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Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Immersive Dance: Talented Cast, Design Team Light Up TranscenDance’s Atmospheric ‘A Grimm Night’

By Anya Wassenberg on April 15, 2022

Kelly Shaw and Tyler Gledhill in 'A Grimm Night' (Photo: SVPhotography)
Kelly Shaw and Tyler Gledhill in ‘A Grimm Night’ (Photo: SVPhotography)

Transcen|Dance Project/A Grimm Night, directed & choreographed by Julia Cratchley, music composed by Owen Belton. The Great Hall, Apr. 14 to 17 (including late night performances). Tickets available here

A fever dream of fairy tales takes over the venerable Great Hall for an immersive dance experience in Transcen|Dance Project’s A Grimm Night. The audience is masked (doubly so — including mandatory masking and one for the top half of the face given on arrival), and wanders from basement to second floor as two stories unfold in dance.

It begins as the audience gathers under the glittering chandelier in The Great Hall’s ballroom, where a dancer in the costume of a stag (Bri Clarke) moves around the floor and through the audience, and a black-clad Master of Ceremonies (Clayton Gray) waits to begin the proceedings. When it’s time, your invitation tells you where to begin.

Based on the classic Cinderella and Snow White/Rose Red fairy tales, what part of the story you observe at any given time depends on where you are. The creative team has created The Enchanted Garden in the basement, complete with hanging roses and garlands, a magical tree, and a fabulous butterfly tree installation by Noelle Hamlyn. With low lighting and a little dry ice, the effect is complete.

Rose’s story unfolds here, beginning with Prince Phillip (Jack Rennie). But, in the course of their story, they also cross paths with Cinderella and Prince Charming (Tyler Gledhill). That story is largely being acted out upstairs, and as they leave the Enchanted Garden, they are going back up to Cinderella’s storyline.

Jack Rennie in 'A Grimm Night' (Photo: Anya Wassenberg)
Jack Rennie in ‘A Grimm Night’ (Photo: Anya Wassenberg)

Short dance sequences, solo, pas de deux or trois, run into each other as the dancers enter and exit the scene. Slowly the story begins to take shape.

Your choice, as a member of the audience, is to either stay in the Garden, or follow them to the castle and the ball, or vice versa as the case may be. Or, as most people at opening night seemed to prefer, to wander back and forth between the two scenarios at will.

As you navigate the stairs, however, Cinderella may run by you, muttering under her breath.

Upstairs, there is a bedroom/boudoir area for the Stepmother (the ever dynamic Evelyn Hart), Step Sisters, and Cinderella to get ready. Your decision of whether to follow which characters has consequences. When the Steps run to try on shoes with Prince Charming, you may find yourself locked in the bedroom with Cinderella, desperately trying to find the key.

You may, in fact, be asked by Cinderella to help open the locked box that contains the key to her (and your) freedom.

The dance is real, and not watered down for mass consumption, but the interactive elements — and the fact you can lounge on the couch while Evelyn Hart and other dancers perform within reaching distance — add a level of fun the audience doesn’t usually experience during a performance.

Sarah MacDonald and Jack Rennie in 'A Grimm Night' (Photo: Olivia Fedele)
Sarah MacDonald and Jack Rennie in ‘A Grimm Night’ (Photo: Olivia Fedele)

The stories don’t necessarily stick to the traditional script, and with a degree of sensuality (particularly in the Rose Red tale), these aren’t taken from the pages of any kids’ story book.

The music by Owen Belton is appropriately atmospheric, and ranges from dramatic surges of sound to bird songs to light classical music as needed. Choreography by Julia Cratchley (who also directs) is necessarily tight and has to convey the drama of the story without a lot of leaps and bounds that may connect with an audience member. The results are most dramatic when given a sinuous kind of energy, notably in Joey Arrigo’s wonderfully muscular turn as the Evil Queen.

Fey and captivating were the trio of Faeries, Tyler Angell, Dana MacDonald, and Sam Darius. With a seamless and intimate choreographic language, they conveyed a nicely otherworldly presence in the Rose Red story. They played well off the damsel in distress Rose (Sarah MacDonald).

Step Sisters Martha Hart and Julia Cosentino acquitted themselves with a striking sense of personality, and a dash of humour, balancing a strong performance by Kelly Shaw as our heroine Cinderella.

Evelyn Hart and Martha Hart in 'A Grimm Night' (Photo: Olivia Fedele)
Evelyn Hart and Martha Hart in ‘A Grimm Night’ (Photo: Olivia Fedele)

Evelyn Hart, as Step Mother Agatha, was a whirlwind of energy. Costumed in a detailed black Victorian number with various accessories, she embodied the role with the expected aplomb.

Of particular note is the focus of the performers. It’s one thing to perform in a silent auditorium, with the audience in the dark, and at a safe distance behind rows of seats. It’s quite another to stay in character and on the mark flawlessly while Toronto’s arts lovers wander around you quaffing flutes of champagne.

At one moment, I was standing in the hallway beside a mirror, and in what seemed like a split second, Evelyn Hart flew out of the bedroom area to stop in front of it, consulting her image for a few seconds as part of the story. (As it goes on, she notices a poster on the wall behind her declaring that the Prince is looking for someone with a certain special slipper…) With a surprised audience member literally inches away, her intensity never so much as faltered.

Along with the attention to detail in the set and lighting design, The Great Hall itself, with all its neo-Baroque grandeur, plays a role in adding to the dreamy mood of the evening.

The idea of broadening the audience for contemporary dance from the usual aficionados to something the average upscale citizen might want to attend for fun has long been a discussion within the dance community. Using familiar stories, talented and appealing dancers, and first-rate stagecraft to create the atmosphere may have given Transcen|Dance the sought after answer to that quest.

Some special circumstance apply to this performance. If you’re planning on going, they are detailed here.

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