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Toronto International

Dance Festival, Week 2

At the Distillery Historic District

In Toronto, Aug. 15 to 19

In the second week of the newly curated Toronto International Dance Festival, the main events were geared to a broader audience than hard-core dance fans -- and an avant-garde installation by Mexico's La Manga Video Dance & Co. offered a sharp contrast to these mass-appeal concerts.

None of these shows took place in a formal theatre setting, which gave an entirely different feel to the festival. It was, in a word, more relaxed. The evening Grande Scale Event and several matinées were in the large Fermenting Cellar at the Distillery History District, which even sported a bar and cabaret tables at night, while La Manga took over the Gibsone Jessop Gallery.

The Grande Scale Event has developed a reputation for wild and woolly dance. The mandate is to throw together a potpourri of styles that are performed wherever they suit in a large room. The audience moves around to accommodate the pieces. The runaway hit was Lucie Carmen Grégoire's Tome 11, which earned a standing ovation. The Montreal choreographer showed You said woman?, the first part of a trilogy piece, at the festival last year. Tome 11 is the second part and a third will follow.

Grégoire's subject is the hypersexualization of women. If the first part is a damning satire on sexual exploitation, Tome 11 is about accepting one's own body and even establishing a healthy relationship with a man.

The sensational Dominique Laguë provided a miked rhythmic sound score which he fed through his sampler as Grégoire touched, slapped and manipulated her body with gorgeous, precise, scissor-sharp movements. As a dancer, Grégoire has the uncanny ability to differentiate every small movement while connecting the whole together like liquid gold.

At the heart of the piece is her relationship with Laguë. At one point, she took over the mike and their percussive sounds became a game of one-upmanship; but by the end, one sensed the chemistry between them as they reached out their arms to one another.

Also part of the enjoyable Grande Scale was Matjash Mrozewski's Ding Dang Dong for dancer Kate Franklin, a sassy solo of sensual elongated movement created originally for the Canada Dance Festival. Montreal choreographer Rae Bowhay presented her intriguing Slaps, combining stylized flamenco with new wave music composed by Martin Trudel, and performed live to prepared electric guitar and percussion. The slow motion and body distortions, while still within the flamenco movement convention, create a whole new dynamic.

Mexico's La Manga Video Dance & Co. was another huge festival hit, brilliantly fusing movement by Gabriela Medina, projections by Mario Villa, and music by Carlo Nicolau. The company's award-winning The Hershey Man was a powerful look at violence inspired by a true incident witnessed by Medina. A homeless man was caught shoplifting chocolate in a convenience store and the owner attacked him furiously. For the creators of the piece, this was the wellspring for an exploration of man's inhumanity to man on every scale.

Performer Medina wore a woman's suit with a tie, the image of corporate capitalism. The set was a boxing ring. Each round began and ended with a bell that triggered off movement and a floor video. Villa's images were both whimsical and horrific, whether goldfish swimming or atom bombs descending. Medina, however, was worth watching on her own. One would think she would be limited by her short, compact body, yet she is an astonishing performer, capable of both great fierceness and gentle delicacy. She miraculously evoked the sorry history of the entire world in this one dance.

The festival's Urban Matinées are always great fun, geared as they are to family audiences. The performers were the hip hop-based Larchaud Dance Project and Kim Chalovich's What's on? TAP! Larchaud's Jennifer Robichaud and her company have made strong efforts to transform hip-hop into a choreographic tool. Game Over used a scaffold jungle gym to depict a live video game. Chalovich's troupe of winsome young women is always watchable as they pull off virtuoso tap technique.

Elizabeth Dawn Snell's site-specific HeartSurge deserves a mention. The dance was a tribute to her friend Alan Page, who had undergone heart surgery. The piece for four dancers was a journey through illness and recovery through the metaphor of lyrical, emotional movement. Unfortunately, Doug Chapman was not up to the level of his colleagues Snell, Andreah Hunt and Jason Vanstone, but the piece made a strong impact nonetheless.

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