Review: Touch is the dance experience we need right now


TOUCH choreography by Guillaume Côté with projections and multimedia designs by Thomas Payette (Côté Danse in association with Lighthouse Arts Space). Runs to January 2, various times. $49.99-$99.99. At 1 Yonge. Rating: NNNN

The concept of touch has been so fraught during the pandemic, when many things have been labelled “non-contact.” Is it okay to touch something and then touch your face? Is shaking hands allowed again? Can we hug our friends and family? And what about sex?

Guillaume Côté’s Touch, like many non-narrative dance works, expresses things we feel deeply yet can’t always articulate in words. What’s so memorable about this piece is how the presentation – including immersive projections and multimedia designs by co-creator Thomas Payette – enhance and add to the experience.

The huge, airy, loft-like space at the foot of Yonge is debuting with the show, and I can see many directors and choreographers wanting to make use of it in the future. But it presents challenges for choreographers, who have to create dance not for a proscenium – not merely to be looked at – but for a 360 degree experience where stage and audience (seated around the perimeter) are one. (It helps to be sitting on chairs that swivel!)

Dancers Natasha Poon Woo and Larkin Miller, who alternate shows with Carleen Zouboules and Evan Webb, play an archetypal couple who meet, fall in love, get separated and then come together again, battling the elements or the fates to reunite.

This loose story is expressed not just through Côté’s suggestive, sensual movement and the performers’ athleticism and grace, but by the visual cues in Payette’s projections. When the dancers are locked in each others’ limbs while the walls and ceiling sparkle with a million stars, or when we see some of those stars shooting across a blank wall, it’s hard not to think of love on some mystical, metaphysical plane.

Likewise, when Antoine Bédard’s moody score makes way for an instrumental version of Purcell’s lament from Dido And Aeneas, and Payette throws up imagery of labyrinthine mazes or circles, it’s hard not to think of the couple’s love being tested.

Touch, produced by Côté Danse in association with Lighthouse Immersive, is the kind of dance show we need to see right now. At a time when we’re being asked to limit our touch with others, it’s cathartic to be able to watch two dancers navigate the challenges of staying together. It can almost be seen as a series of duets charting the ups and downs of a relationship, from courtly gestures to impassioned grappling (warning: do not attempt those upside-down movies at home).

Just as Côté and his dancers continually mix up the dance vocabulary – always a challenge with non-narrative work – so too Payette doesn’t repeat images. Some sections of the dance floor seem responsive to touch, so waves or clouds of dust appear to emanate from each step. At other times we’ll get a suggestion of the dancers’ psyches via large projections of what look like photographic negatives.

Don’t be surprised if, after being immersed in this 45-minute show about connection and relationships, you leave the venue a little shaken. After all, you’ve just been touched.




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