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Kemal Payza

September 25, 2019


Reviewed September 22, 2019

Gesù Theatre, Montreal

This past weekend, I stopped in to see the opening of Mythologies at the intimate Gesù Theatre in the basement of the ornate 19th-century Gesù Church on Montreal’s Park Avenue. This was the debut of a contemporary dance production by local scientist/artist/musician Kemal Payza.

Mythologies opens with Montreal-based contemporary dancer Susannah Haight (Spirit Mother) performing a short mesmerizing dance of beauty and mystique. Informed by a harp accompaniment called Imaginary Prelude, composed and performed by New York-based contemporary composer Hannah Lash, Haight is the epitome of grace in this piece. It is as if her body plays the harp, so seamlessly is the movement married to the music.

As the “story” unfolds, we meet Spirit Father, danced by David Campbell, daughter Kyzyl, played by Catherine Dagenais-Savard and, about halfway through the work, The Stranger, portrayed by Adrian W. S. Batt. Batt enters a darker stage, to a stringed accompaniment played on an old Middle Eastern oud.

mythologies rehearsalAll the dancers are strong, each displaying a distinctive character, but the standout dancer in Mythologies is Dagenais-Savard, who also choreographed a powerful vignette halfway through the show highlighting herself, Campbell and Batt dancing to a commanding piece of music featuring the enthralling Altai throat singing by an ensemble of Central Asia. Dagenais-Savard also choreographed the finale for all four dancers, to a second extract of the Altai song.

The Altai musical selection is sudden, and the dancers respond immediately and forcefully to its magnetic sound. This turn in the program energizes the full cast and takes the story to another level, one that grasps the breath with a promise of something urgent to come.

While producer Kemal Payza is reluctant to divulge any sense of the story, preferring not to bias the audience’s imagination, the names of the characters (Spirit Mother-Umai, Spirit Father-Tengki, daughter Kyzyl and The Stranger) hint at what the tale is about. Kyzyl is a city in the Tuva Republic in Eastern Russia that means “red” in Tuvan as well as Turkic languages, and the character Kyzyl is dressed completely in red. The names alone suggest something exotic and foreign from Central Asia. The Stranger could be the threatening unknown Other or simply the untrodden road that might lead to prosperity or a new vision for the future.

Either way, the daughter is attracted to The Stranger and then becomes caught between the known world of her parents (their traditional mythology) and the beckoning world of mystery beyond her childhood confines. A poem, written by Montreal songwriter Andria Piperni for the show, appears in the program and is read aloud during Dagenais-Savard’s last solo dance. It hints at “a fruitful garden in the distance/Its arms open wide with the promise of tomorrow.”

Is this not an age-old story? And is it not inevitable that youth should seek the new frontier?

In this story, The Stranger, at first feared by the parents, is ultimately accepted into the fold. This appears to be a twist, where The Stranger becomes assimilated to existing tradition – this is portrayed in a dance where Batt as The Stranger imitates the mysterious hand gestures of Campbell as Spirit Father — rather than tradition being upended by a foreign element, for example.

Several Canadian choreographers have collaborated for the show, but illuminating the entire work is a diverse soundscape of songs never before heard, including classical guitar compositions by producer Kemal Payza, new music composed by veteran Nova Scotian singer/songwriter Peter Pringle on a replica of an ancient Sumerian lyre as well as French Baroque and ancient Turkish music. The music brings an otherworldly element to the work and helps build the narrative to a crescendo as Kyzyl’s loyalty is torn between loyalty to her family and the lure of a stranger.

Mythologies is expected to play in further venues in the Quebec/Eastern Ontario region in the coming weeks.

From → Contemporary

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