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Porch View Dances | KAEJA (Diana Renelli)
Porch View Dances | KAEJA (Diana Renelli)

Ottawa’s Canada Dance Festival takes its works to unusual stages Add to ...

The Canada Dance Festival, Ottawa’s important dance showcase, turns 28 this year. CDF’s artistic producer Jeanne Holmes has a mandate to “change our idea of what dance can be,” in part by taking dance out of its usual venue – the theatre. The selection of works at the festival proves that dance in Canada still has forward motion.

Productions this summer take place in a laneway, in a theatre foyer and a cabaret setting. Frédérick Gravel’s piece, Tout se pète la gueule, chérie, may be in a conventional setting, but the work itself is so removed from tradition that his show fits the mandate.

Tout se pète la gueule, chérie is an epic portrayal of the plight of the contemporary North American male. After the prolonged standing ovation that followed Gravel’s piece, one guy turned to his female companion and said, “Now you know what it’s like!” Audience members lingered so long in the theatre, discussing the work, that the National Arts Centre Studio’s ushers, who wanted to lock up, had to ask them to leave.

Gravel presents a compendium of unrelated episodes, but their sum total conveys the notion that manhood is in deep crisis. He and co-performers Nicolas Cantin, Dany Desjardins and Charles Lavoie personify a dizzying array of confused males.

Hilarious beer-guzzling slobs in various states of undress, a trailer park stereotype, are transformed into vicious macho men, replete with sunglasses and satin jackets, who brutally beat up one of their fellows. Gravel speaks from time to time, and his text is downright funny. He portrays himself as a lovable nerd, but his self-deprecation adds another layer to the complex work.

When the men break into movement, it is an explosion of feelings that can’t be expressed in words. Gravel’s choreography is supple, flexible and telling, as the body manoeuvres itself through angst-filled bends and turns.

The ending has the four men in suits running backward and forward without any sense of direction, while the lights slowly fade to black. Everything in Tout se pète la gueule, chérie works. Clearly, Gravel is heading for greatness on the Canadian dance scene.

Dances for a Small Stage, presented in association with Magnetic North Theatre Festival and MovEnt, put together the cabaret show Small Stage Canada. Vancouver-based MovEnt’s artistic producer Julie-anne Saroyan assembled dancers from across the country for the project.

The 10 dance acts were separated by droll vignettes from Vancouver’s Billy Marchenski as emcee. His imagination turned scene changes into performance art. My favourite entr’acte featured the entire company of dancers weaving through the tables, holding their arms above their heads like antlers, while a voice-over described the life of the caribou. Talented Vancouver pianist/singer Patrick Pennefather was also a key component to the evening, as accompanist to many of the dances.

In cabaret, audiences expect the new, the different or the clever, and there were a couple of standouts. In Vancouver’s Dayna Szyndrowski’s solo, beauty can be found in the wretched/wretched are we, the dancer moved across a line of chairs in poetic sadness, then broke out in joyous flamenco, only to revert to despair again at the end. It was a moving, elegant piece.

Toronto’s Cathy Gordon and Liz Peterson in Third Party were their usual eccentric selves. Peterson entered the stage carrying a cell phone and announced that Gordon was still in Toronto. Happily actor/mime Adam Paolozza (a plant from Toronto) was in the audience. He came up and wearing earplugs, was able to perform Gordon’s part of the duet by listening to her commands. His seeming hesitations were wickedly funny

Montreal’s Frédéric Tavernini’s Crépuskull was a suitably pompous and amusingly overdramatic interpretation of Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods music. Halifax’s Sara Coffin and Anthony Black performed the touching duet How short it is. Vancouver’s Burgundy Brixx was a dynamic cabaret chanteuse with her original song Small Change. It was also nice to see veteran dancers Tedd Robinson (with Riley Sims) and Holly Small gracing the stage again.

Choreographer Isabelle Boulanger is a new voice from Montreal whose engaging work, Pop-Up 1 à 3, shows the influence of urban dance. I caught one of the pop-ups, performed by her company, La Grande Fente, in a lane alongside the Rideau Canal. Five dancers appear at various locations in Ottawa during the festival and execute little gems that channel the energy of youth with attitude. Each pop-up is different but the common thread is in-your-face energy and defiance.

The premise behind Greed, performed in the NAC Theatre foyer, is clever. In 2011, Vancouver’s Byron Chief-Moon and Luglio Romero created a duet to composer Jeffrey Ryan’s Triple Witching. The term refers to the exact point at which investors can win or lose millions of dollars on the stock market. The present incarnation of Greed has Ottawa’s JP Longboat performing live against the ghostly video projection of Chief-Moon and Romero.

Longboat’s interpretation explores greed and remorse among First Nations people, addressing the imbalance created by early contact with Europeans and the subsequent loss of lands and culture. His choreography is a blend of native and contemporary dance. While sincere in performance, the dance movement itself needs more definition.

The Canada Dance Festival continues in Ottawa until June 13.

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