Review: New Animal (605 Collective)

Shay Kuebler, Amber Funk Barton. Photo by Robert Sondergaard

Dancers get animalistic in New Animal playing at Toronto’s Enwave Theatre

In a quiet lobby at the Enwave Theatre I was hesitantly excited to see New Animal. I love seeing Canadian artists from out of town. By seeing these touring shows I get a taste of what else is going in our massive country. New Animal is a snap shot from Vancouver’s 605 Collective.

This piece really is all in the title. New Animal, you know what to expect. Animalistic behaviour dressed up in people clothes. It was vicious and violent. All the elements worked together to add to the voice of the work.

I was struck by the lack of compassion in the work. We have all seen animal documentaries with baby animals. Animals are not without compassion, yet this piece focused on the stereotypical violent interpretation of animalistic.

One element in the show that I did find innovative and to the point was the use of lemons. The dancers had them in their mouths, ripped them apart with their teeth. We watched as the sour juices gushed down their faces. The dancers used them to taunt each other, and prove their status in the group. Introduced in a video at the opening of the show, the lemons were ever present.

In keeping with the theme, the choreography was super physical and muscular. It was great to see some dancing with a punch. The movements of New Animal drew from the strengths of the dancers, including vocabulary from breaking and urban dance along with floor work and contemporary dance. Being a work about our animalistic nature, it was very grounded. It also included small animals like twitches, quick scratching, shaking, and sniffing. These details made it easier to believe that we were watching a group of animal-humans.

The dancers were absolutely committed to their characters. They completely embodied the animalistic. It was refreshing to see that all the dancers had a strong edge to their dancing. When softness was called for did not diminish this strength. One of my favourite moments of the evening was when the three men collectively slowed down time. Through impeccable unison the they seemed to defy time and gravity as they fell in slow motion. It may have been slow and soft, but nonetheless it maintained the power from the rest of the dance.

In a funny kind of way New Animal was so focused that it was slightly too much. Not only was the choreography and dancers committed to the theme but so were all the other elements. The music included artists like Boredoms and MIA. Most of the songs used were strong, loud, and gripping, each added to the portrayal of animal. The costumes were gray and yellow, eluding to the hardness of concrete and the yellow of the lemons. With a title like New Animal there should be an element of the unexpected.

The dancers were obviously portraying some sort of animal, but the choice to dress the dancers in street clothes reflected the connection to humans. After all, we are all animals. I wonder if this was exploring the animal in our human nature. What is our nature? There were a few times when I felt this connection. One time being when a performer stared down another until he cowering on the floor. How as social beings are we still animal?


Photo of Shay Kuebler and Amber Funk Barton by Robert Sondergaard.