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Claudia Moore is among a cast of six dancers in Denise Fujiwara’s dance adaptation of Eunoia.

Jeremy Mimnagh

Eunoia, Fujiwara Dance Inventions

I've often thought that clever is to smart as photogenic is to beautiful. Making the distinction is typically a slight to the source material. Cleverness may give the illusion of intelligence, but it could just as easily be makeup and good lights.

Christian Bok's book-length conceptual poem Eunoia, winner of the 2002 Griffin Prize, is decidedly (albeit formidably) clever. The poem consists of five chapters, each made up of words that use only a single vowel. We get sentences like: "I sing with nihilistic witticism, disciplining signs with trifling gimmicks – impish hijinks which highlight stick sigils." By constraining its lexicon, the text gets to show off its resilience. But Eunoia feels like more than the magician freeing himself from an underwater cage with his wrists tied. Bok is questioning the relationship between means and effect; language seems to expand under the handicap he subjects it to.

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Denise Fujiwara's dance adaptation of Eunoia premiered in the spring of 2014 to enthusiastic reviews. The enthusiasm continued on Nov. 5 at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre Theatre, with a standing ovation following the opening of its remount. Fujiwara's cast of six dancers (Sylvie Bouchard, Claudia Moore, Lucy Rupert, Miko Sobreira, Rebecca Hope Terry and Gerry Trentham) use choreographic restraints meant to parallel Bok's textual ones. In each chapter, all movement is initiated by parts of the body that contain the vowel designate (in Chapter A, movement starts with the jaw, back, palm, calf). Similarly, the music (composed by Phil Strong) restrains itself to using a single black piano note in each chapter. Video art (created by Justin Stephenson) creates visual images to supplement the text and movement.

The dancers speak many of the best sections of Bok's poem and, for me, it was these moments of slowing down, and sometimes dramatizing, the text that made for the most interesting material. Chapter E tells the story of Helen of Troy, and having Rupert act out some of Helen's "helplessness," "wretched- ness" and "dejectedness," made the text come alive. There's also a memorable sequence where the sound of surf (it's Chapter U) overwhelms the cast, who stand staggered and unmoving, as the text dissolves on the screen upstage.

Otherwise the audience's enthusiasm wasn't something I could share in because I couldn't help but feel like I was watching an episode of Sesame Street for grown-ups – a panoply of disjointed sketches all built around the letter of the day. In Chapter A, Sobreira dons a bowler hat and breaks out into what sounds like an afterschool rap. In Chapter I, Hope Terry juxtaposes form and content, singing erudite text in an operetta-style song. There were many "get it?" moments that the audience seemed to delight in: Bouchard passes out pretzels in Chapter E and pulls on a poncho in Chapter O; the cast blow us kisses at the end of Chapter I, then make popcorn and play golf in Chapter O. While there were instances of beautiful dancing performed by Bouchard (a first-rate contemporary dancer), the choreography was really only there as a structure to support what felt increasingly like a protracted gimmick. Instead of finding an interesting physical analogy for Bok's pursuit of largeness via limitation, the production gave into the text's potential for silliness.

Rosé Porn, Dancemakers

The Czech-Greek-Canadian choreographer Zoja Smutny is one of two resident artists under Dancemakers' new Incubation Production House. She's worked a good deal in Berlin and Montreal, establishing a reputation for immersive performance that often melds text and video. Rosé Porn is a collaboration with Toronto DJ and musician Victoria Cheong and dancer Brendan Jensen. Self-described as a "conceptual album," the piece has been her chief work-in-progress throughout her residency.

The performance takes place in a dark studio that, over the course of an hour, becomes increasingly illuminated by amber, violet and rose-coloured lights, accompanied by video projections on the far wall. As an audience we begin lying down, while a disembodied voice instructs us to breathe and get a sense of our bodies in space. The speaker interrupts his calming monologue with short bursts of pop-song-style love text – "my heart is on fire" – delivered in the same steady deadpan. Another audience might have reacted to this, but we stayed quiet in the dark.

After that, we move around the space as Cheong begins to play textured, layered house music. We watch each other as Smutny and Jensen dance with (or around) unassuming audience members. They speak sequences of text, asking us questions about how we experience stillness, or whether we feel more present with our eyes open.

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Together they construct a portrait of a lover by layering phrases of description: "You're cheap." "You like fashion more than art." "You eat more than three times a day." Near the end, Cheong adds beautiful live vocals to the thumping bass.

I enjoyed my hour in this club-like atmosphere, which felt both intense and serene, and which obliquely assembled a narrative about heartache and loss. I couldn't help but compare it to the slick, overlapping cleverness I'd sat through at Harbourfront the night before, and relished the relative space I had to move, think and let my mind wander.

Tall and commanding, Smutny has the kind of presence that makes her interesting to watch doing just about anything – even standing peremptorily at her microphone, savouring the music with her back to the room.

In Toronto, Eunoia continues at Harbourfront Centre Theatre until Nov. 8. Rosé Porn continues at Dancemakers in the Distillery Historic Centre until Nov. 7.

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