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Museum Dances (Ancient Inspiration, Contemporary Interpretation)

  • CanAsian International Dance Festival
  • At the Royal Ontario Museum
  • in Toronto on Sunday

Dance meets history! CanAsian International Dance Festival 2010 is based on a clever idea by artistic director Denise Fujiwara. She invited four dance companies to create original pieces to original music inspired by different galleries in the Royal Ontario Museum.

The show is attracting huge crowds to the ROM. Particularly gratifying to the creators must be the fact that the many young children in the audience, including infants and toddlers, are captivated by the dance. In other words, no distracting screaming and crying.

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The show is site-specific; an MC leads people to the various performing spaces. Brief descriptions of each piece precede the dance, which makes the event user friendly. The museum thoughtfully supplies folding stools for audience members to carry along.

The most successful dance site is the Ming Tomb of General Zhu Dashou and his sons. The exhibit is in a special room that rises three stories to a skylight. The massive size of the monolithic limestone pieces inspired Koong, choreographed by Chengxin Wei of Vancouver's Moving Dragon Dance Company.

Wei and partner Jessica Jone wear the clothes of today as the movement takes them in and around the ancient gate, the giant statues, and the rounded tomb itself. The choreography includes athletic explosions interpolated by passages of slow controlled motion.

The dance is propelled by Michael Vincent's exciting, percussive score, performed live by Vincent and TorQ Percussion Quartet. It combines humming and chanting and echoing, pounding drums.

Because the dancers are dwarfed by the towering structures, Wei succeeds in showing contrasts - permanence and impermanence, life and death, past and present. The title is a Chinese character that means air or emptiness. The dance briefly animates the space, then the overpowering artifacts return to their silence.

Soojung Kwon's Lines & Composition was inspired by a vase of the Goryeo dynasty in the Korean Gallery. This dance takes place in the ROM's beautiful mosaic rotunda. The score by Charles Hong and Joo Hyung Kim is performed live by the Opaque Ensemble and Jeng Yi.

Loud blasts of a tuba announce the dance before the quieter string instruments take over. The energetic drums come in at the end. The dance itself is ritualistic, but at the same time, the four women convey the roundness and curves of the vase.

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The dance steps circle as bodies gently undulate. The beautiful silk overskirts on top of wide tulle petticoats swirl and sweep in consummate feminine grace. When the heavy drums come at the end, the dance intensifies, but never loses its inherent beauty.

Alexander MacSween has given choreographer Natasha Bakht an appropriately mysterious electronica score for her dance Dafeena, set in the Gallery of Minerals. The many display cases contain exhibits ranging from monolithic pieces of marble and crystal to tiny gemstones.

Bakht's two dancers move up and down the length of the gallery in the narrow, central alleyway. Her choreography is anchored in South Asian bharatanatyam, and its stamping feet, wide pliés and forward lunges convey not only the pull of gravity, but the original subterranean home of the exhibits.

MacSween's score contains sounds of strain, and breaking apart, mirrored in the dancers' widely placed arms and feet. Julia Tribe's clever costumes are a series of different coloured diaphanous tunics, one over the other, evoking strata in the Earth.

Kwon and Bakht repeat in the second weekend. The third piece is by the hip-hop group F.A.M., inspired by samurai artifacts from the Prince Takamado Gallery of Japan .

Museum Dances continues at the ROM May 14 to 16. The show is free with admission.

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