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A profound loss, portrayed without emotion

In loveloss by Michael Trent and Dancemakers, the dancers, left to right, are Ellen Furey, Simon Renaud, Simon Portigal, Amanda Acorn and Robert Abubo.

David Hou

Dancemakers Centre for Creation in Toronto

Choreographer Michael Trent has always had an intellectual approach to dance. His works tend to be medium-cool – overt angst and emotional outpourings are not for him. Rather, he produces pieces that are clean, spare and economical.

His new work, loveloss, created with his Dancemakers company, is another intellectual exploration, but in this case, the piece was not triggered by one of Trent's many academic musings. The flashpoint of loveloss is a very personal one – the death of his mother.

The result is an hour-long work that keeps the audience at a distance as Trent and his dancers deliberately shun sentiment or melodrama.

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The dance is performed in the centre of chairs set up in the formation of a square. The dancers are thus imprisoned by the audience. This close and intimate arrangement allows the audience to observe the physicality of the choreography in minute detail.

As the audience arrives, three huge inverted metal cones near the ceiling disgorge streams of sand onto the dance floor below. Once the dance begins, these neat mounds are destroyed, and the sand is spread all over the floor. The sand metaphor becomes an element in the work. The dance floor itself, made of heavy paper, is another metaphor. The distinctive sound that bodies make moving over sand and paper is an integral part of the piece.

However, sand mounds and heavy paper have a "been there, done that" quality about them. Countless dance works have featured these elements, and it's a bit disappointing to find them here, regardless of the meanings that they conjure up. It's a retro move for Dancemakers, which is usually on the cutting edge of innovation.

Luckily, the dancers don't disappoint. Robert Abubo, Amanda Acorn, Ellen Furey, Simon Portigal and Simon Renaud all have a very strong presence and inject their own personalities into the dance.

They come out one at a time and slowly integrate themselves into the work. They begin by putting a record on an old-fashioned phonograph, and composer Christopher Willes's sound design includes scratchy music by famed opera tenor Enrico Caruso, and a vintage recording of Beethoven's mournful String Quartet No. 14. In this case, the past stands for loss.

Trent states in his program notes that there is a great deal of improvisation in the piece, which is new for Dancemakers. Of course, we in the audience are not privy to exactly what is improvised and what is choreographed, but there is, admittedly, a live current of electricity that runs through loveloss as a result of these improvs. The dancers have to be very aware of what is going on.

As to the movement itself, it has a loose and lanky feel to it. Rather than a tightly controlled body, this physicality is open, making the dancer more vulnerable. The simplicity of the steps – shuffling, sliding, tippy-toeing, lunging – makes it all the more human. There really is no physical connection, as the dancers travel on their individual pathways.

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The main element is the arms. A big sweep of the arm seems to impel action in the rest of the body. The arms also seem to denote bewilderment – for example, Furey's raised arms, bent at the elbows, hanging in the air.

loveloss continues at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation until Feb. 24.

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