Photo Courtesy of Ryerson Dances 2017

Review: Ryerson Dances 2017

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By Virginie Tanguay

How can we move forward if we’re only repeating the past? In the 2017 edition of the Ryerson performance dance program’s annual show, Dances invites four choreographers to give their points of view on contemporary dance, some tremendously successful and others struggling to figure out what that means.

The night began with Valerie Calam’s “Soft Firm Hand,” based in contemporary and modern styles set to music by Paul Shepherd, The Castanets and The Doors. The largest production of the night, featuring 21 dancers, almost seemed to resist itself, continuously falling short of what it had the potential to be.

Calam was most successful in crafting dance–which didn’t actually start until minutes into the piece–that ate up the stage, drawing our eyes from one end to the other, and surprising us with interesting diagonal formations.

The movement itself felt like it was calling back to the works of early-2000s choreographers, like Ohad Naharin and his Gaga movement, which allows the body to move as it wants to, free of intellectual restriction. And the dancers themselves largely seemed unable to give into that, holding their bodies back from completing each move before entering the next one. A standout performance was the two loose-haired blonde dancers, which, coupled with Simon Rossiter’s beautiful lighting design, looked airy and entrancing.

The director of performance dance Vicki St. Denys choreographed the second piece, “PULSE…version blue,” a reincarnation of a 2000’s work. The classic jazz piece was set to a mix of music by jazz greats, including Art Blakely, Charlie Parker and Duke Ellington.

Clearly inspired by traditional jazz works, such as those of Jerome Robbins, the dancing included snaps, claps and explosive movement. Sarah Di Iorio pulls your eye with her well-developed musicality and her way of sitting in the pocket of each step. She is consumed by her own dancing, and she in turn consumes the audience as well.

Third was Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Lickety-Split,” originally created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and set to music by psychedelic-folk artist Devendra Banhart. By far the show’s biggest success, “Lickety-Split” is exhilarating. Showcasing only nine dancers and mainly sorting them into couples, it features completely new ways of partnering.

Cerrudo’s partnering is always fluid (a testament to the dancers as well), smoothly transitioning between ways of carrying the body and moving it in the space. A distinctly human work, even in its most simple sequences it is poignant. And the dancers are simultaneously as connected to each other as they are to their dancing. “Lickety-Split” is undoubtedly brilliant, and a reason in itself to venture out to the Ryerson Theatre.

Matjesh’s Mrozweski’s “The Night Dance” closed out the night with a complicated (at times confusing) piece set to music by The Cast. The piece begins with a series of quiet, deliberate solos while those not dancing sit on benches upstage observing the scene before them. A middle section features a variety of genuinely (too uncommon) humorous characters; including a goddess, cupid-like angel and baroque opera singer; who launch a certain absurdity. About two-thirds in, the dance is interrupted by dancer Tavia Christina, as she expresses that the piece isn’t engaging with the destructed world around them, and a melancholy, reflective end soon follows. Mrozweski’s work is like a visual assault in the best possible way.

He constantly keeps your mind racing, making fast directional, stylistic and thematic changes until the very end, at which point you’re left a little dizzy. From lyricism to outlandish humour to a sombre contemplation, Mrozweski plays with genre and the dancers adapt well to each new change, treating it like a natural progression. But, I’m not so sure the audience views it as naturally.

What Dances ultimately offers is unequal choreography, some extraordinary and some contrived, with dancers who don’t always seem to transcend their self-imposed stoicism to unite with the steps. But when they do, the result is entrancing.

Catch the show playing at the Ryerson Theatre until Nov. 18. Tickets can be bought online and at the box office.

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