Review: Marienbad (Toronto Dance Theatre)

Internationally-acclaimed queer dance returns to the Toronto stage

Marienbad, produced by Toronto Dance Theatre, recounts the tender, turbulent relationship between two queer men through free-form movement and dance. It’s written and performed by TDT Artistic Director, Christopher House, and two-time Governor General’s Award- winner for English Drama, Jordan Tannahill. If you’re interested in artists who strive for emotional authenticity by breaking away from linear storytelling, this might be for you.

The absence of dialogue in the story creates a visceral sense of connection with the audience from moment one. We don’t know if these men are friends, lovers, or strangers, and the pieces to come are ours (and ours alone) to put together. Add to this that we sit on stage while the performance unfolds on the risers. I took my seat with an electric feeling that I was an active part of the show.

Tannahill’s moves often resemble a film on rewind, smoothed out, with touches of voguing and b-boy swagger. His body is a vehicle for his character’s sensuality, aggression, and struggle to make his impulses serve him as opposed to the other way around. His sudden bursts of physical exertion—running laps, or swinging off the wall like Spiderman—get to the crux of how being vulnerable with someone is never completely satisfying, of how nobody can get inside our heads to fully understand us.

House’s moves are elegant in their minimalism, a split between dance and performance art. They seem deliberate, as if imbued with specific meanings we are never made privy to. Unlike Tannahill’s, his character is more comfortable in his own skin, free of the anxiety to measure up to anything other than who he is, as well as free from the unreasonable expectation of being fully understood.

Together they make some engrossing choices to convey their characters’ worldviews. During one passage, they unravel each other from a mess of string, seldom touching, but focusing on each knot with heart-glowing affection. During another, they climb on top of each other, grabbing handfuls of skin for grip, but barely acknowledging the other is there. They touch without closeness, playing on the concepts of distance, intimacy, courtship, and possession, while offering us the abstract art of their entangled bodies.

Composer Matt Smith and his work are, without reservation, the third member of the cast, such is his role in shaping the emotional textures of the story. He bathes the theatre in rich vocal harmonies that make every little thing seem holy.

My guest, Shay, noted how the work’s experimental nature, and lack of any kind of plot setup, might prove too arduous for inexperienced theatregoers. She also highlighted how the choreography is peppered with small moments designed to be seared in memory, none of which are worth ruining here.

What you get with Marienbad is a love story where sweat and strain are conduits to comfort and safety with no guarantees at any point. The performers lean in to the risks of sharing oneself with another person and succeed, without harnesses or safety net, at reviving the dead metaphor of leaving it all on stage. A stunner through and through.

Details:

  • Marienbad plays until June 1, 2019 at the Winchester Street Theatre (80 Winchester Street).
  • Shows run Wednesday to Saturday at 8PM and Sunday, May 26, at 2PM.
  • Ticket prices range from $20-30 and are available online.

Photo of Jordan Tannahill and Christopher House by Alejandro Santiago.

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