Karen and Allen Kaeja are veteran choreographers with proven track records. For their latest Toronto show, they’ve each created a piece inspired by intimacy.
Partners both professionally and personally, the Kaejas know something about intimacy. They’ve been a couple since 1985, married since 1989, and co-founders and co-artistic directors of Kaeja d’Dance since 1991.
Each has a very distinctive choreographic approach. Karen’s works tend to be interior and psychological, while Allen’s dances are highly physical. What they do share is a strong interest in contact improvisation, a technique of weight-bearing that allows women to be equal partners with men.
Karen’s duet Crave is a poignant exploration of a romantic relationship “in all its sweet and hideous colours,” as she states in the program notes. Allen’s group piece X-ODUS for five dancers looks at the struggle to find intimacy in the face of vulnerability, distractions and missed connections.
Crave is one of Karen’s finest works. In Michael Caldwell and Stéphanie Tremblay Abubo, she has found two strong, expressive dancers with exceptional interpretive skills.
Karen has structured the dance as a series of scenes, each with its own mood and physicality. At first, there is a playful tone. Clearly, the woman is a tease who likes romantic games. Tremblay Abubo is like a rag doll, with Caldwell trying to support her. When bean bags are thrown onto the stage, she leads the way with hurling their bodies onto the bags, even pushing Caldwell face-first into one.
As Crave progresses, Tremblay Abubo seems to acquire a backbone of steel. A hardness develops in her character as indifference or exasperation grows, leaving a bewildered Caldwell in her wake. The final image is absolutely haunting.
While enjoyable to watch, Allen’s X-ODUS is somewhat disappointing. There is the feel that the piece is reduced to a physical exercise, that it lacks depth. If Allen is trying to make a statement about the human condition, the surface charm seems glib.
Allen has invited six people to join his dancers on stage. They sit on benches, at first watching Caldwell, Tremblay Abubo, Karen Kaeja, Zhenya Cerneacov and Merideth Plumb perform. Later they are brought in as shadow dancers, mirroring the main players in simple physical patterns. Allen is on hand orchestrating the proceedings, while composer Edgardo Moreno manipulates the electronic music.
There are plenty of distractions to stop an even flow of movement. Benches keep being moved, causing the guests to constantly shift positions. Three piles of orange index cards at the front of the stage give physical tasks that have to be carried out by the dancers. Time limits are imposed.
Through it all, the group keep on moving, playing off each other. When not in a huddle, they break into duets and trios, acting and reacting to physical impulses.
Allen may have intended that the movement speak to the struggle to find intimacy through support for one another, but it’s a stretch to see it.