOW Magazine. I would like to add that, unfortunately, we are also going through a period where it is too easy to turn anything into “art” and in the case of Tay’s new work “dance” (What is the difference between dance and performance art? Where is the boundary? Is there one? These are important questions that are still waiting to be addressed by the Toronto dance community.).

There are some positive elements to the work. The stage design is visually engaging for the first few minutes. The “make an anonymous wish to the Universe” concept could have been really interesting, if it wasn’t mixed with a number of random actions that completely undermined the potential value of this idea.

Tay’s piece brings to mind work by visual artist Tianzhou Chen. His recent solo-exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, was in the words of Chen, all about depicting the “collapse of moral attitudes and beliefs we see all around us”. Just like Chen, Tay’s piece puts the emphasis on shock-value as opposed to meaning, introspection or technique. Tay should keep in mind that to shock an audience in 2015 is really no small task. We are Internet’s children, we’ve seen it all, sex, nudity, drugs, decadence, you name it. As such running naked on stage is really not going to do it for us.

In conclusion, if I could make one wish to the Universe it would be: please save dance, in particular, and art in general from where works like “ You can’t buy it…” are trying to take it. And I do not make this wish anonymously.

Review: Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ “Locus Plot”

Peggy Baker Dance Projects'

Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ “Locus Plot”. Picture by Makoto Hirata

Peggy Baker, the acclaimed Canadian choreographer, is constantly inspired by life and the infinite amount of subjects it contains. Her works are inspired by music, literature, photography and visual arts among other subjects. The latest fascination and source of inspiration for her newest work is math. Baker was mesmerized by the beautiful pictorial representations of mathematical equations she discovered on the Internet. This was the beginning of her newest creation “Locus Plot”, her first full-length ensemble work in a 40-year long fruitful career

During the pre-show talk Baker explained, that although inspired by mathematics, “Locus Plot” is not about math; it is about human experience in an environment constrained by physical laws. Laws that can make this experience feel wacky, wild and unexpected.

Using math as a subject of dance choreography is a daring task. The recreation of aesthetically fascinating symbols, plots and graphs through movement and distribution of bodies in space, runs the risk of being mechanical, superficial, cold or purposeless, but this is not the case with Baker’s work. Sean Liang, one of the dancers in Peggy Baker’s Dance Company explains it best. He states: “She can create works that have strong emotional feeling without being caught up in sentiment. That the physicality and the relationship between the people create those emotions rather than painting something on. She’s a very honest choreographer”.

Baker’s outstanding collaborators are responsible, to a large extent, for the brilliance of “Locus Plot”. Mathematician and playwright John Mighton, was able to translate the beautiful mathematical symbols that Baker found online into a comprehensive reality that could serve as intellectual nourishment for her work.

Baker’s intelligent choreography is infinitely enriched by Fides Krucker’s “vocalography”. As Baker admits, incorporating vocal work to the choreography adds a more human level to the objective and indifferent premises in mathematics. The vocal component of the piece helped to expose a second layer to the work, a sort of “double life bubbling underneath” the set of choreographic movements.

John Kameel Farah’s captivating musical score is another crucial component of “Locus Plot”, without which there would be no magic. Farah, who started composing after the vocal components of the piece had already been set, was able not only to embrace these, but also to highlight them with his composition.

Dancers: Ric Brown, Sarah Fregeau, Kate Holden, Sean Ling and Sahara Morimoto were spot-on in their execution of Baker’s work. Throughout the entire choreography the dancers seemed to be restricted by outside forces out of their control. There was a sense of determinism that, although limiting, did not feel claustrophobic. The work is an optimistic take on the freedom we still have within the constrains of our human conditions, subject to natural laws of physics. Baker used an illustrative analogy in her pre-show discussion. She talked about the hub of a bicycle wheel and what would happen, if it were shifted away from the center of the wheel. The shift would cause a radically different experience of riding a bike, one much more dangerous and unexpected. In the same fashion, Baker seems to try and rearrange the variables of her “plot”, to invert the coordinates and change the rules. She places her pons-dancers in a system of inverted logic, one in which they are forced to move in specific ways. I had the feeling that the dancers were moving even in spite of themselves. The deeply penetrating, strange noises they emitted: howls, growls and high pitched-screams, were their only means of externalizing unconstrained emotions.

The last minutes of the show break away from the otherwise steady “rhythm” of the work. Kate Holden, wearing a white dress, performs an exquisite solo. She is shortly freed from the imposed parameters only to end up convulsing dramatically. She reminded me of a kitten trying to expel a ball of fur that it has just licked. The other four dancers clustered in the upstage, left corner moved together, their actions sometimes resembling arm movements in swimming, as if they were trying to float up against the suffocating surface of the dark stage. Then they were all engulfed in darkness.

Math describes physics, dance is physics (and much more) and thus math can describe dance. Baker reverts this logic in her work, she used dance to describe math, but in doing so, she revels much more then just the descriptive power of dance. “Locus Plot” is emotive without trying to be so, it is intelligent and like math, it is beautiful in the simplicity of its solutions.

Review: Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s “Letters to Spain”

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s newest production “Letters to Spain” is a 110 minute-long journey into Spanish tradition, history and culture. It is a beautiful tribute to a fascinating country full of appeal, mystery and passion.

As the Company’s artistic director, Esmeralda Enrique, explains the show attempts to express the extent to which Spanish culture has influenced the lives and work of all artists in the Company.

The first part of the show is a restaging of a work, created by Enrique in 1999. Set to music by Vicente Amigo, it is titled “Poeta”. The piece is dedicated to the influential Spanish poet, Rafael Alberti. Alberti was born in a small town in Bay of Cádiz: Puerto de Santa Maria. After the Spanish Civil War Alberti, due to his political believes, was forced into exile. The longing he felt for his beloved hometown is described in numerous of his poems. Towards the end of his life Alberti returned to Spain and was elected deputy for Cádiz; after his death, his ashes were scattered over the Bay of Cádiz. As written in the show’s program, the dancers: Esmeralda Enrique, Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro Durán, Paloma Cortés, Ilse Gudiño, Noelia La Morcha and Margarita Maria Rigó “portray the landscape of the poet’s journey”. Recognized contemporary dance artist, Piotr Biernat, represents Alberti himself.

The performance opens with a beautiful projection of the image of a calm, sea; the sea of Bay of Cádiz. Biernar-Alberti is walking on stage, as if on a beach, playing with the almost tangible sand and contemplating the beautiful horizon. The scene succeeds in conveying a sense of calm admiration in awe of nature’s beauty. Through the entire piece Enrique renders a whole pallet of moods as she takes us along a journey through the different stages of Alberti’s life. Personally, I was most captivated by Enrique and Biernat’s duet, in which they seemed to represent the mesmerizing sea of the Bay of Cádiz. Enrique, dressed in a long, dark-blue flamenco dress with a long veil, danced masterfully moving her veil from one side to another with her feet in a sinusoidal way, resembling the movement of ocean weaves. Biernat danced around her in a white shirt and black pants, he was the white ocean foam. Biernat’s contemporary dance training provided an aesthetically exciting contrast to Enrique’s highly stylized flamenco dance. His dancing was highly emotive and captivating.

Another highlight of “Poeta” is a scene created in reference to the difficult years during the Spanish Civil War. In contrast with the rest of the choreography, which is often joyful, this part is much darker. Dressed in black costumes, the dancers successfully convey a feeling of despair, as a voice recites Alberti’s poem “Mar” (“Sea”). The poem is about bloodshed; bloodshed that scares away even the sea’s, previously undisturbed sleep.

“Poeta” reaches its climax at the end of the performance. Dancers of the Company come out wearing white dresses and shawls. I remember hearing someone behind me whispering, “they are beautiful” in reference to the dancers. Biernat dances joyfully around the seven female dancers, swirling about himself. It is the celebration of the long-awaited return home. It is also the swirling of life itself at the end of its long journey.

The second part of the show consists of seven short pieces danced to live music. Two of the seven pieces are pure music. “Sendero”, choreographed and performed by Company dancer Ilse Gudiño, is soothing and romantic. It is set to a style of music called Granaína; this music is a mix of fandango from Granada and flamenco. Ilse dressed in a luxurious dress with plenty of frills, enchants us with her sensual dancing. She dances next to a blue fabric that evokes the sea, while the singer, Tamara Ilana, recounts the story in Spanish. The choreography sets a mood of nostalgia and melancholy.

The mood of Guidiño’s choreography contrasts with the next piece in the set, Juan Ogalla’s “Descenquentros”. For me, “Descenquentros” was by far the most memorable piece from “Letters to Spain”; it is absolutely brilliant! The piece is a reflection on the fast-paced life and solitude in big cities. The opening image is surreal; gold shoes unattached to any legs, walk frantically in different directions. This is, of course, an illusion, a brilliant play of lights. The lights focus only on the dancers’ feet such that the rest of their bodies remain concealed by darkness. Even the shoes appear to be gold only by virtue of the lighting, as one can observe later, they are standard, black, flamenco shoes. The dancers, accompanied by Rosendo “Chendy” León’s percussion, stamp their feet in an invigorating rhythm that engulfs the audience in a sense of frenetic energy. After a change of lights the dancers are revealed, they perform the zapateado, flamenco tap dancing. “Descenquentros” is bold, expressive, provocative and very high energy.

“La Capitana” is Antonio Granjero’s emotive tribute to Flamenco dance icon, Carmen Amaya, The Queen of the Gypsies. Dancers, Pamela Briz, Paloma Cortés and Ilse Gudiño, wear traditional male, flamenco costumes, a reference to Amaya’s own fashion style, and dance with strength and passion.

“Letters to Spain” succeeds in conveying, transmitting and infecting the audience with the artists’ very visible love for Spanish dance and flamenco culture. In one of her recent interviews, Enrique stated, that, in spite of the technical challenge of flamenco, one of the most important things for the audience to observe are the dancers’ faces. One should be able to read all the emotions that the dancers experience, with the influence of the music, from their facial expressions. The emotion on all the dancers’ faces through the show, reveled the honesty and truth in their dance.

The previous evening I had attended Amelia Ehrhardt’s presentation for Harbourfront’s Hatch 11. Her work was centered on the notion, that aesthetic information in performing art is an equally important source of intellectual stimulation as are ideas and concepts. “Letters to Spain” reinforced Ehrhardt’s concept. The aesthetics of flamenco dance are anything but trivial; they are incredibly rich in emotive potential and express the wide range of human emotions. Esmeralda Enrique’s livelong dedication to Spanish dance and her passion for it are palpable from the beginning to the end of the show. “Letters to Spain” is a delightful show that transports us into the exotic, warm, streets of Spain. A very enjoyable journey especially since spring it taking too long to come to Toronto and we are all in need of optimism and sunshine.

EESDC White Shawls by Hamid Karimi

EESDC White Shawls by Hamid Karimi

Review: Zata Omm’s “Vox:Lumen”

A week ago, on Saturday March 7th, I went to see Zata Omm’s newest production: Vox:Lumen and I am still under the effect of what I saw. There are a few shows that have left a permanent stamp in my memory and which have influenced my personal view on art and dance, this was one of them.

Vox:Lumen is a daring production in all aspects; technologically it is pioneering and ground breaking, artistically and emotionally, it is bold and uncompromising.

Much attention has been focused on the technological aspect of Vox:Lumen and understandably so. The show is entirely powered by sustainable energy. Solar power together with kinetic energy produced before and during the show by dancers and audience are the main sources of energy utilized for the needs of the show. Researchers at York University and Aesthetec Studio developed the technology necessary to produce the show.

The realization of Vox:Lumen, is no small task, it required extraordinary effort, work, dedication and perseverance over a number of years by Zata Omm’s artistic director and visionary choreographer William Yong. Vox:Lumen has already made history as the first Canadian artistic production powered entirely by sustainable energy.

This ambitious project speaks to the ethical and moral considerations related to the future of our society, the pressing need to promote the use of sustainable ways to fuel it and the role that Art has in influencing change, innovation and technological developments.

Before seeing the show I had already heard and read about it. I was worried that the innovative technology would overshadow the dance itself. Too often have I seen productions where the focus on technology deters from the artistic value of the work. Too often what should be the tool, the means to an end becomes the end itself. To my relief this was not the case with Vox:Lumen.

In contrast to the complicated technology developed for the show, the dancing was surprisingly intimate, accessible, direct, humble and human. The dancers exposed their most vulnerable, naked selves, both metaphorically and literary. The performance offered an insight into the vulnerability of human beings in light of the ever-expanding technology that is increasingly getting out of our control. It was honest portrayal of our most basic human instincts, desires and fears. It was an invitation to ponder on questions such as: What remains when we strip ourselves naked? What is left when we get rid of all the objects and distractions that surround and overwhelm us in our everyday, modern life? What kind of interactions can we have with other human beings, when the only things between us are energy and light? We are nature’s children bound by its laws, but as technology becomes second nature to us, are we becoming slaves to it?

The contrasts throughout the performance between light and darkness, technological advancements and primitive human needs brought to mind another striking contrast in our present-day world. The inequality in terms of access to energy and technology for developing versus developed countries. Yong himself grew up in a poor neighborhood in Hong Kong where he did not have access to electricity. His childhood experiences likely influenced his current position as a leader in implementing the use of sustainable energy for performance production.

The superb technicality and artistic honesty of dancers Michael Caldwell, Irvin Chow, Daniel McArthur, Brendan Wyatt, William Yong and Will Hamilton (dance intern) proved sufficient to connect with the audience and channel the attention towards the deeply emotional content of the work.

When reading the director’s note on the program I was surprised that he spent a lot of space describing the challenges of developing Vox:Lumen and dedicated only one sentence to describe the dance. He wrote, “I do know that the dance will speak for itself”. That’s all he needed to write, the dance really did speak for itself. No amount of words can ever describe the beauty and emotion of dancing. This dance show in particular should be able to tour communities around Canada and beyond. Everybody should have the opportunity to witness art that questions and inspires.

VOINA or The function of art in social and political transformation: can drawing penises in public spaces change the world?

Imagine the following scenario: you are in the grocery shop. You turn into the cereal aisle thinking of your favorite box of Froot Loops and… BAM! You walk into a scene straight out of a horror movie. You see bodies hanging from the ceiling with robes tight around their necks. You’re in shock!

What if I told you that the scenario described above was art and that nobody was harmed in the process? How would you feel? Relived? Angry?

In 2008, Voina, a collective of radical artists from Russia, was responsible for hanging people from the ceiling of a supermarket in Moscow. The “performance” took place on September 7th, Moscow City Day. To the innocent grocery shopper, the performance must have appeared gruesome and disturbing but there was more to the scene than to the naked eye. The people hanging were artists, members of Voina and they were not harmed. The action held under the slogan “No one gives a fuck about Pestel!” was meant to commemorate the Decembrists, Russian revolutionaries that in 1825 led an unsuccessful uprising against Tsar Nicolas I. Pavel Pestel, one of the five Decembrists, was a prominent advocate of social and economic reforms in Russia. Pestel advocated for the emancipation of Russian serfs, the creation of public land founds and the elimination of class privileges. The performance was designed as a critique of the current policies implemented by the city’s mayor inciting xenophobia and homophobia. The artists hanged represented homosexuals and Asian migrant workers, who are being discriminated by the current Russian government. The intention behind this specific performance is best explained in Voina’s own words: “We are accused of amorality, but in fact we portray and symbolically execute this amoral society, that approves slave labor and xenophobia!”

The staged hanging is just one example of many other radical actions orchestrated by the group. Some of the louder actions by Voina include turning police cars upside down, having an orgy at the State Museum of Biology and painting a giant, 65 meter-high penis on the Liteyniy drawbridge.

Of course, all of these actions taken out of context sound ridiculous and offensive. However, there is a strong and clear political message behind them. For example the orgy at the State Museum of Biology was organized under the banner “Fuck for the Heir-Medvedev’s little Bear!” and took place 2 days before the staged presidential elections in which Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s puppet, unsurprisingly won. The group commented on this performance: “in Russia everyone fucks each other and the little president looks at it with delight”.

The Liteyniy drawbridge when lifted up points directly to the Federal Security Service headquarters, the former KGB. As such this action represents, quite literally, a direct confrontation and defiance of authorities.

Art can reflect reality but it can also propose new realities, better worlds; it can make us dream. As stated in an interview by one of Voina’s leaders: “There is nothing impossible for art. It’s a symbolic weapon full of satire and laughter, which authorities are afraid of. Our art makes utopia real and destroys old patterns of thinking”. Authorities are afraid of it so much, that they have arrested members of Voina on several occasions and have issued international arrest warrants on two of its leaders.

Change and revolution are reactive and they must be radical. Novelty must be progressive and often it is also shocking. Breaking with old patterns of thinking and of doing things requires innovation. Voina’s obnoxious actions are innovative. Furthermore, they must be obnoxious and uncomfortable because they must reflect the uncomfortable truth about the Russian society. In the words of Voina’s ideological leader, Plutser-Sarno, “The main goal of the revolutionary street art is to clean people’s minds of those injurious clichés of the past by means of art ‘weapons’-to mock the idiocy of today’s system”.

The objections to Voina’s work have been based not so much on their attitude towards the current social system, as on their choice of methods. The direct confrontation of old attitudes turns out to be too harsh for many. People get offended, upset; they do not understand these actions.

Perhaps Voina is ahead of its times. Perhaps people aren’t ready to admit that their society needs to change. Although the adequacy and effectiveness of Voina’s actions are questionable, they sure do spark polemic and debate. Their provocative actions annihilate apathy. The strong reactions are better then no reactions at all.

Furthermore, the oversensitive and hardline attitude the authorities have shown to more traditional forms of civic protest or to more conventional artistic forms of action validate this form of protest. Frustration with the authoritarian policies of the state will, in the future increasingly attract more following for groups like Voina. In the words of philosopher and artist Bertolt Brecht “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”. Art is a better weapon then violence.

To read more on Voina check out: http://plucer.livejournal.com/266853.html