The Winter’s Tale is a world of wonders

The Winter’s Tale is a triumph for the National Ballet of Canada, performing at its versatile best in Christopher Wheeldon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s late, great play. Sometimes termed a “problem play,” this fantasy about a king who loses all through jealousy and rage then finds redemption through love and forgiveness is not obvious material for a story ballet.  

Premiered in April 2014 at the Royal Opera House in London, where Wheeldon is the Royal Ballet’s artistic associate, the three-act dance has magic in it, conjured through Wheeldon’s choreography, Joby Talbot’s grand orchestral score and Bob Crowley’s bold designs for sets and costumes. Basil Twist’s innovative painted silks carry us through time and across oceans with a touch of abracadabra.

Piotr Stanczyk gives an achingly good performance as Leontes, King of Sicilia. His heart curdles with jealousy when he suspects his long-time friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, of impregnating his wife Hermione, the Queen of Sicilia. Leontes sends Polixenes packing, has Hermione imprisoned and after her presumed death directs his head of household Antigonus (Jonathan Renna) to abandon Hermione’s baby girl on an island. Leontes’ violence has so shocked his son Mamillius (Jamie Street) that he dies too. The dark tragedy of the first act is countered with the sunny scenes of acts two and three, a Shakespearean comedy staged around an enormous mossy tree hung with shiny ornaments.

It is 16 years later and Leontes’ and Hermione’s daughter Perdita, rescued by a shepherd in Bohemia, is a beautiful young woman in love with Prince Florizel, Polixenes’ son, who has come to her disguised as another peasant Bohemian. Polixenes is infuriated to hear that his son has made a match beneath him, but after more disguises, a spring festival, an engagement and a wedding, all’s well that ends well.

The genius of co-creators Wheeldon, Talbot and Crowley is to use dance formations, music and visuals to tell a convoluted story freighted with emotion at every juncture.

The back story is sketched in quickly in an opening scene of lightly costumed dancers choreographed to telegraph an account of how two kings grew up as friends. The stage is transformed into the Sicilian royal court when two monumental arches roll on, accompanied by four classical statues (foreshadowing is another feature of this work, for a statue of the dead Hermione will come alive at the end). A joyful reunion of the two kings is spoiled when Leontes spies Polixenes chatting with a pregnant Hermione.

Stanczyk, in a dark green tunic, curls a rigid hand toward his gut, and enacts a stunning interpretation of a man consumed with jealousy and vindictiveness. Hannah Fischer’s Hermione is all lightness and purity even in full-term pregnancy. Their tussle and Leontes’ subsequent violent acts are truly disturbing. Harrison James’s Polixenes is the picture of nobility, but he too will be bent by anger, then turned into a buffoon as he and his steward pretend to be peasant minstrels. (Another innovation was to bring on a live banda, playing dulcimer, bansuri, accordion and drums, adding five more characters into the mix.)

It takes highly imaginative staging for a story like this to cohere over three hours. This is where Paulina, head of Queen Hermione’s household, comes in. Xiao Nan Yu’s grace as Paulina becomes the calm at the eye of the storm and the character who accompanies Leontes through all his travails. Xiao’s commanding presence from acts one through three provides necessary continuity.

Youthful Jillian Vanstone as Perdita is well matched with Naoya Ebe, a nimble shapeshifter as Florizel. Subconsciously, we understand the forces at play in this cathartic work. The stiffness and constraint of the Sicilian court is represented in dark colours, formal wear and angular dance moves. The fun-loving, swirling Bohemians are colourful men in skirts and ladies in flowers—their free spirit epitomized in pas de deux by Jordana Daumec and Dylan Tedaldi.

The Winter’s Tale is a show you’d like to see again and again, to pick out more choreographic details and maybe be moved to tears again by Stanczyk’s performance as a humbled, grieving father.

The Winter’s Tale

A production of the National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, through November 19

Photo of Jillian Vanstone, Hannah Fischer and Piotr Stanczyk by Karolina Kuras.

Moving in every sense of the word

When someone suggested to Laurence Lemieux that she make a dance honoring the Canadians lost in World War I, her first thought was for the community where her Citadel + Compagnie is based: Toronto’s Regent Park.

It didn’t take much delving in the mass of war documents maintained in Canadian archives to locate eight men from the Dundas and Parliament neighbourhood killed in the battle for Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Two of them shared the same last name: a father and son who lived on Gerrard Street. One soldier Lemieux discovered was William James Hawkey. “He lived just around the corner from the Citadel in a house that remains today.”

Starting from the specific and the personal has paid off in Jusqu’a Vimy, a title best translated as All the way to Vimy. The through-line in this complex multi-media production is the journey taken by these young men, untrained recruits entering a war of a kind never before experienced.

Making drama has often been Lemieux’s choreographic modus operandi. She knew what she was doing when she picked from the archives the actual soldiers, then assembled her dancers — Luke Garwood, Andrew McCormack, Philip McDermott, Tyler Gledhill, Connor Mitton, Brodie Stevenson, Daniel Gomez, Zhenya Cerneacov and Kaitlin Standeven – assigning the identity of a soldier to each of the men.

“They got to read all the information about that soldier and then we all [including composer John Gzowski and production designer Jeremy Mimnagh] went to France to visit the memorial site and look at their graves,” says Lemieux, who was fine-tuning lighting cues on the eve of opening.

Jusqu’a Vimy is a totally immersive experience, lending access to the emotions and torments of people who lived through a horror 100 years ago. The show is the dance equivalent of Timothy Findley’s novel The Wars, which relived the experience of WWI soldiers from just a few kilometres north of Regent Park in Rosedale.

The men are introduced one by one as each dancer advances into the performance space. Blown up on Cheryl Lalonde’s cloth surround, are handwritten documents indicating an individual “killed in action” or “missing in action” or his pay rate. Before the dance has even begun we get stark reminders of the fragility of life.

Jusqu’a Vimy is structured in sections in which the dancer/soldiers, in period uniforms, puttees and boots, move in formation as if on a march, partner each other or make a scrum to carry off a fallen mate. Making friends, they enter battle, bombarded time and again with artillery. Or they shiver in trenches huddled against each other. You get the message, as orange explosions burst on all sides of the screen, cued to Gzowski’s powerful soundscape. One minute that soldier beside you is your pal; the next he’s a corpse.

Kaitlin Standeven enters the scene at intervals, once carrying a paper notice, another time a folded greatcoat, wandering among the soldiers as if they were ghosts of fallen husbands, fathers, brothers and sons.

Mimnagh makes the landscape of the silent Vimy woods the central image, manipulating his projections to show the change of seasons and to create a lasting visual memorial. This is a show that will endure, lest we forget.

Jusqu’a Vimy

Choreography by Laurence Lemieux

Musical composition by John Gzowski

Production design by Jeremy Mimnagh

Lighting by Simon Rossiter

Costume and sets by Cheryl Lalonde

At The Citadel: Ross Centre for Dance, Toronto, from November 16 to 18 and November 22 to 25

Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh


Older, better and timeless

The 40th edition of Claudia Moore’s showcase of dance, Older and Reckless, might easily be named Older and Better. It’s hard to think of the 15 professionals working in top form as older, but a few would be considered elderly in dance terms. And a flock of volunteers, some not so old, in Peter Chin’s Tell Everyone are not dancers at all but make a wonderful team.

Chin’s huge ensemble work features Dan Wild, Bonnie Kim, Susie Burpee, Marie-Josée Chartier and Francisco Carrera leading 20 community recruits in an intricately patterned dance as Chin plays percussion instruments, including a big skin drum, on the side. The piece is a tribute to Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, a man of 23 who was knifed and killed in May on public transit in Portland, Oregon while defending two Muslim girls against a white supremacist. His last words as he lay dying in the arms of a woman bystander were, “tell everyone on this train I love them.” What the world needs now is more love and connectedness and this very east Asian, foot-stomping dance, to traditional Tibetan songs and recordings of the Bosavi people of Papua New Guinea, showed us what might happen if we all just reached out to one another.

A moving duet based on the struggles of the mentally ill, Ils m’ont dit is performed by Jane Mappin and Daniel Firth. Mappin choreographed this tender yet muscular piece, conveying a story of longing and misunderstanding in abstract movements set to a score by Erich Kory: whispering voices lead into  balladic strings with some staticky electronic sound. The couple’s pure, clean lines and complex partnering, drawing in and then repelling each other, make a love song in dance.

Heidi Latsky has been seen before on a Harbourfront stage as a partner with Lawrence Goldhuber, both of them formerly dancers with the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company. On her own since 2001, she created Countersolo in 2013. For Older and Reckless, she does a section from it, Solo One. She arrives under a murky light, appearing to walk on water. As the lights grow more intense, so does her dance speed up. This solo is short and swift and arresting.

A curious coincidence on the program is that after the colourful panoply of Chin’s Tell Everyone, every performer that follows is in all black or white.

Ric Brown and Darryl Tracey wear black pants and black shirts with white buttons, like cowboy shirts. The video backdrop looks like a desert where cowboys might roam. Lesandra Dodson choreographed In Two Days a Man Can Change, a piece from 2010. These guys might have stepped out of Sam Shepherd play, except they are more funny than grating. One goes into plank position with opposite arm and leg raised and then collapses. “What’s wrong? Not enough core strength?” teases the other. A contest ensues: the bigger guy gets down and the other one taunts him: “hold it lower.” There is talk of nemesis and heroes, meeting your dark side in a mirror-image of yourself and fun with fake mustaches and noses, as befits a dance whose title is drawn from an Elmore Leonard text about a change of character (“just like a rope pulling you into it”).

Sashar Zarif’s solo The wound is the place where the light enters you is a gripping meditation on memory and life cycles, the title inspired by the poetry of Rumi. This is a mature solo from a dancer steeped in the dance and spiritual practices of the near east and central Asia. His slow build-up to a whirling trance-like movement winds down again to a slow journey. He keeps our attention with his refined moves; walking away from us, a hand trembles slightly behind his right flank. Zarif is definitely on a positive trajectory as he grows older in dance.

The final slot on the program is an elegant solo created for veteran ballet star Evelyn Hart by Matjash Mrozewski. Hart starts from a seated position, then stands up in a long elegant ivory dress that exposes only her arms. There is something pure in Abiding, a simple statement in sweeping, flowing gestures that says not older, but timeless.

Older and Reckless #40

Produced by Claudia Moore MOonhORsE Dance Theatre in association with Harbourfront Centre

At the Harbourbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto through November 11

Photos by Tamara Romanchuk. From clockwise: Tell Everyone, Evelyn Hart, Ric Brown and Darryl Tracy, Jane Mappin and Daniel Firth





Great Expectations met

The dancers who perform in ProArteDanza’s Season 2017 are at least a generation younger than the dancers who first brought the company to the stage in 2004. All the better to extend founder Roberto Campanella’s dedication to “passion in performance.”

Combined with a high standard of technical ability and an urge to advance contemporary choreography, this passion has served to keep audiences coming back year after year. The ensemble for Season 2017 is made up of a characteristically energetic team: Taylor Bojanowski (intern), Caryn Chappell, Benjamin Landsberg, Ryan Lee, Sasha Ludavicius, Daniel McArthur, Victoria Mehaffey, Kelly Shaw, Anisa Tejpar and Christopher Valentini.

“Future Perfect Continuous”, created by Matjash Mrozewski, takes ProArteDanza in a new direction, demanding acting skills of the ensemble. Wisely, Mrozewski chose versatile playwright Anna Chatterton to write the text for a piece that expresses something top of mind: what will happen to us, to our world, as climate change takes its toll?

Two dancers casually occupy the stage before the lights go down; Anisa Tejpar is brooding, seemingly lost in thought. Daniel MacArthur holds a helium-filled yellow balloon, a symbolic beacon of hope.

The lines delivered by eight performers are in fact in the future perfect continuous tense: “in 10 years, I will have been . . . ” These unfinished sentences announced in first-, second-, and third-person declensions set the tone of uncertainty that is the zone of “Future Perfect Continuous.”

The eight performers develop into characters in a flow–sometimes jumpy, sometimes smooth–of solos, duets, trios and ensemble combinations. McArthur and Mehaffey are a couple in debate: are we doomed or is there a future for the human race? The choreography is simple, but not simplistic. From stillness to sudden movements, a sense of chaos on the edge of momentary stillness presides, over the music, Orchestra Variations, Minor Victories. Posing the question, are you an optimist, a pessimist or realist, the piece ends on an up-note, the yellow balloon hovering over the proclamation, “we are going to be ok.”

The muscular movement that has been a hallmark of ProArteDanza is on show in the duet “Adjusted Surrender” choreographed by Kevin O’Day for Johanna Bergfelt and Robert Glumbek to music by Sigur Rós and Chopin Project. Glumbek wears cowboy hats stacked on his head and lays them out to form a performance space on stage, as Bergfelt enters encased in a dress made of layers and layers of stiff, white chiffon-like fabric. These two athletic, precise dancers are well matched. Glumbek undoes Bergfelt’s dress and lays it out like a broken mountain range across the stage. Shorn of their identifying accoutrements they make a dynamic couple in jeans and t-shirts, lifting, rolling, pushing and pulling in a space of trust and balance.

O’Day also choreographed the show’s celebratory closer, the rollicking “Op Sha!”, set to the music of The Lemon Bucket Orkestra, accurately described as a “Balkan-Klezmer-Gypsy-Party-Punk-Super-Band.” Here the ensemble displays a well rehearsed togetherness. Each dancer’s personality comes through in whatever they are doing, sometimes something silly. The dancing is fierce and jumped-up and when the moment calls for it, the company masses into one formation, breathing as if a community was one many-splendored creature.

Season 2017


Choreography by Matjash Mrozewski and Kevin O’Day

Through Saturday, November 4 at Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto

Photo of Anisa Tejpar in Op Sha! by Aleksandar Antonijevic





A 150 celebration for all concerned

Adizokan is a word in the Anishinaabe language that means “a spiritual being who carries wisdom and knowledge.” It is also the name of Red Sky Performance’s spectacular multi-media show commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and performed on October 7 at Roy Thomson Hall.

The 45-minute program” combines indigenous dance, song, drumming and musicianship with contemporary non-native music and dance forms – and video – in celebration of first nations’ art, culture and spirituality. The TSO commission is part of the orchestra’s marking of the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Blood Echo: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th works like an overture and sets the scene for “Adizokan”. The short piece, composed by Yellowknife artist Carmen Braden, lays out a northern landscape and is accompanied by images on overhead screens evocative of sunrise and awakening.

Saulteaux-Cree performer Fara Palmer gives full throat to her song, “My Roots”. In plain words, to the accompaniment of drumming and flute-playing by Michel Muniidobenese Bruyere, Palmer laments the damage done by residential schools, but celebrates the survivors, the unsung heroes. It is up to “all my native relations to honour the children . . . I love my roots,” she sings. In a notable moment, Bruyere replaces his skin drum with a digital one, with no loss of rhythm or native sound.

At this point, Eliot Britton’s “Adizokancomposition begins. The Métis composer from Winnipeg, together with TSO conductor Gary Kulesha, has created a musical tapestry in seven parts that interweaves individual musicians, such as throat boxer Nelson Tagoona and five knock-out dancers, with the assisting images of filmmaker Andrew Moro.

In case you are wondering, Tagoona’s instrument is the throat and the percussive element comes from a microphone used the way any hip hop beat boxer would use it. He starts out with a low growl, like that of a didgeridoo, and has a wonderful range from light soft breaths to rhythmic, percussive huffs and puffs. A little more volume would be nice, so that the 85-member orchestra doesn’t overwhelm him.

The basis for this show is story. Every performer, from the TSO musicians playing Britton’s composition, to the dancers, to the jingle dancer and the Inuit hunters up on the screens to the drummers and the singer Fara Palmer are engaged in a complex narrative made to seem straightforward.

The section “Fundamental Forces” introduces Bruyere’s dancing. An Ojibway/Chippewa grass dancer with an incredibly light touch, he first performed with the TSO in June 2016. A collaborator with Buffy Sainte-Marie, this man has storytelling in his bones. As six contemporary dancers enter in a line, sometimes doing handsprings sometimes partnering each other in muscular ways, a sense of continuity is achieved. Yes, the culture is alive, resilient and ever-evolving.


Red Sky Performance and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

October 7 at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto


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

Dancing in and out of love

Blue Valentine, The Citadel, 304 Parliament Street, Toronto, February 15 to 18, 2017

Andrew Hartley and Emma Kerson were barely out of dance school when they formed a collective called Common People and began to commission choreography. And now they’re putting on a double bill in the Coleman Lemieux series Bright Nights.

Dubbed Blue Valentine, the show comprises two duets, Simon Renaud’s l’inanité des bibelots / love would only slow me down and Tedd Robinson’s Songs and Tarps.

Kerson, a Halifax native, and Hartley, from Moncton, began dancing together in classes at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, around 2008. They met Renaud, a graduate of The School of Dance in Ottawa, when he moved into a Toronto apartment below Hartley’s.

“I spoke really, really bad English at the time,” recalls Renaud, currently working with Montreal’s Daniel Léveillé Danse. Andrew spoke a bit of French. They bonded. All three shared a dance language and they began to work together in 2014.

“They invited me to create a piece on them; they gave me carte blanche,” says Renaud. The dance he made is about loneliness and isolation and is full of tension – in the sound by Ida Toninato and a strobing lighting design from Simon Rossiter and Noah Feaver.

“We are both covered in these blue tarps and we’re kind of like the same species, moving down the same tracks, but never intersecting,” says Andrew.

“Simon’s piece is very slow, very minimal,” notes Emma. “It plays with our ideas of time. You drop into another zone while you’re doing it.”

Dan Wild, who has acted as rehearsal director sees l’inanité des bibelots as very much the interplay of “psychic and physical energies. It uses energistic imagery.”

Renaud suggested commissioning Tedd Robinson to create a duet to complement his piece. Renaud was one of five dancers chosen to work with Robinson on FACETS, which premiered in May 2015 at the National Arts Centre. The collaborative, full-length piece draws on two decades of Robinson’s creations under the 10 Gates Dancing banner.

“I had never received such a succinct, clearly directed commission request,” Robinson recalls. By now Hartley and Kerson knew what they were looking for; the project intrigued Robinson, one of the most sought-after and imaginative choreographers around.

Partly governed by what Robinson describes as a generational difference, he made a “prequel” to l’inanité des bibelots / love would only slow me down. Called simply Songs and Tarps, it is set to music by Charles Quevillon, with whom Robinson has made 19 works.

“I’m from a certain era and I wanted to make a work that was a dance to songs.” Quevillon composed a romantic, balladic score, in which the dancers approach each other, moving in time with the music, more clothed than in the Renaud piece.

“This may be a life before,” says Robinson. The dancers are touching, or nearly touching, their hands vibrating in close proximity. “I am working in Simon’s negative space, I suppose.”

l’inanité des bibelots / love would only slow me down

Choreography – Simon Renaud; Composer – Ida Toninato; Lighting designers – Simon Rossiter, Noah Feaver; Rehearsal directors -Susie Burpee, Dan Wild; Performers – Andrew Hartley, Emma Kerson

Songs and Tarps

Creation – Tedd Robinson with Andrew Hartley and Emma Kerson; Sound score – Charles Quevillon; Lighting designers – Simon Rossiter, Noah Feaver; Rehearsal directors – Susie Burpee, Dan Wild; Performers – Andrew Hartley, Emma Kerson