ross manson proves himself one of Toronto's most accomplished interdisciplinary directors with Mortality, a dance/theatre piece that teams four writers -- André Alexis, Tomson Highway, Paul Quarrington and Carol Shields -- with a group of dancers who generally have as strong a feel for the power of the word as for that of the body.In Quarrington's piece, a frightened Heidi Strauss talks about a childhood playground memory in which having the air knocked out of her leads to awareness of death. Miko Sobreira's dual-language, poetic speech by Alexis contrasts the welcome, sensual dark and the unwanted light, while Highway's mythic storytelling about the loss of a brother inspires dancer Michael Greyeyes to a display of deep emotion.
In all these pieces, choreographer Kate Alton imbues the words with strong and varied energy, sometimes emphasizing joyful interconnectedness, at other times the loneliness of a person approaching death. Each speaker/dancer's individuality is strongly delineated in Alton's and composer John Gzowski's work. Peggy Baker, who frames the other segments with Shields' text, is the warmest and most expressive of the dancers. Manson makes clever use of shadow figures who hover at the periphery of the central action.
Still, there's some fine-tuning to do. We watch Sobreira more than listen to his words, and Danielle Baskerville as Baker's younger self isn't yet integral to the piece. Most jarringly, Shields' final segment -- in which Baker initially refuses to take the one step beyond life -- goes on and on, so the ending is less involving than it must be.
MORTALITY conceived and directed by Ross Manson, written by André Alexis, Tomson Highway, Paul Quarrington and Carol Shields, choreographed by Kate Alton, with Peggy Baker, Danielle Baskerville, Heidi Strauss, Miko Sobreira and Michael Greyeyes. Presented by Volcano at the Great Hall Rehearsal Studio. December 7. Pwyc. Rating: NNNN