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The Brutes

Jeremy Mimnagh/Jeremy Mimnagh

The Brutes

  • Choreography by Kate Hilliard
  • At the Theatre Centre in Toronto on Thursday

Toronto-based indie choreographer Kate Hilliard takes on ambitious topics. The Brutes, developed with New York-based dramaturge Corinne Donly, tackles optimism and pessimism, and how our outlook on life affects our relationships. These are not subjects for the faint of heart.

It is difficult to express abstract thought in dance, but Hilliard and Donly give it their best shot. The result is an episodic piece for six dancers. It has a disjointed quality because, for the most part, each of the characters is in his or her own bubble.

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Dancer Claudine Hébert first appears blowing bubbles, which certainly conjures up happy memories of childhood - the jar of soapy liquid, the plastic hoop to blow through, and the parade of bubbles coursing through the air, reflecting light.

Adult life is not as joyous.

The characters are already in motion as the audience enters the space. Theatre Centre has an upper gallery leading to a staircase that descends to the performance area. The audience must go through this gallery, where some of the dancers are stationed.

Robert Abubo and Erika-Leigh Stirton clutch each other in a slow dance. Jasmine Inns is following instructions, on a piece of paper, that require her to execute a series of fast physical actions. When we arrive at our seats, we are aware of the furious clack of typewriter keys above us (Abubo again) and of pages of paper being sent over a clothesline from one side of the gallery to the other. Stirton is now a shadowy figure dancing by herself. Then there is Hébert and her bubbles.

Downstairs, Neil Sochasky is performing a series of poses that position him in precariously balanced physicality. Nathan Yaffe is the optimist, saying the word "Hurray" in various tones of voice - from the wildly enthusiastic to barely above a whisper - and moving in jerky patterns.

The stage is now set for us to watch these characters performing alone and together, with each shedding light on their personal state of mind. Yaffe tries to make Sochasky lose his balance by pushing on different parts of his body. Abubo and Stirton roll into the space locked in a tight embrace. Their dramatic arc takes them into a series of physical fights - games of leader and follower.

The spoken text falls to Inns. It is a frantic description from a Gertrude Stein essay about a girl's obsession with her umbrella. In typical Stein fashion, the rapid-fire text plays with words, constantly repeating one line with subtle changes. The choreography for Inns is short, sharp and fast.

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Later in the piece, Sochasky, Yaffe, Inns and Hébert form a group, but they each say a different word ("sunshine" and "nice" being positive; "can't" and "no" being negative) and negotiate individual patterns of movement. Sochasky announces that his future is filled with possibilities.

To all this movement, sound designer Jeremy Mimnagh has put together a collage of new-age electronica interspersed with songs such as Judy Garland's Look for The Silver Lining, and If I Only Had a Heart from The Wizard of Oz.

Hilliard's presentation is refreshing, particularly her character-specific choreography. Still, she has to work at developing theme in a more concrete way. If I had not read the program, I would certainly see the navel-gazing of today's self-absorbed generation, but would I have detected the pessimism/optimism theme? I'm not so sure.

Any choreographer's greatest challenge is adapting theme to movement. Hilliard is early into her career, but she's off to a good start. One looks forward to future work where she deepens and refines her choreographic language.

The Brutes ends its run on Saturday (Sept. 11).

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