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

ProArteDanza

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

 

 

 

 

Do we take sides or take a stand?

“Dense” is a word you might use to describe the writing in Other Side of the Game, a play by Amanda Parris, now running at Daniels Spectrum. You can imagine director Nigel Shawn Williams mounting this production by parsing sections of the dialogue between alternating pairs and trios of characters played by five actors in a show that delves into black activism in Toronto.

Parris’s premise is that the personal and the political are inseparable and that action in the public realm inevitably impacts one’s private struggles and vice versa.

Lights come up on Virgilia Griffith, Shakura Dickson, Ryan Rosery, Peter Bailey and Ordena Stephens-Thompson seated silently in straight-backed chairs. Their choreographed shouts of anger and frustration, sighs, yawns, squirming and rising turns out to be set in a prison waiting room, where women waiting to visit prisoners are confounded by jail protocols. One screams that she hasn’t heard her number announced. The overhead voice of a prison guard says, “That’s your problem; you should have listened.”

The damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t jail routines make a solid metaphor for what the characters in Other Side of the Game are caught in: on both the domestic and the political front, a no-win situation.

Akilah (Virgilia Griffith) is a tireless sistah, a single mum and organizer who’s willing to give her all for the cause, with love.  and has a penchant for citing pithy, inspirational quotes from Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. In the office of an organization mounting a protest against police brutality, her opposite number is an earnest, absolutist radical, Khalil (Ryan Rosery), more likely to quote Malcolm X. Enter Beverley (Shakura Dickson), a student from the black community in Halifax whose innocent desire to join the movement is opposed by Brother Khalil. Akilah wants to give Beverley a chance.

With a quick scene change we see that Dickson is now playing Shevon, a slang-speaking dish who is chatting with her friend Nicole, played by Griffith ̶ with no visible or audible change in appearance.  Nicole is also a single mother and works shifts as a cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart. She has a penchant for citing pithy, inspirational quotes from Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho. Soon Rosery shows up again, as Nicole’s boyfriend Devonte, a man with a criminal past who has been away for two years.

The time frame here is about a week, during which Akilah, Khalil and Beverley work on the big demonstration while Nicole and Shevon engage in abusive relationships with their boyfriends.

Peter Bailey is marvellous as an old Caribbean guy who bears memories and methods from the civil rights movement in the U.S. He disputes the attitude of the younger generation, especially when it comes to violence and crime. Later Bailey shines as Shevon’s gangsta boyfriend.

Ordena Stephens-Thompson does double duty as an authoritarian female cop and the guidance counsellor who advises Devonte against trying to complete a diploma that would get him into university.

(“This transition program is for people who’ve demonstrated potential . . .”)

Parris’ makes a compelling drama with Other Side of the Game while covering real issues in Toronto’s African-Canadian community. From drug trafficking and prison horrors to carding and child poverty, she creates a real story to carry important messages.

Joanna Yu’s simple set of graffiti-ed walls and a garbage-littered chain-link fence make staging–moving around some concrete armchairs–simple. And sound designer Verne Good bridges rapidly changing scenes with well chosen musical transitions.

Even at the fast pace of the play, it feels long and is confusing. The lengthy opener with the miming and the chairs doesn’t lend anything to the piece. Add to the longueurs an opening-night fire alarm at the Daniels Spectrum complex that caused us all to evacuate the theatre for more than 20 minutes.

Such accomplished actors as this cast could surely have been directed to inflect their different characters so we always know who’s who. As it is, only Shevon and Beverley are easily differentiated.

Still, this is an energetic and inspiring performance from Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre.

Other Side of the Game

Written by Amanda Parris

Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams

Produced by Cahoots Theatre and Obsidian Theatre,

At the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, Toronto until November 5

Photo of Virgilia Griffith and Shakura Dickson by Dahlia Katz

 

 

 

 

 

Gallery

Indigenous achievement on screen

 

“How many have to die before you say, Enough? ENOUGH!” So says one of the Maori women in Waru, a film made in New Zealand by eight Maori female directors, each of whom contributed a 10-minute segment to a feature telling how a community comes together over the killing of a boy by his caregiver.

Tomorrow, Waru will open the 18th imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, running from October 18 to 22 in different downtown Toronto locations. imagineNATIVE, now the largest festival of indigenous screen content in the world, is this year presenting 130 works, including 116 films and videos, five audio pieces and nine digital media works. Almost three-quarters of the works (72%) were made by women.

Powerful imagery about powerful women, Waru is composed of eight shorts, each made in one continuous shot that, strung together, tell the story from many points of view of a boy named Waru, revealing the pain of child abuse and looking to ways of healing.

The festival closer, screening Sunday at TIFF Bell Lightbox, is The Road Forward, a Canadian-made musical documentary created by Marie Clements, a Métis/Dene playwright and filmmaker from Vancouver. The National Film Board production is based on a stage show employing first nations singing and dancing to tell the story of protest and activism by indigenous peoples in Canada from the 1930s to the present.

Sweet Country, another searing feature from Down Under, is a western directed by Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton. Set in 1929 in the Northern Territory, the movie is based on an actual event: the murder of a white rancher by an Aboriginal bushman acting in self-defence.

This year’s festival is an occasion to mark the 50th film made by Alanis Obamsawin, Our People Will be Healed. The Quebec filmmaker, whose works go back to 1971, when she made her first film with the NFB, Christmas in Moose Factory, has this time turned her lens on the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, a Cree school near Norway House, 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg. As the 85-year-old Obamsawin told reporters in September at the time of the Toronto International Film Festival, “if you want to start talking about (native) problems, start talking about them in a positive way.”

Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, is a documentary from CBC Docs POV. “I was stupid, I was bored, I was lonely – that’s the truth,” Chartier tells the camera of her catfishing exploits. She relates how simple it was to impersonate celebrities and their fans online from her home in a remote reserve in Manitoba, Easterville. When an NBA superstar falls for Chartier’s online pose as a model who sends him nude photos of herself, the player is entrapped with the revelation the pictures were of a 17-year-old. Chartier’s extortion efforts took RCMP on a trail that led to the Playboy Mansion and other celebrity locales, before Chartier was indicted and sent to prison for 18 months.

Among the 102 short films screening at the festival are many directed by emerging indigenous filmmakers. Razelle Benally (Diné) is an alumna of the Sundance Film Institute Native Filmmakers Lab. Her 10-minute drama, Raven, screens in the shorts program Mother + Child. Beautifully shot, Raven is the wordless, heart-breaking story of a teenage suicide that derails at the last minute.

Terry Jones, a Seneca artist from the United States, has made untitled & unlabeled, a three-minute experimental documentary that uses a video-game format to tell the story of how as a small boy he learned just how “different” he was.

Inuit filmmakers Carol Kunnuk and Zacharias Kunuk are represented at the festival with the world premiere screening of “Bowhead Whale Hunting with My Ancestors,” the first episode of a seven-part television series, Hunting With My Ancestors.

The festival’s new headquarters at 401 Richmond Street West will be the site for much of the industry component of the festival, including the imagineNATIVE live pitch sessions, workshops and panel discussions on such topics as, “Breaking the Mould: Developing Indigenous Narrative Models.”

Friday night, starting at 5 pm at the Onsite Gallery, is the festival’s Art Crawl, a bus tour taking in shows and talks on contemporary indigenous art at seven gallery spaces.

Partnering with Hamburg’s A Wall is a Screen, the festival presents an urban walk at 7:30 on Friday from the Art Gallery of Ontario featuring shorts projected on various wall spaces.

Last but not least, imagineNATIVE presents The Beat, hosted by Jarrett Martineau at the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night, showcasing live performances by Mob Bounce, Kayla Briët, Ziibiwan and DJ Kookum and screenings of music videos.

 

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Oct. 18 to 22 at various venues in Toronto

Go to imaginenative.org for details and schedules

Photos, clockwise from top left: Sweet Country, Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, Raven, Waru

Pulling out all the stops for a comedy musical

The Adventures of Tom Shadow has nothing much to do with the adventures of a Peter Pan-like kidnapper who spirits two children away from their suburban beds. That’s just a little joke underpinning the wildly funny Theatre Lab comedy musical put together by an ensemble of Second City alumnae, all of them singers, movers and sketch-comedy artists.

John Chastain (Mark Little) is a Tolstoy scholar who met his wife Bev (Natalia Metcalfe) at university where she was studying to become a policewoman.

Their children, Martin (Christian Smith) and Angeline (Lisa Gilroy) have just been tucked in following the nightly reading from Anna Karenina (a discussion of the train suicide ensues) when a magical guy in a red silk top hat (Kevin Vidal) comes in to lure the kids off to his Cloud Kingdom.

Director Peter Stevens (The Irrelevant Show, Bad Dog Theatre, Elephant Empire) has shaped a show that is as tight as a drum, combining crazy mime, highly co-ordinated song and dance and a cascade of gags accompanied live on piano by musical director Jordan Armstrong. Tuneful social satire is incorporated into hilarious sketches in which Bev becomes an over-zealous cop on a quest to find her own children and gossipy neighbours join the search as a way to up their daily Fitbit steps.

Time and context are fluid in this fast-paced 90-minute show. The leap from talk of Anna Karenina to school bullies, for instance, is accomplished through the laughably cloying kissing song (“don’t let the Russian Orthodox Church get you down”). Back story scenes include wimpy John as a boy trying to get in with the Runaway Boys, by bouncing chin first down an impossibly steep skateboard chute (or so it seems).

Little and Metcalfe do a charmed duet as a couple divorcing, singing about “spiralling down” as husband John struggles to get a gold band off his ring finger, finally resorting, without dropping a note, to Vaseline.

Lisa Gilroy gets the horror show moment as Diane, a Hannibal Lector wheeled on stage in a prison straitjacket with a muzzle over her mouth. This is the climax of a scene where determined cop Bev goes to a woman’s maximum-security prison, “to get inside the mind of a monster.” Turns out the inmates share a common modus operandi: it’s a poop joke that actually works.

Fantasy and silliness and some very sly digs at contemporary society make for an action-packed entertainment that leaves you sidesplit but wanting more.

The Adventures of Tom Shadow

Written and performed by Lisa Gilroy, Mark Little, Natalie Metcalfe, Christian Smith and Kevin Vidal

Directed by Peter Stevens

Music by Jordan Armstrong

Lighting by Meg Maguire

Presented by Theatre Lab at Factory Theatre, Toronto

Oct. 11 to 14 and 17 to 21

 

 

It’s a mad, mad, media world

Right off the top, Flashing Lights looks and sounds like parody and gets lots of laughs but this show becomes a disturbing dystopia by taking our image-ridden, screen-obsessed culture to its logical conclusion.

A domestic scene of Peter (Dan Watson), wife Shannon (Miranda Calderon) and teenage daughter Ter (Liz Peterson) at breakfast is familiar. Everyone’s glued to a screen – a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet — as multiple streams of music and talk play over the conversations. Ter, wearing a monster mask, turns her cell on Dad, eating Kellogg’s Corn Pops from a bowl and singing along to “Take it Easy,” a song recalled from a long-ago road trip when Ter was a toddler.

Somehow the cellphone video of Peter munching and singing gets posted on Instagram and goes viral as “Cereal Guy.” Peter, an unemployed writer, goes to pitch a story to an editor looking for content – free content. He advises Peter to turn his story idea into a list. By the time his meeting is over, Peter has become a meme. Hashtag Cereal Guy is on everyone’s radar. “You’ve had 20 million views,” someone tells him.

What follows is a fast-moving illustration of the electronic age predicted by Marshal McLuhan, who appears on the scrim in a video interview where he’s predicting a time when everyone’s under surveillance and everything moves at the speed of light. “Things happen very quickly, there is no time to get accustomed to anything.”

Live video, handheld cellphones capturing every move, an iPad face that switches from a happy image to a sad one, a heavy techno soundscape and ever-changing imagery on the scrim in front of the stage make for a largely entertaining, but inevitably distracting 90-minute show.

Talk of how “you’re just an image, a discarnate image,” segues to the making of Dad as a celebrity, then a pitchman, then a contender for leader of the Liberal party, then a bit of a porn star and finally a “dead meme.”

Shannon disappears – on a venture to leave biology and become some sort of electronic essence. Meanwhile, Ter goes back to nature, taking on the body of a deer.

Gags, along the lines of “you’ve had some work done, some upgrades,” keep up the pace and the staging is more than clever. These performers are all adeptly physical, which they have to be to keep up with the velocity of the ever-changing imagery.

Needless to say, it becomes hard to focus on any single aspect of this theatre piece, such as the plot, but one comes away from it pleasantly buzzed.

 

Flashing Lights: A High-Tech Fable About Our Digital Lives

Created by the company with text by Guillermo Verdecchia

Co-produced by Ahuri Theatre & Bad New Days Performance

Directed by Adam Paolozza

Performed by Liz Peterson, Miranda Calderon, Dan Watson, Adam Paolozza and Guillermo Verdecchia

Until October 22 at the Theatre Centre, Toronto

 

 

 

 

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.

Adizokan

Red Sky Performance and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra

October 7 at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto

Mesmerizing moves

From its opening scene in a living room under constant rearrangement, Factory took me back to big ensemble arrangements of a kind you might see at the National Ballet. Michael Caldwell is a choreographer with classical tendencies.

Give him five outstanding dancers and you get a perfect mix of ensembles, solos, duets, trios all in a seamless flowing movement, and exchange of energies.

Factory posits “the riotous disruption of a hyper-connected society.” To this viewer it looked like a place where people were constantly coming and going, colliding, combining, working together or apart and finally arriving home.

In the room that is being arranged even as we wait for the dance to begin are: a standing fan, a red square carpet, a small table, an old-fashioned radio console, a desk chair. Lori Duncan, Louis Laberge-Côté, Benjamin Landsberg, Kaitlin Standeven and Heidi Strauss are all dressed in clothes you’d expect to see in the workplace or on the street. Laberge-Côté wears a raincoat over dress shirt. Landsberg is dressed like a biker and wears dark glasses. The women all wear outfits office workers might don.

Phil Stong’s outstanding soundscape brings sounds like the ocean, traffic, a factory assembly line, the hum of electricity, the rolling sound at a skateboard park or tranquil music.

The carpet rollout announces the action. Caldwell’s production designer Joe Pagnan has made brilliant use of this prop, which is finally crumpled up against the wall like a sculpture. The shoes they all removed are contained there.

These dancers co-ordinate in a way that bespeaks rigorous rehearsal. An opening solo by Standeven is supported and watched by the other four participants, just as it might be in a ballet. At times, they all move as one unit, striding across the space like creatures on a ship rolling at sea. Sometimes they fall as if victims of a shipwreck.

At moments, a figure will appear like an observer, a chronicler of urban life, then the configuration dissolves and another episode begins. This quintet operates together like the parts of a perpetual motion machine.

There’s peace and struggle, a fight scene and lots of contract-release coupling. A principle at play here is that a soloist will start slowly, then pirouette, then spin out of control. Then it’s someone else’s turn.

Factory has a pleasing symmetry that makes one hope it will return to the stage before too long.

Factory

By Michael Caldwell

Sound by Phil Strong

Light by Noah Feaver

Production design by Joe Pagnan

Presented by Citadel + Compagnie

At The Citadel, Toronto, until Sept. 23

Zhenya Cerneacov photo