dance: made in canada / fait au canada festival (august 14th-18th) presented five short works in a program titled ‘WYSIWYG’ on Saturday August 17th, 2019.
‘The Key to Time Travel’ by Allison Elizabeth Burns
‘Stream of Light / Capricho Arabe’ by Eva Kolarova
‘dance dance’ by Molly Johnson
‘Face to Face’ by Seeking Bridge
‘Oh, Yes’ by Kylie Thompson
alongside its curated programs, every biennial edition of the dance: made in canada / fait au canada festival features a program dubbed WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get,” but pronounced “wee-see-wig”), which is made up of five ten-minute pieces chosen entirely by lottery. as a whole, this year’s playful and inevitably surprising program was a delight to attend. since its component pieces were both developed and selected in isolation from each other, i’ve decided to try a micro-review of each in turn:
‘The Key to Time Travel’ by allison elizabeth burns (choreographer)
mixing dance, dramatic acting, and spoken narration, WYSIWYG’s opening piece introduced its audience to a world wherein temporal markers are not only left in the past as memory, but can also be thrown into the future. performed against gritty ambient music, “The Key To Time Travel” used repetitive motion and the jangle of gold keys to capture the longue durée of a lifetime: early on, for example, one dancer extended her knees and fingers metronomically left and right while another chanted, “every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year.” in other sequences, the performers play-acted fear, anguish, and vicious pursuit to dramatize the kind of “poisonous” memories we just can’t seem to stop dwelling on. despite the piece’s strengths, the fact that choreographer allison elizabeth burns’s 45-minute composition had to be cut to ten for the program was unfortunately evident in the shorter version’s paucity of thematic and character development.
‘Stream of Light / Capricho Arabe’ by eva kolarova (choreographer/performer)
beginning and ending with the simple gesture of a hand reaching into a stream of light, eva kolorova’s solo ballet offered an elegant, haunting, and beautiful exploration of musical and bodily form. performed first in silence, then to melodic classical guitar, kolorova’s choreography centred on impressive extensions, graceful arcs, and nimble pirouettes. as the performance continued, it incorporated more jarring, gestural motions--such as kolorova’s miming opening and stepping through a series of doors--but even the most surprising of these accents flowed smoothly into the extended sequence. in its entirety, “Stream of Light” gave the impression of a deeply personal interior journey, or of the shape and texture of a brilliant human mind.
‘dance dance’ by molly johnson (choreographer/performer)
less a dance performance than a danced manifesto, molly johnson’s “dance about dancing” developed out of a series of written essays and library talks—and it shows. after casually sliding out of her fuzzy pink slippers, johnson spent her entire ten minutes facing the audience and speaking into a microphone, all while showing off increasingly goofy, spur-of-the-moment dance moves to upbeat industrial rave music. while the work’s premise may sound disastrous, johnson’s genuine and completely unselfconscious absorption in her art (or is it simply a way of being?) kept me engrossed, while her musings about dance’s instinctual nature, libratory potential, and economic worthlessness were both inspiring and hilarious. without demanding full-on participation (although johnson admitted, in the midst of her performance, that she had considered asking the whole theatre to get up and dance with her), “dance dance” achieved a truly rare depth of engagement with its audience.
‘Face to Face’ by Seeking Bridge (choreographers/performers)
reflecting in their post-show talkback that dance may not be the only or even the best medium for their message, four-person choreography collaboration Seeking Bridge set themselves the difficult challenge of using movement to explore chinese-canadian identity. the result was a methodical sequence of scenes ranging from the abstract to the mimetic, including a symbolic duration of vigorous yet meditative arm whirling, pre-recorded audio clips discussing what it’s like to be asian in canada, and a chat about representation in children’s cinema in the midst of a demonstration of the Wing Chun martial art. in their most interesting segment, choreographer-performers sze-yang ade-lam and jen hum systematically touched significant parts of their faces and performed a series of grimacing expressions. while the piece (admittedly an early excerpt from a larger project) felt somewhat disjointed, the sense of waiting it engendered may be one of the best approximations of the singular experience of otherness it sought to capture.
‘Oh, Yes’ by kylie thompson (choreographer)
this year’s WYSIWYG program closed with one of its strangest, but also most powerful performances, danced by five women in nude outfits and baggy, colourful blouses that quickly became important props. though billed as “a new perspective on hip hop music,” “Oh, Yes” retained only hints of hip hop dance; instead, kylie thompson’s choreography gave shape to a range of moods and expressions so beyond words that they felt almost alien. following the playful-yet-constrained gestures of the opening solos—which included beats like a classic ‘smoking a cigarette’ pose and a block of boxy, robotic motions by a dancer with her shirt pulled over her head—the movement quickly loosened into broad, swaggering steps performed in semi-sync. the piece’s latter half seemed to alternate between play-fighting, actual fighting, and sweaty commingling, but it ultimately eschewed narrative logic to highlight the raw and wild possibilities of embodied emotion. overall, “Oh, Yes” was frantically original and infinitely captivating.
John Nyman is a poet, critic and scholar from Toronto. In addition to reviewing for Opera Canada and The Dance Current as part of the 2018/19 Emerging Arts Critics program, he has reviewed literature for publications including Broken Pencil and The Puritan as well as visual art for Border Crossings and Peripheral Review.