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summerworks festival

Anne Thériault of Thus Spoke... For his Summerworks show, dance artist Frédérick Gravel collaborated with Etienne Lepage, one of Quebec’s most celebrated young playwrights.Nadine Gomez

SummerWorks Dance

Thus Spoke… and Black Or Ange

Choreography by Frédérick Gravel and Malgorzata Nowacka

Groupe Gravel and Chimera Project

Theatre Centre Mainspace

In Toronto on Saturday and Monday

Toronto's annual juried Summerworks Festival is mostly theatre, but does include a healthy dose of other disciplines, including dance. Among its terpsichorean offerings this year are two choreographers that represent the quintessence of Montreal and Toronto dance.

Frédérick Gravel is arguably the most significant dance artist to emerge in Quebec in the past 10 years. He produces dance theatre – a combination of text and movement – that is sly and subversive.

Meanwhile, Toronto veteran Malgorzata Nowacka has long been associated with Queen West punk. Her driving, edgy choreography is raw and wild.

For his Summerworks show Thus Spoke…, Gravel collaborated with Etienne Lepage, one of Quebec's most celebrated young playwrights.

Together they have written texts that are musings on a variety of random subjects, recited by the four dancers as if from the heart. The choreography that falls between is sexual and sensual. These dancers are alive with rebellion.

Originally called Ainsi parlait… in French, the piece made its debut at Montreal's Festival TransAmériques last year and is symptomatic of Gravel's shock sensibilities. He is the king of non-conformism, always throwing curves at the establishment.

For example, performer Frédéric Lavallée muses about using crowd funding to raise money to hire an assassin to kill the Prime Minister. Anne Thériault gets caught up in how cynical people play the game of justice. Marilyn Perreault rhymes off all the things that don't bother her as she masturbates on stage, while Gravel himself harangues the audience about what a privilege it is to be here in the theatre wasting time.

The pastiche score is a rich array of found music from the blues and country songbooks. The dances are generated from the groin, with the performers looking provocatively at the audience as their hips grind and torsos swivel.

Gravel and Lavallée are provocateurs. Nothing is sacred. The world is full of contradictions, but the performers rise above the fray with cheeky indifference.

For her part, Nowacka has always combined substance with emotion.

Her inspiration for Black Or Ange is the age-old question of whether humankind is in control of life, or are we at the mercy of the relentless forces of nature. Her dance is the expression of the fragile nature of existence and the war between self-will and fate.

Nowacka always takes chances, and this piece is no different. In Black Or Ange she breaks up the flow of the dance with old fashion mime as the six dancers swing between manipulating each other and being swept away in movement.

At first these finger-snapping and ordering about episodes are irritating because they disturb the rhythm, but, as in the past, Nowacka never allows logic to be compromised. Smoothness is not a high priority.

Nowacka produces kick-ass dances that are high energy and full of attitude. She is also blessed with six sensational dancers – Amy Hampton, Daniel McArthur, Lee Pham, Emily Law, Erin Poole and Adam Toth – who willingly throw themselves into the relentless surges of Nowacka's tidal wave of movement.

Summerworks continues at various venues in Toronto until Sunday (