The Riser Project has Dance with Guts
Why Not Theatre’s The Riser Project is a series I will now be waiting for, with baited breath, every year. My senses still tingling from the stunning Oraltorio, I was once again transported to a rich and evocative world by The Other. A blend of storytelling and interpretive dance, this show is sometimes goofy and cartoonish, but it never lets you forget the very human guts holding it together.
I’m a sucker for well-executed, high-concept staging. I love fanciful set pieces and stylized movement, but I’m frequently disappointed by productions that aim for the stars but can’t quite reach them. You know what I mean: artsy, contrived fumblings that feel stagey and desperate. Here, Monica Dottor has not only reached the stars, she has pulled them down to season the aching meat of this story.
Never quite belonging is the main theme of Sharon’s tale. Raised in India, where her pale skin made her an outsider, she is uprooted as a hormonal teenager and dropped into the harsh Alberta landscape in the middle of winter. Here, surrounded by people who look more like her, her foreign accent now prevents her from blending in. Even her sexual and romantic entanglements keep her at an emotional distance as she is always “the other woman.”
Sharon narrates her own tale in the third person, so even her language is alienated. In Matt MacKenzie’s text, Sharon’s heartache and her search for attachment and integration is both visceral and cosmic. She claws her way through earthy, fleshy disappointments and yet is always grasping for the fiery stars that light her way.
Monica Dottor’s direction and choreography, as well as her set and costume design (in collaboration with James Fisher), communicate this duality with minimalist precision.
The props are whimsically strewn about, attached to the playing area with red elastics. Even as Sharon grasps and tears at them, they always snap back into place like tendons. And the dancers that help her tell her story are clad in red, fleshy garments. They are wounded creatures yet, like her, are determined and resilient.
The interpretive dances, which serve to punctuate key dramatic moments, are set to passionate, cheesy 80s pop songs. Air Supply and Bonnie Tyler are the soundtrack to Sharon’s life. These musical interludes are magic! I chuckled at their goofy self-awareness, but found myself undeniably enthralled none-the-less. The choreography is, despite the intentional silliness, actually good—really, really good!
As if the well-executed choreography wasn’t enough, each of the four dancers (Lara Ebata, Natalie Fullerton, Alida Nyquist-Schultz and Holly Treddenick) give us brief glimpses into unique little personalities as they populate Sharon’s world: sometimes antagonizing, sometimes comforting.
In addition to her work in many aspects of the staging, Dottor also plays the lead here and she is beguiling! With sharp comedic insight, she captures the humour of Sharon’s tale with simple, telling gestures like a hand sweeping the hair out of her face. And deeper, more tender truths are also made clear through the smallest of gestures. There is quiet meaning in the gentleness or violence she employs in the handling of key props.
I was thoroughly charmed by The Other.
- The Other is playing until May 14, 2016 at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West).
- See website for performance dates and times
- Tickets are $20, $10 for youth under 25
- Tickets can be purchased online or by phone (416-538-0988)
Photo of Monica Dottor by Max B. Telzerow