[V]acant stares toward the audience and robotic movements marked many of the dancer’s performances in this year’s Ryerson Dances.
The intensive work of 57 dancers and 53 theatre production students paid off during the first show last night. The performance’s five pieces were produced by co-director of Ryerson’s theatre program Karen Duplisea, and the dancers will perform until December 1.
The first performance, Circus, set an unexpectedly-ironic start to the evening. While the title evokes thoughts of colourful, animated carnival characters, the dancers were decked in mismatched grey ensembles as they hoisted each other in rigid, mangled positions. The dancers sometimes appeared trapped in the cages, made of loosely-strung metal bars suspended from the ceiling, which I interpreted as the circus tents of their alternate universe. Not one dancer smiled during the performance– their eyes almost never shut, making them appear catatonic.
Still was the most memorable performance of the evening. This routine also had the fewest performers in it—one female and one male dancer—which worked in the piece’s favour. The dancers’ movements were unpredictable and hypnotizing, and these two had undeniable chemistry. Their gazes toward one another, seemingly magnetic as their faces touched, were violently interrupted as they pushed and shoved each other. The piece ended with a gasp from the audience, as the dancers sealed their connection with a drawn-out kiss. They walked offstage arm-in-arm, making a convincing case that even though their tensions were unresolved, they were content with their relationship.
The transition into One Rainy Day, a whimsical number, prevented the piece from being too harsh a contrast to the creepy and angst-ridden numbers before it. The male character in the piece enters the fog-filled stage first, looking lost. A clamour of female dancers follows him, and they transported the audience to the peace-and-love days of the 1960s. Jimi Hendrix played as the dancers prance high and excitedly, sometimes flinging themselves on top of one another. One of the dancers kept pausing and chanting in Italian toward the audience, which initially confused me because it didn’t fit in with the mood. But, as she repeated the words, I realized it was meant to be a playful addition.
In The Last Stand, the dancers returned to the drone-like state they were in during their first performance. The performers made me think of wound-up toys that had come alive. In identical school uniforms, they stiffly gaited across the stage and eventually, they walked into a tight circle. The dancers looked convincingly brainwashed—their movements were perfectly in-sync. Near the piece’s finish, the dancers slowly collapse onto the stage, and the dim stage lighting brightens. The dancers slowly rise and appear reborn– the dancers gathered by a tree backdrop, in which their hands fit the shape of the branches. This addition provided a captivating visual, but the voice that echoed throughout the theatre saying, “Today is for the stillness after the war,” seemed unnecessary.
The show ended with Alpha Phemale, marked by a daring, flawless solo. While the other women sported pulled-back hairdos and grey pantsuits during the first few minutes, these dancers left the stage for the soloist, whose hair was voluminous and untamed, and she wore a nude unitard. I don’t think a section of the stage was left untouched by her movements—she effortlessly leapt with clean lines. Eventually, all the women changed out of their suits and into similar unitards. They hilariously mocked modern girlishness by strutting across the stage with their hands on their hips, their chins held high and their shoulders bobbing up and down.
This year’s show was a cohesive performance that seamlessly translated complex narratives into hypnotic routines.