Monday, May 8, 2017

Kaeja d'Dance: Watching a CRAVE cue-to-cue

Last week I was invited to sit in on two rehearsal sessions at the Theatre Centre, both for portions of the two-week shared programming of Kaeja d'Dance and Cloud 9 (produced by Moonhorse Dance Theatre). 

It's a clever sharing. Each company takes an entire evening, but over the two weeks each company also gets a longer trajectory of performance. Contemporary dance performances in Toronto often suffer from dismally short runs, which truncates the potential growth of the creation and its interpretations, so when the arc of performances can be 5 or 6 shows and even those shows over the longer stretch of two weeks, the performers and the performances have a chance to flourish, mature, recalibrate and refine. Toronto artists and producers are getting more creative in finding way stop make this happen.

My last blog entry was about witnessing D.A. Hoskins' brand new work for Cloud 9 and today I've got something a little different: CRAVE, Karen Kaeja's 2013 duet for Michael Caldwell and Stephanie Tremblay. This remount it is being staged for the first time with live musicians for the gorgeous music by Sarah Shugarman.

No one notices when I first enter the Franco Boni Theatre, where rehearsal is taking place. What is happening is not chaotic or noisy, but full of inner activity. Intense thinking. Pacing, staring into the space, listening.

Dancers are catching a moment to check email and updates on their phones, dramaturg, choreographer and composer are triangulating the space with stage manager. Musicians are placing their instruments, stands, chairs, adjusting and tuning. Large bean bags are being dragged about -- surprisingly quiet as they go.

The most intense thing in the room is Karen Kaeja's mind. You can't hear it but you can feel it. There is a lot to synthesize in this first rehearsal with live musicians. Much time is devoted to discovering the level of amplification needed for the cello and violin, the ideal positioning and movement of musicians. All options must be heard, seen, understood.

Amid four or five separate conversations happening among the collaborators, Karen is a GPS multi-tracking system. I'm not sure how she is ingesting it all and maintaining calm. But she does.

They begin a cue-to-cue rehearsal where dancers and musicians and technical collaborators step from moment to moment to sort out cuing of sound and lights or sensitive spacing. 

As the dancers mark through the choreography I can't help but reflect on the Cloud 9 rehearsal I visited the day before. In contrast to the fully embodied marking I witnessed in the older dancers, I see Michael and Stephanie marking choreography much more internally, as though each has a small doll-like version of themselves inside and that doll is fully dancing the piece. A peculiar sensation.

This makes me wonder about a shift in ways of learning as we mature. Is there a shift from visual (or visualized) learning to visceral (visceralized?) learning? 

Either way you work, it is fascinating. 

The most wonderful part of this rehearsal is the rehearsing of the bean bags. Not even a dance of or with the bean bags, but the sheer time and figuring-out energy invested in how they get on stage and where they best land when they do arrive. 

Much time in this rehearsal is actually spent with what we might see as the more mundane aspects of the piece, entrances and exits (of people and bean bags!), the cuing of two-second transitions. As different elements and sections of choreography and sound are sewn together how visible are the stitches? They certainly don't all need to be seen or unseen, the way each of these mundane moments is finessed creates magic.

It is so clear that Michael and Stephanie are comfortable with the choreography, they know it and each in other in it down to the marrow of their bones. And rattling around in that marrow now is the live sound. Karen tells the dancers they can chill out, but once the musicians play they can't help but get on their feet and go with the music.

Dancers and musicians are enthralled with each other. They revel in each other's company. 

This synergy between musicians and dancers, within the first couple of hours of working together, is so palpable, I can't quite imagine the new dynamism and electricity that will circuit the theatre once this show opens. 

I know I want to be there to see it.

See Kaeja d'Dance in CRAVE/DEFIANT
Theatre Centre
1115 Queen St. West
Toronto ON M6J 3P4

Karen Kaeja's CRAVE
Allen Kaeja's DEFIANT

May 11 at 8pm (sold out)
May 12 at 8pm
May 13 at 8pm
May 16 at 8pm
May 17 at 8pm
May 20 at 8pm



Sunday, May 7, 2017

Cloud 9 -- An impressionist view of a rehearsal

It is worth noting that in my recent visit to a Cloud 9 rehearsal of D.A. Hoskins' "Bird Nesting in Fingers in Bloom" I did not see a run of the piece. Instead I saw a working rehearsal with technical elements at play; spacing, working, playing and serious figuring-out by all members of the team in the room from stage management to lighting designer to choreographer to dancers. 

Observing these often awkward and painstaking parts of the creative process taps into a different kind of electricity from watching a run: how do artists choose succinct and simple words to communicate twisting, multi-layered ideas? what is the image-world mutually created by the artists involved? which small moments get a large chunk of time and attention and which are left to sort themselves out? how do authority and collaboration intermingle?

My impressions of course are coloured by my personalization of these experiences.  Watching dance is visceral, personal and always reflecting my current state of being. Which is how it should be for every audience member, yes? But this is why, despite being asked quite a few times to review shows, I can't do it. I am always a questing dancer, a buoyantly bruised choreographer. I am writing this after just closing a new show for my company, while I am in the process of writing reports and evaluating how I handled all the creative and productive elements of it. So these obsessions will poke through as I watch...

In particular what seduces me in observing a working rehearsal is the action of repetition (in French this is the word most used for rehearsal), the repeating of movements, thoughts, interpretations over and over. When you have a cast of veteran artists, Larry Hahn, Karen Kaeja, Claudia Moore and Robert Regala, what is evident in the repetition is the process of learning, the process of processing. It may be this spectacular collection of dancers, but I do think it is true of many older performers, there is no veil disguising the inner work, no attempt to hide confusion or questioning.

Similarly, Darryl Hoskins responds to confusion or questioning with (paraphrased) "I don't know the answer to that yet, let's figure it out. Let's try it." Questions or confusion do not threaten the creator or the work because they are offered in absolute purity. And so are the possible solutions.

As pauses occur while Darryl and lighting designer Simon Rossiter figure some things out the dancers keep going, keep moving, working through material in full physicality. Marking or stepping through material doesn't really happen for these artists. Marking something is a full-body experience with only a small retreat to the inner world, calibrating and recalibrating the sensations always. They track these inner sensations fully which creates an outward expression that is no less dynamic, no less impactful. 

I wonder in watching this quartet if they feel like I do, that in the second half of life and dance career, there is a push-to-curtain. Not a drive to get to the end, but a drive to go with gusto, to exert oneself fully and completely. To empty oneself of all the physical impulses. An hour and a half into the rehearsal and they are still going, going, going. They haven't stopped.

Simon flashes through various lighting states, creating a dark but somehow luminous black square at centre with a bright framing, later interpreting Darryl's request for a state that creates parallel worlds between right and left. These moments of translation are astounding. It reminds me of how these "silent" art forms -- lighting design and dance-- excel in communication.

Entities that lack a voice will find brilliant ways to be heard.

Some things that moved me: 

1. A blue basketball allowed to find its own end of a bounce. Its bounce started by a man in tropical green and blue, vivid colours that remind me of the view of earth from space. 
2. Movements or transitions that take the time they take. Could we do this in life, instead of trying to move things along so fast all the time? Sometimes the time it takes is very little, sometimes we need more. Let's be honest. Rush and lull....
3. Each performer seems to have a mystery behind their eyes. Not one is the same mystery.
4. The strange words or images that Darryl uses to describe moments or actions and the nods of dancers who understand exactly what he's referring to. I don't know this language but this is a magic I love. 
5. "Smushy smushy" a whispered reminder between dancers of a new layer of quality to a certain section. What a great word. Dancers find new words to describe hybrid feelings.
6. How much movement my audience eye can take in of one duet without watching it specifically, while paying attention to a more languorous duet happening elsewhere on stage. I can see it all without realizing it exactly.  Darryl is really smart in creating this balance of just enough on both sides.
7. Claudia Moore's ability to transform to a child instantaneously, the way her face takes the light.
8. Robert Regala's subtlety: wearing the brightest colours on stage, he manages to suddenly disappear and then reappear somewhere else.
9. Larry Hahn's delicacy. His physical presence is huge but he can move like gossamer
10. Karen Kaeja's consistency. She moves in such a spontaneous way, yet in watching the repetition you see how precisely she can reproduce the in-the-moment feeling.
11. The mirror-head. Something from Oz. Disturbing and blithe at once.
12. Darryl's ability to synthesize many elements into one idea, one sentence, one image. And his kindness.

I wrote so many other notes that are, frankly, illegible and after a certain point, I stopped writing my scribbles in the dark and just tried to absorb the light of these radiant collaborators.

This is a beautiful piece, a beacon that hopefully will beckon you to the Theatre Centre next week. 

Tune in tomorrow for another impressionistic view on Karen Kaeja's "CRAVE" rehearsal, part of the Kaeja d'Dance program that shares two weeks with Cloud 9 at the Theatre Centre.

Marking its 20th anniversary, MOonhORsE Dance Theatre raises the artform to new heights in commissioned works for Cloud 9 by Lina Cruz and DA Hoskins, with performers Louise Bédard, Karen Kaeja, Larry Hahn, Claudia Moore and Robert Regala.

Tuesday May 9 at 8:00pm
Wednesday May 10 at 8:00pm
Saturday May 13 at 8:00pm
Thursday May 18 at 8:00pm
Friday May 19 at 8:00pm
Saturday May 20 at 2:00pm
The Theatre Centre, 
1115 Queen Street West 
Toronto ON M6J 3P4

$30 (general)
$22 (student/senior/artist)
Dance Card packages also available
Two card pass for Cloud 9 and Kaeja d'Dance CRAVE/DEFIANT: $39

Tickets available  or at 416-538-0988
Approximate running time: 1 hours and 20 minutes

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Lovely and Iconic Esmeralda Enrique: 5 Quick Questions

It had to be quick because the celebratory performance, An Iconic Journey, is coming up so soon, but I am thrilled to share a brief, but no-less love-filled interview with one of my favourite ladies in Toronto dance, and someone who got balls rolling in new ways in Toronto when she founded her company 35 years ago.

Esmeralda Enrique

LR: You are celebrating such a big anniversary for the company! What are a few of your proudest achievements with Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company?

EE: I am very proud that we have been able to achieve a high calibre of artistry with our individual dancers, as well as recognition from our peers in Spain, an affirmation of the many years of excellent, well-rounded training and integration of guest artists into our company productions. My core dancers have been with me for over twenty years.

EESDC in Letters to Spain

LR: What made you want to have your own company? What fuelled that first spark to form your company?

EE: It was truly out of necessity at the beginning. As a flamenco artist I needed the support of live music and other dancers to be able to perform and even for teaching. But as time went on, the ideas for choreographies, explorations and collaborations seemed to be multiplying year by year and so a more focused effort became possible.

LR: How do you take care of yourself as a performer, how do you train, keep in shape, keep creative as a mature artist, but also one who is the head of a company and a school as well?

EE: I pay attention to my body, rest as much as possible, sleep and eat healthy. I teach over 16 hours per week, in addition to rehearsals of anywhere from 5 to 15 hours a week, plus all the separate administrative work for both the school and the company. I try to be concise and not waste precious time. I take Pilates classes which help me focus on other areas of weakness and it helps me relax. I read a lot and try to be aware of all my surroundings because I can find inspiration from all that is around me. I take one day at a time and enjoy my time at home with my husband.

Esmeralda Enrique

LR: How does this upcoming show reflect your 35 years of history as a company?

EE: We will be presenting a lovely range of flamenco and classical Spanish dance, a panorama of the individual and group qualities of our artists. In our production of Queen of the Gypsies of 2004, for example, I developed some unusual techniques for playing the cajón (box drum) which have been further developed in a new piece called Latidos. We have selected past works that have resonated with the dancers and have given them new life and a different context. We are also very excited to be dancing a gorgeous new work by Ana Morales from Spain. And all this with the uplifting, tremendous energy - delicate and powerful at the same time - of our very talented musicians. In An Iconic Journey we remember our trajectory and look to the future and all its possibilities.

EESDC in Epocas

LR: What's next for EESDC? For you? What is your dream project? Or what is the next dream project?

EE: The company has various concerts and festivals this summer and the fall brings us together for planning sessions for the development of next year’s program. My dream project is a small tour within Canada and, why not, even in other parts of the world. An upcoming project for myself is a film and stage production with Kaeja d’Dance in June; and at DanceWorks 40th Anniversary presentation in the fall, a collaboration with Joanna de Souza combining flamenco and Kathak dance.

Celebrate with Esmeralda and her amazing company!!

May 5 & 6, 2017 at 8pm, May 7 at 3pm
Fleck Dance Theatre
Tickets $32-48
Box office 416 973 4000 
or follow the link below
Please check road and public transit closures or detours to make sure you can join us at Harbourfront!

all photos courtesy of Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company