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Notes from Dance Ontario DanceWeekend

Notes from Dance Ontario DanceWeekend
January 22 - 24
Fleck Dance Theatre, Harbourfront Centre (Toronto)

I had another arts drenched weekend, much of it spent at the Fleck Dance Theatre taking in a smorgasbord of dance all weekend. I was able to take in a few hours at best a day, but a small bites menu of 20-25 minute sets meant I could still experience a wide range of styles and flavours even on budgeted time. It was great to see the place nearly at capacity, with just as many people coming in as leaving at any given moment, and a long line up to get in at the start of every day.

Please check out the invidual companies at the links - many of them have upcoming shows.

January 22

Opening night!

Ballet Creole white, floaty garments, rhythmic movements that follow the polyrhythms churned out by the 3 musicians at the back. The dancers were athletic and the effect becomes infectious, and impossible not to feel like moving along with it. Taken from a variety of African traditions, Dancing Spirits kept building to a high energy finish.

Thrill the World, participants from the On the Move Conference, including kids from Jade's Hip Hop Academy and Oakwood Collegiate - an energetic version of Michael Jackson's Thriller to the original choreographer by Michael Peters along with Jackson himself. Great costuming added to a fun piece.

Canadian Children's Dance Theatre - I'm not sure what I was expecting from this group, but I know I was left quite impressed with the talented young women (Victoria Scanlon, Midori Mukai, Francesca Chudnoff, Taryn Na, Kendra Epik and Ellis Martin-Wylie) and the contemporary dance I saw on stage. Arena, the first piece they showcased, was about the constant frictions, intersections and disconnections of modern life, and it was performed with a sense of conviction and grace. (Image below of unrelated ballet dancer by Frode Inge Helland.)

Later, they also performed Ancient Trinity along with high school students from the London (Ontario) area. The piece was inspired by the magnificent Newgrange passage tomb in Ireland, built 1000 years before the first pyramids and incredibly, in perfect alignment with the winter solstice sunrise. Every year at winter solstice people gather to witness the sun enter through the roof box and travel down the passage eventually illuminating the back of the tomb for a brief 17 minutes. They speculate that perhaps this sacred time was to allow their dead to pass from the earth to the other world. It's a nice story, and a really lovely and uplifting piece.

MOonhORsE Dance Theatre displays what founder Claudia Moore describes as body poetry with "mature" performers, and it's an apt metaphor for their performances of two short pieces. THe first was a pas de deux between an eager woman and reluctant man in ordinary street garb, full of moments of humour and expressive choreography. Moore herself then did a solo piece with a cellist playing the Bach Cello Suite #14, an excerpt from a work that was performed in the Music Garden last summer. Highly expressive work with a nicely nuanced dramatic sense.

Ballet Jorgen gave us classical ballet at its best, from the sumptuous costumes to the elegantly restrained athleticism of its dancers. They performed two scenes from an upcoming production of Cinderella with a wonderful sense of theatricality and drama about it along with fine dancing. Ballet Jorgen's mandate, if you're not aware, (which I wasn't) is to perform only original choreography.

Saturday, January 23

For me, this was contemporary dance day, with some really cool variations and flavours.

The Honeycats were a real crowd pleaser, an ensemble group that put on a high energy version of hip hop, modern jazz and stret jazz, gorgeous girls and guys who were athletic and dazzling. My favourite piece was to the music of Marilyn Manson's Beautiful People, where a clever use of black costuming and spot lighting created a rhythmic movement of faces, lower arms and lower legs.

Desiraeda Dance Theatre was a technically impressive group, performing 4 love themed excerpts to jazz music. It was athletic and quite dramatically expressive at the same time. Cutting edge contemporary jazz dance that's accessible and appealing.

Claude Watson/Earl Haig Dancers - the high schoolers in this group really blew me away, particulary in the second piece, choreographed by a grade 12 dance major (Lee Levine-Poch). The first piece was a rousing gospel to John the Revelator, another crowd favourite. If this is the future of dance in this area, we can expect great things to come!

Helix Dance was another group that dazzled with their athleticism and technique, this to a series of modern jazz & blues tunes. There were no weaker links at all in this troupe as far as I could see, and the pieces were quite interestingly choreographed by Linda Garneau, with dancers pairing and unpairing, entering and leaving the stage in an constant panoply of motion.

Sunday, January 24

A nicely mixed bag.

Ritmo Flamenco dazzled the crowd with a bevy of supremely elegant ladies who proved that a long slinky dress is just as sexy as the barely there costumes sported by many of the other dancers. Where ballet is all about elegant restraint, in flamenco that initial restraint builds to a passionate climax - all while never losing the upright, graceful posture of the dancers. The live guitarist (Roger Scannura) added a whole dimension of depth. Makes me wish I had time for lessons!!

Cadence Progressive Contemporary Ballet were young and athletic, and performed an innovative piece called Decorus Chaos - reflecting the "chance encounters that put us in contact with those that become the fabric of our soul". That's an apt description of the work, performed to the music of Vivaldi, with an ever evolving line up on stage of dancers pairing and unpairing, and patterns of movement picked up and dropped in an intriguing display.

Andre Nann Dreamwalker Dance presented 4 pas de deux performed to and inspired by the lyrics of the Tragically Hip's Gordon Downie, including Nann and Brendan Wyatt. The choreography was highly original and very expressive, including moments of both humour and pathos. A very talented lady and someone I'll definitely keep an eye on in the future. (Check the link for upcoming shows.)

Dancetheatre Daivd Earle presented Serious Games (parts I & II), a piece originally commissioned by the Children's Dance Theatre. Six female dancers in the same dress, slightly different colours - movements as abstract as the avant garde music (by Erkki-Sven Tuur). It had a mesmerizing effect and was a great close off to a fantastic weekend.

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