• Megan Andrews

Impressions of Expressions 2

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Friday, Oct. 4, 7:30pm


Program 2

Like for Program 1, here I offer a collection of my immediate descriptive responses to the

performances on Program 2.

Shantala Shivalingappa with musicians. Photo by Bruce Zinger.

Shantala Shivalingappa

Shiva Tarangam choreographed and performed by Shivalingappa with live music

A voice-over prompts our attention.

An explanation, a way in.

“O Shiva the great venerable one,

May you always be in my heart”

And so it begins.

Poised in stillness, centre stage

She appears like a crystalline form

Vibrant purple with metallic sheen

Surrounded by billowing white silk drapes

A luminous ground for her deliberate figuring

Flanked by four musicians in yellow-gold

She rises from her deep squat

Growing before our very eyes

Moving, and somehow not at all

How does she remain so still?

The music is full of motion

And she speaks with her body

To rhythms and syllables

Tumbling from flute, voice and drum

Enunciating the universe

With arms like rays that go on forever

She carves a liquid sculpture

Geometries appear and dissolve

As seconds and ages pass through her body

Time expands and contracts in these forms

This is kuchipudi

At times purely rhythmic

At others narratively detailed

(And I wish I had opera glasses

to see her facial expressions)

She steps onto a brass plate

Oscillating her weight to travel

Hovering above the earth

Drawn forward and back

By forces unseen

She returns to grounded contact

And then plays against gravity

In buoyant rebounds

And resilient connection

With Shiva the great venerable one,

Lord of the Dance.

Caroline "Lady C" Fraser. Photo by Kendra Epik.

Caroline “Lady C” Fraser

Conversation, with live music by re.verse

It was only yesterday that I first saw this piece. But it already feels familiar and I anticipate moments I remember – like the slow-motion non-verbal “argument” part way through, with danced frustration, antagonism and gradual reconciliation. I also see things that I didn’t see the first time. More detail and nuance. As the musician-dancer dialogues that open the work establish the character of this Conversation, I enjoy the lightheartedness of the colour-matched costuming. And the lighting is more dramatic here at MERIDIAN HALL than it was at Ryerson Theatre yesterday.

The dancers seem to move as though gliding on ice. So smooth.

Their individual stylings reveal personality, preference. A solid sense of self.

And they hook into unison with such casual commitment. No big deal; ensemble is also familiar ground.

It’s clear that the musicians and dancers occupy the same deep groove. It’s a shared intuition.

Mostly I’m fascinated to watch the dancers calibrate their flow, that liquid quality of ongoingness and momentum that supports their nuanced physical articulations. I say “calibrate” because it’s different than control, though there’s that too. Calibrating is a more responsive and dynamic process of adjusting in the moment. And these dancers have enormous ability to modulate: to stop on a dime – or the head of a pin, to stutter-freeze in rapid sequence, and then to fully open up the rushing releases of energy that enable upside-down orientations to snap back to upright in a split second. In this work, the musicians and dancers seem to tap a common flow that carries and punctuates the syncopated rhythms of this Conversation.

Intermission – and a surprise guest

At the end of intermission, Executive Producer Michael Caldwell takes the stage to invite surprise special guest and Canadian figure-skating champion Kurt Browning to join him. Browning enters to a roar of applause and then introduces himself as the “mean judge” on the CBC TV series Battle of the Blades. He invites several members of the show out to join him and they each share a few words of appreciation about their experience at this FFDN performance. Then Browning doffs his hat and indicates that the festival is accepting donations this evening, encouraging audience members to make a contribution to “the hat”. It’s a slightly quirky and candid moment that reveals a little of the festival’s inner spirit: a dose of genuine exuberance and an upbeat “why not?” attitude. Shiny without being too polished.

The National Ballet of Canada. Photo by Michael Slobodian

The National Ballet of Canada

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude by William Forsythe

And then it’s immediately to the bold beyond. The National Ballet of Canada’s five dancers – and live orchestra – launch into Forsythe’s tour-de-force choreography before we can even think about taking a breath. No hesitation. In fact, there is no ramp-up or countdown. The work begins in the stratosphere, stays in the stratosphere and ends in the stratosphere. Vertigo, anyone?

I described the movement vocabulary in the Program Magazine as ballet subjected to extreme torquing pressure. The three women’s super-flat, circular, chartreuse tutus accentuate the centrifugal and centripetal forces generated in the work.

Complex direction changes.

Unusual and sudden weight shifts.

Cantilevered angles that fight the logic of gravity.

And just plain speed.

(I think briefly of Balanchine’s mid-twentieth century neoclassical choreography, with its introduction of off-centre lines and initiations from the hips, which dance scholar Brenda Dixon- Gottschild has analyzed for its incorporation of Africanist movement aesthetics. Ah, the beauty and complexity of ballet’s many genealogies, impossible to trace here …)

Risk is inherent in this work, even for these dancers, with their elite physicality.

A performer stumbles out of a turn. Perhaps there was a slick patch of floor. Or a glint from

backstage that tripped her attention. Who knows? It happens.

And we all experience this nanosecond schism somehow.

A break in the space-time continuum of the dance.

What matters is the recovery (and of course we hope she’s not injured!)

I feel myself accompanying her with my own attention for a while, sensing (or maybe imagining) her rattled nerves and the extra rush of adrenalin that surges through the bloodstream in a moment like this. (Live performance, right?!)

I wish for her to have an exit and a moment to collect herself.

But these are my projections. I can’t speak to her experience – only from my own and a sense of kinaesthetic empathy.

She’s probably long forgotten about it. No time but the present.

Because the dance insists, rapidly pulling everything into its vortex.

I’m glad for the solos specifically, as they allow my vision some time to resolve.

Not that these sections are any slower; there’s just a bit less motion blur with only one dancer

on stage.

And in a flash, it’s over.

The dance disappears as though it has shifted to light speed.

(Or maybe the collapse of a star …)

Ryerson School of Performance. Photo by Bruce Zinger

Anne Plamondon | Ryerson School of Performance

FIDDLE EMBRACE by Anne Plamondon with live piano

Under a layer of fog, a river of figures slowly rolls and flows gently, almost imperceptibly,

backwards on the diagonal.

It’s dark.

The atmosphere is somber, even ominous.

One at a time they begin to rise and travel down the diagonal, stepping over other rolling bodies.

As they reach the downstage corner, they arc, crumple and descend to the floor,

Melting into the rolling mass once again.

A wave of bodies, of beings, isolated in their individual surrender to the slow roiling flow.

One rises.

Reaching, seeking, struggling.

More rise, in trios, forming arches with their arms.

Somehow resisting the magnetic downward force, pulling, pressing.

A group forms into a cresting wave.

They support a single dancer upside down, limbs flung wide.

A long suspension …

And release.

The dancers crumple in a cascade that folds the suspended one back into the mass.



Walking and meeting.

Stopping together.

Starting alone.

Six dancers in unison become a creeping creature.

Five dancers share a low morphing phrase.

A male-female duet appears.

Flowing together. Melting apart.

The atmosphere becomes cathedral-like.

A cold cast of light into a dark space through high windows.

A flat diagonal of six dancers travels obliquely from the corner.

They share a delicate gesture sequence that repeats as they step forward.

The leading edge of a wave.

A new line appears behind the first, accumulating the looping gestures.

A third line joins, completing the surge.

Throughout, two specific dancers reappear in relation.

It seems that this duet underlies the entire work.

Toward the end they appear alone in the space.

An abstract dark red image appears on the dusky upstage wall.

And ever so gradually, this upstage illumination reveals a pianist at a grand piano.

One dancer reaches toward the other.

She splays and gathers her fingers as though trying to pull something toward her.

Then she seems to convulse as though crying.

He circles her.

She lifts him over her back.

It’s just a duet, between two.

He lifts her by her limbs.

She threads one leg through the other before he gently sets her down.

He nudges his head through her encircled arms.

She catches him with a hand to his heart as he arcs back to fall forward.

They nudge and melt into one another.

As the lights fade, a wave of duets washes across the space.

Echoing this shifting embrace.

(This is an ensemble of 18 upper-level undergraduate dance students from Ryerson University’s School of Performance. They perform like a professional company.)


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