Review: Varenka, Varenka! (Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie)

Theatre dance piece Varenka, Varenka! is currently playing at The Citadel in Toronto

Varenka, Varenka! just opened at The Citadel, the new space for the Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie dance troupe. I knew the address, 304 Parliament street, would be close to my house but I was surprised when I Google-mapped it and found that it was a building I had always known as a Salvation Army soup kitchen. The transformation to a dance theatre is impressive, but the historic use of the space is somewhat fitting to an interpretation of Dosteovsky’s first novel Poor Folk, an epistolary tale of two isolated and impoverished individuals who form a relationship through letters.

Dance is not a mode I know much of, but I do know some of Dosteovsky’s work and enjoy visual imagery. What I didn’t expect was to be so blown away by the accordion. I’ve heard the accordion before, but not like this. I thought it must be a special version of the instrument and it seems I was correct; upon reviewing the press material after the show I learned it was a Bayan, a Russian version. It was capable of making the sound of various instruments and doing different things at different tempos, all at once. It could even sound like the wind. At one point early on it held a note that was so high, for so long, I thought my head might explode as if I was a character in that movie Scanners. It wasn’t pleasant but it was very powerful.

And it was fitting, as the lives of the people presented are not pleasant. They are very poor, very downtrodden, very alone. The two dancers rarely interact with each other. They express themselves through a series of solo dances, mimicking the letters of the novel. I saw what I interpreted as the frenetic requirements of a manual labour job; the heavy weight of nights spent alone; the confusion of feeling one’s existence lacks meaning.

It’s very appropriate to the source material but it’s also hard to watch a cavalcade of misery with no comic relief – no relief at all, really. When it all became too one-note, I found my attention drawn to the lighting. The entire lighting setup of The Citadel seems to be LED, which is rather remarkable, as it is obviously the future of stage lighting.

A dance enthusiast would possibly find added interest in analyzing the skill of the dancers, who seemed to me to be quite adept. Just don’t go into this show expecting any hope or joy or other optimistic sentiment.


– Varenka, Varenka! is playing at The Citadel, 304 Parliament street, until March 31st
– Showtimes are Wednesday to Saturday, 8 pm
– Tickets are $25, students $15
– Tickets are available at 416-364-8011 or online.