fFIDA international dance festival 2003 a festival of work by more than 100 choreographers from eight countries, in various Toronto venues, from Tuesday (August 5) to August 17. Pwyc-$25, passes available. www.ffida.org Rating: NNNNN
SWEET VIRGINIA choreographed by Meagan O'Shea, part of Main Stage 2Z, along with choreography by Tara Lee Blight, Candice Franklin and Kate Corby, August 6 at 10 pm, August 8 at 8 pm, August 10 at 10 pm. O'Shea is also choreographing and dancing in the Guerrilla Dancefair, August 9 and 10 from 11 am to 6 pm.
if you see meagan o'shea rushing by you during fFIDA, don't take it personally if the normally chatty dance artist doesn't stop to say hello. She's probably running to her next show. After all, she's involved in five shows - a record this year - including dancing in Viv Moore's Ghosts, performing excerpts from her own work, Night Stills, and choreographing a new piece, Sweet Virginia.
An interdisciplinary artist, O'Shea proudly bridges the worlds of dance and theatre.
"I try to create a good relationship to what's around me, and I'm always aware of the piece being watched by someone," she says on the phone from St. John's, Newfoundland's Festival of New Dance before returning to home base Toronto.
"I love dancing and can do moves and phrases, but I always have to know why I'm doing something, what it's related to," she explains.
Sweet Virginia explores the idea of a hallway corridor. O'Shea recalls a post-breakup situation where every room in her apartment was filled with ghosts and the only neutral zone was the hallway.
"It was a clear space, a place of escape, with absolutely no baggage," laughs O'Shea.
She also recalls being in a room and watching a roommate get ready for auditions, going from bedroom to bathroom and back again, repeatedly.
"What was interesting was that I didn't get to see what went on in the rooms, just snippets of progress or deterioration as she passed through the hallway," she explains.
The piece, choreographed for dancer Megan English, shows a woman shedding ideas of what a specific space represents and lets us see her choosing to live on her own terms.
It's also, says the choreographer, more of a "dancer dance" than her piece Night Stills, which includes text and a fully developed character, a flower seller caught between worlds.
"Oh, by the way, during Night Stills this time I actually am going to try to sell flowers," laughs O'Shea, who presented the solo work last season at the Cameron House.
Painters and puppets
Frida and Herself choreographed by Brandy Leary for Anandam Performance Group, Off-Site Series (512 Studios, 12-512 Lansdowne), August 5-10 at 8, 9 and 10 pm, and 14-16 at 8, 9 and 10 pm. Pwyc.
how can indian dance and japan- ese puppetry combine to explore the life of a Mexican artist? That's what choreographer Brandy Leary sets out to show in Anandam 's culturally eclectic piece about Frida Kahlo. "In Asian theatre there's no distinction between music, singing, dance or puppetry," says Leary, a former theatre major. "It draws on the entire palette available to the artist. We're not attempting to make a collage. It's not 'Ooh, here's Chhou dance with Japanese puppetry thrown in!' It's looking at a form and asking, 'How can we speak with that?'"
Leary returned weeks ago from a two-year stint in India, where she studied Chhou dance, which exemplifies the principle of Angik Abhinaya - the acting out of a story. Based on martial arts, Chhou's movements give the impression of brandishing a sword and shield.
"Underneath Chhou is the attitude of a warrior," says Leary, "the same attitude that can be ascribed to Frida."
Leary's first exposure to Kahlo was hearing about the then-future film project about her life by Julie Taymor (director of The Lion King and Leary's favourite theatre artist).
"Taymor's work is the epitome of combining East and West to create something contemporary," says Leary, whose work with Anandam tries to achieve a similar goal.
In this abstract piece, Leary portrays Kahlo and dances with a life-size puppet of the artist that's operated by two Bunraku puppeteers.
"I had to ask myself why I was using puppets to depict Frida Kahlo," Leary says. "She spent her life creating her other identity on canvas, which is a plastic reality. There's a distance she created in her portraits, and the puppet allows us to play with that distance."
In representing Kahlo's physical debility from a severe spinal injury, Leary chose to explore polarities such as balance and imbalance, mobility and immobility.
"Creating a physicality of pain is not as interesting," says Leary. "She may have played the victim at times, but she was never a victim."
Anandam perform as part of fFIDA's Offsite series, as they did in 2002. Their piece is a workshop to be developed in the future. It's staged in Leary's studio, an intimate space for 10 to 15 people.
"Last year there were people hanging out in the hall," she laughs. "What I like about this work being in my space is that, because of her illness, Frida was so domestic. It adds a level of cohesiveness to invite people into my home.
"And it's the best way to have a party!"
Zelda choreographed by Susan Collard, part of Main Stage 1D, along with choreography by Meredith Wrede and Karen Koyanagi, August 12 at 6:30 pm, August 14 at 9:30 pm, August 17 at 6:30 pm.
susan collard wants to rescue Zelda Fitzgerald from the footnotes of literary history and present her as the legitimate artist she was in real life. In Zelda, the choreographer puts the painter, writer and wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald in the spotlight.
"I knew she was a painter but also discovered in my research that a lot of the text from Scott's novels was taken from Zelda's diaries," says Collard on the phone from Asheville, North Carolina, the same town, coincidentally, where Zelda was institutionalized and died in a hospital fire in 1948.
"Nowadays she'd be considered bipolar," says Collard about Zelda, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a sanatorium.
For the piece, Collard has created two Zeldas. "One's up, one's down," she says, "and sometimes they're together."
The piece begins with Scott and Zelda partying - they were the quintessential flapper couple - and dancing to the Charleston, which has been infused with a few modern dance forms.
When the first Zelda becomes sick, another dancer comes in and the jazz-era music gives way to a piece by Schumann, one of Zelda's favourite composers and an artist who also suffered from mental instability.
In the next section, when Scott has succumbed to alcoholism, Collard puts the two Zeldas onstage to play with him, and after his death one's left alone, hospitalized, painting and decorating furniture.
"I always use emotion to create movement," the choreographer explains. "So Zelda's anxiety, depression, her joy are part of the creation of the movement and phrases."
Lately, a lot of Collard's work has focused on the creative wives and partners of famous male artists. Besides Zelda, she's done pieces on Gala, Salvador Dali's wife, and Frida Kahlo.
"It's always been a struggle to make it as a female artist," she says about her interest. "Even in the dance world the men usually get parts before the women, because there are so few men in dance. Most of the well-known choreographers are male."