Neither the dark sky, nor the wet grass deterred the formidable crowd from coming out on the evening of July 11th, to enjoy the first park on Corpus two-park Dusk Dances festival. This year marks producers David Danzon and Sylvie Bouchards ninth event. Since its inception, Dusk Dances has become a summer-time institution in Toronto and Vancouver (and Ottawa every second year), bringing site-specific dance creations to outdoor parks accompanied by huge audiences of all ages. It is so very affirming to see these extensive crowds with blankets and picnics and many, many children being exposed to and experiencing movement performances.
From behind the scattering of picnic tables and baby strollers, I hear the sound of a cowbell, or what soon appears to be a sheep bell. It is hanging around the neck of a lumpy cream-coloured sheep being prodded by the curved staff of a patient shepherd (David Danzon). Three sheep, (Sylvie Bouchard, Carla Soto and Sara Wood) and one ram (Dean Gilmour) enter the fenced sheep pen with lumpy bowed backs. They chew with long lazy chews, paw the grass, twitch their ears and jostle for a better position at the food trough with sheep-like precision. Joanne Leblancs costumes were perfectly sheep-y, even allowing for a very convincing shearing event as Marie-Louise, performed by Sylvie Bouchard, is relieved of her thick outer coat. Following the lead of one young boy, a knot of children offer handfuls of rain-soaked grass through the fence, deliciously terrified by these sheep-y movers. The shriek of the cluster of children interrupts the sleepy sheep waltz as the sudden attack of a slippery black wolf leads into the rest of the evenings program.
the sky was interrupted
by the click of his tongue against his teeth
and though he tried
to tie this white to the base of a tree,
the bit of sky refused to be tethered
low enough to see,
or to touch.
Our ever-entertaining host (David Danzon) whipped the crowd into a series of pliés and relevés on a basketball court. However, despite our plié-ing attempts to keep the rain at bay, the skies opened and the second piece on the program, choreography by Victor Quijada for Rubberbandance Group, was cancelled. The blue sky arrived shortly after, and we followed our top-hat-ed leader, to “Serpentine Garden: another love story”, choreographed by Yvonne Ng.
Two clotheslines strung between three trees and rows of plastic tulips cordon off the space. On one of the clotheslines hangs two white dresses, on the other, a beige robe and the apothecary Xu Xian (Ray Hogg) pinned to the line by his suspenders. The piece is based on a love story from an old Chinese myth infused by Ng (and musician Katherine Duncanson) with love songs from the 40s. Ng as Su Zhen, the White Lady Snake, seduces her suspender-ed lover with the serpentine curl of her body, slipping in and out of the hanging white dresses. The costumes, designed by Heather MacCrimmon, even when empty, became characters in this poignant yet comical love story.
wrapped against a tree,
wrapping around the thick cylinder of maple
until her own skin folded perfectly
into the weathered folds of bark,
(like a dark letter into a darker envelope).
Following our hosts whistle, we left the lovers garden and found ourselves under a vaulted ceiling of green leaves, the site of Rebekah Rimsays piece, “Prevailing Wind”.
Dancer Christopher Body trails behind Rebekah Rimsay like a close fitting shadow as they enter the sandy performance space. Their relationship suggests an ancient, ancestral love story, elevated by the beautiful haunting song performed by Laurel McDonald. Their feet leave patterns in the sand, marking the tale of these two windswept lovers below viscous movements of watery limbs and fluid torsos.
like bleached driftwood
wait wrapped in seaweed arms,
she watches the pattern of step,
carved into sand.
she will watch till the tide returns
only then will she turn to her own haunting shadow.
The next piece on our tour of Dufferin Grove Park was Tina Parks “the wind that” performed by dancers Kayt Lucas and Tina Park and musicians Karen Graves and Morgan Doctor.
The dancers, dressed in an abrasive glaring red, begin spinning a large metal wheel, hanging horizontally from a crane five or six feet above the ground. This cyclic dance carries the two women from the earth to the air, spinning them through the metal wheel with powerful and simultaneously lyrical movements. The exploration of air, and the space above ground is complemented by the musicians evocative score of wind instruments and gentle drums. On the wheel, the dancers seem to transcend gravity, moving weightlessly through space.
there is no north underwater
no east or west
thick and spherical
rising to meet july,
to meet the line of surface
that separates wind from water.
The sky darkened slightly as we walked to the ice-less skating rink for Suzanne Millers piece “The Mending Enchainement”. A large group of dancers enter the long wide space, walking through the scatter of puddles and collect in a symmetrical cluster. They begin to cues of vocalized numbers and continue to call out numbers throughout the piece, offering a mechanical, clock-work-like quality to the piece. The dancers bodies reflect in the puddles and the ice rink becomes not only long and wide, but deep as well.
with arms like clocks,
they mark time against the almost night
calling out hours,
with voices that do not ever expect
the night to actually come,
or the rain to actually fall.
This piece ended in rain and, unfortunately, Victor Quijadas second piece was rained out.
Dusk Dances at Withrow Park
The second week of Dusk Dances in the east end at Withrow Park again began with Corpus “Les Moutons”. Under clear skies this time, children flocked to the wooden pen with treats and goodies for the very sheep-y dancers and again were most deliciously frightened by the surprise wolf attack. Following the lead of our host (Danzon), we found ourselves sprawled on the grass across a narrow road from two dancers.
Jenn Goodwin and Sarah Doucet tempt passing cars with stuck up thumbs and prettied hair, repeating sequences of movement with more and more frustration. These abandoned prom queens are dressed in poofy pretty dresses and combat boots and the simultaneous hard edge of the boots and delicate transparent chiffon of the dresses is emulated in the movement — hard and angular as well as tossed and flung. Their palpable frustration turns to apathy with each passing car and the two leave their side of the road with high heels slung over their shoulders, strides defiant and indifferent.
their hearts were broken
under the gauze of chiffon
and almost yellow.
but they would not tell.
tried to catch cars instead of boys,
tossing hitchhiking thumbs from loosened elbows
and looking both ways
without ever crossing the street.
Using another concrete pathway,choreographer Eryn Dace Trudell explored the integration of bodies and wheels in Bizzy and Dizzy.
The cacophony of show tunes and kazoo music make up for the sometimes difficult view of the entire narrow space. The dancers in chairs abandon their expressive torso movements early on in the piece, unfortunately; though the length of the walkway is filled with a colourful parade of sound and movement. With seven dancers, two wheelchairs, one bicycle, five kazoos and one red feather boa, Bizzy and Dizzy truly is busy and dizzying.
with chair to sky,
he leans backwards and swallows
sky to belly
Majtash Mrozewskis piece took place on a huge rolling hill on the far side of the park where we perched on the steep slope as dancers Anisa Tejpar and Meredith Woodley played between two huge trees.
The wind licks at their long Victorian skirts as they roll down the hill, spin themselves into each others arms and fling themselves with abandon into summer. It seemed to me, that “Lam” was an exploration of the joys and fears of childhood and was weakened only through exaggeration. The music, sung live by Laurel MacDonald weaves in between the trees, haunting the sky and grounding the childlike play of the dancers.
they toss themselves into grass stains
collecting wind in the folds of skirts
and gathering july in the weave of thin cotton.
a pink hem plays against grass
and they lie skyward,
watching the sky fall from between the leaves green.
Next on the program was Nova Bhattacharyas “The Yirri Birri Birds of the Yago Bago”, a fantastical story of two endangered birds who come to Withrow Park to mate and stave off the extinction of their species.
With flashy, colourful costumes designed by Anna Michener, dancers Nova Bhattacharya and Louis Laberge-Cote enter into a medley dance styles from classical Indian dance to jazz and tango. The dancers explore the intricate and absurd mating rituals of the imagined Yirri Birri birds, strutting and pecking to a score of musical genres compiled by Ed Hanley.
wings against leaves,
wings like limbs
that imprint themselves on thick summer green,
dispel the threat of evening,
fingers to feathers
and back to fingers again.
The last piece of the evening was a traditional North American Indian Hoop Dance performed by Lisa Odjig with musician Darcy Turningrobe.
Spinning and weaving bright green hoops over and around her limbs and torso to form symbols derived from nature, the speed and intensity of Odjigs movement is captivating. The rhythm of the drum echoes in the pulse of her step and the patterns of the hoops; her constant spinning and the power of Turningrobes music hold the audience spellbound. The energy and power of this dance is extraordinary and ends the evening of outdoor dance with a potently physical experience.
she weaves her stories into wings
into constellations spun round the edges of her body
casting nets to bring these stories from wind