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

TEN is a ten

TEN, Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, until Feb. 11, 2017

Anyone who skipped last night’s performance of TEN because of the snowstorm has cause for regret. The Birmingham, UK company ACE (African Cultural Exchange) gave probably the best performance ever presented by the 23-year-old dance series Dance Immersion.

TEN is a show inspired by stories of migration, choreographed by José Agudo, a one-time Flamenco dancer who is assistant choreographer with the Akram Khan Company in London.

Six dancers – Sophia Preidel, Ciara Baldwin, Christopher Radford, Vanessa Guevara, Thomas Tindall and Iona Waite – garbed in flowing pale green tunics and leggings, perform an intricately patterned, high-energy dance of exciting effects. Guiliano Modarelli’s electronic score sets the pace from racing to dirge-like and gets the heart pounding right off the start.

Radford performs the role of the alpha male, sometimes in combat, sometimes in comradeship with Tindall. Guevara, a dancer from Mexico, is the spirit of peace and reconciliation, although the women can make like Amazonian vixens if needed.

A repeated motif is the heavy slap of bare feet, a move derived from Kathak dance, that gives the sense of a long journey of hardship and hope.

A wonderful exchange of strength and balance occurs between partners who may be wrestling or embracing. Grabbing, reaching, combining and recombining in units of one and five or two and four or six together, these dancers seem to have it all.

The diversity of the dancers, who are from South Africa, Mexico, Germany and England, is matched by the diversity of the dance forms. There is one sequence that reminds us of a soft-shoe shuffle, another a Maori haka, another a dainty minuet, as the dancers pinch the edges of their skirts as if curtsying. The whispering on the soundtrack is indecipherable and the dancers say nothing. Yet the story is told: it’s not the destination but the journey that matters.

The show goes up again today at 1 pm and 8 pm in the Fleck Dance Theatre.



ACE Dance and Music

Artistic director – Gail Parmel

Choreographer – José Agudo

Dancers – Sophia Preidel, Ciara Baldwin, Christopher Radford, Vanessa Guevara, Thomas Tindall and Iona Waite

Musician – Guiliano Modarelli

Lighting designer – Andrew Ellis

Photo – Christopher Cushman


Sharing their culture – with song, dance and heart

Every performance of the Le La La dancers repeats a form that goes back thousands of years. But it takes this Victoria company and its director George Me’las Taylor to make the Kwakwaka’wakw (kwa kwa key wok) songs and dances new again.

Taylor’s willingness to share his culture is powered by a prodigious talent. He’s a showman. He’s a singer and drummer and knows how to wear a mask and animate it.

Last Saturday on the stage of the Victoria Aboriginal Cultural Festival, Taylor, born in Alert Bay, B.C., was in full voice, singing, drumming and introducing the dances.

“We perform these dances,” he said, not just for spectacle, “but because they belong to us.”

He meant “belong” in both a cultural and a family sense. In the Kwakwaka’wakw tradition, a dance and the mask that identifies it is the property of a particular family, passed on by inheritance or marriage. That means at any occasion that demands a potlatch, such as a birth, death or marriage, the family members can enact the dances they own. Some dances are considered sacred and are witnessed only in the context of a potlatch.

Since I first saw them perform in Toronto in 2006, Le La La (it means travelling from here to there) has only grown stronger at a kind of storytelling that’s at once specific to the spiritualism of the Kwakwaka’wakw and universally understood. Taylor’s nation has inhabited the northern tip of Vancouver Island, nearby islands and coastal inlets for millennia. Two of George and Melanie Taylor’s sons, Jason, 32, and Jarid, 29, have always danced with Le La La. Today the company also includes nephews and grand-nephews and grandson Lason Taylor, who is 5 years old. Melanie is the company manager.

The Kwakwaka’wakw are renowned artists whose reputation extends back to the time of Contact and includes important carvers such as the late Mungo Martin and his grandson Chief Tony Hunt. The full intent of the masks is only revealed when they are danced. Introducing Wild Woman of the Woods or Dzunukwa, Taylor tells the story of a haunting character represented with a mask featuring a hook nose and big red lips. She’s known as a bringer of wealth, but like many a mythical creature she has a dark side. Children were warned not to wander into the woods in case Dzunukwa might be abroad. She likes to snatch up young ones and take them home to eat. A Le La La dancer in a fur suit, wearing the magnificent mask, bears a cedar bark basket on his back – all the better for carrying home small children.

Bukwus, the wild man of the woods, possesses great strength and can make himself invisible. One interpretation has it that Bukwus might offer food that a wise person would refuse, because it is Bukwus’ habit to consume the souls of the living. Bukwus might also be an aboriginal interpretation of Big Foot.

Le La La’s Bukwus enters the stage in an outfit that looks like moss; he is truly scary. The transformation dance is an opportunity to see how dancers really do take on the identity of the animals and spirits they depict. On Saturday, 18-year-old Calvin Charlie-Dawson performed this dance with great agility, surrounded as he transformed himself by dancers Ethan Taylor and Jarid Taylor, wearing button blankets.

As a director at large of the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia, George Taylor has an official role as an ambassador for first nations culture. And ever since establishing Le La La in 1987 he has been taking the message of friendship and unity around the world, from Europe, to China and Mexico and all points of the North American compass.

“My father always told me to be proud to be first nations, and I am proud. But I am also a proud Canadian,” Taylor tells his audience. He means it and he lives it. In fact he says it again.

Family, pride, love, respect, harmony and peace. These are the values that Le La La stands for.

Photos, clockwise from top left: Haida chief Lance Baker, George Me’las Taylor, Jenna Lancaster; Calvin Charlie Dawson as the Raven with Jarid Taylor; Ethan Taylor dancing the Nun the bear; Lason Taylor; Andy Everson of K’ómoks First Nation and Ethan Taylor.

See George Taylor at the prow of a canoe at the opening of Victoria’s aboriginal cultural festival: http://www.cheknews.ca/aboriginal-festival-kicks-off-traditional-canoe-landing-189217/

For more about the company go to www.lelaladancers.com


Moraes’s dance runs on testosterone

Talk about a catchy title. Testosterone, the full-length dance that Newton Moraes has created with four male dancers premieres Thursday, April 28, at Dancemakers Centre for Creation. The show is his biggest, best, most complex and compelling work to date.

Under construction since January, the show — in rehearsal at least — delivers much that one would associate with the male hormone and much that is unexpected.

Moraes admits he didn’t know a lot about testosterone until he started doing a bit of research. Both men and women, to some degree, are driven by the hormone. “It’s important for us. Too much and you get aggression and fighting, but there is a positive aspect to it, in building muscles and giving us a sex drive. A lack of testosterone can lead to depression and illness.” And in middle age, men start to lose testosterone, the way women lose estrogen. These facts went into the mix along with personal observations about how we are a lot more than the sum of our endocrine systems.

A Brazilian who came to Toronto from Porto Alegre in 1991, Moraes has embraced the cultural and gender diversity of his adopted city and that had much to do with the shaping of Testosterone.

“I am a feminist. I believe in equal rights for women and men. I think there are lots of things being done for women nowadays that are wonderful and we as humans are advancing when we recognize LGBTQ rights. But when I was thinking of male friends of mine and how society has changed, reversing roles for men and women in the home for instance, I thought, how are these changes  affecting men?”

A grant from the Ontario Arts Council and support from Dance Ontario Weekend made it possible for Moraes to put much more work into this show than is usually the case for independent choreograhers. Still, he had to work a back-breaking day job to raise enough money to pay everyone adequately. His choice of dancers was fortuitous: Colombian-born Falciony Patino Cruz; Brazilian Marco Placencio; Italian Canadian Emilio Colalillo; and Shakeil Rollock, who is of Caribbean descent. Physically, temperamentally and culturally they make a fascinating mix.

Also, says Moraes, they each brought skills from different schools of dance. “So they bring different ways of expressing themselves, in the way they move, the way they dress, the way they connect with each other.”

Partnering between men is central to Testosterone, and since male dancers are not trained to lift other males, Moraes brought in choreographer Allen Kaeja to give a master class in elements of dance such as lifting, catching and overbalancing into the next move. There is a fair amount of body-slamming going on in Testosterone,  balanced with some very tender moments. Feedback from Toronto dancer/choreographers Ronald Taylor, Kevin Ormsby and BaKari I. Lindsay has helped sharpen the piece.

The dancers enter in business power-suits and among the many changes they undergo in the hour is a moment when Placencio performs in high heels, wearing a dress. Moraes invited trans artist Lola Ryan to coach the dancers on how to access their inner female.

“Testosterone is not just about expressing our macho masculinity,” says the choreographer. “It’s also about accepting the feminine side of ourselves.”

Photo of  Falciony Patino Cruz, Emilio Colalillo and Shakeil Rollock by Emmanuel Marcos


April 28 to 30 at 8 pm and May 1 at 3pm, at the Dancemakers Theatre, 313, 9 Trinity St, Distillery District Toronto as part of Danceworks/Co-works

Tickets: $25 General Admission $20 Seniors, CADA Members and Students

Call: 647-920-2883


Indigenous dance from two sides

NGS 1 - Angie Cheng & Karina Iraola - Credit Marc J ChalifouxIndigenous Dance Double Bill

Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming by Dancers Damelahamid

NGS (Native Girl Syndrome) by Lara Kramer

Native Earth Performing Arts and DanceWorks CoWorks

Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, Toronto

April 21 to 23, 2016

Native Earth Performing Arts presents two indigenous dances that are poles apart, both geographically and culturally.

Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming is based on traditional Pacific northwest Gitxsan dancing, singing and storytelling about a young man’s self-realization as he meets life’s challenges. NGS (Native Girl Syndrome) is purely contemporary in form, based on the degrading urban experience of the choreographer’s grandmother; it is a journey into alienation and self-destruction. Both need to be seen.

In Luu hlotitxw, Rebecca Baker, choreographer Margaret Grenier and Jeanette Kotowich enter the stage in long fringed dresses, button blankets emblazoned with totems, beaded headbands, moccasins, leg wrappers and decorated dorsal fins sticking out of their backs. These are the spirits of the orca and they move in ways to suggest the playful rising and diving of the Pacific killer whales – seen life-size in a video projected on the back screen. They chant as they move with silent footfalls in circular patterns.

Nigel Grenier sings too, in melodic phrases repeated with slight alterations (“yay ha hay /yo ha ho”). On first entry he bears a large bear mask in front of his face. The women surround him as he returns, bare-chested, to kneel on stage. They place cedar fronds in front of him. These are understood to be healing or protective.

The young man paints a black X on his chest with a paste given him by one of the women. He wears a second mask on re-entry, like the face of a small hunted animal. It is marvellous to see how these masks are animated by the dancer’s movement, so we sense without being told what this story is all about.  Another figure, a warrior with a very elaborate mask, comes in. The warrior attaches little heads to his mask, making him more animal-like and fierce, while the young man removes pieces of his mask to reveal the human beneath. In a clever bit of staging, we see him as a silouette on the screen depicting a forest, taking his rightful place in the universe.

In Montreal choreographer Lara Kramer’s dance for Angie Cheng and Karina Iraola, NGS, the women of the street, drugged, drunk or beaten down, are made faceless, their hair or their headwear obscuring their identities. This is a powerful reminder of the missing or murdered aboriginal women of Canada: unknown and unsought. The ubiquitous duct tape is a symbol of how they piece together a precarious existence.

Dressed like hookers in assorted found and damaged items, they stagger about, Iraola pushing a stroller and Cheng leaning over an old pram with a native symbol painted on it. At the back of the stage, a huge plastic tarp hangs in the rough shape of a teepee. Iraola makes her way  to music that goes from a loud, scratchy din to rock songs, such as “These Eyes,” to heavy metal music and drumming to something with the ironic lyric “…walk easy, walk slow.” In a head-hanging stupor, Iraola dresses in fake fur and huddles under her makeshift tent. Cheng, bare-breasted for part of her perambulations, rolls out a Canadian flag with a native image over the maple leaf. From one of her bags, she pulls out plastic miniatures of people and animals and places them in neat rows on the flag, as if this would make a home.

NGS takes a stereotype, magnifies it and flings it in our faces. The long silence at the end, as the two performers lay hunched over in the dark, is particularly affecting.


Top: Angie Cheng & Karina Iraola  Photo by Marc J Chalifoux

Below: Dancers Damelahamid  Photo by Derek Dix

Damelahamid 6 - Credit Derek Dix

The uplifting art of Alvin Ailey dance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Sony Centre, Toronto

March 4 and 5, 2016

The standing ovations began after the first number on Friday’s opening show of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  It was “Toccata,” an excerpt from Talley Beatty’s Come and Get the Beauty of It Hot, first performed in 1964 by Ailey’s then fledgling company.

The dance for 16 men and women affirmed at once the continuity of the Ailey tradition and the injection of new vigor and talent that came with the 2011 appointment of long-time Ailey choreographer Robert Battle as artistic director.

“Toccata” is an occasion to show off the classic lines and the high-energy amalgam of ballet, modern and jazz dance as the dancers, costumed in white sleeveless tops, swept the stage in rows or pairs or trios to the music of Dizzie Gillespie. That little insouciant kick that sets a pivot in motion or the wag of a hand in the midst of a long, fluid arm extension are elements of the sassiness that accompanies the Ailey form. These dancers, young and new as well veterans of the company, were like the melodic line to a drum solo in the midst of the piece.

Yannick Lebrun’s achingly expressive solo in Ailey’s Love Songs from 1972 similarly brought to the fore the highly versatile, athletic nature of the Ailey-trained dancer. Lebrun performed the songs, in descending order of sadness, from “A Song for You” to “He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother” to Nina Simone singing “Poppies,” as if they were written in his bones.

Without doubt the biggest impact of the evening came from Exodus, a 2015 hip-hop based piece for 16 dancers choreographed by Puremovement originator Rennie Harris. This extraordinary work set to sounds and music composed by Raphael Xavier, follows in a line of African American expression that began with Alvin Ailey’s 1960 dance Revelations (performed Saturday at 2 pm), which was set to spirituals and gospel music.

A giant of a Moses-like figure, Jeroboam Bozeman could be said to be the lead dancer, in a crowd of fleet-footed dancers that seemed to multiply before our eyes. Clearly aligned to the politics of Black Lives Matter, Exodus is a transformative celebration of spirit and solidarity. Dressed in street clothes and brightly coloured running shoes at the outset, the troupe somehow rearranged itself as a kind of chorus in white tunics and formed a united force near the end, when a gunshot rings out. But hope rather than defeat was the takeaway.

Even more than his distinguished predecessor Judith Jamison, Robert Battle has brought a range of dance creators under the Ailey umbrella. The closing dance, Open Door, was choreographed by Ronald K. Brown, artistic director of Evidence. This piece displays the breadth of abilities in the company and was performed by 10 dancers including veterans Linda Celeste Sims, Matthew Rushing and Glenn Allen Sims. The women wear long dresses, all the better to display their quick shifts from something African-based, leading with the elbows  and buttocks, to Graham-esque modern to partnering their men in salsa steps — in a seamless flow of the joy that is dance at its best.

Photo of Exodus by Paul Kolnik

Dancing the diaspora

Footsteps across Canada

Presented by Dance Immersion

Harbourfront Centre Theatre, Toronto

February 26 and 27, 2016


Geographically and stylistically, the six dances in the Dance Immersion concert embraced a wide African diaspora. Taken together they made a strong connection to Mother Africa and in several cases referred to a struggle for equality that goes on in the new world.

Montrealer Rhodnie Désir, accompanied live by percussionist Ronald Nazaire, performed BOW’T, a work that uses the imagery of a perilous journey across the ocean to express the longing for the homeland and the yearning for freedom. Désir’s strong West African-influenced choreography made her message clear.

A video projection of a seashore with rolling waves established a similar theme in Liliona Quarmyne’s Tide. The Nova Scotia performer danced to the music of Amadou and Mariam and manipulated a long white cloth to reveal a narrative of celebration and imprisonment, joy and concealment. A dancer whose face is covered is dehumanized and that seemed to be the point of what Quarmyne was saying about the historic African experience.

Two to see, four to reason is a quartet created by Rodney Diverlus, a Haitian-born dancer now based in Calgary.  Dressed down in big t-shirts and tight pants, Natasha Korney, Carina Olivera, Edgar Reyes and Diverlus had at each other, talking, shouting, pushing and gesticulating to music that included the blues of Bessie Smith and the big band sound of Benny Goodman. The dancers are all exuberant movers and the piece nicely bridged the divide between social and concert dance.

A solo by Toronto dancer Mafa Makhubalo, Songs of the Soil, was performed against a backdrop screening clips of South African students protesting high tuition and excerpts of an interview with South African martyr Steve Biko. There was something about a healing ceremony and Makhubalo’s submersion in the water contained in a galvanized steel tub certainly referred to cleansing. But his vigorous dancing could have meant anything, really.

Percy Anane-Dwumfour and Lauren Lyn, Daniel Gomez were dressed in white with appliqués of brightly coloured Ghanaian fabric. Anane-Dwumfour spoke a lot about the struggles of a man who finds after moving to Canada that he no longer feels at home in Africa or his new country. This piece, choreographed by Esie Mensah, could have been more effective without the speechifying.

Mikhail Morris, a Jamaican-born Toronto dancer, made a scary figure in long braids and a black mask over his face. With his features mostly obscured, he performed his solo Dichotomy, again underscoring the dilemma of the immigrant of African origin. What face are you proud to present to the world?

Photo: Liliona Quarmyne in Tide