Human Body Expression presented Resonance by Hanna Kiel, on Thursday September 26, 2019 at the Sts Cyril & Methody Macedonian-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church
if you walk by a bar swelling with music your feet often fall into time with the beat without thinking about it. when this happened to me the night before i saw Human Body Expression’s Resonance choreographed by artistic director hanna kiel, i tried consciously to fall out-of-step in some prideful need to remain unaffected by my surroundings…but nearly tripped trying to side-step that natural embodied rhythm. Resonance made this point even more clearly than a scraped knee would have, using the irresistible beat of live musicians to chart the stages of a popular revolution as it unfurls, infects, and blends each individual with the blurred flow of the masses.
inspired by her native south korea’s most unprecedented political movement---the impeachment of former president park geun-hye in 2016---kiel choreography pondered what makes millions of people unite and act as one. she won the 2017 audience choice award at dance: made in canada / fait du canada festival when Resonance was only a work-in-progress called Tangled. both titles begin to make sense in their own way as a cast of twelve young dancers, all styled as unique individuals, file into the sts cyril & methody macedonian-bulgarian eastern orthodox church underscored by four live musicians on an elevated proscenium behind them. acclaimed composer greg harrison’s blistering rock concert score thrums through the floor that we share with the dancers, allowing us to feel through our feet the contagion that resonates into their bodies and consciousness.
as electric guitarist roger cournoyer leaves the stage to play in the centre of the dance space, pairs of dancers cross the wide church floor, connect, bend around each other and break apart like neutrons slowly building up a charge. these small, complex interactions accrue an energy that has to go somewhere, much as political scandals roll through a population with amassing momentum. this movement infects the stillness of other dancers, drawing them into a communal experience. from separate outposts along the edges they form couples and trios that are pulled inexorably towards a central mass, intricately undulating like molecules undergoing expedited evolution and transforming the whole they comprise.
in retrospect, it seemed highly appropriate and intentional that we were in a church, a site meant for the blending of individuals into a sacred unity often through music. this one is so frequently rented out to cultural events that i had danced there myself two halloweens ago under concert lighting not dissimilar to noah feaver’s dynamic design for the production. in this space, my memories of being submerged in a slipstream of resonant sound layered over the present spectacle of these twelve dancers lifting and passing bodies amongst each other like a rudimentary machine inventing itself through experimentation, error, and discord.
after these moshing molecules reach fever pitch along with the pounding music, they scatter, looking at each other with shock and fear at what they created together. a lone dancer, jt papandreos, takes centre stage to strike his own heart repeatedly in sync with a clashing cymbal. his frenetic movement evoked a frantically beating heart, one whose chambers are overwhelmed with adrenal impetus. other dancers watch him from the sides, pulled into duos of violent conflict with the infection renewing itself in a stand-out feat of elegantly aggressive grappling between dancers connor mitton and lonii garnons-williams. some resist while others succumb to the viral harmony, but all are frustrated by their fated unity as they struggle to maintain individuality through solos. each ultimately surrenders to the relief of being pulled, however reluctantly, into a teeming mass at the centre where limbs and expressions converge into a spiritual oneness.
dancer zsakira del col breaks the boundary between herself and the musicians by ascending to the stage, launching into a despairing yet passionate spoken word poem that describes “a pulse craving to be free”, how “the mass is the biggest release, a sigh of relief,” capturing the languid solace expressed by each of her fellow dancers when they dissolve into the collecting mass of bodies. as gifted a speaker as she is a mover, del col fills hopelessness with fire as she declares that her body has been infected through the ear and skin by music’s vibrations as surely as we are all infected by the virus of progress. as she cries that, “each disconnected fragment lends a hand to the greatest transformation”, she soon melts back into the single organism forming again from twelve sweating fragments, blended by bass.
this second release gives way to a moment of darkness in which one person applauded thinking the show must be over, but kiel shows that multiple climaxes are necessary to the great transformation she’s illustrating. in the wake of this cataclysm, shell-shocked dancers affect mournful explorations of what is left behind after catharsis. the musicians proceed slowly to leave the stage and set up on the dance floor’s furthest corner to play acoustically while dancers appear with violin bows and spinning black tubes that emit a ghostly, funereal moan. they seem to be grieving what has already been lost in this transformation, resting before the evolving revolution they’re swept up in can compel them back into an orgiastic furor. like a son asked to speak at the side of a grave, heartbreaking young dancer peter kelly arises with red eyes and words that will not rise past his larynx no matter how he twists and contorts his body trying to speak. his need to speak is louder than the words he cannot give shape to, pulling tears out of me instead and imploring the audience for understanding. i can only speak for myself, but i believe we understood his beautiful wordless plea viscerally if not intellectually.
in contrast to the previous mosh-pit rage, when the twelve next come together into a tangle of bodies they move more like tall grass in a breeze, or water lapping a shoreline: drifting in and out as breath does with natural, unhurried languor. they sing softly without words, affecting a resonant hum together. another young man desperate to make sound but without the means to do so, dancer jake poloz emerges to mime the sound of the drum being beat...before he reappears with his own drum backed up by on-stage drummer adam campbell. for a third time, the others are pulled into the beat like moths as if the drum has a hidden density with its own gravity, announcing that the final stage of transformation is at hand. plunged into darkness, the dancers reappear as sinister figures lined up just beyond a glaring beam of light that slices across the stage, stepping into it one by one to be deformed, twisted, and remade when they emerge. for a final time, the musicians build towards a crescendo that hummed across my skin, inciting the dancers to charge the audience with frightening energy for those of us in the first row, but turning sharply, running, and leaping into the dark as the lights go out. denied the sight of seeing them land, applause and cheers were instantaneous and deafening before the house lights even came up.
proving herself to be as deft an anthropologist as choreographer, hanna kiel entangles her dancers to illustrate the unavoidable receptivity of the human animal to a communal beat. inspired by an impeachment and performed while new impeachment proceedings unfold in the united states resonating throughout their own population, Resonance describes the drum of time, the drum of disruption, and how we as social animals are as powerless to tune out the beat of cultural reformations as we were to tune out the loudspeakers on stage. music or movement, we’re hardwired to respond to a pulsing rhythm that’s only ever a variation of the pulse that keeps us alive. kiel’s choreographic choices show an awareness that when energy is created it never just disappears without leaving an impact behind, and that social movements follow similar physics to the human body’s response to sound. she acknowledges that yes, we can resist, maintain individuality, but it’ll feel unnatural and unsatisfying to wade against the directional flow. in one way or another we are compelled to either participate or hide away from the world. even the deaf feel music in their bodies and are drawn into dancing; the energy of evolution vibrates similarly in the air itself, offering few cerebral ways to shut it out and insulate individuality from the current of change.
kiel is methodical and precise in creating tension only to pop it, almost like a chemist carefully preparing an explosive reaction. she succeeds in showing how a cultural transformation expands and contracts over time as individuals resist and surrender, resist and surrender until the beat catches them. wisely, she also shows how the euphoria of surrendering to a communal flow is not without its own agonies and consequences. as the world watches a superpower enter a particularly volatile stage of its own chemical/cultural transformation---some elated, others outraged, all spellbound---Resonance resonates beyond its curtain call, reminding us all to at least be ready for the beat of a drum we can’t resist.
Emily Trace is a Toronto-based writer of plays, articles, fiction, personal essays and reviews of the performing arts, currently developing a screenplay that will explore queer resiliency and trauma recovery through classic horror tropes. An alumnus of the National Ballet of Canada’s Emerging Arts Critics Programme, Emily works in media with Inside Out LGBT Film Festival and Against the Grain Theatre. She is also an actress and creative associate with White Mills Theatre Company, presently in rehearsals for an immersive production of Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' to be staged this holiday season at Spadina House.