Saturday, April 23, 2016


This week, it was two nights of back to back dance, completely different and both worth checking out.

Thursday, Native Earth Performing Arts presented the closing show of its 15-16 season.  Like Canadian Stage, the company has determined to include productions in its regular season from creators and performers who work in traditions and disciplines other than theatre.

As the boundaries shift and blur between dance, performance art and theatre for artists and creators it seems smart for companies to to offer their audiences a broader range of contemporary performance on stage. 

Indigenous dance artists, particularly ones working within a frame of their own cultural traditions tend to get pushed to the margins.  The first show on the bill was the gorgeous to look at Luu hlotitxw: Spirit Transforming by Dancers Damelahamid from the northwest coast of British Columbia.  The dance is performed in button blanket regalia and wearable sculpture created by Gitxsan artists Andrew Grenier, Cori Savard, Jimmy Charlie and David R. Boxley.   If you've ever seen a piece of Haida art, you have some point of reference for the visual aesthetic. The masks and regalia worn by the performers were absolutely stunning.

There's also a nice use of projected video (Byron Kopman, and Eagle Wing Tours, BC)  and animation by Dallas Parker that really help ground the performance in the West Coast environment.  Andy Moro provides the subtle, effective lighting. This is the perfect piece for the Earth Day weekend!

The dancers, Rebecca Baker, Margaret Grenier, Nigel Grenier and Jeanette Kotowich are also vocalists and the singing, as much as the dance, moves the piece forward. SPIRIT TRANSFORMING is an uplifting synthesis of music, dance and design elements.

I only wish it had offered a little more narrative clarity.  There was some singing in English, but I think surtitles, or perhaps more detailed program notes, like the ones you get at the COC would have been a help.

Then, there was a 45 minute interval during which we went next door and had a quite a nice dinner for $10 at the PaintBox Cafe ( $20 if you had a glass of wine, and tipped the waiter, as you should).  You can skip the dinner and just hang out, but if you're going to make a night of it, it's money well spent.

The next piece up was NGS (Native Girl Syndrome) by Montreal based choreographer, Lara Kramer.
Two utterly fearless performers, Angie Cheng and Karina Iraola ferociously perform a day in the soul-destroying lives of two street involved female addicts.

The piece begins with a screech and a roar of metal music and traffic as we see two staggeringly drunk Aboriginal women, clinging to their respective Jerry-rigged carts.  The stage is littered with detritus.  The characters' clothes are trashed:  ripped, shoes held together with duct tape. These are the people in society who are seen as garbage and treated as disposable.

Everyone who lives or works downtown in a big city walks past or over or around women like these two every day.  Kramer and her dancers show us their suffering, their struggles, their small attempts at dignity and their valiant efforts to survive in a world that treats them as worthless.  At one point, Cheng's character goes on a tirade of  repellant invective:  the judgements that have been hurled against her and are bottled up inside.

As the piece nears conclusion, the performers are wrapped in ragged bits of fur, huddled together for warmth and companionship.  We treat stray dogs much better than we treat many of the homeless humans in this rich country.

In the end, the stage is lit only with two screaming red exit signs forming both a demand and a false promise. We'll get to leave and go home, but for them, there's no way out.  On the way home, about a block from the theatre, on a cold rainy April night, my friend and I passed someone asleep in a sleeping bag huddled in a doorway.

Kramer and company have created a piece of work that sears like a bottle of acid. Yes, it could be ten minutes shorter, but I'll be thinking about NGS for a long time to come.

The next night, I headed over the the Paula Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront to see EPOCAS,  Esmeralda Enrique's  lesson on the history of flamenco.  You know that one great history class you took, with the teacher that made the past come totally to life?  This is that class.

A flamenco show is as much about the live music as it is about the gorgeous, ferocious, percussive dancing. Two singers: Manuel Soto and Tamar Ilana, two guitarists, Caroline Plante and Benjamin Barrile, Rosendo "Chendy" Leon, the percussionist, and Jerry Caringi on accordion provide the lush, rhythmic and sensual music that accompanies this crowd-pleasing show. The music is a stand-out and the band alone is worth the price of admission.

Enrique takes centre stage much of the night, although this time she shares the spotlight with the charismatic Rafael de Pino who burned up the stage in MI BAILE (Alegrias) his second-act solo.

Enrique's company of dancers are also very fine, and they execute her choreography with skill and flair. The large scale projections provide context and anchor each piece with a sense of place.

My favourite number of the evening was ZORONGO GITANO, where a full moon floated over Enrique and dancers Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, Paloma Cortes and Noelia La Morocha as they slid across the stage in their midnight blue ruched satin taffeta costumes to an Adulusian song with lyrics by Frederico Garcia Lorca, the great Spanish playwright and poet. It was absolutely beautiful.

If you are a flamenco aficionado, you may find yourself shouting "Ole!" at various points during the performance, as many in the audience did last night.  For a relative flamenco neophyte like myself, this was a very enjoyable theatrical escape.  It would make a great early Mother's Day present.

Native Earth Performing Arts and DanceWorks CoWorks present an Indigenous Dance Double Bill at 7:00 PM at the Aki Studio at the Daniels Spectrum Theatre, 585 Dundas Street until April 23 .

EPCAS by Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company continues at Paula Fleck Theatre at Harbourfront until April 24th.  or call 416 973 4000

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