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Hiroshi Miyamoto in a promo image from the CanAsian Dance Festival.

photo by Cylla von Tiedemann/Cylla von Tiedemann

The 2012 incarnation of the CanAsian Dance Festival is like a moment of Zen. Six reflective works take the viewer to a meditative plane. It is a very rich evening of dance.

Every two years, CanAsian presents a showcase of polished work from an international array of artists. In the off years, such as this one, the festival is more modest.

For this year's Kick Start concert, six choreographers of promise, from Chinese, Japanese and Indian heritage, were commissioned to create short works mentored by veteran dancesmiths.

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Several common traits are immediately apparent. Musically, all the pieces are set to electronica. And in this concert, the dance scores – rather than being a barrage of industrial cacophony – are subtle and nuanced, fitting like glove to hand, the dance to movement.

All the works are also very abstract. Most contain traces of traditional movement, be it Peking opera, noh and kabuki theatre, or Indian classical dance. In all of them, the use of fingers as tools of expression are as important as the rest of the body. The movement throughout is very controlled.

In alphabetical order, here are the outstanding features of each of the six works:

Breath of Demon (choreographed by Toronto's Emily Cheung, dramaturged by Peter Chin)

Cheung's mesmerizing duet, performed by Nini Ho and Brendan Wyatt, presents two ghoulish, mythical creatures in search of love. The chemistry between the two dancers is palpable as they slowly and intensely circle each other until they can become one. The slow, undulating, erotic movement rivets the eye.

Grist (choreographed by Toronto's William Yong, dramaturged by Tedd Robinson)

Yong's solo is a dance of memory built around a mound of sand. As his mind travels back in time, his body ripples with a changing emotional landscape. Waves of muscle isolations travel up and down his body, at once sinuous, sensuous and supple. The sand with which he covers his body is the dust of the ages.

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Hiki (choreographed by Toronto's Hiroshi Miyamoto, dramaturged by Guillaume Bernardi)

This is another of Miyamoto's explorations of the Onnagata (a man portraying a female character) from classical Japanese theatre. Hiki is the name of the female costume that features a robe worn over the kimono that drags as a tail. Miyamoto's astonishing act of gender-bending is one of consummate grace and delicate femininity.

Inhabitation (choreographed by Montreal's Tomomi Morimoto, dramaturged by Elizabeth Langley)

Inspired by traditional Japanese ghost stories, Morimoto is in search of the primitive which represents our inner truth. She first wears a fantastical costume of long, snow-white hair that masks her body. What emerges from that outer casing is a dance of such ferocity and intensity that it takes one's breath away. Morimoto is a force of nature.

Split/focus (choreographed by Montreal's Meena Murugesan, dramaturged by Janet O'Shea)

This Indian contemporary solo is a stunner. Murugesan's choreographic vision is to find the point where emotion, technique and meaning intersect. Her compact body exudes strength and command as she cuts through space like a pile driver, jumping, turning, stamping, falling, rolling – a machine in perpetual motion.

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Trace Elements (choreographed by Toronto's Susan Lee, dramaturged by Elizabeth Langley)

Performed by the gorgeous Keiko Kitano, Lee's solo is a gossamer fusion of live action and video imaging. Her focus is the complicated perceptions that create personal identification, and her setting is a sand box with an overhead camera and a projection screen behind. The interplay between the live Kitano, set against the screen showing Kitano viewed from above, intersecting with a pre-recorded Kitano, presents a trio of bodies that shudder, quiver and pulsate in self-discovery.

Kick Start

  • CanAsian Dance Festival
  • At Winchester Street Theatre
  • In Toronto on Thursday

Kick Start continues until Feb. 11 ( canasiandancefestival.com).

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