Closer by Vice Versa Company playing at Toronto Media Arts Centre (32 Lisgar St.) as part of the 2019 SummerWorks Festival, redefines traditional understandings of “upstage” and “downstage” by using a Parkdale alley spanning a city block as the performance space. It was somewhat daunting to sign a liability waiver and be led into a dark alley in advance of this performance, but the show was not at all scary.
The dance begins at the far end of the alley, so far upstage that at first movement was almost imperceptible. As the dance presentation unfolds, the performers literally move closer to the audience. All of the performers are dressed in white, but as they move closer, details of their garb that expose aspects of the performers’ identities become clearer.
Public space performances pose a mix of benefits and challenges. One challenge for the performance I saw was a raucous, Queen West back yard party occurring directly behind the audience. On the other hand, other events (cars using the alley to make three point turns and a pizza delivery to a low key get together in front of an alley garage) became part of the performance.
Another challenge is that most of the movement takes place so far upstage that many of the nuances of pose and gesture were lost. There are times when each performer’s choreography is similar, but not identical. The distance made it difficult to glean the intent of these subtle differences. Likewise, there is a moment when the troupe runs downstage but one performer trips and falls to the ground and the other performers return to assist them. When this sequence is repeated, it is difficult to determine if it is a different performer who falls.
Closer was certainly visually interesting, but my companion and I were a bit out to sea in terms of interpreting meaning. Perhaps having the entire troupe moving as a block at the same stage level was meant to elucidate the theme of closeness, but I believe this performance could be strengthened by bringing the movement downstage sooner or perhaps having some troupe members downstage while others are upstage. In the shows current incarnation, by the time we could see the performers faces and gestures in focus, there was only about 5 minutes left of a half hour presentation.
There are a lot of good ideas here, presented in an innovative space. Definitely a good starting point for further development of this dance piece.
This review is a snapshot of the first performance of a work-in-progress. The production is one of several pieces at the festival presented as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming introduced in 2019. The participants in SW Lab are still in the development process and will continue to evolve throughout the festival.
- Thursday August 8th 9:30pm – 10:00pm
- Saturday August 10th 4:30pm – 5:00pm
- Saturday August 10th 7:00pm – 7:30pm
- Sunday August 11th 8:30pm – 9:00pm
- Monday August 12th 5:00pm – 5:30pm
- Monday August 12th 8:00pm – 8:30pm
Photo of Jenn Godwin provided by Company