Eight award-winning choreographers’ work takes the stage for Toronto’s Black History Month celebrations
Queens Calling, presented by Dance Immersion at Harbourfront Centre Theatre, features the work of eight female choreographers from across Canada, the US and the UK and is part of the TD Then and Now series for Black History Month.
When I read that it was dedicated to the 219 girls abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was bracing myself for something very bleak. I won’t lie, I was pretty thankful that it wasn’t two hours of doom and gloom.
Each choreographer presented a 10 minute piece, which was great because it meant that if there was a piece you didn’t like, you knew you’d be onto a new one soon enough.
I think this is my first official dance review for Mooney on Theatre. It’s something I’ve avoided in the past for two reasons: I haven’t been particularly interested in dance in the past; and I have no experience with it whatsoever.
When I saw Jasmyne Fyffe‘s Pulse at Next Stage Festival in January the first part of that was taken care of. In fact, I think I tweeted something to the effect of “this is a dance show that makes me want to go to more dance shows” the night I first saw it – yes, I went twice. As for the second part, well, I remembered that I have often said that my ideal reviewer is someone who hasn’t seen a play since high school, because they can speak to what the experience is like for someone not versed in theatre, so why not the same thing for dance?
That was all a bit of a convoluted way of saying, as you read this review, read it knowing that I have no background or experience with dance, so this would be a good review for someone who wants to know about a dance show but doesn’t want to get bogged down in technical dance stuff.
And now to the meat. The show consisted of eight ten-minute pieces and was started with some excerpts from Jasmyne Fyffe’s aforementioned Pulse. Given the gushing I’ve already done, it won’t surprise you that I enjoyed the two pieces she included in the excerpt, although I have to say I didn’t enjoy them as much as I did when they were part of the whole original show. It’s really hard for me to step back and see them as their own entities, so I can’t tell you what I thought of them on their own. All I would be able to do is compare them to the previous performances I saw, which isn’t particularly useful.
What I will say is that I found the other dancers enjoyable to watch, but once Fyffe stepped on stage I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I don’t know what it is exactly, something about the way she inhabits her body, the way she moves. It is so dynamic. She is exceptionally grounded, every movement seems to have a purpose. I was struck by her feet at this performance, just the position of them, deliberate, purposeful, dynamic.
I won’t go through all eight pieces individually, but let me assure you that there was a hell of a lot of talent on that stage. I will highlight my favourites though.
I am so in love with the piece Ceci n’est pas Noire by Alesandra Seutin that when I heard that it was an excerpt of a 50 minute piece my heart leapt with joy at the idea of someday being able to see a longer version. It is a dance piece, but it’s also a theatre piece, an interactive piece, a musical piece, really, it’s just an absolutely beautiful piece. I was blown away to hear the answers the audience members were willing to give to questions that they couldn’t know – for instance “do I like reggae?” – with enthusiasm and confidence, why do they think they know? But for 10 minutes I was under a spell. It was a wonderful performance. Of course, Seutin is here from the UK, so the chances of me getting to see the full piece anytime soon are pretty slim, but a girl can dream.
In the second half of the show we’re treated to a piece that not only plays around with gender and gender roles in dance, but it also invites us to be playful in general, even laugh. I love stuff that probes you, makes you ask yourself some important questions, but lets you laugh and play at the same time. Déjà Vu: Jamais Vu, choreographed by Michèle Moss and performed by Deanne Walsh and Sabrina “Naz” Comanescu did that for me and it was delightful. Walsh and Comanescu were both so great, not just great dancers, which they were, I loved watching them move, but also great actors, which I’m realising is important for me. It’s not just about how a dancer moves that conveys meaning, it’s everything, including facial expressions and the energy between the dancers.
The vaudevillian feel of the piece, from the energetic jazzy soundtrack to the many costume changes, right on through to the playful interactions between the performers on stage set the tone perfectly. You could tell from the few nervous twitters from the audience that they were unsure if they were really allowed to laugh with the folks on stage, which made me wonder if normally in dance shows laughing is bit of a no-no. My guffaws seemed to get a couple of side-eyes, although my laugh is anything but subtle so that’s nothing new.
The night was capped off by Zab Maboungou‘s Lwáza performed by Karla Etienne and Mithra Rabel with Elli Miller-Maboungou on drums and it was a perfect finish. I’ll be honest, when it first started I was worried. I thought I was going to bore me, it was one woman with sparse movements. Those fears were quickly allayed as the pace quickened and a second dancer took the stage. These two women were wonderful and dynamic. I found myself marveling at how the movements could seem somehow both almost weightless and completely grounded at the same time. The pairing with live drumming felt perfect, with it on stage and Miller-Maboungou facing the dancers it not only made it an integral part of the performance, it also made it feel like a conversation between drummer and dancers. The power and energy on stage was the perfect way to end the evening.
Overall I didn’t love all the pieces, but I adored some of them, enjoyed others, and the pieces that I weren’t really my thing, well, they were only ten minutes long. That’s a pretty great way to spend a couple hours if you ask me. As for being worried about doom and gloom, I missed the key difference between ‘dedicated to’ and ‘about’ the abducted girls when I first read about the piece. For the most part this felt far more about celebrating strength and hope than focusing on doom and gloom.
If you are reading this the day it is published, you have two more chances to see this, both TODAY. One at 1pm, and one at 8pm.
- Queens Calling plays until Saturday February 7 at Harbourfront Theatre – formerly Enwave Theatre (231 Queens Quay West)
- Show runs on Saturday at 1pm and 8pm
- Ticket prices are $25-$30 for Adults and $15 for Students under 25; with discounts available for Seniors and Groups. They are available at the Harbourfront Centre Box Office, by phone at 416-973-4000 or online
Photo of Brandon Burton and Jessica G Thomas in The Third Side by Christopher Cushman