From its title, you might expect fantasylover, presented by Rock Bottom Movement at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, to be a fluffy, bright, shiny and candy-coated romp of a dance show. It’s not. It’s funny and quirky, but there’s a screaming, twitching violence beneath its veneer of butt-baring leotards; aesthetically, it’s the feminist dance equivalent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting. That artist, famous for his depictions of naked, contorted figures on a hellscape background, would have approved of these women who aren’t afraid to go grotesque.
Four very loosely connected stories make up fantasylover. In one, which got the most crowd approval, Tessa Virtue (Drew Berry) longs to break free from her constant partner Scott Moir (Samantha Grist) and strike out on her own, selling Nivea cream. The dancers deliver a credible rendition of Virtue and Moir’s medal-winning Olympics performance sans skates, and Berry’s vocalized sound effects when her “skates” come to heel are amusing.
In the second story, an Australian woman (Grist) leaves increasingly desperate messages to a potential date as she tries to “find herself” in the wilderness and gets hideously lost. In a third, the Bosch-iest of the lot, a representation of Annie Lennox (Mary-Dora Bloch-Hansen) fights soul-sucking demons in the afterlife. The fourth, a slight change in tone, features a king (Natasha Poon Woo) with a gigantic mimed penis who is extremely his-body-positive until he’s drummed out of his kingdom for lewd acts.
All of the dancers have fantastic control over their movements, and the choreography is intriguing. There’s a lot of rippling and almost spastic shifting in the choreography by Alyssa Martin, as if the dancers are balletic newborn fawns, but ones who have also seen enough of the world to be jaded and frustrated. All exude a positively manic intensity, occasionally tempered by Grist’s sweetness as the lonely woman in the woods. In particular, Woo’s fluid contortions as the hypersexed king are very impressive, almost exhausting to watch in their energy.
The piece is scored with disparate artists, from Lennox to Lorde to Lully, but it’s not the simple backing tracks you get in most dance shows. They’re all twisted, somehow, filtered, or sung either pleasantly or unpleasantly by the cast, led by the sultry-voiced Sydney Herauf.
All of the characters exude a strength that is slowly being broken down into a kind of over-the-top insanity. The program note indicates that this was originally designed to be a sort of utopia, but it feels like anything but, instead a criticism of fantasy and our expectations. The four stories feel of a piece, but at the same time don’t really connect cohesively, making the experience somewhat of a fever dream. It would be nice to vary the show’s intensity a little; everything feels so raw that even the humour has an edge of grotesquerie and violence to it, making it hard to stomach.
I left fantasylover feeling a little unsettled. Mostly, I was impressed by the commitment of the artists in featuring women who could both dance and scream, revelling in a kind of beautiful lack of beauty. A small part of me, though, couldn’t get that Annie Lennox song out of my head – the one that asks, “Why?”
Monday August 13th, 7:30pm – 8:30pm
Thursday August 16th, 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Friday August 17th, 11:00pm – 12:00am
SummerWorks tickets are now Pay What You Decide at $15, $25, or $35, whichever suits your budget. All tickets are general admission and there are no limits to any price level. Tickets are available at the performance venue (cash only), online, by calling 416-732-4116, and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West), open August 9-19 from 12pm-8pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 4 shows.
Photo of the company by Alyssa Martin