Feature: Ryerson Dances 2011 Review

On November 22, Ryerson Dances 2011 opened at the Ryerson Theatre. The program consisted of four performance pieces, created by well-known choreographers: Intricate Freedom by Valerie Calam, Arsenio Andrade Calderon’s Encounters, Allen Kaeja’s Axon, and Indigo Moods by Vicki St. Denys.

The themeless program was a mixed bag of styles, ranging from Calam’s wildly chaotic individual-focused performance to St. Denys’s sensual, jazzy piece.

Intricate Freedom, the first performance of the night, was described in Calam’s choreographer’s notes as a piece that “shows the dancers performing as themselves within a group.” It certainly did that — it was incredibly rare to see the dancers moving in unison. Though they may have danced at the same time, it was almost never the same choreography. The result was an almost stressful test for the audience; you could never truly see everything, and it forced you to try to look everywhere at once. This technique was reminiscent of Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room.

However, when the dancers were brought together to perform the same choreography, the result was almost breath-taking.

Arseno Andrade Calderon’s Encounters, the second piece, was what stole the show for me. The very bold, unapologetic sensuality of it was impressive, demonstrated best by the two dancers who spent a good portion of the performance in the middle of the stage, on the verge of kissing.

The costumes — nude body suits — served to drive the audience to distraction, while heightening the attention to dancers’ extensions (more elaborate costumes can, occasionally, detract from the cleanness of a dancer’s lines). The camera that filmed them from behind and projected the image onto the back screen only added to the somewhat taboo feeling of the entire piece — it was like looking in on something private and beautiful.

The best part of the performance may have been when the three male dancers leapt off the stage and sat down in the audience — and then managed to remain straight-faced while the little girl sitting beside me kept sneaking sideways glances at them until they returned to the stage.

Axon stood out because of its interesting use of partnering. In the other three pieces lifts and throws were generally relegated to the male dancers, whereas in Axon, female dancers were lifting and throwing each other; as well, the guys were being tossed and lifted by their female counterparts. It was quite impressive, and showcased the strength of each dancer. I also liked how fast-paced the routine was, and the techno music that Kaeja used.

Indigo Moods by Vicki St. Denys was actually choreographed at Ryerson in 1998 for a cast of nine dancers, and was performed again in 2003. Since then, the final section of the piece was presented at the Banff Centre for the Arts by the Dance Program. Ballet Kelowna featured the work as the closing piece to their 2006 and 2010 seasons, and it was re-worked this year for Ryerson Dances 2011.

It was a piece that felt like it had been taken right from the New Orleans jazz scene. They used props to make the stage look like a speakeasy, and the costumes — tailored pants, pencil skirts, corset tops, and button-ups, in shades of blue — were very sophisticated. I loved the theatricality of the performance, and the obvious enjoyment the dancers brought to the stage. Pieces like Indigo Moods are a perfect illustration of why I love dance.

(This was for the December/January issue of the Ryerson Free Press. It’s been a while since I’ve posted my published work, so I thought I’d put up a few.)

– Kelsey

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