Canadian Stage presents a “hypnotic” dance double bill at the Berkeley Toronto
As part of Spotlight Australia, Canadian Stage presents a hypnotic double bill: Meeting, a joint production by AntonyHamiltonProjects and Canadian Stage, and Endings, an Insite Arts production presented by Canadian Stage. Both shows use unusual musical and performance styles to push the boundaries of stagecraft and ask questions about what it means to be human.
Unconventional performance was the order of the evening. Dance piece Meeting used a series of custom mechanical percussion instruments as its soundtrack, while theatre/performance piece Endings used old-fashioned audio technology — tapes and record players — to explore themes of death and dying. Meeting, in particular, was simply amazing; I have never seen anything like it.
To call Meeting a “dance piece” is to sell it entirely short — performers Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe moved with such discipline and coordination, it truly felt as though they had melded into part human, part mechanical beings. Their performance was an unbelievable display of shared energy. I could feel the tension in the audience as we leaned forward in our seats, captivated, sometimes laughing — the two-handed chest-slapping sequence was very funny — but mostly reveling in the intense concentration of the performers.
For much of the show, Hamilton and Macindoe were surrounded by mechanical percussion instruments that made the hollow wooden ‘tock!‘ sound of a pencil drumming on the edge of a desk. (Pencils were, in fact, an important component of the instruments.) These instruments, designed and constructed by Macindoe, were fascinating to look at and listen to, and they later became the center of the performance.
The combination of mechanical instruments and the performers’ mechanical movements inevitably had me reflecting on the boundary between people and machines. Meeting constantly heightened its stakes by establishing a boundary (by placing the performers within the circle of instruments for example), then pushing beyond it. For me, this created a powerful sense of story.
When Meeting was over and the audience had finished giving their standing ovation, my friend Laura leaned over to say, “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Technology continued to play an important role in Endings, which featured a complex layering of spoken performance, recorded audio interviews, and live folk music. The show took an unflinching, largely unsentimental look at death and dying. For better or worse, it didn’t shy away from dwelling on the intimate details: descriptions of a person’s last breath, or what it felt like to hold a loved one as their body went cold.
Since the show focused so much on death, including sharing stories of supernatural encounters, there was something undeniably eerie about hearing the voices of the speakers rise from vinyl record players under the pale glow of hanging spotlights. The ghostliness of the voices on tape invited us into a spooky sonic séance, creating the perfect marriage of message and medium.
Endings mostly maintained a peaceful mood of gentle melancholy, bolstered by Paddy Mann/Grand Salvo’s soft singing. The exception was a genuinely horrifying sequence in which performer Tamara Saulwick writhed beneath a hellish red strobe light. I haven’t been able to reconcile the contrast in tone between that moment and the rest of the show, though the sequence was intensely cinematic and compelling in its own right.
Finally, I enjoyed the callback in Endings to the mechanical instrument sounds from Meeting. It was fitting to end the evening with a reminder that the boundary between human and technology is blurrier than ever. How appropriate that Endings was the kind of show that, as Laura said to me, makes you want to phone your loved ones.
- Meeting and Endings are playing until April 30, 2017 at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre (26 Berkeley St)
- Shows run Tuesday to Sunday; see website for schedule details
- Ticket prices range from $29 – $69 per show, with the option to save 20% when you book both shows; student tickets start at $15 per show, and rush tickets are available one hour prior to showtime. See website for more pricing details and discounts
- Tickets are available online or through the box office at 416-368-3110
- Audience Advisory: Endings makes use of haze and strobe light effects.
Photo of Alisdair Macindoe and Antony Hamilton by Gregory Lorenzutti; photo of Tamara Saulwick by Sarah Walker.