FALL FOR DANCE NORTH festival presented ‘Program 1’ featuring performances by: The Toronto Dance Theatre, The New Zealand Dance Company, Skanes Dansteater, and Grupo Corpo——on October 2nd, 2019 at Meridian Hall.
diversity is something we might take for granted in the city of Toronto, but not so much in the world of dance.
much of what we are exposed to on world-class stages, including the Four Seasons and Meridian centres in toronto, tends to be eurocentric in origin, with movement heavily influenced by classical ballet, modern traditions and featuring well-trained, able-bodied dancers. dance performances are also often grouped by genre: ballet goes with ballet, contemporary with contemporary, etc. it’s for this reason that the Program I performed during Fall for Dance North’s 2019 festival is both a necessary and enjoyable treat. bringing together dance companies from four countries and incorporating pieces focused on both dis/ability and martial arts, Program I pushes past traditional boundaries and extends the limits of what we typically conceive of as dance. in doing so, it delivers a diverse, thoughtfully curated program fit for an equally diverse audience.
staged at the Meridian Centre on the evening of wednesday october 2, Program I opened with a short contemporary performance by the interdisciplinary local collective, Toronto Dance Theatre. choreographed by Toronto-based hanna kiel, GH 5.0 is a re-imagining of TDT artistic director christopher house’s 1983 work Glass Houses. white light floods the stage as dancers dressed in pastel colours weave in and out of group formations: extended arms and clasped hands form human chains that fold into tight circles and then break apart. set against a backdrop of electro-acoustic percussion with a relentless driving pulse, solos and duets see deep knee bends and fluid extensions, as the remaining dancers form a straight-line formation extending along the back of the stage and continually morph into ever-evolving tableaux. this is perhaps the most conventional, contemporary piece of the evening but it brims with energy and alludes to kiel’s interest in group dynamics with its formations that continually evolve, breakdown and reform.
next is The New Zealand Dance Company making their north american debut with Sigan, a piece commissioned for korean choreographer and composer jae duk kim. with an eerily blank, black set illuminated by a golden moon, a gong hit at regular intervals provides the only sound. dancers take the stage in costumes reminiscent of doboks, black uniforms of slacks and high neck sleeveless shirts, worn traditionally in korean martial arts. the piece begins by evoking the controlled and methodical movements of taekkyeon, with rigidly straight backs, sharp arm extensions, high round-house kicks that see slapped hands and light sparring with dancers blocking and attacking one another. however, as the piece continues there is an evolution: the horn is replaced by a low humming and then the throbbing beat of a jang-gu (drum), bright white spotlights pierce the stage, the movement becomes less controlled as backs are hunched, limbs are flayed and dancers spin in a circle with outstretched arms. kim’s choreography toys with the limits of dance, extending it to martial arts while interrogating how rigid forms morph into flows of movement and reflecting on the interplay between control and chaos.
Skanes Dansteater, a swedish independent repertory dance company, continues to breakdown traditional conceptions of dance with the duet Dare to Wreck between madeleine mansson, who performs with her wheelchair, and peder nilsson. the piece is filled with the tensions and push-pulls of many contemporary pieces: sweeping extensions and high kicks meet heavy pauses and pregnant glances. but the piece is elevated by the creative manner by which mansson and nilsson, who choreographed the piece together, incorporate mansson’s wheelchair: nilsson lifts mansson while strapped into her wheelchair, the wheels spinning in the air; mansson lies down on her back with the wheelchair planted on the ground and nilsson steps up to balance, standing on the wheels above her; mansson speeds towards him and then pushes herself away spinning off in a different direction. it is creative, fresh and unique, and it also firmly proves that dance both allows, and is made better, by the presence of dis/abled bodies who reformulate the boundaries of the discipline.
the final piece of the night, Danca Sinfonica, was performed by the high-energy brazilian contemporary collective Grupo Crudo. set to the backdrop of a score that sounds part olympic opening ceremonies and part video game music, female dancers are dressed in bright red, short-sleeved body suits and men in black pants and muscle shirts. weaving in elements of ballet, samba, jazz, tap, modern, afro-brazilian and swing, choreographer rodrigo pederneiras created this piece with the intention of incorporating elements from previous works to celebrate the company’s fortieth anniversary. at times, it felt too much like a ‘best-of’ highlights that aren’t fully integrated. but that being said, it continually features unique movements: men slowly walk across the stage in formation carrying women rigidly standing upright in their arms reminiscent of dummies; solos and duets see rapid pirouettes and kicks with turned-in feet in the laissez-faire style of tap and jazz; couples alternately spoon on the floor and gyrate against each other with legs wide-spread and knees bent. while montage-like, it is also self-reflexive, and the triumphant score and unconventional movement can’t help but mock traditional dance and its classical music scores in an ironic and comedic way.
together, the four pieces break away from the mold of traditional dance, interrogating what underexplored types of movement, sound, lighting and costume can contribute to the art form. Program I’s strength is its diversity, a fitting opening to Fall for Dance North which aims to offer some of the best dance around the world. it’s no small feat, but with its intelligent curation and showcasing of international talent, it might just be achieving its mission.
Erin Baldwin is a freelance writer based in Toronto. A former dancer and Violist, Baldwin completed her Masters in English at the University of Toronto. She currently runs Truths + Edits, a literary blog dedicated to talking about all things books.