The Toronto dance community has a distinct cadre of fearless women. Independent dancers and choreographers (often concurrently), these women are invested in their craft and committed to presenting their art. An established handful of these artists collaborated on the mixed program Half Life Motel. Candidness ensued.
Diana Rose and Suzanne Liska’s duet, Centennial Motel and Rest, opened the evening. A program note from their commissioned choreographer Karen Kaeja asked: “When are we responsible for someone’s falling? How far do you let them go? When is it too late?” The duet was both zany and serious. The dynamic between the two dancers went back and forth between being supportive, manipulative and detached. Rose, in a voluminous, floor-length, mint-coloured dress, and Liska, in a little black dress with cardigan, were as much opposites in their costumes as they were in their quality of movement. Rose, with long limbs and an uppity personality, contrasted with Liska’s ease with contact and generally weighted way of moving.
The piece opens with both dancers standing right in front of the audience, Rose facing out and Liska to the back. Rose pulls out a walkie-talkie and proceeds to speak in a foreign language while Liska remains still. Both women seem as though they are from separate worlds and this contrast remains throughout the work. How their relationship of opposites relates to Kaeja’s questions is a bit abstract—though in one memorable scene Rose directs them both in a skydiving jump drill—the mystery of their connection is part of what makes this duet a tender perplexity.
Rose choreographed Crumpled for Kathleen Rea. A note in the program acknowledges the work having been originally interpreted by Kaeja; however, in this version, Rea’s personal life is the crux of the work and there are no signs of a previous tenant. Rea begins her journey on a rectangular piece of red carpet. She introduces herself in a sort of mime, going in and out of a range of emotions, while keeping to, and exploring, the boundaries of her onstage island. When the carpet is “magically” (with clear string) pulled out from underneath her and dragged upstage and eventually up and up, hanging like wall art, the space begins its transformation. Another carpet appears and becomes a skirt, and then a platform, and then a swaddling blanket, and so on. The movement vocabulary in this dance is filled with gestures and tasks and unrolls to a range of music by Lhasa De Sela, Gelka, Marshela Qrella and Rick Rose. Recordings of the performer’s wishes and desires (with the added voice of her husband and the sounds of her young son) give the piece a deeply personal tone. Lighting by Alaina Perttula helps to frame the scope of each scene. The final scene witnesses Rea struggling with something under the carpet that eventually breaks free and regurgitates a bunch of mini carpets that must have been stuffed in her costume of blue jeans and halter top. Recurring images bounce between home and happiness to displacement and conflict. Rea has a sweet but edgy performance quality and her journey in Crumpled displays these gifts well.
The second half of the program belongs to Lucy Rupert’s Half-Life. Walking back into the theatre after intermission I was reminded of Dancemakers’ recent show loveloss performed in the same space and with similar in-the-round seating. In Loveloss the dancers acknowledge the audience, but in Half-Life the seating arrangement is more about giving viewers a closer perspective—a gallery-like closeness without confrontation.
The first piece presented was Alaap, choreographed by Nova Bhattacharya for Rupert. The pairing is at first bizarre—Bhattacharya’s work is a union between classical bharatanatyam and contemporary and Rupert’s is an explosion of stark physicality—but Rupert performs the sweeping gestures and movement patterns with such conviction that their collaborative language reads clear. Costumed in airy black pants and ankle bells, Rupert acts as another instrument in the minimal score. Her feet perform one dance, her upper body another. If there had been sand on the floor she would have left an intricate pattern—Rupert’s direct and repeating movement illuminated the dark space. There wasn’t a clear connection as to how Alaap introduces the remaining two parts of the dance, but the solo stands on its own for being beautifully performed and thoughtfully crafted.
Part two and part three of Half-Life were both choreographed by Rupert. The Secret of My Left Lung was performed by interpreters Amanda Acorn, Kate Nankervis and Elke Schroeder and Winterbellum was a solo for Rupert herself. The two parts overlap, appearing simultaneously, and—by the nature of their proximity and the clear choices of acknowledgement between the performers—appear as one work. The Secret of My Left Lung is a physical trio of distinct voices—each dancer with an individual movement vocabulary and range of exploration. The dancers come together for a moment of unison but are, for the most part, soloists sharing the space.
Winterbellum is a quieter comment that balanced the space filled by the physicality of The Secret of My Left Lung. Rupert moves softly around the space, taller than the other three performers, singing eerily to herself. Outlining the space, her arms, though not outstretched, gave the effect of a planetary ring; she carried with her all the parts of the dance, a maternal presence. The lighting design by Michelle Ramsay, with its disco balls and polka-dot effects, creates strong images that place the work in a surreal realm. I got a sense of the atoms and polar storms referenced in the program: “The atoms of my body were entangled inextricably with atoms in the bodies of every person I had ever touched” by Lee Smolin for The Secret of My Left Lung and “For the solar storms and life of Sue Rupert on March 13, 1989” for Winterbellum.
These last two parts of the dance might have emerged from different starting points but as the trio of dancers guides Rupert out of the space at the end, into the fading light, it’s hard to imagine them independently—I’m not sure they could be.