Match three strong performers with three acclaimed choreographers, and the result is an evening of compelling, wall-to-wall dance.
DanceWorks is kicking off its 37th season with a show called with a trace by firstthingsfirst productions. The latter is headed by Toronto-based Kate Holden, and Kate Franklin, who has recently relocated to Vancouver. The two Kates founded the company in 2005 to create a body of work tailored to their considerable talents.
There is something very satisfying about dance that is substantive on all levels – physical, intellectual and emotional.
This particular program is the quintessential example of what one sees with the eye, also challenging the mind, and even the heart.
The evening includes two solos and one duet by dancesmiths who represent both Toronto and Montreal. Holden performs a solo by Peggy Baker, and reaches over to Montreal for a duet with Marc Boivin, choreographed by Mélanie Demers. Franklin's solo is by Valerie Calam.
The choreographies share a high degree of physically taxing movement. One is very conscious of the dancers pushing their bodies through space, testing their limits of endurance. The works celebrate both rigid control and carefree abandon.
Demers' duet Would uses text as her start-off point. As Holden furiously scribbles formulas on a large pad of paper, we realize that she is locking onto words shouted with great enthusiasm by Boivin. His amusing text is a wish list that begins with "It would …" Eventually, Holden puts aside the easel and begins to voice her own wish list.
From Boivin: "It would be having Christ and Buddha in a private place and no one is writing about it." From Holden: "It would be a balancing of right and wrong, dark and light." Together they shout out a litany of possibilities that approach orgiastic intensity, all the while performing simple gestures that capture the thoughts in movement.
What makes the piece intriguing is how seamlessly Demers introduces the total body into the mix. We can no longer hear the words as Joshua Van Tassel's original, driving, electronica score kicks in. The punishing movement, sometimes in sync, but mostly separate, captures the couple's heartfelt cri de coeur.
As a totality, the piece is not just wishful thinking, but a portrait of universal hope set against the pitfalls that life holds in store for us. Somehow, we see both the victories and the defeats at the same time, and that is Demers' greatness as a choreographer.
Calam's solo Gotta Go Church for Franklin is brutal. For most of the piece, the dancer must display highly controlled physicality that looks like she is being pummelled by unseen forces. Designer Simon Rossiter has given Franklin strong sources of light that act like a magnet. Composer Paul Shepherd has provided the suitably eerie, otherworld, electronica score.
The piece seems to explore spirituality and interior energy more than anything else – what Calam calls in her program notes, Franklin's "physical states of the body." Apparently, the piece is part structured improv, allowing Franklin to make movement decisions that react to the audience as she travels through a predetermined structure.
The ambitious Gotta Go Church takes Franklin on a far-flung journey. It is comprised of many mood swings, from despair as she struggles to lift herself off the floor, to the quiet reflection and tranquillity of yoga's lotus position. There is even a playful interlude with the audience, as she tries to communicate with us on a very human level. Over all, Calam is cleverly showing us the inner soul through outward movement.
Baker's solo Brahms Waltzes (1992) is a piece where something old has been transformed into something new. Baker gave the piece to Holden in 2002, and now, 11 years later, Holden is reflecting on where the work sits in her mind and body of today.
Now called this body of memory/Brahms Waltzes, Holden executes the choreography in a mix of Baker's original movement and how her memory has transformed it. Even the score has been reimagined. Van Tassel has taken pianist Andrew Burashko's live performance, presumably from a video, and layered it with an electronica soundscape that evokes reaching back into memory.
The result is a darling of a piece, at once poignant, charming and dreamy, filled with amusing body flexes, angles and distortions that are, at the same time, imbued with lyrical grace.
Editor's note: A Saturday Arts dance review incorrectly identified the woman dancing in a photo. She is Kate Holden and not Peggy Baker as stated. This version has been updated.