REVIEW: Double Bill featuring Work-In-Progress and Rafters (Dancemakers 2017 Minifest)

Double dance bill challenges expectations on the Toronto stage

This last Tuesday, I stepped out of my theatre comfort zone and attended Dancemakers’ double bill of Amanda Acorn’s untitled work-in-progress and Andrea Spaziani’s Rafters. Acorn’s work-in-progress is a collaborative dance piece featuring Robert Abubo, Lori Duncan, Bee Pallomina, and Ann Trépanier. Rafters explores the thoughts and voice of Andrea Spaziani with collaborators Alicia Grant and Julia Male. As a part of Dancemakers’ 2017 Minifest, these two pieces pushed the constructs of dance and movement. 

To be honest, this was my first step into the contemporary art dance world and I was nervous. My friend, Susan, was my date for the evening. I joked with her that I expected every one at the show to be way too hip, and that I would have to pretend to understand what was going on. And I was right! Everyone looked fresh off Queen West, and I absolutely didn’t “get” all of it, but in the end, the show opened my eyes to a whole new world of dance.

To begin, the atmosphere of Dancemakers was very inviting, from the lovely people at the box office to Dancemakers’ curator Amelia Ehrhardt’s sweet charm. The room was alive with the passion of young artists loving what they do and being excited to share it.

The first piece, a work-in-progress comprised of a presentation of research material, begun with the dancers informally setting up the stage. Watching the artists make tin foil animals and placing a tarp of sand on the stage definitely roused excitement among the audience. It also broke down the wall between the performers and audience, allowing us to feel included.

When the music did begin, the dancers started with a lovely follow-the-leader movement section. It really showed how connected the group was. I thought it was a charming way to warm the audience up. Unfortunately, from that point on the piece fell flat for me. It seemed like most of it was improvised, which isn’t a bad thing, but the flow of the piece seemed unintentional and clunky. It left Susan and I confused and bit underwhelmed.

This improvised concept allowed for some unique movement and honest moments, but in the end I wasn’t sure what choreographer Amanda Acorn’s vision was or what part she played in performance. The sand pile and tin foil animals, which were very intriguing to begin with, were never used. The whole time I was waiting for an “ah, I see” or “very interesting” moment, but it never came.

I had a tentative mind coming back from intermission, worried that I would sit there in confusion for another 50 minutes and arrive at the conclusion that maybe I’d never “get” contemporary dance. But on the contrary, for the next 50 minutes, I sat in complete enthrallment.

Rafters was memorizing from start to finish. It started still and posed like an elegant French painting, and then dissolved into a beautiful mess of thoughts and anxieties. The three dancers were so connected with the music, the silence, and each other. They filled the space with such life and power.

Andrea Spaziani’s soul was splattered all over this piece. Her spoken word layered over the music was humorous, relatable, and thoughtful. My eyes were at a constant tug-a-war between Spaziani and Alicia Grant. Their every movement conveyed a feeling. Watching them dance was truly poetry of the body.

Overall, I am very grateful that I got to see these two performances. Dance recitals and reality competitions have taught us how dance is “supposed” to look, but both numbers challenged my expectation of dance. They used the body to share stories the general population doesn’t get to see in mainstream dance. It is also a reminder that there is so much art in Toronto that you have never even heard of.

Take a chance and go experience something new. Dancemakers is a great place to start! Sure, I didn’t understand all of it, but it made me curious and impassioned. I call that a success!

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Top photo of Andrea Spaziani, Alicia Grant, and Julia Male. Bottom photo of Amanda Acorn. Photos courtesy of Dancemakers.

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