Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: (Toronto / Dance) SKIN / Quicksand

L to R Roney Lewis, Sze Yang Ade Lam, Hiroshi Miyamoto, Paul Charbonneau and Matthew Montgomery (photo by Andrew Ribner)

The SKIN We’re In
Hari Krishnan’s double header asks the tough questions about who we are and where we come from
by Stuart Munro

Opening last night at Buddies in Bad Times, Hari Krishnan’s double header of SKIN & Quicksand is a powerful examination of lust, love, and cultural appropriation in a global community. Krishnan’s stunning choreography combined with Niraj Chag’s wonderful music and sound design combine to create a thought-provoking and highly engaging evening.

SKIN, the first half of the evening, is divided into three smaller sections – “Apollo,” “Narcissus,” and “Eros.” Far from being three independent works, each section follows on the other, with the titular narcissist of the second part being the voyeur of the NSA tryst in the first, while all three point us (literally) to the married couple of “Eros.” Choreographer Krishnan quickly establishes a clear physical vocabulary in “Apollo” that highlights the power struggle between the newly-met lovers (Paul Charbonneau and Roney Lewis), using distinct shapes and gestures created by their hands and fingers. As each man struggles for dominance, their hands are always fighting each other – never in synch. This provided a remarkable contrast to the “married-in-real-life couple” of “Eros” (Jelani and Sze-Yang Ade-Lam). Ostensibly little more than two persons engaged in an act of passionate kissing, “Eros” finds simple beauty in the intricate motions of the couple’s hands, which always acted in harmony with each other. Only “Narcissus,” impressively performed by Gerry King, seemed out of place in this trio of numbers.

Despite the power and resonance of shared physical language between the works, I had two qualms about this opening piece. In his program notes, choreographer Hari Krishnan tells us that “Apollo” is supposed to ask us questions about race (among other things mentioned above), and that “Eros” is meant to “challenge our ideas of soul-mates and true love.” None of this came across. Perhaps in another space, the portrayals of a mixed-race one night stand or a couple making out might cause some consternation. But Buddies in Bad times seems like the safest place for this kind of expression. It’s not that the pieces lacked power as a result, I just feel that these were the wrong questions to be posing to this particular audience.

Quicksand, the more complex of the two works, “was informed by the concept of Navarasa – nine archetypal emotions in Indian classical dance.” Starting at Love, and working through Revulsion, Compassion, Valour, Humour, Fear, Wonder, Anger towards Peace, Quicksand raises questions of acculturation, appropriation, and assimilation in the modern, global world. The piece opens with one dancer observing a video projection of classical Indian dance – possibly marvelling in it, and possibly mocking it. Whatever his response, it clearly impacts him as the classical Indian movements begin to inform his own physicality, and that of the other performers around him. As the dancers move through the various emotions, they let the Indian movement influence them in different ways – sometimes abandoning it, and sometimes embracing it more fully. It becomes a part of what they are, but doesn’t wholly define them.

The real marvel of the evening is the intense, symbiotic relationship between Krishnan’s choreography and Niraj Chag’s music. Throughout Quicksand, Chag’s pulsing, driving music guides the action, as much as it is driven by the choreography. It becomes impossible to tell which was conceived first, and only adds to the impressiveness of the evening. Likewise, Boyd Bonitzke’s video design helps to set the mood of the piece while continually commenting on the movement. All these elements combine wonderfully making Quicksand a powerful expression of timeless themes.

May 21 - 24
Read also an interview with Hari Krishnan

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