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The Kitchen
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Flash Review 3: Confused? Pass the Pomegranates
In House's House with the Odyssey

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- Bon appetit to you too. Christopher House's "Persephone's Lunch," premiered last week by Toronto Dance Theatre at Premier Dance Theatre, is a pot luck affair. Bring your own booze, thoughts, and interpretations and linger to savour. They say that a truly cultured individual is equally at ease at a twelve course meal for the prince as swilling pints at the pub and indeed, TDT does prepare the meal with all the right people, poses and pomegranates. I don't think we saw the gamut of items listed in the lofty program notes -- "light and dark, energy and adventure -- to examine some of the pain duplicity and opportunism or this world, " etcetera -- but it doesn't make an iota of difference. The strong dancing and fun things like sheepskins tossed like swirling pizza dough, men in pumps, and Kristy Kennedy with William Yong duets were enough for me. If we really want an Odyssey, a pointed and clear journey or homage to Homer, I strongly suggest further development of the piece. If we want a frolic with guts, with clever TDT strength and beauty, we are there already. Park your (Trojan) Horse and come inside. The snaking line of dancers at the beginning; a duet by stunning newcomers Megan Branson and Gail Skrela; and the final scene of six couples dressed in red among many other sections were wholly engaging. The freedom and clarity of House's choreography is elegant, sensual and energetic.

Upstage, a suggestion of a banquet table set for twelve; bottles of water dangle above interspersed with a couple dozen flats or wooden skids that hang flat facing us. Waves, water, wood -- it is ship, yes I gather this, but the thing about this delectable morsel of creativity is that it's so hard to get a logical grip on what's going on that this is our Odyssey as well as Christopher House's. It's not at all a disagreeable experience, but the edges of the piece, the usual defining bits of a performance piece: characters; purpose; plot; place; raw emotion; or even just dance for dance sake, are still lapping at the beach, either shipwrecked and wretched in rags, or drunk in the sun. They must be somewhere (ordering margaritas perhaps). Or maybe they're in a next incarnation of this work? Or not. We get snippets of myth: sirens; sheepskins; pig-beasts; orgy activities and young godlike male athletes in pumps that reminded me of the ancient sport of Crete in which nearly naked youths grab bull horns and propel themselves over the beast's head. Ponder.

Phil Strong's music is truly beautiful. It's a mixture of Mediterranean ooze: chorus of deep voices, soaring soprano longing, North African beats and tones and a modern funk. It manages to be sensual and compelling without distracting. The set is suggestive, but not the most enticing or beatiful of James Robertson's efforts.

Dancers work in groups, solo, and duos. A large screen shows us occasional image and explanation from above, and House verbally pokes fun at his creation and life. This time it occurs to me that the voiceovers are about as pleasant as hearing someone you love talk during a key scene in a movie -- you want to know what they think, but can't it wait honey? Also, the multi-media addition left me basically indifferent.

House tells us "I have given a name to my pain and I call it dog. It is just as clever and just as painless as another dog." Pardon? That's nice. Other things to consider: Was Jessica Runge a lack-luster Persephone waiting for Odysseus in her lengthy solo? What about sneaking past the blind Cyclops? Did that happen? Did I imagine this part all by myself. I think so. And that is the 'kicker' about "Persephone's Lunch": if you've got a smattering of a notion of The Odyssey and are willing to watch with a "We're here now, entertain us" attitude, you'll enjoy the voyage. Happily, the lack of defining points led me into an interesting discussion with AC (inquisitive and well-read actor) and JP (Harvard-educated Doctor of English lit), who know the Odyssey infinitely better than I, but still none understood why we really need the Odyssey reference in this dance at all. The elements dally around and stick to choreography when they feel like it.

I thought of what is in my mind a House trilogy (did I read that somewhere?): "Severe Clear," "Nest," and "Persephone's Lunch. "Severe Clear" is a physical journey through the Canadian North; "Nest" a journey into Creativity and Self, and now "Persephone's Lunch" into the Journey of all journeys, the Odyssey of them all. Where are we? Let's consider that Persephone was kidnapped by Hades. While there she ate a pomegranate seed before her mighty dad Zeus found her, and through a deal with the master of ancient underworld she was committed to one third of the year below with kidnapper and two thirds above ground in the warmth with her (mother nature) Demetra. Confused? Pass the pomegranates. I don't know either. We don't know who Persephone is for sure here, or why she wants to do lunch. And wasn't it the sin of eating a seed got her stuck in Hades in the first place? "Persephone's Lunch" is quite delicious enough but who knows what the main course was. A meal of appetizers and desserts? Of charming tease and decadance? I can live on that I guess. Cheers.

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