writers on dancing


Au Courant

Toronto Dance Theatre
"Sly Verb"
The Joyce Theater
New York City
Sunday, February 20, 2005

By Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva

The Toronto Dance Theatre, accomplished and gifted, came to New York last week with "Sly Verb" (2003), an idea-driven work filled with surprisingly familiar elements. A wave of people some naked, some dressed, pouring attractively out of the upstage wing on the right? Bill T. Jones "Continuous Replay." On stage surgical manipulations? (And hey, this was really gross, involving a supine woman in underwear, a surgical attendant in the nude—nice bikini wax!—and an operating team featuring a real time videographer and a "surgeon" who drew blood from the lovely patient's finger with a lancet, swabbed saliva from her open mouth, clipped her fingernail, and plucked a hair from her belly, then fastening the items into a fetish. All seen on four screens in close up, and in person at the front of the stage, if you could stand to watch.) Zeitgeist city! Similar sights could be seen recently in Sasha Waltz's "Korper" and more mutedly in Susan Marshall's "Other Stories," to say nothing of on your television, where flipping through the channels exposes you to all sorts of gruesome procedures which remind you of why you didn't go to medical or dental school, to say nothing of discouraging snacking.

The choreography is credited to the company's artistic director, Christopher House, but it is also billed as "created and performed by" its cast of ten. It is the usual length for these days, seventy-five minutes with no intermission, but they are seventy-five long minutes, what with the dancers getting dressed and undressed time and again, and barking, and otherwise acting out. House's program note tells us—heaven knows I did not somehow intuit this—that he was inspired by "Deane Juhan's seminal text ‘Job's Body,' David Abrahm's ‘The Spell of the Sensuous," and the remarkable life energy of my collaborators." The work is about touch, at least that's what it claims. I wondered if there wasn't some sort of self-consciously Canadian sub-textual intermix, what with some French stuff on the soundtrack and in the air, and an outbreak of what sounded like throat singing.

The outstanding male duet looked a lot like early Pilobolus, with cantilevering and such, and most of the solos looked self-invented. What stays in the mind are individual snap shots of bodies: a naked man seated on the floor at the left, a naked man working himself into a mesh cage—the set looked like something you could make with acres of aluminum foil and a lot of time—and so forth. More fleeting but most interesting at the time were the group sections that were just about dancing, as if inside this dance, and these dancers, there was a clearer dance trying to get out, a work not collaborative, but single minded, and only about itself. If it is true, as I perversely believe, that inside every non-narrative dance there is a narrative trying to get out, it is sadly less true that inside every narrative piece there is a formalist structure lurking. But such is the case here.

About the nudity, so limiting in this context, which is neither pornographic nor private: Big hairy deal! Forget not sharing a stage with children or dogs. What you really want to avoid is being upstaged by a penis, even if it is your own. Clothes are good. And so is dancing.

Volume 3, No. 9
February 21, 2005

copyright ©2005 Nancy Dalva


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