Review: Toward Light: A Tribute to Rachel Browne (Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers)

Toronto’s Fleck Dance Theatre hosts a moving display of movement by Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers

Toward Light: A Tribute to Rachel Browne is a collection of dance pieces choreographed by the late Rachel Browne, Winnipeg’s pioneer contemporary dance champion. After two sold out shows in Winnipeg, Toward Light and Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers landed in Toronto for a single performance on Saturday January 12 at the Fleck Dance Theatre.

Eight pieces were selected from the canon of Browne’s work and performed in two acts.

The first act began with the very spiritual and very soulful “Odetta’s Songs and Dances”. Following that was “Momentum”, Browne’s last choreographed piece.

“Freddy” was my personal favourite; it was playful, gender-bending and Chaplin-esque. Imagine dancer Johanna Riley as a longer, more lithe and more flexible version of the Tramp.

“Willow Island”, the fourth and final piece of the first act, was lively and colourful. The dancers were Toronto locals from Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre, adding a touch of local flair.

The second act began with “Sunstorm”: Steven Hunnie’s adaptation of Hugh Conacher’s lighting design heightened the theme of stark helplessness while the choreography emphasized the power of group healing.

Audience applause crescendoed for the last three pieces, “My Romance”, “KJ4”and “Radiance”. The audience was especially taken with the two solo performances, “My Romance” and “Radiance”, featuring Treasure Waddell and Kristen Haight, respectively.

There were elements of the elegant and spasmodic in “My Romance”; “KJ4” had a mechanized or industrial feel to it; “Radiance” took on multiple spatial levels.

The audience gave a standing ovation while members of Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre laid roses on the stage.

It is always fascinating to watch two styles of dance in synthesis with each other. Much of the choreography displays balletic discipline while also incorporating a contemporary style.

My two friends and I have divergent tastes from Saturday night’s audience. I enjoyed the first act more than the second most likely because I enjoy more soulful music and themes. I would love to attend a performance of “Odetta’s Songs and Dances”.

The second act felt more abstract, individual and introspective while the first was earthier and more relatable.

Katie, a native of Winnipeg and long-time friend of one of the dancers, confessed that contemporary dance was not in her wheelhouse. However, she felt the variety of choreography, pace, and costume design helped make the performance more accessible.

At top of show, Bianca felt like she had entered another world among dancers and lovers of dance. It was the more energetic pieces that captivated her and she commented on the standout performance of Johanna Riley as well.

Toward Light: A Tribute to Rachel Brown heads to Vancouver as part of its Canadian tour. If you have any friends in the vicinity who appreciate contemporary dance and a groundbreaking Canadian icon therewith, send them to the Scotiabank Dance Centre for a show this Tuesday January 15.

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Photo of Kristin Haight, Kayla Henry, Mark Medrano, Lise McMillan and Johanna Riley by Leif Norman