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Kelley McKinlay as Iago in “Othello” (Paul McGrath)
Kelley McKinlay as Iago in “Othello” (Paul McGrath)

dance review

Calgary dance shows feature trashy schlock, but sweet Hereafter Add to ...

The Fluid Movement Arts Festival
At various venues in Calgary

Alberta Ballet’s Othello
At Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary

Last week, Calgary was a riot of dance. On the traditional side of things, there was Alberta Ballet’s Othello. At the bottom end of the dance gene pool was the trashy performance-art piece by Montreal’s Les Fermières Obsédées. In between was contemporary dance, as exemplified by the Way West program.

The lion’s share of the Calgary dance events was courtesy of the seventh-annual Fluid Movement Arts Festival. In the past, the festival featured a program called the Prairie Dance Circuit (PDC), which showcased a mix of emerging and senior artists from the three prairie provinces. This year, PDC was replaced by Way West, a forum for Western artists of note that now includes British Columbia.

And it was Way West that featured the finest piece I saw in Calgary, Tania Alvarado’s Hereafter. Choreographer Alvarado is based in both Edmonton and Calgary. Her strength is the ability to create supple, sinuous movement that speaks volumes of subtext. She also arranges her dancers in surprising physical positions, like a tight trio huddle in which one of the dancers is upside down.

The gorgeous Hereafter was performed by Walter Kubanek, Pam Tzeng. Laura Henley and Robert Halley, to an electronica score mixed by Kris Sujata. According to Alvarado’s program notes, the work deals with space, particularly the concept that entering a space depends upon the act of leaving another space, and how presence lingers. But there is so much more to this compelling piece than shifting spaces.

Hereafter is hypnotic. The way the dancers’ bodies flow together and gently ebb apart. The way stillness comes out of movement. The way the dancers silently watch each other. Hereafter is a poignant kaleidoscope of loss, as connections are made and then broken. If this work doesn’t find a shelf life, meaning tours across the country, there is no justice.

Way West also featured Computer Stare, an amusing excerpt from the full-length Karoshi by Vancouver’s Shay Kuebler. Karoshi is a Japanese term for death by overwork, and fittingly, this piece is a battle between a man and his computer.

Unfortunately, the lighting and sound designers were uncredited, but the effects of both are magnificent. Kuebler’s staccato movements are absolutely timed to the sound. For example, a crashing chord is accompanied by Kuebler reeling backwards as if the computer had slugged him. Throughout the dance, Kuebler is bathed in various lurid colours and rows of text that emanate from the computer. Based on this clever excerpt, Karoshi looks to be an interesting piece.

In the new and the different department, Fluid Festival curator Nicole Mion borrowed a snazzy idea from the Vancouver Winter Olympics that she had helped co-create. Simply put, you place shipping containers in a derelict part of town and put performers inside them. If containers are our connection to food and manufacturing goods, then these containers can now connect us to art.

Calgary’s about-to-be-revitalized East Village was the home of containR, as this ad hoc portable theatre space was called. The performances inside and outside the shipping containers were collectively labeled, with a bit of tongue in cheek, In the Belly of the Beast. Audience members could wander at will in their “tour” of the containers.

I caught the second tour, which included six performances. The aforementioned Pam Tzeng from Calgary perhaps best captured the concept of container. Her provocative, As a matter of box, had the dancer trying to break free from large moving boxes. When she did emerge, she had a box on her head. The big surprise was when she took off the box, there was another box covering her head. I also enjoyed Calgary’s Danielle Wensley and her droll multimedia story-cum-movement about her lack of grief over the dying of four aquarium fish.

Montreal’s Les Fermières Obsédées represent shockmeister performance art. Imagine three women dressed in skimpy corselets arriving with a coffin. They practice cannibalism on a dummy whose parts are all made of sweets. They eat the pink marshmallow brain and cover themselves with chocolate sauce from the dummy’s genitalia. They also squirt themselves with bottles of cola. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Their performance art piece may be a statement about frustrated women eating themselves to death, but it sure was messy.

Which brings us to Alberta Ballet’s Othello choreographed by Kirk Peterson in 2008, and set to a score by famed film and television composer Jerry Goldsmith.

Now Goldsmith, who died in 2004, did not rise from the dead to create the music. Rather, Peterson cobbled together a score from five different Goldsmith films including The Wind and the Lion. The resulting cinematic soundtrack is fabulous, and is the best thing about this ballet. Kudos to Peterson on the music.

Another plus is Sandra Woodall’s sumptuous Eastern-flavoured costumes, and Alexander Nichols’s striking tile and wrought-iron set pieces that evoke the Middle East.

Sadly, the unimaginative choreography is another story. In his day, Peterson was a star at American Ballet Theatre, and in setting movement, he regurgitates all that he has learned. He has not one original choreographic thought. That said, he does turn the men into flash Harrys with their showy tricks.

His choreography for women, however, is minimal variations on the arabesque, and his partnering is derivative. Peterson also has to scramble to create ensembles for the company dancers within Shakespeare’s plot, and his attempts are lame. For example, there are six female Furies who represent jealousy, and a bunch of near naked men as Othello’s guards. Basically, the corps de ballet is invisible.

One can’t fault the dancers, however, who give stunning performances. Elier Bourzac as Othello and Kelley McKinlay as Iago eat up the stage. The beautiful Mariko Kondo brings grace to the simpering, clueless Desdemona, while Hayna Gutierrez is an unusually feisty Emilia.

To be fair, the audience response was enthusiastic. I, on the other hand, found Peterson’s Othello a bore.

Alberta Ballet’s Othello tours to Edmonton on Nov. 2 and 3. Shay Kuebler’s Karoshi premieres at Vancouver’s Scotiabank Dance Centre, Dec. 6 to 8.

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