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review

Nocturnes, the final piece on the program, is an eight-member ensemble performed in a dreamlike white space, flush with surrealist imagery.Alexandre Galliez

It might not have been the right moment in time for the curtain to rise on a woman tied and bound to a horizontally suspended pole.

Marie Chouinard's Anne & Samuel, the first piece in Triptyque – a collaboration between circus company The 7 Fingers and three choreographers – began with this problematic image of dancer Anne Plamondon hanging in the air like a slaughtered animal. She was rescued by a man, as Samuel Tétrault (artistic director of 7 Fingers) lowered the pole to the stage and unbound her.

I can't tolerate any more unresolved depictions of violence against women in dance. Put them on stage and I'll call it out.

The image was an off-note in what was otherwise a strange, beautiful and provocative duet that dealt with themes of bondage and disability with intelligence. The choreography had both performers moving on forearm crutches so that they appeared like quadrupedal creatures, poking and prodding each other as they tussled and mated. A bite to the neck charged Plamondon's body with a paralyzing bolt, sometimes generating a frenzy of vitality, other times sending her into bouts of creepy cackling.

The real brilliance in this piece was the way it reconfigured the appearance and abilities of the performers' bodies – Plamondon's in particular. Before getting on her crutches, her body seemed made of atrophied muscle. As Tétrault manipulated her arms with the end of his crutch, her limbs moved with a surprising and all-encompassing grace. She reprised this feeling with contorting, sickling feet, as though the crutches increased the expressivity of other parts of her body. I found this depiction of differential ability interesting and ethically responsible, but I do wonder what an audience member with different lower-body mobility would think of two able-bodied performers on crutches.

The second piece, variations 9.81 by choreographer Victor Quijada, looked half-baked beside the artistic rigour of Chouinard's work. The five-member ensemble showcased a series of handstands on pegs of varying heights, moving their legs in unison or counterpoint as they held impressive poses. It was all spectacle, with no character or emotion, and the little bits of choreography that tried to tie these sequences together felt superfluous and half-inhabited.

Nocturnes, the final piece on the program, was gorgeous if uneven. Choreographed by Tétrault, Marcos Morau and Isabelle Chassé, the eight-member ensemble performed in a dreamlike white space, flush with surrealist imagery. The opening was arresting, with Plamondon performing a solo on a large bed in front of a flashing TV screen to a Chopin nocturne. Suddenly, a chorus of people emerge from beneath to become a comical background to her dancing – twisting and piling into collective shapes that seem like an externalization of her subconscious.

Everything had the bizarre fluid logic of a dream. When a rope fell from the sky, I accepted this unquestioningly. When three more fell, and the ensemble climbed them and started to perform aerial tricks, I began to disengage. Until that point, the piece seemed driven by its own internal logic, grounded in Plamondon's point of view, and determined to wrestle with whatever conflict that generated of its own accord. But, suddenly, the piece seemed concerned with showcasing acrobatic tricks that felt exterior to the terms of its own agreement.

There continued to be beautiful surrealist imagery – at one point, the bed becomes airborne and a woman trapped afloat on it is joined by a man in a fish head, there's a juggler with glass balls, a man on a unicycle, a woman walking a tightrope. But the piece seemed there to serve the spectacle of these impressive tricks, rather than pursue the premise it originally set up. With a dancer of Plamondon's calibre left a little idle, I couldn't help but feel short-changed.

Triptyque runs in Toronto through Nov. 19 (canadianstage.com) and plays at Montreal's Théâtre Maisonneuve, Place des Arts, from Nov. 23-25 (placedesarts.com/en).

Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew says his frustration with his digital life motivated him to create his first play, 'A and R Angels' which opens Nov. 20 in Toronto. Drew shares the stage with Billy Talent frontman Ben Kowalewicz.

The Canadian Press