It's tough being a dance fan in this city. Weeks go by without a single interesting show, and then a half-dozen programs with lots of buzz open within a few days of each other. Add to that the fact that dance runs are usually short - two or three days - and what do you do? Here are some notes on recent dance events.
Kaeja d'Dance's 6 Women, 6 Solos (October 21-23) actually featured 5 women in 6 solos. Marie-Josée Chartier was indisposed for personal reasons. Her absence didn't prevent the show from being one of the season's highlights. Standouts included Susan Lee 's self-choreographed piece, Salvador . Crouching on the floor, appearing at first insectlike, Lee collapsed her body and leapt while staying low to the ground, morphing into some primitive, instinctual animal. To a suggestive score plunked out on the xylophone, she shaped a moving, intense arc for her persona, thrilling in its virtuosity and rich with inner life.
That inner life was missing from choreographer Karen Kaeja 's two solos in her ongoing series The Women's Project , works created for specific female dancers. The two performers getting the solo treatment this time were Nova Bhattacharya and Megan Andrews . Kaeja captured elements of the two dancers - Bhattacharya's sensual, moody feel and Andrews's playful, slightly clown-like spirit - but the works felt like incomplete experiments, as did composer/violinist Pamela Attariwala 's contributions.
Kaeja stood out in her performance of a new piece by Jessica Runge . Here, she was intrinsically dramatic, as if dancing for her life. Striding boldly throughout the Dancemakers space, she captured the complexities and contradictions of womanhood, from coyness to defiance. Kaeja proved again that she's one of the city's most watchable performers.
After the New Danish Dance Theatre kicked off Harbourfront's dance season with a monotonous show devoted to the Beat poets, that same country's Kitt Johnson presented a stronger double bill a bit later (October 27-30). The opening work, The Lemonkeepers , a whimsical piece performed by three men with a length of rope and a hundred or so lemons, felt more like performance art than dance. Johnson drew on clown and circus and knew how to create a vivid stage picture, but the whimsy wore thin. Obviously meant for an all-ages crowd, The Lemonkeeprs grew tiresome for an adult crowd after 60 minutes.
Johnson was far better in her rivetting 30-minute solo, Stigma , an intense, dramatically charged dance theatre piece. Clad in a man's oversized black coat, her face pale and disfigured, she explored ideas of alienation and persecution. Evoking an insect one moment, suggesting a cancer patient another and drawing on the low-to-the-ground technique of butoh, Johnson created a total experience, thrilling in its theatricality.
Yvonne Ng and Robert Glumbek 's special onstage chemistry goes beyond their differences in height, ethnic origins and quantity of hair. They are so open in their communication that a choreographer and audience can project onto them vast dramatic scenarios. Fading Shadows/Returning Echoes (October 28-30) featured three solos that ran the gamut of emotions and technical possibilities. Glumbek's opening A Tale Begun was an intriguing piece about freedom of movement and expression. It began with Glumbek alone, progressed with him having Ng strapped to his back in a harness and ended with the two exploring the limits of their freedom away from each other. Besides the extreme physical challenges - one wrong move while carrying Ng and Glumbek could have severely damaged his back - it was easy to see metaphors about codependence and the parent/child link here. A fascinating exercise.
Using a single chair as a prop, choreographer Dominique Dumais explored all the nooks and crannies of the couple's physical and emotional realms. Here were two people embarking on a journey, he holding her while floating, she folding into him, he cradling her, she emerging childlike from between his legs. Dumais gracefully captured the subtle power shifts in their relationship, all to the moving sounds of Olivier Messiaen .
The finale was a remount of Tedd Robinson 's quirky, droll, clown-inspired Stone Velvet , with the pair like aliens caught in limbo, their limbs constantly flailing, trying to figure out their bizarre universe. More difficult than it appeared, and hilarious to boot.
Minus is a plus
It's been five years since Les Grandes Ballets Canadiens de Montréal 's last Toronto appearance, and they more than made up for lost time with Minus One (November 3-4), a sort of best-of compilation by choreographer Ohad Naharin . Hard to know what worked best. Early on, the entire ensemble, clad in suits, sat on chairs in a half-circle, gradually ripping off bits of their clothing while chanting a traditional song. An obvious comment on conformity and anonymity, the piece formed a nice counterpoint to a later work that had the dancers break out of a line after autobiographical voice-overs introduced us to them. A quartet for male dancers was hypnotic in its primitive power, and an audience-participation piece added a lot of humour and colour to a very strong show.
Couple of misses
Michael Du Maresq 's No Man's Land (November 3-6) was inspired by Timothy Findley 's The Wars and stories from Du Maresq's own family, but it felt like a workshop and lacked both compelling physical vocabulary and satisfying storytelling. Du Maresq has a peaceful, open presence, but he failed to communicate the urgency of his story except in one sequence about the mud in the first world war trenches. He needs to dig deeper emotionally and find truths to connect with an audience.
Esmeralda Enrique 's Queen Of The Gypsies: A Tribute To Carmen Amaya (November 3-7) was an example of false advertising. Apart from a gratuitous slide show halfway through, there was little in the monotonous, unenthusiastic show about flamenco great Amaya.
The troupe is one of Enrique's weakest ever; she's in sore need of some more mature dancers. Guest artist Antonio Granjero didn't add much, and the musicians, while enthusiastic, were badly miked and repetitive.