DESPAIR... AND OTHER CONUNDRUMS choreography by Kate Alton and Allison Rees-Cummings, text by Andre Alexis and Jonathan Garfinkel, with Alton, Danielle Baskerville, Emma Lu Romerein, Ross Manson, Yanna McIntosh and Andrew R. Miller. Presented by Crooked Figure Dances/Volcano at the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Opens tonight (May 4) and runs to May 7, Thursday-Sunday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $20, stu/srs $18, matinee pwyc. 416-538-0988. Rating: NNNNN
Dance artist Kate Alton can relate to the title of her latest show, Despair... And Other Conundrums. Within one year, she broke the fifth metatarsal in her left foot, tore four ligaments and suffered major cartilage damage in her right ankle. Ouch. "Then, right before I opened a show in Montreal, I thought I sprained my knee, so I had an MRI that showed a lot of degeneration there," she tells me. "It's been an eye-opener. I've been lucky until now."
So have audiences, who got to witness her clear, always dramatic performances. For seven years, the former Toronto Dance Theatre dancer more than lived up to her company's name, Overall Dance, dedicated, she tells me, to "creating a platform for a bunch of new choreographic ideas, and to bring new life to the scene."
Now Alton has renamed her company Crooked Figure, a phrase from the prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V.
"It says a lot about how I feel," she explains. "Man is a crooked figure, dance is more interesting when it's crooked, and I've felt like a crooked figure recovering from these injuries."
The new company's mandate is to combine dance with text. In addition to choreography by Alton and Allison Rees-Cummings, the program features text by playwright Jonathan Garfinkel, performed by Alton, and novelist Andre Alexis, performed by actors Ross Manson and Yanna McIntosh in between the dances.
"We're using the stories that Yanna and Ross tell as a linking element through the show. It won't feel like one dance piece after another, as so many mixed programs do."
Alton's many collaborations with Volcano artistic director Manson have sharpened her theatrical eye.
"If you're going to add movement to a play, or text to a dance piece, you've got to have a pretty good reason," she says, adding that her theatre experience has raised her expectations for regular dance shows.
"That outside eye is missing from a lot of dance," she says. "Many shows could be improved, not just with a director but with some sort of dramaturgy. You've got to question what you want to get across and why you're onstage performing in a black box in this bizarre ritual."
How physical will the current show be for her? Her autobiographical solo, Kissing Giancarlo, involves some knee work, but she won't be jumping a lot. Alton says she's slowly building back to her former level, mostly through a strict strengthening regimen.
"I wish I had known to do this years ago," she says, regretfully. "I had weaknesses before, and I probably wouldn't have ended up with such severe injuries if I had looked after them."