Post by Melissa Poon.
I hear waves crash and see the red curtain lift moments later. It’s dark inside the theatre so I find it a little hard to discern the performers at first. As my eyes adjust to the dim lighting, I begin to make out the figures on stage. Dressed in various ensembles of black, the dancers were spread out across the stage, bobbing up and down on the spot in a smooth, rhythmic motion, recreating the visual movement of waves as the sounds of the surf frolicked in the background. The performers gradually came together as a group in the centre of the stage, all bent over, stepping in place. Then, a male and a female dancer from opposite ends of the circle, each costumed in white, rise up, reaching for each other, reaching.
The 2016 Canada Dance Festival took place last week and I got in on a bit of the action towards its end with the 50 Dancer Project, Timeframe, choreographed by the brilliant Robert Desrosiers. Featuring the graduating classes of four talented dance schools – L’école de danse de Québec, The School of Contemporary Dancers, The School of Dance – Contemporary Dance Programme, and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre – this unique performance brought together dancers of various ages from different regions, backgrounds, and dance styles.
The performance took place in the National Arts Centre Theatre. While the Theatre is a smaller space than Southam Hall, it fit the 50 Dancer Project beautifully. An intimate atmosphere was created where the audience could feel much closer to the performers and almost as if a part of the performance itself.
After the opening group segment, there was an assortment of performances that featured each of the different schools. There was a mix of various styles, from more contemporary and modern pieces to choreography that seemed more rooted in classical ballet technique, which allowed for each school to make its own distinguishing mark. Each number displayed the talents of the individual schools’ graduating dancers and solo and duet segments were interspersed throughout. Beautiful lines, fluid motions, and a wonderful use of space characterized Desrosier’s Timeframe.
The lighting also added to the performance, with specially coordinated setups and lighting patterns for each of the numbers, contributing a distinctive flair to the mood of the pieces overall. I also found the transitions between the numbers to be quite original, incorporating instruments like a handbell and tambourine.
The 50 Dancer Project really took you away on a journey that had you laughing at some moments, awe-struck in others, and mesmerized throughout. Desrosiers’s choreography had that special ability to sweep you into a story; he made the most of the performance space and the abilities of the dancers with whom he was working and in turn, the performers took his choreography and made it come alive.
All in all, the 50 Dancer Project may not have been the cleanest and most flawless performance I have ever seen, but it was certainly one of the most genuine and heartfelt. It’s important to bear in mind that all the dancers came together and put the entire performance together in a very short time frame – that in itself is a remarkable accomplishment. Timeframe was a unique and special performance that celebrated all of the dancers’ hard work and passion, and they all very much deserved their standing ovation.
The dancers come together again as they did at the beginning of the performance, moving up and down, up and down, a steady metronome to the sound of crashing waves in the background. Once again, a male and a female dancer from opposite ends of the circle, each costumed in white, rise up, reaching for each other, reaching. They get closer and closer and the audience is holding its breath, waiting for the moment of their meeting. Finally, their hands touch and they reach each other. They hold each other, simply. The rest of the dancers move outwards to encircle them, going around and around. The curtain falls as their movement continues; it is only at the moment when the red fabric touches the stage floor that everyone dares to take a breath.