Luminato review: KIRA, The Path/La Voie

Fara Tolno's drumming resonates more effectively than the dance in Lua Shayenne Dance Company's West African-influenced show

KIRA, THE PATH/LA VOIE by Lua Shayenne with Fara Tolno (Lua Shayenne Dance Company/Luminato). At the Fleck Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West). Runs to June 9. $35-$50. 416-368-4849, Rating: NNN

When Fara Tolno’s djembe talks, people listen. The Guinean master holds down and revs up the drumline for Lua Shayenne’s new show KIRA, The Path, which features energetic dancing, song and storytelling from West African traditional forms.

As a guest artist, Tolno not so quietly dominates the proceedings, even from his unostentatious place in a five-piece orchestra (which also includes Mikhail Parsons on percussion and Benjamin Maclean playing an irresistible electric guitar) at the back of the stage. His solo turns on djembe and log drum are highlights he assumes centre stage and punctuates incredible riffs with mystical vocalizations and comic asides, like the master showman that he is.

The dance components of KIRA, though fun to watch, are not nearly as compelling as what’s going on sonically.

The dancers make use of a fairly limited vocabulary  – from big stag leaps and knees high jumps to simple box steps, windmilling arms and rolling isolations – that are often repeated as feats of endurance or performed at startling speed. And there are hints of the divine and real accumulations of power in the high-octane work of dancers Shakeil Rollock, Kahamilou Zongo, Kwasi Obeng-Adjei and Shayenne herself.

But I always find it a bit strange to sit in a darkened proscenium theatre and quietly watch movement that seems specifically designed to draw participants into the dance for a collective, improvised experience. Its theatrical setting does KIRA no favours. Attempts at providing a narrative in the show’s second half fall short, and it’s a dance of diminishing returns for the remainder the momentum of the dance is not sustained.

Perhaps the staging of KIRA could be more evolved to help overcome this disconnect – to build on some lovely moments derived from Sharon DiGenova’s lighting plan and balance the inherent drama and seductive qualities of the music.

I love the quiet moment in which Joy Adjemian leaves her position with the musicians (she is also a vocalist) to perform a dance of sinuous movement kept close to the body and wandering small steps. More of this kind of thoughtful tonal shift would be welcome.

Although dance and music are usually inseparable in many African cultural traditions, for me this one is all about the drums.

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