dance: made in canada / fait au canada festival (august 14th-18th) presented three works in a program titled ‘Cruz Series’ on Friday August 16th, 2019. Curation by Lina Cruz
‘Janus is a God’ by DA Hoskins/The Dietrich Group (World Premiere)
‘Phase Wash’ (excerpt from full length work) by Jolene Bailie/Gearshifting Performance Works
‘Logarian Rhapsody’ by Alexandra Elliott
as the only canadian dance festival built around mixed programs that are crafted by venerated giants of the dance world, dance: made in canada / fait au canada festival (d:mic/fac) is curated by cognoscenti alone. friday’s series featured the choices of montreal-based choreographer lina cruz, two-time recipient of the Dora Mavor Moore award for outstanding original choreography and founder of Fila 13 productions. frequently involved with theatre and opera, it wasn’t surprising that cruz’s three selections all involved language: from frustrated, wordless attempts to speak, to monologues intersecting with movement, even dancers coming as close to speaking in tongues as i’ve ever seen, she described all her choices as having their own compelling eeriness or strangeness that had to be staged together in toronto.
thanks to the quick thinking of an experienced stage manager, the order of works presented was reversed at the last minute and in retrospect it’s hard to understand why it would ever have been billed otherwise. we opened on the Dietrich Group’s world premiere of Janus is a God with easily the most complex set and tech requirements: a stage strewn with relics of d.a. hoskins’ twenty-year artistic relationship with dancer danielle baskerville. it’s a futuristic activity centre populated by an ominous yellow balloon, mysterious cases, an uncomfortable burlap figure coiled around a stand, a microphone and even a real fire alarm that baskerville ruthlessly silences by pulling out its wiring at the top of the show.
with the fire alarm still ringing in the air, she moves into an opening section of robotic movements, graceful but bound by set, mathematical parameters as if she were a gynoid wound up by her inventor. baskerville has said that hoskins “choreographs like someone sculpting energy”, and so it made sense that her body consistently seemed to be channelling passing energies that had their own character, shape, and intention. the power of these energetic sculptures was never more clear than when baskerville pulled her shirt over her head like a hood, baring her torso, and yet the most riveting element on the stage is her frantic finger tapping on the stage floor behind her: this motion alone communicated the anticipant, unsure tension of the striking tableau.
after segueing into a monologue selection repeating the phrase “your body”, baskerville echoes her first automated segment that is now more free, expressive, unbound to the extent that my own breathing unlocked and tears flowed without much control...right as she got back on the mic and asked, “how do you feel?” i felt an answer rising in me that i had to swallow, spellbound by how her physical release had seamlessly unearthed buried emotion. with lines of text evoking lush, verdant forests, baskerville finds herself in a column of light around a bright green square. here, she skillfully affects the drooping languor of a semi-conscious postulant twitching and undulating in the beam, as if her nervous system is surprised by an electrical impulse originating from outside her body. evoking a sapling herself, baskerville found a shivering quality of movement that approximated how the human form would react to a photosynthetic process of converting light into life.
a recipient of the canadian stage award for direction, d.a. hoskins describes himself first as a visual artist that combines theatrical mediums through dance, and a critic of conformity in contemporary choreography. but even without the use of props, tech, and text, this anthology of his longest creative partnership involves explorations of movement that effectively caught me emotionally off guard. the rare physical rapport between himself and baskerville was evident in each segment; it occurred to me that few artists are as qualified as she to host or express the energies of another, channelling a moving sculpture without being reduced to the sum of twisted, fingerprinted clay.
the ponderous explorations of Janus is a God precipitated cruz’s next selection much more smoothly than i think the explosive final work would have done, had their order not been wisely reversed. choreographed by artistic director jolene bailie and presented by her winnipeg company Gearshifting Performance Works, this excerpt of Phase Wash was described as a “homage to the endless layers of connectivity between people and locations”. bailie notes that geography is a significant influence in her work, maintaining a practice of “noticing subtle changes in a somewhat monotonous landscape, having the ability to see for miles and seeing the horizon regularly.”
the horizon plays a central role in this excerpt; it’s the only point upon which the eyes of her four dancers ever focus as their purposeful movement and utilitarian exercises seem to bring them no closer to a distant goal. bailie said in the post-show talkback that she started with two dancers and brought in two more interested by the duet being created. this is clear as we begin with two pairs who don’t deeply connect with each other or their partner——though not to the detriment of the work. their attention is always conspicuously outwards and onwards as the pair of women jog synchronously around the stage, and the man and woman navigate tension and balance in their foundational pas de deux.
as petals fell around them, bailie’s quartet of dancers mouth words they are unable to vocalize, creating unsettling tableaus of people unable to talk to each other while united in a common mysterious purpose they never come any closer to achieving. their bodies come in contact only to try to produce something through collaboration or friction, but all intentional motion is directed to a point on the horizon they gaze desperately towards. as they ran in place, several dancers yawned, lagged, and mimed being sick, evoking the nomadic Masai warriors always in pursuit of their own horizon. this created a sense of urgency and the difficulty of survival, suffused with a deeper desire to connect with a larger purpose always ahead of oneself.
it was illuminating to learn that not only does bailie choreograph her dancers in silence “to stay true to the gut of an idea,” but that the music eventually paired to her work had been recorded in a cement cistern 14 feet underground on a military base, where the sound reverberates in a circular pattern and is textured by every occupant of the resonant space. composed by pauline oliveros, bailie’s choice of music is certainly inundating enough to understand why she prefers to create the movement before it can be swept away by the flood of sound. the melody flowed around each dancer as a day in their hunter-gatherer lives progressed, leaving them exhausted and i longing for even one moment of interpersonal connection. but as the lights went down on them still in pursuit of their horizon, it occurred to me that perhaps that was the point: as humans, our search for meaning is frustrated enough by the demands of survival, and can leave us without energy to invest in our relationships. bailie’s excerpt from Phase Wash left me mulling over how much we can miss on the mortal plane with our eyes and efforts flowing into a promising polestar in the distance.
finally, we arrived at the piece that ought to have been seen for the natural closer it is, since i can’t imagine a single dancer able to breathe on stage after this work effectively consumed all the remaining oxygen in Betty Oliphant Theatre. commissioned in 2015 by award-winning artistic director of 10 Gates Dancing, tedd robinson, Logarian Rhapsody is presented by Alexandra Elliott Dance, another winnipeg company. elliott herself inched out onto the stage hand-in-hand with long-time collaborator ian mozdzen, both vibrating with a leery, grinning intensity that one rarely sees at the top of a show. whispering frantically to each other and trembling with bottomless energy, the audience couldn’t help but giggle nervously as we were stared down by the pair and their ominous green apple, which forms the hub around which their rapture will twist and exalt.
while an apple allegorically divides innocence from experience, here it blends the two: with all the unguarded, over-teeming enthusiasm of a child describing a wonderful dream, or a prophet in perfect thrall of their god, elliot and mozdzen approached us whispering snatches of cryptic stories like fragments sifted from a lost civilization. when i tracked them down after the show they described their rehearsal process with robinson, wherein he prompted them to connect to their most joyful memories and share them with the audience. though i found myself trying to scribble down these neon shards of text, it would be profane to transcribe them here knowing what a shining personal well of feeling they emerged from. however, the show is billed as an experience that’s ‘never the same twice’, so who knows what you might hear when it’s next staged.
“logaria” is the part-medical, part-transcendental condition of being unable to control the words coming out of your mouth. mozdzen elaborated in the talkback that the intent was to always look and sound “on the verge of complete confusion.” both he and elliott danced on the edge of ecstasy, sustaining an intensity that should have collapsed in on itself but somehow never did. it was quite literally breathtaking to hear their fast, shallow breathing as they worshipped the apple while miraculously never losing balance (or consciousness). like zealous postulants summoning chthonic forces, navigating the murky space between chaos and oblivion, the duo was too sincere to ever veer towards the realm of clown in spite of their smudged make-up and exaggerated expressivity.
it was this sincerity that evoked a familiar image that some in the audience might have identified: that one couple at every music festival on way too much MDMA who aren’t really occupying the same plane of reality as the rest of us. managing to be both pitiable and enviable in their intoxicated trance, elliott and mozdzen danced characters desperate to share their joy with the audience——but the two of them form a closed circuit of pulsing serotonin too intricately interwoven to include anyone else. the dancers shared with me that they were able to build this work upon a long-term physical foundation, having created works together in the past and therefore able to inhabit a “secret world” unto themselves on stage. even while trying to welcome audience members into it, we cannot but be outside the spectacle of their sublime chemical reality.
the ‘trip’ gets dark as composer charles quevillon’s score transforms into a menacing industrial beat. for a moment i feared violence, as if their shared adoration of the apple might devolve into jealousy and possessiveness. their adoration is painful, sublime and overwhelming but the intensity seems agonising in its own inescapable way...as if they are too close to god, too close to the sun, roasting alive from the inside-out with all this rapture. when mozdzen finally bites the apple i thought he’d been poisoned. his physicality affects a seizure, while elliott reaches to take her bite. both recover, but begin to repeat previous choreographic patterns like ghosts trapped in an endless memory, their precision decaying as the intensity builds to a fearful, feverish frequency.
dazzled by the overflowing ecstatic rite we’d witnessed, i was left with many questions about the rehearsal process. the most illuminating tidbit these highly skilled artists shared with me was that tedd robinson had given them a mantra to ground into when the movement became overwhelming: “alex must always trust ian; ian must always care for alex.” the spectacle of Logarian Rhapsody isn’t the usual image that comes to mind when we think of trust and vulnerability, but i’m not sure i’ve ever seen a stronger basis for such risky exposure. surrendering utterly to breath and physicality would leave a dancer destabilized, light-headed, but the physical and artistic trust active between the pair seemed to allow each to venture further into a sublime wilderness than they might have been able to individually.
union, communion, and communication were frustrated and fulfilled by varying degrees in each of the pieces lina cruz chose for her series, with speech and the desire to speak lining much of the staged movement. in a fitting end to an evening celebrating the tenuous space between what is said and what is interpreted, the talkback closed with the question of whether ian mozdzen usually eats the apple after their performance. alexandra elliot answered off-hand, “if i wash it, he’ll eat it.” the potential ribaldry hung in the air a moment, pre-catalyzed, until curator cruz broke out into laughter and moderator natasha finlay replied, “no comment.” against the wordless tripping of contemporary dance conventions, cruz’s series wasn’t afraid to comment with absolute impunity.
Emily Trace (www.emilytrace.com)is a toronto-based writer of plays, articles, spoken word, fiction, personal essays and reviews for the arts. Educated at the University of Toronto and a graduate of the Emerging Arts Critics Programme, she is also an aspiring director and dramaturg.