A judicious mix of old and new, striking works — including three Canadian premieres, and one Canadian debut — and outstanding Toronto and international companies highlight Program One of Fall for Dance North (FFDN).
Fall for Dance North Festival/Program One: Toronto Dance Theatre, New Zealand Dance Company, Skånes Dansteater (Sweden) & Grupo Corpo (Brazil), Meridian Hall, Oct. 2 to 6. Tickets available at ticketmaster.ca. For program information, visit ffdn.com.
Now in its fifth season, Fall for Dance North (FFDN) has become Toronto’s premiere international dance festival. All tickets are just $15, and the packed houses would indicate that FFDN is attracting a whole new audience to dance.
This year there are three different programs running at Meridian Hall and Ryerson Theatre. Judging by Program One, FFDN’s artistic director Ilter Ibrahimof is continuing to choose a judicious mix of the new and the different, along with the tried and the true. As a special showcase, the Ryerson program this year is devoted to Indigenous choreographers who work in many different styles.
The most surprising work on the program, and the one that received the most heartfelt response, is Dare to Wreck from Sweden’s Skånes Dansteater. Choreographed and performed by Madeleine Mansson and Peder Nilsson, it is a duet for a disabled woman in a wheelchair, and her able-bodied partner.
Through the years, I have seen several performances featuring wheelchair dancers, but never on the same level of imagination as Mansson and Nilsson. What takes your breath away in this piece is how many different movement possibilities they have found to make the wheelchair part of the dance.
Dare to Wreck presents a troubled couple going through a crisis. It is clearly a push/pull relationship because they are both combative and tender. Mansson uses what looks like a Paralympic sports wheelchair that allows her to manoeuvre with pin-spot precision and stop on a dime. There is also no back on the chair, thus allowing a wide range of movement for both her arms and torso. Mansson and the wheelchair are one, and because she is strapped in, Nilsson can partner her as a male dancer does a female dancer. The lifts, holds and positioning that the two of them execute create a series of truly astonishing images, enhanced by Mattias Jonsson’s moody lighting and Gert Ostergaard Pedersen’s atmospheric electronic score.
Making its Canadian debut is New Zealand Dance Company performing Sigan, a haunting work for four dancers, choreographed by South Korea’s Kim Jae Duk. Kim also composed the music, an otherworldly mix of electronica and traditional Korean instruments. A large moon hovers over centre stage as the two men and two women (Xin Ji, Chrissy Kokiri, Katie Rudd and Carl Tolentino) seemingly enact a ritual dance, sometimes together, sometimes alone. The throughline vocabulary is the Korean martial art of Taekkyeon, which apparently is noted for quicksilver movement. The piece is, as the program tells us, about both meditation and attack.
What makes Sigan have such a mysterious quality is the staccato sounds of the score that are like nothing one has ever heard before, augmented by Jo Kilgour’s ethereal lighting. The work is distinguished by the integration of rapid hand and arm gestures with opposing movement from the rest of the body, interpolated by dramatic pauses. The dancers make many exits and entrances, but each time they reappear, the choreography becomes more intricate. Often they are a battalion of warriors, moving as one, and that is when one feels the full force of Kim’s dense vocabulary. With excellent dancers such as these, Kim’s highly articulated and sophisticated physicality is given a wondrous showing. The company is also performing the work In Transit by Maori choreographer Louise Potiki Bryant on the Ryerson program.
Brazil’s Grupo Corpo has appeared in Toronto many times, and is arguably the world’s most popular contemporary dance company. Founded in 1975 in Belo Horizonte in southeastern Brazil, the group is the fiefdom of the Pederneiras brothers — Rodrigo/choreography, and Paulo/set and lighting. Various other family members also contribute their skills. Rodrigo’s dances generally have no discernible theme, but rather are a pure expression of dance and music.
I truly believe that what makes Grupo Corpo so beloved is that audiences don’t have to torture their minds to figure out the choreographer’s intent., Rodrigo’s pieces generally showcase a lot of dancers, which is rare for contemporary dance in general, but it makes for an exciting stage picture, sort of like armies marching. Watching Grupo Corpo is to experience the sheer joy of movement.
Danca Sinfonica, featuring eighteen dancers, was created in 2015 to celebrate Grupo Corpo’s fortieth anniversary. Paulo’s set design involves towering, bright red drapes on both sides of the stage. They match the women’s bright red, short-sleeve leotards, their bare legs ending in black booties. The men are costumed in black. The piece is made up of choreographic elements from various works created over four decades. As well, composer Marco Antonio Guimaraes’ lush score, also called Danca Sinfonica, contains musical passages from past works.
The piece is a dizzying kaleidoscope of different dance styles performed as solos, duets and ensembles. Every few minutes there is a shift in the music to indicate a different mood and dance vocabulary. Dancers come and go, performing a passing parade of everything from the samba and modern, to ballet and jazz. Grupo Corpo’s dancers are always exquisite, blessed with the most supple and fluid bodies on the planet, with which Rodrigo creates gorgeous physical images.
The snappy opener is Hanna Kiel’s 2018 GH 5.0 for Toronto Dance Theatre, accompanied by a quartet of live musicians performing composer Greg Harrison’s driving score. TDT commissioned the piece for the company’s fiftieth anniversary in 2018, in which choreographers were asked to reimagine Christopher House’s iconic work Glass Houses (1983). The hallmark of that piece was non-stop movement where the dancers undergo a kinetic marathon, executing highly detailed physicality. For her part, Kiel really puts the TDT dancers through their paces. They run, jump, spin, leap, hop and walk, never losing contact with the relentless push of Harrison’s infectious electro-acoustic percussion.
The TDT dancers can certainly hold their own on the international stage, and kudos to Alana Elmer, Yuichiro Inoue, Megumi Kokuba, Devon Snell, Roberto Soria and Christianne Ullmark. Kiel is one of Toronto’s most exciting young choreographers and GH 5.O shows off her creative physical patternmaking to great advantage.
What I love about FFDN audiences is their rapturous response to the dance works, filling the hall with an avalanche of cheers and whistles. It is a wonderful, enthusiastic environment in which to experience dance, and when a program contains a company’s Canadian debut, along with three dance works also having their Canadian premieres, that’s not too shabby either.