Dancing with the elements
Dusk Dances Ottawa 2013
By Julie Houle Cezer
The green expanses of Sandy Hill’s Strathcona Park, with its canopy of trees overlooking the Rideau River, are never more welcoming on a hot summer evening than when dance magic is in the air. Akin to a picnic with appetizers and fine wines to savour, the recent fourevening Dusk Dances tour de force offered an inspired menu of five short dances. Staged for outdoor spaces and integrated into the natural elements, these works collectively offer the audience an experience unlike any proscenium-arch production. If you are the least bit curious about dance, mark your calendar for the 2014 edition of Dusk Dances Ottawa. This accessible, pay-what-you-can adventure is well worth the trip across town.
My early arrival at the park allowed time to meander and witness pre-performance preparations. Then I, along with the gathering crowd, was treated to the antics of the opening juggling and music act, Junkyard Symphony’s Jonny Olsen and Eric Eggleston. They paved the way for quirky host Annie Lefebvre, who enthusiastically embraced her role for the third year and taking charge, she declared “C’est moi, le boss.” Bedecked in a colourful hoop skirt and sequined top, she engaged the audience in a call-and-response routine with a clown’s bulb horn that she then used to bid us follow her to each of the five dance sites.
Although conceived as experimental, performances were clearly well-polished and the dancers’ technical and performance skills were generally at a professional level. The ten-minute pieces ranged from duets to ensembles, and from light-hearted satire to traditional epic and psychological explorations.
First up, with its protagonist suspended from a towering tree, was a quintet choreographed by Michael Caldwell (Toronto) and danced to an accordion composition. Entitled The Horologium, this piece was on the surface bewitching and light-hearted, but at a deeper level, suggestive of darker undertones of mythic seduction by sirens’ songs, or perhaps just the common man’s blissful participation in his own demise.
Shiva, choreographed by dancer Anjali Patil (Ottawa) in Kathak style, was visually stunning, with insistent rhythms and shapes of the five dancers’ movements superimposed on the audience’s view of the river.
The third work, a duet by Julia Aplin (Toronto) called Onward Ho, My Love, was performed by two formidable dancers. While predictable choreographically in its narrative about relationship, this piece was made risky, exciting and fun by the use of a water
feature and horizontal slide.
The 2013 youth commission, Out of the Box, by Renata Soutter and Jessie Huggett (Ottawa), was an ambitious project. Six performers interacted with an array of cardboard boxes that served simultaneously as set, props and abstract symbols of both personal constraint and expression. Moving in a small, open field against the backdrop of a stand of trees, the performers brought exuberance and commitment to their movements with each other; however, in an outdoor setting, to sustain the attention of the audience, the through line or arc of a choreography needs to be abundantly clear. Some honing of that arc might strengthen the focus and impact of this choreography.
Finally, the twilight performance of the duet, Crepuscular, by William Yong of Zata Omm Dance Projects (Toronto) was tightly danced to good effect. The projections on the scrim of the cube set, seemingly designed to convey the buildup of fears and fantasies around
darkness, lost some of its dramatic weight because the images became too much like caricatures. Nonetheless, the exploration brought a different sensibility to the program and was appreciated by the audience as part of this unique and delightful dance journey. A mustsee for those hankering for a new appproach to dance.
For further information on Dusk Dance Ottawa, the organization licensed to produce Dusk Dances in Ottawa, go to