Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dancing Betwixt and Between: Andrea Nann’s Dual Light

Kristy Kennedy and Brendan Wyatt in Dual Light. (Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Vancouver-born, Toronto-based choreographer and dancer Andrea Nann lights a spark with Dual Light, a multifaceted work whose world premiere took place at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre last Thursday.

A presentation of Danceworks, the city’s premiere producer of independent dance, the hour-long piece deftly balances sculpted and rolling passages of movement on top of deep pools of intellectual thought. Spoken monologues bring artful clarity to a dance that is as philosophical as it is sensual in exploring the transitional period in a rite of passage.

The betwixt and between suggests a threshold. Dual Light illuminates it with penetrating brilliance. Bodies fit together like puzzle pieces and hands and fingers intertwine to lend shape to the orb of invisible energy pulsing at the centre of this beautifully imagined piece.

A former longtime member of Toronto’s Danny Grossman Dance Company, whose past credits also include stints as a visiting artist for Soulpepper Theatre Company among other performing arts organizations, the award-winning Nann conceived, wrote and directed Dual Light, permitting herself a leading part. But she ultimately does not do it alone. The work’s singular power comes from its many intrinsic parts, each a component of the Dreamwalker Dance Company, which Nann founded in 2005 as a vehicle for her collaborative interdisciplinary creations.

Her collaborators on this occasion are her fellow dancers, Brendan Wyatt, Yuichiro Inoue and Kristy Kennedy, as well as Simon Rossiter, who created the intergalactic set and constellation-like lighting design, Cheryl Lalonde, who instigated the unisex costumes of ruched leggings with black tank tops, Sarah Chase, who served as dramaturge and Joshua Van Tassel, who performed his own electronic composition combining synthesized bursts of sound and mystical moments of calm from behind a console positioned on stage.

Credit must also go to Nann’s 87-year-old father, a wise man whose philosophical musings, heard on tape, give shape and amplitude to the dance unfurling enigmatically to his words. At his daughter’s prompting, Richard Nann explains the ebb and flow of human time in terms of choice and consequence. Using his own experience of having uprooted himself several times to live in different cities around the world, he theorizes that personal progress travels through three distinct but interconnected stages: a letting-go period, which is akin to a little death; a time of mourning, during which the individual in transition has to get over what has been left behind; and ultimately acceptance and embrace of the new, the end point on a journey of change. You have to leave before you can ever arrive, he says. Endings are really beginnings.

Yuichiro Inoue and Kristy Kennedy in Dual Light. (Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Variations on this transformational theme are served up by the dancers, whose own pithily poetic narratives also delve deep into the personal in search of universal meaning. Inoue, speaking Japanese alongside Nann's humorous translation, recalls the time he left his home country for a prestigious ballet school in Germany, a separation that sparked the making of the wonderfully nuanced artist he is today.

Similarly, Wyatt went away to ballet school at a young age but the trauma of that experience belonged more to his parents, who were reluctant to let their nine-year-old son leave small-town Saskatchewan for the (to them) strange world of classical dance. But Wyatt was insistent. The rules of ballet were like mathematics, providing him with a fixed definition of the universe and his place in it. Leaving his family became his start.

Kennedy, by contrast, doesn’t tell a story about dance. She more describes what it is like to harness the power of her body to transform herself according to the dictates of her own imagination. With her arm curved a certain way she is like the branch of a tree, hiding her own face in the shadows, assuming a new identity.

Nann has more stories than the others combined, also autobiographical. At the beginning of Dual Light, she talks of being born in 1966, at the height of the space age, and how she devoured the soundtrack of Star Wars as a girl and dreamed of a planet with two suns. Later in the piece, she talks about being a mother, and of the time her young son sat on the beach with her on Hornby Island, both of them gazing up at the night sky and talking about where souls go. The conversation led to an epiphany.

Diving into the ocean alone, her son watching, Nann came into contact with phosphorescent algae, and imagined herself bathed in celestial light, the apparel of a dream as Wordsworth has described it. Nann knew there was a scientific explanation for what she experienced. But she prefers to remember the moment as the time when she hovered over the threshold of her own existence and that of the great beyond, place of mystery. She deepens the connections, seeing her family members as constellations who map out the patterns in her life, giving it purpose and filling the spaces in between.

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press) and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds (Vintage Books). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail for the last 32 years, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic, from 1985 until 2001, before transitioning to the Style section as its senior fashion reporter in Milan, Paris, New York and cities across Canada. Her other accomplishments at Canada's paper of record include stints as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime, a weekly lifestyle columnist covering the Toronto International Film Festival and celebrities, rock critic, business writer and cultural bureau chief in Montreal covering the arts in Quebec and Eastern Canada. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she has also written for a wide range of international titles, including Marie Claire in London, Elle in New York and Vogue Australia. Recipient of the 2014 Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (Long Form Category), Canada's most important arts writing prize, she is presently at work on her next book, an examination of The Beatles and their style.

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