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Dana Gingras / Animals of Distinction

May 11, 2012

Heart As Arena

Reviewed May 10, 2012

NAC Studio, Ottawa

Photograph by Chris Randle

Bodies are antennas, says Montreal- and Vancouver-based choreographer Dana Gingras, and this beautifully conceived work of art reflects this notion in a vivid, mesmerizing, colourful and bold drama that pushes five dancers to their physical and imaginative limits.

“Resonant bodies traversing the volatile nocturnal radio landscape in search of elusive union, tuning in to songs full of desire for love and comfort, the most mortal dreams of all,” the 20-year veteran dance artist Gingras explains in the program’s Choreographer’s Notes. Co-founder of the highly popular and award-winning The Holy Body Tattoo in 1993 and founder of Animals of Distinction in 2006, Gingras presents a confident creativity and insightful imagination in her work.

About 30 old-fashioned radios hang in an angled oval shape above the stage, a handful within reach of the dancers, the others too high to touch, a dense smoke hovers over the theatre, and stark spotlights provide the boundary for Heart As Arena.

The 65-minute theatrical production is made up of several movements, beginning with Gingras, two other women and two men, dressed in brightly-coloured street wear, trying to find the sweet spot on their radios, searching for that clear signal. Their movements are robotic and trepid, their feet step in stops and starts, their heads are cocked.

From initial individual performances, the five dancers move into a tight and seamless ensemble, tossing their bodies upward or folding them downward into the floor, as if attached by wires. This troupe is highly physical and practiced. Although their bodies are masterly controlled from within, they appear to be driven by external forces. Their movements vary from extreme backward bends to show-off hip hop bravado. The very talented Sarah Doucet – performer, stylist, choreographer and costume and jewelry designer – is an extremely expressive dance artist who adds much to the show.

Canadian sound and radio artist Anna Friz, who is currently based in Chicago where she creates sound works for theatre, dance and solo performance, conceived the radio transmission accompaniment that drives Heart As Arena – sounds of tuning a radio, or many radios, ticking clocks, grating sound frequencies, fragments of speech. Other recognizable music, such as Maria Callas singing Casta diva from Belini’s opera Norma, K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s 70s hit Shake Your Booty and Spanish and Thai tunes punctuate the dance and create little sidebars.

The show is as much about the variability and imperfection of radio signals as it is about the fragile, urgent and unpredictability of relationship signals. In tune. Out of tune. In sync. Out of sync. It’s about a search for energy. What is it that energizes us? What do we do with our energy? How do we maintain that energy? How long can we maintain it?

Is it love that energizes us? In an amusing vignette that features an oversized heart-shaped balloon, a dancer rolls out a rug, tunes her radio to flamenco music and a humorous interaction unfolds amongst the performers.

Throughout Heart, there is a sense of the heart that beats. Sometimes this is reflected by the dancers pulsing the palms of their hands on the stage as if performing CPR. At another time, a female dancer is draped backwards over a male dancer on all fours, and the couple pulse together like a beating heart.

The only disappointment about this predominantly successful work of art is the ending. It fizzles out in a confusing movement that features Gingras twisting her body into the oddest shapes on a shaggy rug to the strains of Spanish folk music.

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From → Contemporary

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