This year’s dance: made in canada/fait au canada festival was an impressive demonstration of some of Canada’s finest mid-career dance artists. Curated by a trio of established artists — Yvonne Ng, Serge Bennathan and photographer Cylla von Tiedemann — the festival showed a range of contemporary dance in several locations in the Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto: three MainStage series, a lottery-drawn series, as well as casual Arts Encounters and dancefilms screened in the lobby. The gathering felt like a reunion as everyone was returning from summer away and starting to shift into gear for the beginning of a whole new season of dance. I managed to see most of the presentations, but will talk here about the Bennathan Series, the What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) program and several Arts Encounters that took place in between shows.
The Bennathan Series was curated by former Dancemakers’ artistic director and current artistic director of Vancouver’s Les Productions Figlio, Serge Bennathan. The French-born choreographer chose two male solo artists — Benjamin Kamino and William Yong — to share the program, with excerpts of what have been or will be full-length works. Bennathan’s program notes allude to the reasons behind his choice of dancers, yet it’s pretty obvious why these two are together. From Kamino’s minimal, carnal sharing to Yong’s hyper-technological interplay, the works are complementary contrasts — these two portray the extremes of their artistic spectrums.
In Nudity. Desire., Kamino is waiting as the audience enters the theatre. He sits onstage, nude, atop a boom box that spits out a version of You’re So Vain by David Axelrod. The contemporary version of this classic acts as neutral ground between Kamino’s rocker/ape appearance — long, voluminous black hair and bare skin adorned with tattoos — and his casual demeanour while dancing (it seems) for himself.
The stage is stripped bare — no wings or any other framing paraphernalia. Sheets of white paper in horizontal strips are taped together and adhered to a large portion of the stage floor as well as up the back wall. As though on cue, one of the corners of paper becomes un-taped and the inevitable deterioration of the white draping is apparent. Kamino reaches the climax of a whole-body convulsion by spitting up an impressive amount of black liquid that later becomes body paint as he moves over the canvas of paper below and behind him. It’s not long before the paper is entirely disheveled. One of the more dramatic images is of Kamino grabbing an upstage corner and folding the entire connected piece as he runs to the opposite downstage corner — a tidal wave behind him, engulfing his small-in-comparison body whole. From here the paper creates mounds that add texture to the space, forcing Kamino’s naked body into various contexts: paper mass as obstacle to be jumped over, mountains to situate between, costume to wear, a fort to crawl through.
Pedestrian modes of walking, running, sitting are interspersed with more recognizable dance phrases. The vocabulary is not complex in gesture but does seem to reference classicism and form — sort of mockingly but in a genuine way, if such a thing is possible. The latter portion of the excerpted solo features Kamino’s vocal strengths, both his deep, diaphragm-filled sounds that confirm the ape-man image as well as his singing at the end as the lights gently fade to black.
Nudity. Desire. explores exactly what the title implies. With philosophical and historic ideas underpinning the live performance research, the work centres around the agency of the human body — how it absorbs and projects information and how we, as viewers, absorb and project simultaneously.
It’s like night to day when William Yong’s excerpt of Steer opens the program’s second half. The work begins with zoomed-in, otherworldly clips of Yong, projected on three screens — one runs the length of the back of the stage; the other two are narrow and hung on either side of downstage — that add dimensionality to the space.
Yong appears a tiny figure compared to the giant projections of his body. He’s dressed in a metallic, form-fitted suit (I later learn it hides wireless accelerometers attached to his body) that looks like the fashion of the future according to Hollywood. It’s not evident at first to what extent his presence is affecting the scene until he stands in near darkness and with the mere wave of his arm sets off a reverberation of starry spray.
The integration of sensor-based technology of this nature into live performance has potential to fall flat but Yong and his team — interaction and visual designer Jérôme Delapierre and interaction and sound designer Navid Navab, both from Montréal — have found a magical blend of choreography, visuals and sound. All components blend so well that their distinction is hardly discernible. Instead, the work is a ride, with Yong as conductor, through an innovative territory of play and risk.
Beautiful and thought-provoking scenes emerge — a singular, graceful body moving in the middle of fast-moving text, clones duplicating beside a live body, and a tree growing with Yong’s body as its roots. Questions of singularity and of what technology means for the human race come up upon reflection but watching the wizard at work is a transfixing experience throughout. Yong plans to present the full-length version of Steer next year and no doubt it will advance the discourse on interactive performance. In fact, it sets an example for others working in this area and with similar themes.
The WYSIWYG component of the festival was lottery drawn and, like Fringe events across the country, was a mixed bag of varying interest.
Amy Hampton in her duet with Brendan Wyatt, Middle Distance, opened the series. Both artists are phenomenal technicians and the choreography is complementary to their strengths, especially Hampton’s. Middle Distance describes a relationship between the two as illustrated by intimate, intense and intricate partnering.
Throwdown Collective — Zhenya Cerneacov, Mairéad Filgate and Brodie Stevenson — offered a play on the dynamics of the trio. Refreshing for its lack of romantic undertones, Various Concert suited the expansive space of the Betty Oliphant Theatre. The highly capable dancers move in and out of shapes and exchanges of weight, sometimes with physical motivators and other times using purely geometric sensitivities.
Jamee Valin’s Swim/Float with Alison Fudger was a beautifully performed duet. Themes of time emerged in the movement, in the angular shapes of the arms or with the sound of an alarm but the relationship is unclear and, in general, is hard to follow.
Shannon Litzenberger shared her duet The Den with dancers Jesse Dell and Jordana Deveau. The work was originally presented at last year’s Toronto Fringe Festival and benefited greatly here from the Betty Oliphant’s vast space. The duet references a quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estés about healthy women being like wolves — life giving, territorially aware, inventive and loyal. Both Dell and Deveau are grounded movers who embody the animalistic sequences with control and just the right amount of abandonment.
In Hannah Kent and skindivers dance company’s What If, four dancers tease and taunt one another in business attire. Various scenarios and pairings play out and it ends as it began, appearing to have been a catty dream.
Each night of the festival, in the lobby of the Betty Oliphant, dancefilms were played between shows on a monitor near the bar. Unfortunately, without sound they didn’t draw too much attention — I can’t say how much they were watched, though it was nice to have them present. Downstairs in the basement Andréa de Keijzer set up a sampling of her longer performance experiment Our Last Picture. The work looks at the moments before and after a photograph is taken. Projected photos of the performers’ pasts (with brief contextual information given), as well as new images taken and projected live, generated touching imagery. Outside the theatre, the most fun Arts Encounter featured Julia Aplin’s Mighty Fine Line. Here, audience members put down their bags, got in line and followed as Aplin and a crew of dancers led the group country-style in an upbeat dance-along.
See also Marie France Forcier’s review of The Morrison and von Tiedemann Series.