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Circa

Opus

Reviewed May 5, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

circa-opus-by justin nicholas

Photograph by Justin Nicholas

Circa’s Opus presents a unique evening of entertainment that crosses the boundaries between theatre, dance and circus, pitting 14 highly agile and extremely muscular performers against gravity and, more importantly, against everything you ever thought of as circus-like.

This is no three-ring performance. There are no clowns. In fact, there is a string quartet on stage performing the quasi-Romantic, neo-classical, even grotesque quartets of 20th century Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. No, this is not the kind of circus you’ve ever seen before. Rather, these contemporary Australian acrobats present an aesthetic that stops the breath, while appealing to the visual sense.

Opus opens dramatically, with the light rising on four white-shirted chamber musicians who seem to be floating above the stage as their black pants disappear into the darkened floor and a fluttering black cloth ripples across the length of the stage. As Quatuor Debussy, a string quartet based in Lyon, France, pounds out the sombre and passionate strains of a Shostakovich quartet, a lone female performer floats and twists above them on vertically dangling ropes.

And then for more than an hour, the uber flexible members of this virtuosic and whimsical 21st century circus troupe tumble, leap, catapult and somersault around the musicians, who barely leave the stage and, at one time, are even blindfolded.

The seven women and seven men stand on each other’s shoulders and heads, walk across each other’s prone bodies, and take flying leaps over and under and through each other’s bodies or circled limbs. They toss one another into the air, twist their bodies into seemingly impossible positions, and otherwise perform as if weightless.

Sometimes frenzied, sometimes with dulcet tones, the accompaniment pushes the acrobats to their limits, and the music, the powerful physicality and the unexpected thrills of defiance keep the audience on the edge of their seats gasping in wonder.

 

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Shay Kuebler / Radical System Art

Telemetry

Reviewed April 26, 2018

NAC Studio Azrieli, Ottawa

(Repeat performances April 27 & 28, 8 p.m.)

shay kuebler telemetryThe intimate space of the Azrieli Studio catapults Radical System Art’s performance of Shay Kuebler’s Telemetry just about into your lap. Alive with youthful energy, the 60-minute piece (sorry, it’s a tad too long) pulses with a dynamic vitality that has Kuebler and his performers, as well as Calgary tap dancer Danny Nielsen explore how the body responds to sound.

Relatively new on the scene, Kuebler likes the idea of raw physicality and pushes his dancers to the edge of their skills, allowing them to play on the stage with unbounded elan.

His hip-hop experience is evident in Telemetry, a fusion of bebop, urban dance and contemporary which considers how the body acts as a kind of telemeter, that is, a translator and communicator of the intangible. He collaborates with sound designer Kate De Lorme and lighting designer Craig Alfredson to create a dialogue between the movement and the pulsing, swinging light fixtures and the echoing rhythm that accompanies the fast-pace rough-and-tumble performance.

“The performance,” says Kuebler, “places such an importance on the interaction between live sound and lighting and the physical performances.” In explaining his concept for Telemetry, he talks of the body “as a vessel of memories, history and experiences that are continually relayed, transformed and transmitted to affect our current way of being.”

shay kuebler telemetry photo by david cooper

Photo by David Cooper

Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Dracula

Dracula - RWB Company - Photo by Réjean Brandt - 2

Photo by Réjean Brandt

Reviewed April 12, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performances April 13 & 14, 8 p.m.)

Dracula, in all its glorious fascination, comes to the Ottawa stage this week. The American import Mark Godden, who became the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s first resident choreographer in 1991 before becoming an independent choreographer, has won awards for his creations around the world. His Dracula, a full-length two-act ballet, was nominated for a Dora Mavor Moore Award, and the film version of it, directed by the celebrated Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, won an Emmy for Best Performing Arts Film.

With his background in theatre and music, and a flare for being daring and unafraid to break new ground, it is no surprise that Godden would create a successful drama with his ballet version of the Bram Stoker tale of Dracula, or that he would take the risk of slapping a sped-up campy pantomime scene of the story between the two acts, as well as an unexpected scene of revelry, featuring a wolf and vampires, called Red Dance.

Dracula - RWB Company - Photo by Réjean Brandt

Photo by Réjean Brandt

Overall, Godden’s Dracula, first performed 20 years ago, presents all the elements of fear and evil, as well as the mystique and magnetism we would expect of the Gothic count.

He plays with the ideas of sexuality and the macabre, as well as a bit of comic relief with a flying bat and a quad of charming gargoyles with protruding belly buttons and sinister tails.

Dracula - Yosuke Mino - Photo by Réjean Brandt

Yosuke Mino as the Wolf, Photo by Réjean Brandt

Paul Daigle, who has worked on a variety of creations with Godden, has fashioned costumes and sets to enchant, and what better accompaniment, performed live by the National Arts Centre Orchestra under the baton of conductor Earl Stafford, than Austro-Bohemian Romantic composer Gustav Mahler’s dramatic symphonies – mostly the first and the second, the latter known as the Resurrection Symphony, which was written around the same time as the original novel.

Dracula is an evening of deep delight. Don’t miss it.

MOMIX

momix opus cactus _ cactus wren _ morning starOpus Cactus

Reviewed March 12, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performance March 13, 8 p.m.)

Moses Pendleton brings his unusual company of dancer-illusionists to Ottawa this week to present a vintage work with a new look.

momix opus cactus _ sundance 2

Focusing on the American southwest desert landscape, Opus Cactus comprises a series of 18 vignettes rife with such imagery as tumbleweeds, cacti, snakes and strange alien-like creatures, and natural earthy sounds of wind, birds and magical chimes.

momix opus cactus _ sidewinder

The nearly two-hour work (with intermission) is an innovative performance by super athletic dancers, who contort and entwine their bodies in such as way as to create natural and animal/insect-like images against remarkably simple hot sun or wispy cloud backdrops. Inventive lighting by Pendleton, Joshua Starbuck and John Finen III, puppetry by Michael Curry and Phoebe Katzin’s costumes create an overall film-like quality to the presentation that results in a highly entertaining piece of theatre.

MOMIX, or rather Pendleton, goes back to 1971, when he and a group of fellow students in Connecticut started the American modern dance company Pilobolus, named after a fungus. The small troupe was extraordinary then, defying anatomical logic with their bizarrely entangled bodies.

Ten years later, Pendleton founded MOMIX, named after a milk supplement fed to animals. His choreography combines acrobatics, gymnastics and mime with dance in theatrical settings.

Opus Cactus originated as a much shorter 20-minute work in 2001 for the Ballet Arizona and was revived last year as a full work.

All in all, it’s a delightful evening of desert-landscape-come-to-life, full of surprises and fun.

Yoann Bourgeois

He Who Falls (Celui qui tombe)

Reviewed March 9, 2018

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Repeat performance March 10, 7:30 p.m.)

Some artists defy gravity, so to speak. They are able to soar above what is, and experiment daringly with the what if. This is what contemporary circus-come-dance artist Yoann Bourgeois has done with He Who Falls.

yoann bourgeois he who falls

Photograph by Géraldine Aresteanu

 This exciting young French creator goes beyond the expected, as every great artist must, and tests the boundaries of weightlessness and suspension. His six performers, predominantly limited to a large suspended wooden platform stage, explore what could be in an unpredictable universe.

The opening of the 65-minute performance is a stunning statement, as a six metre by six metre stage platform lowers slowly from the ceiling, on a tilt, to the dramatic strains of Beethoven. Sharp silhouettes of the six actors cut across the ever-moving wooden floor, adding drama to the spectacle.

As the stage whips around at ever increasing speed, the performers must find their point of balance. Frank Sinatra’s My Way accompanies their exaggerated leaning forwards or backwards that pushes the notion of gravity itself. The three men and three women, dressed in bright earth-coloured street clothes and trendy sneakers – the everyman and woman — maintain positions that seem unbelievable, as they explore centripetal and centrifugal forces. It’s a performance about physical forces and about equilibrium as much as it is about the relationship between the individuals.

A bold performance with philosophical undercurrents, He Who Falls compels the actors to adapt, defy, conquer or work together as the moving stage builds momentum. They make it look easy, but in fact their performances are mind-boggling.

The daring finale has the performers playing defiantly with the swinging stage, grabbing at an edge or ducking underneath as the huge platform lurches towards them. Like playing cat and mouse with an oncoming train, their game becomes dangerous and audible gasps waft down from the audience.

Bourgeois is a French nouveau-cirque acrobat and movement artist based in Grenoble. He created this unique circus-like theatrical work in 2014.

Do not be put off by the reference to circus material. This is a powerful, poetic, and priceless performance, created by a unique out-of-the-box thinker. It will leave you breathless!

Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (BJM)

Dance Me

Reviewed February 23, 2018

NAC Southam Hall, Ottawa

(Repeat performance February 24, 8 p.m.)

BJM-Danceme1

Photograph by Marc Montplaisir

Ah, Leonard Cohen! What’s not to love about this legendary poet, songwriter, singer, who gave us such memorable songs as Suzanne and So Long, Marianne, Famous Blue Raincoat, Dance Me, Hallelujah . . . His unique perspective on politics, religion, love, sex and death, and his remarkable grace, all wove their way into our lives for decade after decade after decade.

From his teens until his death at the age of 82, Cohen revealed his soul to the world through his poems and his fiction, his songs and his music.

While he knew and approved of BJM’s project, Dance Me, which Ottawa got to see Friday night, Cohen did not participate in the process and died a year before its premiere in Montreal in December.

My first thought about BJM’s ambitious project about the masterful Cohen was how could you possibly interpret the span of the man? How could you boil down Cohen’s creativity into an hour or two of dance? I mean where do you start?

Louis Robitaille, BJM’s artistic director, worked for several years on the 80-minute piece, pulling together three choreographers from around the globe: Andonis Foniadakis of the Greek National Ballet, the Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and British-born Ihsan Rustem, who is resident choreographer for the Northwest Dance Project in Portland, Oregon. The three brought their individual interpretations of Cohen’s music and words to the project, the whole of which was guided by Montreal dramaturge and stage director Eric Jean.

Jean introduced an abstract vision to the piece, as well as his own lighting, scenography and videography people. His goal was to capture Cohen’s elegance.

To be honest, I’m still undecided about this show. The tone, in terms of lighting and costumes, was right. Mostly black. Stark. Sharp lighting, sometimes blindingly bright, even a bit of strobe. The men mostly in black suits, sometimes a fedora, sometimes bare-chested with loose black pants. The women in floaty less-than-hip-length tunics, white or black, sometimes suits or pants and bras. Yes, it all has a Leonard Cohen look to it.

Of course, the music, conceived by Alexis Dumais, is all Cohen. Well, it’s not all Cohen. It’s his work, but not him. Some of it is, some of it isn’t, and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. Two pieces were sung on stage: So Long, Marianne by a young woman with a soft pretty voice, who sat demurely on a stool off to the side of the stage; and Hallelujah by a man, whose voice echoed beautifully through the auditorium, accompanied by a kneeling female vocalist. I wish I knew who they were! Both were touching performances that brought a deep stillness to the otherwise frenetic pace.

BJM-Danceme6

Céline Cassone and Alexander Hille perform a duet to Suzanne, Photograph by Thierry du Bois

And there were other beautiful touches, such as the duet to the infamous Suzanne, and the  voice-over reading from Cohen’s letter to “the” Marianne days before her death, when he anticipated his own would follow shortly.

But some of the images just don’t make sense to me – disembodied lips? Projections of bodies falling through space in slow-motion? Glowing red balls in the dancers’ mouths?

Or, in fact, the frenzied movement by BJM’s very physical and athletic dancers. Impressive overall performance (faltering at times), but I can’t really connect that kind of motion to the Cohen I have listened to all my life.

Nevertheless, if you’re a Cohen fan (or a BJM fan!), take in this unique show. You may be disappointed, or you may love it. But there are certain little gems that bring a worthwhile perspective to the memory of Cohen.

Daniel Léveillé Danse (DLD)

Solitudes duo

COMING to NAC Azrieli Studio, Ottawa

(February 15 through 17, 8 p.m.)

daniel leveille_avec Emmanuel Proulx_Ellen Furey

Emmanuel Proulx and Ellen Furey, Photograph by Denis Farley

Daniel Léveillé, one of Quebec’s best-known choreographers on the international scene, brings his technically powerful and sensually romantic Solitudes duo to the National Arts Centre this week.

Léveillé, who has been creating dance for 40 years, founded DLD in 1991. Since the turn of the century, he has developed a reputation for his unique approach to breaking the boundaries of movement and for presenting the (often naked) human body in all its beauty and imperfection.

In 2012, he created the forerunner to Solitudes duo: Solitudes solo, which won an award from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec for the best choreographic work, had five imposing dancers explore solitude in an austere, clinical setting. His 2015 followup expands on the theme as couples connect in an exploration of the emotional paradoxes in human relationships in all their splendour and misery.

Sounds of Jean-Sébastien Bach, the harpsichord and 1970s pop rock accompany the seven dancers.

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