Pie On The Cherry

Liliana’s adventures and interests in dance and art

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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: 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.