Performances spellbinding

Joan Sullivan
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Dance

Deborah Dunn's "Four Quartets" is inspired by T. S. Eliot's poetry, and is set against "Burnt Notion", "East Coker," "The Dry Salvages" and "Little Gidding."

The first two are voiced by Sir Alec Guinness and the latter two delivered by Dunn herself. Dancers usually perform to a musical score (or against a backdrop of silence), but this interplay of movement and text is spellbinding.

Deborah Dunn

Deborah Dunn's "Four Quartets" is inspired by T. S. Eliot's poetry, and is set against "Burnt Notion", "East Coker," "The Dry Salvages" and "Little Gidding."

The first two are voiced by Sir Alec Guinness and the latter two delivered by Dunn herself. Dancers usually perform to a musical score (or against a backdrop of silence), but this interplay of movement and text is spellbinding.

Dunn, based in Montreal, first wears a brown suit with red lining, and later changes into an Elizabethan costume, very straightforward silhouettes she uses to great effect.

Her dance is both athletic and formal, a mixture of large steps and simple postures that interpret and amplify Eliot's words.

When he mentions a rose, she turns back on to the audience, pulling her jacket, inside out, around her head and shoulders, and there she is, a luminous bloom. A passing cloud and an empty pond are sketched with eloquent hand motions.

At other moments, she floats slowly to the floor as if through water, or forms a herd of elemental animal forms. Even when she lies prone on the stage her figuration is full of points of interest.

Mainstage at The Kirk, "streamings", choreographed and performed by Tammy MacLeod (St. John's) opened against a sound of rushing water, with MacLeod, back on to the audience, sitting in one of two draped chairs.

She wears a bustling white shirt that also functions as a hamper, and then a cocoon. MacLeod's movements are articulate and she has a firm presence on stage but the piece overall seems inconclusive.

The finale, "The Research Project: the Encounter of Possibilities or the Death of Rock," comes from Compagnie de la Tourmente (Montreal).

Six performers enter, five dancers and one musician who accompany the ensemble on an upright piano (with some taped music deftly entwined).

This is an astonishing piece, which starts with the dancers donning a kind of mishmash of sports gear and moving into solos, duets and group pieces that have a kind of rough, hip-hop elegance.

As the work progresses the dance undergoes a calibrated, pinwheeling degeneration, until the stage is splattered with water, covered in gym mats, and encircled with coloured tape.

It builds and builds into a space of urban playground level nihilism, the dancers never missing a grotesque beat. This piece is completely original, lively to the point of being electric, absurd and serious, teasing and insane.

Those of us who have been keeping up on our readings of Antonin Artaud will recognize some elements of the Theatre of Cruelty.

There is something confrontational here, the dancers can be loud, and the choreography almost frightening, but it is also bizarrely beautiful, and explicable, thanks to some words of explanation from the piano player.

This Dance Festival has overall presented a very high calibre of work. With venues throughout downtown, with combinations of site-specific work, film, and performances from closed intimate spaces to more official black box theatre, the Festival dexterously staked out and nimbly claimed a neat, cosmopolitan art niche in the city.

Here's looking at the 20th Festival.

Organizations: The Kirk, Compagnie de la Tourmente, Theatre of Cruelty

Geographic location: Montreal, St. John's

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