Review: Half Life Motel (DanceWorks CoWorks)

Contemporary dance show Half Life Motel explores an array of moving themes


Half Life Motel, a collaborative effort of Flightworks and Blue Ceiling Dance, happens to be my first foray into Toronto’s contemporary dance scene. Presented by the DanceWorks CoWorks series at the Dancemakers Centre for Creation, I was enthralled by the deft skill of the dancers and impressed by their intensity. A show comprised of three separate pieces by three different choreographers, Half Life Motel tackles a varying array of themes in interesting and sometimes perplexing ways.

The first piece, entitled Centennial Motel and Rest is an exploration on the theme of falling. Choreographed by notable dance artist Karen Kaeja, and danced with verve by Diana Rose and Suzanne Liska, I found their partnering to be at times both tender and sensual. Sharp jerky movements mixed with fluid moments of balance and trust made Rose and Liska most interesting to watch. There is a lot of intricate floor work and, of course, falling, sometimes synchronized, and it brought me into the notion I think Kaeja was attempting to convey. Falling is a lot about timing, but also about support, its presence and absence.

The piece has some very successful moments of repetition through the first two thirds, but starts getting a little redundant near the conclusion. I was also impressed by the seamless transitions of Alaina Perttula’s lighting design and the interesting use of silence, the dancers’ breaths, music and sound effects to craft atmosphere and tone. I do admit that I was confused at Kaeja’s choice of costume for Rose specifically. A floor-length period gown that probably belongs somewhere between the Victorian and Edwardian eras, I really couldn’t grasp the intent behind it and honestly found it to be a bit of a distraction from the choreography.

The second piece was conceived and choreographed by Diana Rose and used a plush, red carpet as a prop. Reading Rose’s blurb about the creative process and what this section was aiming to achieve didn’t quite flesh out what dancer Kathleen Rea was performing, at least not for me and not entirely. Calling into question our desires and aspirations, Rea proceeds to combine a series of movements that transform from the subtle and deliberate to the exuberant and extreme, but all with an impressive attention to detail right to the curl of her fingertips.

The accompanying narration of Rea speaking of her own life, her desires for her career and her family, help push this message across, although there are some periods when she is only accompanied by music that I felt the dance became a little too abstract for me. I actually found the ending to be the most interesting and entertaining, when Rea reaches the crux of the piece and plays a little with the audience, using excellent comedic timing.

The final piece of the show, Half-Life a conceptual piece in three parts orchestrated by Blue Ceiling Dance’s Lucy Rupert, was probably my favourite and the piece I actually understood the least from a thematic perspective. With the audience having shifted during the intermission to be seated on the outskirts of the stage, I really appreciated the differing perspective as Rupert and her ensemble –made up of Amanda Acorn, Kate Nankervis and Elke Schroeder- swiftly moved across the stage. The dancers each have their own defining way of moving although I think Schroeder stood out the most for me. She was fluid and fast, often spinning in chaotic control either on her feet or on the floor, an almost literal ball of effervescent energy like a swiftly tilting planet falling out of orbit.

I think I would have liked it if all three pieces fit together a little better thematically, but the talent on stage Wednesday night was certainly worth the time. I wouldn’t recommend this show for everyone as it isn’t the most accessible, but for the most part I was enchanted and look forward to seeing more of what these companies have to offer.


  • Half Life Motel is playing at Dancemakers Centre for Creation (9 Trinity St. Suite 313) until March 23, 2013
  • Show runs Saturday at 2pm and 8pm
  • Ticket prices range from $18 – $22, with a $25 special benefit performance on Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 2 pm
  • Tickets are available through the box office at 416-204-1082