A Room To Perform (Katie Lyle/Shelby Wright)/YES (Linnea Swan) 2018 SummerWorks Review

Photo of Linnea Swan by Tim Nguyen

A Room To Perform/YES, a double bill created by Katie Lyle and Shelby Wright and Linnea Swan respectively, and now playing at the 2018 SummerWorks Festival, is an interesting duo. Both pieces have to do with restrictions in dance, but one embraces the restrictions, while the other rebels against them. It’s hard to be the clinical rules-follower when the cool renegade shows up, so I feel the former show suffers a bit from the pairing, even if it holds its own.

In A Room to Perform, Lyle and Wright, with Gary Wright, Stefan Harhay, Caitlin Carlisle and Dave Tran, have created an 8×8 room frame with strategic cutouts – windows, a door, baseboards. The two experiment with and test the space inside and around it. It’s fun to see them move separately and together, trying to balance one another, and the cutouts afford visual surprises like a foot peeking out from a window. The most enjoyable part is that the audience is invited to move around the space, able to follow the performers or find the best angles.

I enjoyed the concept, but it does become repetitive quickly, with even 20 minutes feeling like the point had been made. This might be because there didn’t seem to be clearly delineated stages of change and discovery in the performance, even though they’re noted in the program; it starts and ends at approximately the same level.

Though it would probably be unfeasible with the structural integrity of the room, it would have been neat to see more of the two playing with the idea of balance in vertical space – can we get to the ceiling? – as well as with entrances and exits. Occasionally, a performer hits the side of the room, perhaps accidentally, causing a reverberation, and it might have also been interesting to develop that sonic aspect for variety.

Instead, randomly-timed and repetitive plunked chords make up the soundscape (in collaboration with Julian Hou), which adds to the sense that there’s no build or change. The chords restart and cycle, and then they stop. Maybe it’s to evoke restrictiveness, but it gives the show the feeling of an installation rather than a performance.

YES is almost a refutation of the piece before it, if not deliberately. It takes us on Linnea Swan’s journey through the world of “no” in modern dance on the way to “yes.” Swan, a longtime dancer with 25 years of experience – more than many dance ingenues have been alive – recently delved into a piece of modern dance history that, she freely admits in the video that opens the show, she hadn’t read.

It was the famous 1962 “No Manifesto” by Yvonne Rainer, which banned, among other things, connection with the audience, emotion, virtuosity, crass imagery and camp in dance. A revolution when it launched, the manifesto created an aesthetic of which Swan is thoroughly sick, and her artist’s retreat at Gibraltar Point catalyzed her response.

Dealing with a drop-off of in audience – even Swan doesn’t like to go to dance shows – and the fear of being trapped in yet another “what was that?” performance, she expertly skewers the layers of pretension in dance. She takes us through all the “no” moments, a recorded voice chastises her for these – and occasionally interrupted by deadpan stagehand Rufi Oswaldo – on the way to her manifesto. In between, she also criticizes proprietary choreography and the stigma of ageing in the dance world.

Swan is a force to behold, unafraid to show anger, embarrassment and vulnerability, to reach out to us with participatory karaoke, or to make us laugh as each attempt to perform disintegrates under the weight of “no.” She’s not content just to use irony, though; she also shows us why dance can be meaningful if we choose the positive instead. Rainer probably would have hated this show. I give it an enthusiastic YES.


A Room To Perform/YES plays at The Theatre Centre, BMO Incubator (1115 Queen Street West).

Remaining Performances:

  • Sunday August 12th, 1:15pm – 2:30pm
  • Thursday August 16th, 5:00pm – 6:15pm
  • Friday August 17th, 7:15pm – 8:30pm
  • Saturday August 18th, 6:30pm – 7:45pm

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 Linnea Swan by Tim Nguyen