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Through images of dance, glimpses of black history

Motion, curated by Michael Chambers, at BAND: Black Artists' Networks in Dialogue

Until Feb. 19, 823A Bloor St. W., Toronto;

Photographer and curator Michael Chambers has never encountered a human body he did not want to photograph.

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Chambers's work has ranged over the decades from high-gloss, much-coveted portraiture (of everyone from lieutenant-governors to adorable kids) to series after series of carefully constructed, lit-by-the-angels nude studies, to provocative juxtapositions of the human form in constricted circumstances. And his work is everywhere these days – in advertising campaigns, gallery exhibitions and a forthcoming book. He is an artist in demand and a demanding artist – the latter always leads to the former.

His latest project, on display at multipurpose space BAND, is Motion, a historical survey of dance-production posters featuring African-American or African-Canadian dancers assembled for Then & Now, a multimedia showcase presented in tandem with Black History Month (and for which Chambers created the lively poster imagery).

If, like me, you know very little about the history of dance in Canada, you might reasonably wonder what Chambers's discoveries have to say to you. Well, lots.

Within the collection itself, there are fascinating variations in design, product placement (for lack of a better word – the posters are selling performances, after all) and self-representation (by both the companies putting on the events and the individual dancers, and, of course, the photographers who captured them).

Some posters "sell" the body of the dancer(s), in motion or in an abstracted pose meant to accentuate their physiques, while others emphasize the narrative the dance is offering, or the company's mandate. In the last case, one sees posters focused on dance as athleticism, dance as a spiritual expression, dance as storytelling, or dance as a hybrid of performance art and time/movement-based art.

Within these larger dynamics, Chambers has created a kind of précis of black dance history in Canada and thus black self-representation.

Aspects of African-North American culture as diverse as religiosity and mysticism, particularly as expressed in the beautiful posters created by Ballet Creole, are hung parallel with U.S.-based dance posters, which tend to make connection with the long history of black entertainment in the United States as well as black participation in sport.

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Black bodies are presented in ecstatic poses and in conflicted poses, in meditative stillness and in contorting, strenuous exertion. Urban (hip hop and breakdance) and non-pop-music-based forms (jazz, contemporary) of movement-based expression complement each other in the varied images, but never seem at odds. In fact, when viewed collectively, the images present a continuum of black presence in dance, rather than a chronology, hierarchy or progress model.

From classical ballet to postmodern choreography, the black presence infuses the history of North American dance with what Chambers describes in his brief introductory essay as "… the magnetic forces that unite a group; the powers of rhythm that carry the body through space.…"


Lisa Ng at Cliffcrest Library

Until March 27, 3017 Kingston Rd., Toronto

Ng's deliciously detailed, David Lynch-like paintings present the mundane interiors and domestic lives of decidedly not mundane creatures. Ng is the David Sedaris of figurative painting.

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Rebecca Anweiler at David Kaye Gallery

Until Feb. 26, 1092 Queen St. W., Toronto

Anweiler's new nature landscapes present an idyllic Canada, one that we can, increasingly, only view through a creative lens. Despite their forthright prettiness, however, Anweiler's aggressive, choppy brushstrokes convey a marked rage.

Anat Betzer at Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre

Until Feb. 29, 750 Spadina Ave., Toronto

Like Anweiler, Betzer paints landscapes that exist first in the mind. The Tel Aviv-based artist positions her phantom pastorals as places of peace and respite … and yet, again, the physical application of paint, the layers of translucent material left to ooze down the surface, show us that not all is as it seems.

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