Review: this happened… (Kate Hilliard/Citadel + Compagnie)

Photo ofKate Hilliard in this happened“Challenging and enjoyable” dance piece takes to the Toronto stage

this happened… is a contemporary dance performance by Kate Hilliard and presented by Citadel + Compagnie, currently enjoying its world premiere. The piece explores themes of grief and human connection through a variety of disciplines including movement, visual art, spoken word, and video. The evening started slowly, and I have to admit I was skeptical at first. I needn’t have worried. this happened…turned out to be inventive and engaging.

When I arrived at The Citadel/Ross Centre for Dance, I was directed downstairs to a small gallery where there was a bar selling drinks and an art exhibition. The exhibition featured white fabric and paper panels hanging from the ceiling. Some had words and images on them, but they were hard to read. There were also bags and bowls of what looked like mud around the room. I was confused, but intrigued.

At 8pm, we were invited upstairs to the performance space. The audience took their seats around the perimeter of the room. In the center, Hilliard stood in what looked like a ball gown. She very slowly moved her arms and twisted her torso while remaining in place. Luke Garwood slowly circled her wearing a pair of headphones connected by a long cord to Hilliard’s waist. In the corner sat a large, low, clear plastic box in which another dancer, Miyeko Ferguson, appeared to be suspended horizontally while surrounded by bright blue glass vases.

I started to get nervous. I have seen a fair bit of contemporary dance and am fine with plotless pieces set to minimalist scores. But I wasn’t sure I could sit through over an hour of almost no movement. Soon, however, a fourth dancer, Lukas Malkowski, began crawling across the floor. Garwood began to speak in a rapid fire, almost rap-like rhythm, and things got interesting.

What followed were several sections which combined spoken word poetry, innovative and varied movement, and improvisation. In my favourite part, the dancers seemed to be choreographing as they narrated their own movements, their words forming a percussive backdrop to the motion. I also liked a section where two of the dancers instructed the others to have a conversation. Instead of saying what they were told, the dancers responded with movement.

Throughout this happened…, movement seems like a language or code, with specific phrases that are repeated over and over. Repetition is a big part of the piece. Gestures, steps, images, and stories come back in a fugue, like waves overlapping and beginning again. I even recognized some of the images and words from the art exhibit at the start.

I particularly liked the use of video projections by Jeremy Mimnagh, which were projected on four white fabric panels hanging from the ceiling on the edges of the space. I’ve seen a lot of video used in performance these days. Often I find that it doesn’t add much. These, however, created another layer which reflected and repeated other components of the piece and reinforced the feeling of waves and water.

Contemporary dance can sometimes feel opaque and inaccessible. And ultimately, I am not sure I understood exactly what Hilliard was trying to say. But, for me, all the components of this happened… worked together to create a mood and concept that felt integrated and complete. It was a challenging and enjoyable evening.

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Photo of Kate Hilliard by Sean Rees

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