The Apology Project has a lot going for it. Good premise, good visuals, good integration of video elements, a wide-open space for possibilities. But in his apparent attempt at creating authenticity, choreographer and director Gerry Trentham has created a monster. Lop the last half hour off the show and we’d have something to wonder at.
Trentham began the work on The Apology Project more than seven years ago when he first encountered the art of American visual artist Kaersten Colvin-Woodruff, whose preoccupation with cultural colonialism comes out in such works as a Victorian-like parlour chair with antlers rising from its oval back. (Pushed around by the dancers the chairback becomes a moving screen for a video stream.)
This collaboration with Kevin A. Ormsby starts well. Before the show opens, audience members are invited to cruise around the set, where Ormsby is standing like a cigar store Indian, bare-chested and garbed in red wide pants with a cummerbund. Among the hanging pointed pendula and a chandelier – creations of Colvin-Woodruff’s – lies Trentham, dressed like an Ontario hunter and wrapped up in a rope attached to a pointed pendulum that will lower on a pulley as he slowly raises himself. The symbolism works: these two are distanced from each other, physically and culturally, and the task of the piece will be to reconcile them.
Both dancers are miked and after a brief history from a voiced-over narrator, comes a lecture from Trentham, with commentary from Ormsby. He by now is carrying some object that sounds like wampum when it’s shaken.
We learn that Harbourfront Centre Theatre was once an icehouse, but humans lived on the land from 15,000 years ago. We hear about the “dish with one spoon” treaties among indigenous groups. And Trentham addresses the audience directly on righting historic wrongs: “But we have the answer, right?”
Conventional dance does enter the piece, in the form of a series of steps announced with numbers out of sequence, as in “Up 43, 42, 41, 7, 8, 9. . .” These are modern or contemporary dance steps and manoeuvres both dancers did much better in their younger years, Trentham when he spent seven years in Serge Bennathan’s Dancemakers and Ormsby dancing for the likes of Garth Fagan and Bill T. Jones.
There are plenty of clever counterpoints in the imagery and blocking of the show, but it starts to go off the rails when the history of first nations and their persecution moves to the personal history of Ormsby and Trentham in their emergence as gay men, in Jamaica and Alberta respectively. Were their plights meant to be equated with that of indigenous peoples?
Finally it becomes a solipsistic exercise about Gerry and Kevin, the men they actually are. Was the awkwardness and ungainliness a deliberate bid for authenticity? If so, it’s an offence to anyone who comes to the theatre to admire artifice.
Let’s call The Apology Project a work in progress and one day maybe it won’t require an apology for itself.
The Apology Project
Conceived by Gerry Trentham and Kaersten Colvin-Woodruff
Performed by Trentham and Kevin A. Ormsby
Presented by lbs/sq” and Harbourfront Centre
At Harbourfront Centre Theatre, until September 23