Thursday, 23 August 2012

Avant Clowning and "Little Lady" at The Fringe

Little Lady
Creator/Interpretor: Sandrine LaFond
Director:  John Turner
Composer: Yves Frulla
Videographer/Photographer: Paolo Santos
Make Up: Elisabeth LeHoux
Costume: Nelly Rogerson assisted by John Stone, Marie Laure Larrieu
Props: Jean Sebastien Gagnon
Stage Manager: Miriam Cusson
Technicians: Josiah Hiemstra (sound) Morgan Franche (Lighitng)

The promotional video for Little Lady is sexier and not as interesting as the show, which is more in character and creepier, in a good way. Sandrine LaFond is a dancer and a performer for Cirque du Soleil. For this independently-produced piece she received training and direction for Little Lady from John Turner at The Clown Farm on Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

For those of us who know less about clowning than other performance practices, we might call this "avant clowning," as it crosses over into contemporary dance and theatre, though LaFond does not specifically present this work as a clown piece. More as a one-woman show with a sci-fi twist. The program note tells us this:
Doctors, welcome to the lab. The test subject you will be observing today, specimen LV 89135, has been in confinement for 21 days and is responding positively to our stimuli. She has proven to be kind and what some would qualify as sweet. We have lovingly dubbed her "Little Lady." A small indulgence we have allowed ourselves. Our social experiments have been diligently administered in the highest controlled conditions, a recent development in this process has proven fruitful to our common field of research. According to DNA testing, Little Lady is in fact a one of a kind hybrid; an accidental fusion of human and cockroach genes. The discovery of specimen LV81958 in the north Nevadian icefield is indeed one of the most interesting breakthroughs of our present time Your analysis of the situation will be of the utmost importance.
The piece opens with a video. In it, LaFond appears as a wide-eyed but confident girl in a dream sequence. She is in a desert sleeping under the protection of rock formations. She wakes up and does some exploring. She walks about the desert but suddenly her movements become repetitive hyperspeed affectations and skitterings, then back to normal. There is a handmade teddy bear with button eyes. An eye falls off and rolls away. LaFond comes across it, puts it in her pocket and takes off assuredly through the desert. The film fades, and there is the Little Lady on stage, just waking up from her dream, her derriere in the air.

Little Lady is wearing a coral 1940's style dress with headscarf to match. She's wearing large cartoonish glasses. She moves about the stage in what dancers call a forced arch; on the balls of the feet with heels raised, and a bent knee to force the ankle even further forward. She does this for a punishingly long time, aided by a tiny cane. Her physical extremes simultaneously allude to her little old lady character, and to the joints of insects, and as we know from the program note, our Little Lady specimen is half cockroach.

Jane Siberry
She really is quite adorable. She squeaks and oohs and giggles. If we compare her with someone we might come up with a combination of Jane Siberry, Lucille Ball, Björk all wrapped up in one.

Lucille Ball

She is infectiously cheerful about her little lab/dollhouse routines that are cued by the sounds of bells, tones and changes in the music (dreamy accordion waltzes with electronically-altered humming). She has a water mister to spray water into her mouth. She has a little tv show that comes on once a day that teaches her things (knitting lessons). She drinks water from a large silver bowl. She is allowed to eat red candy pills from specimen trays. She has a little notebook that she writes in once a day before sleeping. She puts her teddy bear on her little notebook and puts her head down on it, derriere in the air.

Her dreams give her new abilities. After the second dream, onstage this time, she is able to straighten her legs and walk on her feet. After the third dream, she contorts and snores herself into a gigantic bra with large toy rubber balls and pair of undies equipped with two more for a bum. These things amuse her for awhile, but as the days go by, she is allowed more red candy pills. The more she eats the sicker she gets and she ends up back on her toes and cane. Becoming despondent about her lab environment, she tries to make a break for it, but she finds herself trapped.

Just when we think she's trapped forever, she finds a yellow dress hidden in the body of the teddy bear. Finding this dress seems to be her out: she is freed from her head scarf, she no longer needs her glasses. She stands straight again and can even do a playful leaping dance, briefly showing some of her skills as a dancer. She transforms into the brave dream girl in the video and can now make her getaway.

LaFond is 110% physically committed to her fully-realised character and story. Little Lady stands on its own as a multi-disciplinary theatre piece, as dance theatre and as avant clowning.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Elsewhere In Dance

  • If you are a dance aficionado, go to see dance.
  • If you have never seen a live dance performance, try it out.
  • If you are unsure about it, start with something more familiar.
  • If you have seen one show and you hated it, don't be discouraged.
You'll like some pieces and you'll dislike others, but you'll never know unless you try. Get out there and see as much dance as you can. Somewhere along the way, you might just fall in love with dance. 

here is an impressive list of dance festivals around the world.
Thank you.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Fringe - Resurrected Motifs

Continuing coverage of dance at The Fringe!
August 16-26, 2012

Resurrected Motifs
Venue: BYOV #30 Phabrik Art and Design Centre
No/w/here Project and Orchesis Dance Society, University of Alberta

The University of Alberta does not have a dance major program, which is a lose-lose situation for the vibrancy of dance in Edmonton and the entire province. There is much to be said about this. Still, the Orchesis Dance Society does an amazing job of offering a fine recreational dance program to its students,with an impressive faculty that offers the Big 3 of western aesthetic dance (ballet, jazz, contemporary/modern) as well as other movement forms such as belly dancing.

Resurrected Motifs is a set of 4 dances by choreographers who are or have been part of the society. Which brings us to the slight problem of the name. In The Fringe, artists are vying for the attention of Fringe-goers who sometimes just scan the program for an interesting title to jump out and make them want to see it. The title here suggests that the company is bringing back ideas that used to be dead. But, titles don’t necessarily indicate the quality of the performances.

First of all, it’s in an unbelievably cool space, perhaps it was a large auto body shop
that has been transformed into a fashion and design workspace with a shiny, groovy bar set up and a runway for fashion shows. The performers made use of the unusual long, narrow stage.


Choreographer: Kelsie Acton
Dancer: Nicole Perry
Poem: Howl by Allan Ginsberg, performed/recorded by Rachel Kent

It’s generally an interesting choice to have performers in place or already doing things as the audience filters in. In Howl, the runway is covered with a long length of insulation plastic.  Perry is at the upstage end, lying calmly on her right side.

As the lights change, Perry gets onto all fours and seems to be exploring what the plastic feels like under her hands. The sound accompaniment seems to be playing, and it sounds like ambient room noise amplified. It creates an eerie bit of tension in the air despite the extreme subtlety.

Perry’s gaze darts from side to side as if something is out there in the dark. This seems to agitate her and she begins doing some kneeling side curves that circle enough to give her the momentum to get off the floor from a kneeling position. As she does so, the jump undulates through her side-curved spine and she becomes entangled in the plastic. The poem begins, and the rest of the piece is a dance of negotiating the plastic, advancing and retreating down the runway. It’s messy at times with the plastic which has a mind of its own, but then she seems to kick the plastic into a surprisingly great outfit, gracefully wrapped around a leg, the waist and an arm. At one point it becomes almost bridal.

The dancing is often rather active, jumping from one move to the next within the plastic. Perry begins to wrap a tiny bit of it around her hand. It starts getting bigger and becomes a bit of a plastic boxing glove. It gets bigger still, but we might wish she had continued until the entire length of the plastic is around her hand and arm. The careful wrapping suddenly stops and the plastic is tossed off the arm and back to the floor. She ends the piece when she’s wrapped in a sort of cocoon, lying again on her side.

It’s curious that Acton has her character start out by darting her glance fearfully, as though there is a sound in the darkness of the woods. As the piece progresses however, Perry almost continuously looks at the plastic and the floor. It's not clear what is a source of fear here, and it’s not clear what the purpose of the plastic is, perhaps a complicated toy for this animal that Perry seems to be.

Having Howl read by a young-sounding woman is an interesting turn considering the point of view of the poem. While the hum of the recording before the speaking starts is an interesting sonic component, the voice recording is not terrific (it sounds like they attempted a clear recording, rather than going for a low-fi sound). Howl the poem is frequently performed, referenced and analysed, so the use of it in this piece could come off to some as over-used, and this may be intentional on Acton's part. Making a piece involving the poem and have it add fresh meaning to its long, sordid history is a challenge.

Large sheets of plastic have been used a lot recently for dance in Edmonton. Gerry Morita did a piece with plastic for her work Flotsam, which performed around Edmonton and Alberta from about 2005 until 2008:

The Good Women Dance collective also used a sheet of plastic for their work Pod this past spring:

In Acton's Howl, Perry begins outside of the plastic but ends up in side of it.

In all three works, the plastic at some point seems to take on a life of its own, at times a comfort or a burden.


A Modern "Grim" Tale
Choreographer: Lysa Downey
Costume Design: Ephram di Medicci

A collection of Grimm tales adapted for dance, the piece has an enormous cast (18 dancers) and elaborate costumes that are sometimes beautiful:

sometimes a bit tacky, for instance elasticky sports bras on fairies:

In fact there are many costumes, and more than one set of characters make use of sports bras, allowing the audience to spend plenty of time deciphering a rather lengthy cursive tattoo on the midriff of one of the dancers.

The piece seems to be giving a performance opportunity for beginning and intermediate dancers in the Orchesis program. The choreography is a blend of rather straightforward ballet, jazz and contemporary vocabulary mixed with some character stage movement. Overall it comes off as a high school or civic theatre production, and despite the fact that the Resurrected Motifs program is essentially a dance recital, it feels unbalanced with the other 3 pieces in the program which are far more minimalist, in terms of performance and design.

Choreographer: Anastasia Maywood
Performers: Lindsay Roseke and Larissa Swayze
Music: John Maywood
Costume design and construction: Cynthia Sibley (assisted by Anastasia Maywood).

Exuvia was reviewed previously on the Dance Conspiracy blog as part of Expanse festival. Please see this post for the review.


Choreographer and performer: Tony Olivares
Music: Tidal by Michael Byron
Costume Design by Ephram di Medicci and Tony Olivares
"This piece is dedicated to life."

Tony Olivares has returned to Edmonton after 10 years. In this piece, which he has dedicated to a friend and colleague of his who passed away, he appears to us from the stage entrance, painted completely in white, holding 60 roses. He is wearing white, skin-like shorts that essentially free him of earthly entanglements. Glacially, Olivares advances forward, at first in silence, and then with the rich music. At times, he shifts his forward-facing position to a sideways forward walk and at this moment some might think of Ted Shawn and some of his early interests in Greek tragedy.

Tony continues to walk toward a light downstage that seems to be beckoning him there. He parts the roses into still-giant fists of flowers. When he gets to the brightest focus of light, he slowly offers the flowers. The offering becomes more intense as he stands there, changing in his body from a state of noble generosity to one of noble despair.

He begins to retreat slowly from the light, as he does, arms at his sides, the roses slowly fall from his fingers. Eventually he ends up with just one rose, which he slowly offers one more time.

Tony then descends to the floor as though he were shot in slow motion. He luxuriates painfully in the roses. This sorrowful and all-encompassing dance of emotional pain also attempts to overcome the pain.

 Olivares is surrounded by the roses and as he rises he pulls up fists-full of the roses, disordered and pointing every which way, still trying to make a bitter offering. At one point he begins to insert or "plant" the roses into the shorts he is wearing. While this is a striking image, it comes dangerously close to becoming comical, as he now has a row of long-stemmed and rather mobile flowers in his pants; pants we had not exactly ignored, but accepted as an alternative to total nudity. This use of the shorts forces them directly into our conscious minds as a wearable prop whether we like it or not. As Olivares continues moving, most of the roses wobble out of the shorts, aside from one almost certainly unintentional tail-like rose coming off the middle back of the shorts like a tail. Because Olivares succeeds so well in convincing us of the supreme importance of these roses, it is impossible to ignore this strong image, even if it only lasts for a few moments. And it does only last for a few moments, but we have to work a bit mentally to bring ourselves back into the drama.

Olivares is undeniably gorgeous and a pleasure to watch both as a male presence and as a dancer. The death in this piece is a long one, with many short, fast exhalations that punctuate some of the more percussive twists, turns and contractions that his body makes. He is able to draw us into every muscle of his physical being, which seem to be heroically (and artfully) taking on the pain in all of us.


Friday, 17 August 2012

The Fringe - Good Women Dance Collective

 The Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival began in 1982, and is the oldest and largest in North America, based on ticket sales of 104,142 to over 200 indoor shows, with an estimated outdoor site attendance of 576,000. It's huge.

August 16-26, 2012

This is Still Not A Play
Good Women Dance Collective
Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV) 31: TACO Space by Punctuate!

Dance performances at The Fringe tend to work like other dance performances, presenting several dance pieces within the space of the show. Two years ago, Good Women presented "This Is Not A Play," in order to distinguish themselves from the theatre crowd. Performance practise definitions are more blurry than ever (performance art, wordless plays, dance theatre, dances that use text, etc). Yet the recent work of Good Women shows that their recent involvement with theatre productions have informed their own sense of theatre and plot in their own work.

 Face Time
Choreographer: Ainsley Hillyard
Dancers: Alida Nyquist-Schultz, Alison Kause and Ainsley Hillyard
Technical Director: Kevin Green

Face Time is a work-in-progress which literally uses FaceTime as a way of communicating within the piece. FaceTime is video calling software by Apple which assures in their advertising that you can "be in two places at once." As the piece begins, we see Nyquist-Schultz mostly on hands and knees in an active and precise dance of flailing motions which recover with paused gazes at the floor or hands. As she does this, Hillyard prepares the space for a video call, pulling down a projection screen and setting up a little work space. Kause enters, a call is made, and the interaction begins. In this case, Hillyard uses FaceTime to tell the dancers what to do. This is a flashback to another less-developed piece by Good Women where they projected dance instructions to each other via text onto the dancers white-costumed bodies. In fact, the image used for that previous piece is the used in the program.

As the dancers make video contact, Hillyard appears to be seated confidently and begins to tell Kause which parts of the choreography she wants to see, and from what viewpoint.

Kause adjusts the FaceTime effects or holds the camera just so, allowing us a different viewpoint of her performance. Then Hillyard tells Alison to finish the choreography with a fall backward. When Kause seems concerned for her own safety, Hillyard says,

"Don't worry. I'll catch you." 

This is comical, yet threatening. We know that Hillyard is actually just off to the side of the stage, mostly out of our sight. But we might also realise that we think of these video conferencing tools as bringing us closer, in this case it creates a psychological distance. We know Hillyard won't be there when she falls. Her image is sent to space, captured and sent back to Kause's phone via satellite. The set up for this works well, and we feel nervous for the trusting Kause, a little irritated by the smug Hillyard. The choreography is moved through, and Kause stands ready to fall. As she does, FaceTime cuts out.

The piece continues through further sections and explores more scenarios of technological disconnect paralleled with a bit of the "gee whiz" factor of what technology allows us to do (angles and effects vs. delays and distractions, for example). Face Time is one of the more successful communications technology pieces I have seen to date. The commentary hints at the deeper problems of technology without being overly sentimental, goofy, nerdy or preachy. The dialogue is well-written and well-timed. It's an intense moment when Kause falls and Hillyard is not there to catch her. A more believable fall by Kause would make for a stronger statement here, though one can't blame her for being a bit tentative with nine more shows in the run (ow!). Another memorable moment is when Hillyard requires Nyquist-Schultz to sync-up the video feedback layers of herself. As she busily dances she manages to respond,

"I can't...control...them..."

 reminding us of the disembodiment of our own images and messages as they come hurling in from space.


Choreographer and Performer: Kate Stashko
Sound design: Jacques Poulin-Denis with music by John Zorn and The Rachels
Costume: Kate Stashko
Technical Director: Kevin Green

Stashko is not in the core group of Good Women Dance Collective, but they’ve featured her in significant roles in other pieces. Here they’ve given her the space to present her own work entirely. Irene is a character sketch dance of a lovely but disturbed woman. She sneaks into a room that is empty save for a wooden chair that she seems nervous to approach.  We get the idea that she is not quite right by her entrance, in which she is crouched and searching suspiciously around the room. She is wearing an odd combination of a lightweight black asymmetric skirt, and a loose black tank top. Over the tank top she has a matronly beige and white checked tweed jacket. She’s wearing black dress shoes, or more probably character shoes worn for musical theatre and ballroom dancing. It’s an odd combination. Irene also has a sleek haircut, which of course is also Stashko’s haircut; a dark, short asymmetric bob.

This costume mention is important firstly because Stashko specifically mentions that she designed it, and also because it's not immediately apparent who this character is through the costume design. But more on this in a moment.

Irene makes it to the chair, and sits. As she does, her jacket opens and we notice that from a hidden crease in the front of her top, she has many dark blue feathers. As she cantalevers her upper body from her seated position, the feathers begin to fall to the floor. As this happens, it’s as though the floor has begun to move and is trying to sweep her feet away. She hangs onto the chair for dear life as the floor, or maybe it’s just her shoes, try to get away from her. 

She struggles like this for a long time before she lets go of the chair and is moved to do a strenuous and nervous dance of repetitive inward tornadoes and skilled but purposefully unwieldy leaps and jumps. As she exerts herself, we see that from her sleeves, more feathers are emerging and flying out and to the ground. Soon the floor is quite decorated with feathers. She seems to want to be rid of them, or at least to set them free.

During this mad scene, there are moments of clarity for Irene, and sometimes she suddenly sees the audience members’ faces, taking time to look at them with a mildly bewildered eye. One of Irene’s ticks is that she stares suddenly and makes little shakes and nods of her head. These shakes then continue through her body. She takes off her shoes for another bit of madness. At this point it’s hard to tell if Stashko slips out of character to perform some of the more formal and technical moments in the piece (Stashko is a highly trained in ballet) with some spectacular graceful jumps. Or perhaps, Irene is actually capable of such grace at times, and this relates back to the costume and the mix of graceful, if loose, artsy black outfit with the matronly bolero jacket. It's as though she may be a mentally ill high school English teacher.

The music changes, and Irene puts her shoes back on. Irene now has a faint sheepish smile on her face. She again nods and shakes, she does a more tired little inward tornado dance. She backs away from us slowly as the lights fade, a slightly mad smile is on her face. Her hands are slightly stretched out to us, as if needing something from us, but her retreat suggests she really doesn’t want whatever we might be willing to give.

Choregrapher: Alida Nyquist-Schultz
Performers: Ainsley Hillyard and Alida Nyquist-Schultz.
Dramaturge: Alison Kause
Music: David Kristian, Beef Terminal, Alva Noto

Counterpart had its debut in December, but the Good Women are bringing it back for Fringe audiences to enjoy. The lighting design is quite dark, with the exception of a thin bar of white light that cuts a diagonal from downstage right to upstage left. The piece is a sinister dance of chirality, mimicry and mockery. The dancers enter wearing tight black pants and tight black tank tops that are cut to the navel down the middle revealing the center of the chest through black mesh. The dancers approach the line and each other, the line acting as a mirror or portal or trans-dimensional force field. They mirror each other for some time with precision, an element of threat is present. The movement is strong and vaguely sexy, with lots of whiplash actions that resolve with a sense of pressure bearing down on the duo. They frequently pause for long periods to peer at each other, watching and waiting.

As they explore their boundary and test the mimicking, at some point it becomes clear that one is somehow allowed to be slightly dominant, trying to make the other move in ways she doesn’t want to. Their synchronisation becomes distorted as the second dancer fails to catch up. When they try to go back to mirroring each other, it doesn’t always work and they become more and more in opposition. Eventually the other dancer decides to stop the game and the controller becomes the controlled.

The movement in all the sections consist of active floor movements that splash out and recoil, many seem to quote hip hop or other street dancing forms. The choreography also brings these movements to crouching and taut standing positions that feel simultaneously confrontational and defensive. As the audience, we don’t know who will be next in charge, and we get the idea that the characters are treading new territory themselves.

The most interesting section is after the light line vanishes. Nyquist-Schultz who dominated earlier is now somewhat beaten down. As lights come up she is now on the other side of where the line was. She almost seems blind in this world and she begins moving again. Hillyard’s character comes out and is in the controlling position again, though it seems Nyquist-Schultz can only sense that she is there but can't see her. Hillyard follows her slowly and forces her to retreat. She plays menacing tricks as Nyquist-Schultz navigates this new psychological space. She seems traumatized, but seems to accept defeat in a way. The antics escalate into more of a brawl with complex pushing and shoving motions. Exhausted, they both retreat. The light line returns and the two Good Women find themselves on opposite sides of the line from where they began, perhaps a bit like the film Mulholland Drive.

Hair seems like an important part of the choreography and costume for Counterpart, as it colourfully punctuates much of the whiplash movements, but is also distracting at times. Sexuality is implied through the costumes, the battle scene, and the long stares. The dancers move well together, and it's interesting to see their movement differences which are somewhat amplified during the unison sections. However the differences are only one clue in the mystery of whether these two are separate individuals, an entity within an entity, or if one is completely imagined.


Resurrected Motifs, A Wake, Little Lady and Afterlives