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Toronto International Festival of Dance

Featuring Jane Mappin Danse,

Teoma Naccarato and MOTUS O

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At the Young Centre

for the Performing Arts

In Toronto last weekend

The Toronto International Dance Festival is new and old at the same time.

What had been the chosen-by-lottery fFIDA (fringe Festival of Independent Dance Artists) for 15 years is now a curated event reflecting the aesthetic vision of artistic director Michael Menegon. Judging by the strength of the first week's shows, there is something to be said for selection over serendipity.

The first part of the festival included the mainstage concerts that featured dance icons, established choreographers and emerging artists. Where Menegon chose extant pieces, the shows were very, very satisfying indeed. Curators, however, take their chances on world premieres.

Take for example Mixed Program 2 that featured Montreal's Jane Mappin Danse, Los Angeles's Sarah Swenson & Vox Dance Theatre, and Toronto's Motus O Dance Theatre. This was a case where a weak work completely transformed the context for the other pieces.

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Swenson had mounted the successful Fimmine at the freebee Open Stage last year evoking the female quintessence. Understandably, Menegon gave Swenson a mainstage spot for her follow-up piece Hombres, representing the male point of view.

Unfortunately, Hombres tanked, despite being set to Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. The mostly uninteresting, and at times inept dancers, clothed in Mexican formal black dress suits, executed clichéd male archetypes manifested in bland choreography. The effect blunted Mappin's strong lead-in and rendered precarious Motus O's whimsical bonbons that followed.

Mappin's duet Pale Fire, based on Vladimir Nabokov's novel, used video by Michael Slobodian as a backdrop to contrast the fiery creative milieu of one artist (Susan Gaudreau) against the more plodding day-to-day existence of another artist (Mappin). Had Motus O followed an equally strong piece, the collective's short but sweet vignettes from Variations in Love would have been cute and clever relief. Because they followed a weak piece, their superficial simplicity rather than their creativity became the focus.

What follows is a survey of my favourite first-week pieces. The choreographers are from Toronto unless otherwise noted.

Chicago's Breakbone DanceCo: Logotype V2.1. This emotional piece of social commentary was a searing cry from the heart that catalogued the evils of George W. Bush's America. Kudos to artistic director Atalee Judy for her mesmerizing fusion of dizzying video images, pounding heavy-metal score, and bodyslam choreography.

Marie-Josée Chartier: Mata Hari Terbenam. Choreographer Peter Chin gave the superb senior dancer a tour de force of movement and voice where she screamed, sobbed and shuddered her way through the terrors of day passing into night.

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Guelph's Dancetheatre David Earle & The Penderecki String Quartet: Tango for String Quartet. This deliciously sly piece began with the six dancers as a concert audience listening to Randolph Peters's relentlessly modern score. At various times, via Earle's clever partnering, they were humans reacting both positively and negatively to the dissonance of new music, instruments caressing the slip-and-slide notes, a physical manifestation of Peter's score, or the romance of the tango itself. Dancing doesn't get much better than this, with senior artists Graham McKelvie, Danielle Baskerville, Michael English, Barbara Pallomina, Anh Nguyen and the ageless Suzette Sherman.

D.A. Hoskins: Everything Ecstatic. This work was a gorgeous homage to the arrogance of youth executed by 10 young dancers who performed Hoskins's energetic yet lyrical movements.

Montreal's Dana Michel: The Greater the Weight (Remix). The very promising Michel has now been added to my list of young Montrealers who are following their own pathway independent of the Eurotrash of that city's older generation. Her terrific piece was urban and unsettling as dancers Jana Jevtovic, Andrea Sproule and Ashlea Watkin duked it out as punks with attitude in imaginative choreography culled from the streets.

Holly Small and Sashar Zarif: In the Letters of My Name. Zarif's expressive and charismatic dancing and Small's seasoned, intellectual choreography results in a magnificent portrayal of the horrors of war in the old country and the struggles of the immigrant experience in the new. With its cunning mix of text, movement and evocative soundscape by John Oswald, this was as moving as it was provocative.

The Toronto International Dance Festival continues through Saturday in the Distillery District (416-214-5854).

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