Allison Cummings on Combat: 2011 SummerWorks Dance Interviews

Allison Cummings, co-director of a joint production by tiny bird theatre and Sore for Punching You, reveals a bit about Combat, premiering at  SummerWorks Festival.

LR: What is Combat all about?

AC: Combat takes us into a mundane office in what might be Toronto where a young woman, returning from working in a conflict-zone overseas, attempts to re-enter society. Here she finds the tiny conflicts and bids for power amplified. Removed from the sensory experience of war she watches as her office becomes a battleground.

The piece explores scale and distance and how our relationship to conflict embodies itself into our everyday lives, whether it is happening far away on a mass scale, or within the confines of our interpersonal dynamics.

LR: How did you find or decide on your collaborators?

AC: Claire Calnan (co-director of Combat) and I began talking about collaborating together about two years ago, as we were both interested in continuing our individual practices in hybrid theatre. We then sought out performers and collaborators that were both open to and interested in exploring material through a melding of forms.

LR: Can you describe your creative process for Combat a little? What is it like in the rehearsal room?

AC: Both Claire and I approach the creation of work quite differently. We have both directed improvisational exercises, mine being mostly movement based and Claire’s being a technique called Open Canvas. We would then sit down with our writer Adam Underwood to discuss which things that appeared interested us the most.

I began choreographing segments quite early in the process, hoping to build a consistency within the world we were building that could carry throughout the piece and narrative.

We also start our rehearsals with a group ‘plank-off’. Everyone in the room assumes plank position and we decide on how long we are going to ‘plank’ for. Dylan Smith is at the most with 4 minutes, while most of us are almost at 3. This is really hard. And we are all now really buff. We are thinking that we may intimidate the other companies at the SummerWorks yard with our extraordinary buffness.

LR: What are the points of inspiration for the physicality of the production?

AC: Well, as above – Plank! Also, I have been working with images from videos of actual soldiers in Combat. With this we have created a base ‘move’ we are calling ‘Tunneling’.

Basically, it is low to the floor, sneaky and precise. Somewhat reminiscent of a soldier shimmying through a small space. Other moments in the work are built from conflicted communication, the characters built by the performers and the stillness of shock.

LR: What’s next after SummerWorks?

AC: For the team, we are approaching SummerWorks as our first phase in the development of this work. After this festival presentation, we will be gathering what we learned and planning on how to arrive at the next step. We are confident that what we are discovering is rich enough that Combat will have a life beyond this summer.

For myself, after SummerWorks, I will be getting ready to return to Thailand to enter into my second residency at Compeung, where I will be creating new work for an exhibition in Chiang Mai in December.


A tiny bird theatre/Sore for Punching You co-production

Theatre Centre

Aug 4 at 7:30pm

Aug 6at 10pm

Aug 9 at 10pm

Aug 11 at 7:30pm

Aug 12 at 5pm

Aug 14 at 5pm

All SummerWorks tickets are $15 each at the door. Tickets can also be purchased online, in person at Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson Ave, or by phone at 416-504-7529. Advance tickets are $15 plus HST and a $1 service fee. Several money-saving passes are also available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.