Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Falling for Dance, Canadian Style

DanceBrazil performed Jelon Vierira’s Malungos at Toronto's Fall for Dance North festival. (Photo: Andrea Mohin)

Toronto fell big time for the inaugural Fall for Dance North festival that took over the city’s Sony Centre earlier in the autumn. An initiative of artistic director Ilter Ibrahimof and executive director Madeleine Skoggard, the two-part program showcased exciting new dance creation from across Canada, and other points around the world including New York where the Fall for Dance franchise launched in 2004. Like the original, Fall for Dance North (so-called because of the event’s revamped presence north of the 49th parallel) offered up a variety of dance styles at a cost of $10 a ticket. The Sony Centre, which seats approximately 3,200, was sold-out for each of the three performances that took place from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 – proof that if you make dance affordable the people will come. But that wasn’t the only reason the festival packed them in.

Fall for Dance North succeeded on many levels. An enthusiastic audience of this scale – approximately 10,000 people – has not been seen in Toronto since Riverdance packed them in at the end of the 1990s. But unlike that stadium-sized show where Irish step dancers and musicians delivered a good versus evil story with broad appeal, Fall for Dance North offered up a much more esoteric menu of non-narrative dance with an experimental bent, making its triumph all the more remarkable. Acclaimed foreign companies shared the program with relative newcomers as well as a host of local performers who more than held their own next to heavy hitters like the marvellous Atlanta Ballet in a memorable performance of Ohad Naharin’s edgy and mesmerizing Minus 16, and Ballet BC in an electrifying performance of the Barcelona-born, Munich-based choreographer Cayetano Soto’s Twenty Eight Thousand Waves. These two works were highlights of the festival as a whole.

Also worthy of mention were local troupes like Toronto Dance Theatre, the National Ballet of Canada, Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company and Inter-Hoop, a First Nations dance ensemble directed by Santee Smith, artistic director of Kahawi Dance Theatre. Peggy Baker Dance Projects presented the world premiere presentation of a work commissioned by the Fall for Dance North festival and entitled, Fractured Black. Peggy Baker, now in her sixties, performed the frenetic solo alongside Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire/Bel Orchestra on electric violin. Companies drawn to Fall for Dance North from outside Canada, some appearing in Toronto for the first time, included New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre with two works – Robert Battle percussive solo Takademe as danced by the outstanding Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Christopher Wheeldon’s poignant After the Rain Pas de Deux, again danced by Douthit-Boyd and his equally arresting partner Jacquelin Harris. From India came the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble performing its internationally acclaimed Vibhakta, a work inspired by cosmic dualities. From South America, DanceBrazil performed artistic director Jelon Vierira’s rousing Malungos, a work inspired by the African slave ships. SOUNDSpace, featuring the improvised talents of hoofers lead by New York’s Michelle Dorrance, reinterpreted American tap dance traditions in novel (read: digitally amplified) ways.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's Kirven Douthit-Boyd in Robert Battle's Takademe. (Photo by Andrew Eccles)

There was stiff competition for the audience’s attention, but a company like Toronto Dance Theatre seemed actually to thrive on the pressure. TDT’s performance of Vena Cava, a seductively rhythmic work by company artistic director Christopher House, greatly benefited from the expansive dimensions of the Sony Centre which is more than seven times larger than its usual Toronto venue, the 440-seat Fleck Dance Theatre. As performed by the 12-member company, House’s choreography, named for one of two large veins carrying blood from the body to the heart, flowed with vital intensity through the wide-open performance space. The dancers had more space in which to move and took advantage of every inch, throwing their limbs with abandon into the swirling void. Vena Cava, which dates to 1998, never looked better.

No. 24, a contemporary pas de deux by rising Canadian choreographic star, Guillaume Côté, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, also looked re-invigorated by a change in venue. Originally presented at the nearby Four Seasons Centre in 2013, No. 24 visualizes the extremely fast scales and arpeggios heard in Italian composer Niccolo Paganini’s Caprice No. 24. The piece opened the festival with a bang. Rapidly and dynamically danced by Côté’s fellow company members, Evan McKie and Kathryn Hosier, No. 24 also featured the talents of Canadian violinist Benjamin Bowman who performed the Paganini score live on stage, positioned close to the dancers who pretzeled around him. The music and the dance formed an invigorating partnership. When the audience roared its approval it was clear that the festival had quickly fulfilled its mandate: Everyone watching had fallen in love.

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazette in London, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic from 1985 until 2001 before transitioning to the Style section as the fashion reporter. She has also served as the paper's rock critic and as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, recently re-released in paperback, she writes on dance, theatre, the visual arts and fashion for Critics At Large.

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