sly verb choreography by Christopher House presented by Toronto Dance Theatre at the Premiere Dance Theatre, November 18-22. Rating: NNNN
remember the first time you went skinny dipping? Floating, fabric-free. It felt, divine, luxurious, free. Hold that thought and consider the choreographer's note in the program for Sly Verb . "Our skin is the surface layer of our brain," it reads. "Without the sense of touch, we have no relationship with the present moment. Touch is the mother of the senses."
Christopher House 's latest collaboration with his Toronto Dance Theatre dancers explores touch with invigorating unpredictability.
Unfortunately, we can't sidle up to strangers and slide our hands repeatedly, pensively, across a belly or thigh without sexual intent or the pending arrival of the cops.
Words like uninhibited, childlike and raw best describe the atmosphere of Sly Verb.
Scott Eunson 's twisted aluminum-wire sculptures inhabit a bare black stage. Dancers raise, lower, enter, reshape the pieces, which initially seem foreign, like icicle-igloo amoeba. Later, these become warmer, cocoon-like, the moulted skins of magical animals.
Sound master Phil Strong 's engaging auditory collage includes everything from swishing bathtub water to danceable groove. Costume designer Jeremy Laing provides underwear-like items that some dancers randomly abandon (yes, there's nudity), then put back on.
Four blue TV screens flank the stage. Behold the dreaded new media tool that when mixed with dance is so often confusing, useless or cheesy. Sly Verb, however, uses hand-held live video to detail a face, then a body and its elements, in a strikingly original and amusing fashion.
A creation like this underlines the importance of consistently nurturing a company of artists as a creative unit. Without TDT's grounded, intelligent rapport with each other and the audience, Sly Verb would suffer.
Each of the 12 dancers can blow your socks off with technique, style and presence. Brendan Jensen seems to glow with energy throughout, avec and sans clothes. Johanna Bergfeldt soars impeccably through a solo despite its hair-raising acceleration. And Jessica Runge is unabashed, funny from her first nonsense-jabbering entrance.
All 60-some minutes, ingeniously lit by Steve Lucas , are sensual, provocative, sexy but never lewd. If your inner letch is salivating, Sly Verb is more than the mere charm of beautiful flesh on display. Drawing on research beyond the dance world, it, like skin, has invisible layers.
Contemporary dance, all too often drawn to angst-ridden introspection or cranky repetition, is rarely as witty, well-crafted and thought-provoking as this.