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Flash Fringe Journal, 8-24:From the Sublime to the 'Sucky'
Pulling the Canadian Flag Out of Uncle Sam's Panties, and Other Tricks and Tours de Force at fFida

By Shena Wilson
Copyright 2001 Shena Wilson

TORONTO -- Fido, fFida, ditto, gotta. Fido went to fFida; ditto ya gotta. And if you're wearing wings, combat boots, being tossed across the room and eating a fresh rose: yer in the fFida groove. In the fall of 1990, dance artists Allen Kaeja and Michael Menegon attended a dance festival in Venezuela and were dismayed by the omnipresence of a certain presenter and groups of his artists. Too many would forcibly not be seen or molded to conform. So, in 1991 Kaeja and Menegon founded the fringe Festival for Independent Dance Artists (fFida). Despite initial resistance, fFida has remained non-curated. It now offers new categories and off-site shows such as the Open Faces Series for new Choreographers. An equal number of home-grown and international independent choreographers are accepted. The Mainstage Series A to P, for those with five years plus pro experience, is at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a.k.a. Buddies, where the Rainbow flag -- and everything else imaginable -- flies proud. There's a three-show run for each series of two to five pieces and a short film, all in about an hour.

Downtown Toronto fFida shows everything from high contemporary to gutsy ethnic and, I'm ready to admit I'm bit of a fFida junkie. At funky fFida, non-curated and selection by lottery actually means that no matter which series you stumble into you're a) not disappointed and b) guaranteed a seriously eclectic loot bag of movement on the boards. I trundle off annually to see raw dance gems, the odd mediocre thingy, and the delightfully inevitable: Oh good heavens Mabel, what the hell was that? Several of the pieces I saw merit full flash treatment with wine and dessert. What follows is an aperitif, a mini-journal of parts of the ten series I saw at the Mainstage (E, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, O, P).

I had the opportunity to interview Sasha Ivanochko and Allen Kaeja about their pieces, "The King and Qeen of Hearts" and "Descent," respectively. Other faves: Marie-Josee Chartier, Motoko Kuriyama and Yoshie Kurita, Tokyo Dance Collective, Keith Morino, Mitch Kirsch, !move dancetheatre, Nicole Fougere, Naoko Murakoshi, Malgorzata Nowacka, Jody Sperling, and Nicola Pantin.

Allen Kaeja's "Descent," commissioned and performed by Toronto-based Montrealer Marie-Josee Chartier, is springy, and quirky, with an undertone of beautiful-creature fascination. It's like pretty bugs emerging from under a garden stone. Chartier wears long poles, like antennae or wings, and emerges from the sky, an angel to become terrestrial, troll the earth like a giant preying mantis and dutifully regain flight back to the sun. "Descent" is a study in the key of being a creature, however winged or weird you are. Kaeja, who has the best hearty laugh I've heard in ages, explained that the creative team had considered time, space and emotion in the esoteric activity of a descending angel. Composer, choreographer and dancer worked in tandem for three rehearsal sections, adding the antennae in the second, while throughout composer John Sherlock scribbled on his unusual meter-long strip of notes. For me, the end result was surreal, disjointed and gorgeously numbing, to the point that at the end I didn't even look away as the sun brightened blindingly: I was poised to follow the creature back.

While in "Descent" Chartier is an angel-like being, spread into time and imagination, untouchable, ethereal, and empowered, in her own piece "Sous nos yeux" (under our eyes), she is trapped on earth, helpless. This courageous piece explores our powerlessness when faced with death. These are Chartier's first performances since losing her husband to leukemia. Disarmed and stunned when faced with such pain, she shows us what grief did to her with the peaceful grace of someone that has lived and can now share with wisdom. And in cycles of speech and motion: symbolic cutting of limbs, staccato movement. She speaks phrases: "an old man is stumbling down a staircase"; "a dog is beaten"; "je me sens etourdie" (I feel dazed); "changer le mal de place" (remove the evil); "se faire du mauvais sang" (literally: to make bad blood, i.e. to worry); "l'amour ne meurt pas" (love does not die) and "la mort ne meurt pas" (death does not die). I really relate to this raw and refined exploration of loosing someone. Condolences, and a heartfelt bravo.

Sasha Ivanochko started "The King and Queen of Ruins" with images from a series of nightmares about falling apart, being dismembered. I was first drawn to the piece because a) I enjoy and admire Ivanochko, and b) because I happen to be writing something based on one of my own dreams. Ivanochko searched for "unwillful and scary" movement, he told me, as opposed to "charging through space with power" and managed to capture elusive fears and calm crazy angst with an absolutely new vocabulary of movement. I forgot I was in the theatre. It was otherworldly, eerie, disjointed, fascinating, and worrisome. Shadow. Two dancers: Black dress with sheer top for Sasha Ivanochko; black trousers, red simple shirt for the excellent Elijah Brown.

Composer Catherine Thompson recorded a hum of a radiator or machine while inside a closet somewhere in the University of Toronto. She plays with hangers, a tinkling chime; with singing criss-crossing a distant piano; an eerie clink of tea-cups; and even a passing bell-song of an ice-cream truck. The dancers are often upside down; a suitably fragile and vulnerable position. I marvelled at her and Elijah Brown's ability to crumble and regain total control in a half-instant. They used the image of rotting and that of ivy growing upwards, which, she noted, destroys the thing to which it clings -- just like any of our wilfully hidden fears, I mused.

Ivanochko imagined the two people as one and thought of Tarot cards. Prompted by the words King and Queen, I thought of chess pieces. Maybe they're pawns, posed, removed and guided by an omnipotent invisible hand, as we are moved by mysterious powers of our unconscious? With a doll-like somnolence, their solitary-nature adds creepiness. I think any collaboration between the two would have shifted the whole focus. Ivanochko invited a rehearsal director who suggested removing a section of jumps and agreed that this made the piece more suitably homogenous. While she did not want the piece to be overwhelmingly dark, she was willing to take the risk. It was expertly navigated and I look forward to more of this already engaging, so-called "work-in-development."

"Ai-o-Sora" (The Blue Sky) is a gem by Motoko Kuriyama and Yoshie Kurita, from Japan. Delivered with professional aplomb, it is a very communicative and warm experience. Kurita provides live vocal music in poetic Japanese, while she and choreographer Kuriyama dance in front of intriguing images. I did not understand a single word of this discussion of "sky or space" and of the effect of the colour blue and yet wanted more. Ai-o-Sora is a gorgeous example of the power of dance and image to seamlessly transcend cultures.

Apparently, only ten people or so throughout the world have experienced perpetual sleeplessness and all share one common trait: a profound sense of loss. Thanks to a painful injury that spiralled into a crazy cycle of insomnia a few years ago, I recognised instantly this odd anxiety in the world premier by Tokyo Dance Collective, "Somniatosis - Sen no Nemuri." With alternate rushing and pausing in fluid motion, yet not in a cliche ghostly drift, the sleepless gather to explore the world of dreams that we take for granted. Danced to a very beautiful live score by Hiroshi Tamura of Tamuran music, this is an aesthetically rich and coherent piece, despite the simultaneous use of image and dance, which I often find boring or overwhelming.

Mitch Kirsch presented a contemporary duet, "Tata Blablabla," to ethereal live tabla music by Ed Hanley. Strong dancing by Megan Andrews and Justine Chambers. Gorgeous to watch. Dance for dance sake. Rachel Thorne Germond gave me a giggle with the thought-provoking "Variations on E," an androgynous spoof on the Elvis pelvis. There was amazing synchronicity of the dancers during the tricky, er, sawing wood section in her piece "Rejoinder." "Forgiving the Unsaid," created and performed by Nicole Fougere is a well-crafted fable about mother-earth, loving and listening. I was wary of this one for its wild potential for cliche and much mention of Fougere's balancing a piece of wood on her head. In the end, I was won over by her talent and non-pretentious presentation.

Clever Jody Sperling went from Mermaid to Wonderwoman. "Washed Up" was clear, fun, original and after all this soul-searching the ever-popular "Trapeze Disrobing Act" (previously reviewed by The Dance Insider in New York) was a treat. The dead-pan delivery, dexterity and darn funny idea of going from parka to bikini via tuxedo, fatigues and a flouncy gown, while dangling on a trapeze was genius. Unfurling a large Canadian flag deftly tucked in the back of star-spangled panties has more political undertones than I care to consider, but it's a kick-ass finale. "Northern Ale" is two hic drunks stackin' rocks in the great Canadian North. Energetically given by Sunny Dixon and Stephanie Thompson of !move dancetheatre, it's quite funny and made me want to get out there, grab a brew, fling around and stack rocks with the girls. Good work, eh.

Malgorzata Nowacka/The Chimera Project presentsed "I Can Almost" and "Empty?" This is strong visuals, muscle and speed territory: La la la Human Steps goes soft-Goth. Fluid, strong dancing from Nowacka, and Tim Spronk. And in "Empty?," William Yong and Johanna Bergfeldt dance with such clarity and energy that it all looks staggeringly simple. I enjoyed the vibe. I could have done without the overt Eve in the Garden imagery and would have liked the intriguing flower petals further explored. Either lots more petals, or none, would free things up to focus on guts or relationship in this fine piece. Encore!

Anthony Morgan gave me something real to ponder in "Tears for the Seventh Generation" as he romanced a dangling plastic globe, challenged it to fight and eventually left it draped in toilet paper. Belly dancer Yasmina Ramzy wiggled my world with sex appeal and grace, and her troupe of beautiful and completely synchronised young women is a joy. Keith Morino, a Canadian now in Spain, had me from the first instant with "The Fall." Morino looked at falling, and, er, getting back up again. Yes. Simple in theory but executed with unpredictable wit and energy. "Mergers and Acquisitions" by Jon Zimmerman, Nicola Pantin/3 Degrees Dance & Theatre with "Little Freedoms Part IV," and NYC's Ellis Wood's work, all in Series P, get hearty applause for entirely fine stuff and a wow for innovation.

While I will not go out of my way to say something sucked, I have a couple of examples of what's baffling and yet endearing about fFida. In "Open Season on Blood Organs," dancer-choreographer Kate Story winds up and down a ladder wearing a tensor bandage halter and puffy white skirt, with a glowing 'organ' dangling nearby and spin-doc composer-violinist making music nearby. In this dim, monotone ambiance, interest eluded me and my highschool days (same qualifiers apply) popped to mind. It's the type of work that seems to suggest you must be too stupid to relate. Remember the weirder-than-thou, total genius fellow student who suddenly whispers: 'Psst, have you ever touched your lungs?' Same deal for "Open Season" and the -- you figure it out for us -- Deer Project by Darcey Callison/Da Collision. Help me understand these pieces, or why I'd want to touch my lungs and I'll re-consider. Kooky: yay. But monotone and crackers on every possible level: nay.

Back by popular demand, the hors series T, techies and technology, was wittily presented by the crew at the end of the festival to poke fun at the fest. And, new this year was Michael Menegon's smart idea to have the inimitable, generous Peggy Baker teach open class for five mornings on the stage at Buddies. Reassured by a performer friend that this was indeed open-class and a warm experience, I ventured to two classes. The stamp on my forehead read: fifteen years is a long time ago kiddo/ ballet can harm your modern's health. Never mind, I maintained my personal mandate of staying out of the darn way when wigged-out by the exceptional talent there and I loved hearing Baker describe underpinnings of her movement: It's all about process and all interesting, even if not (ahem) immediately perfect. Michael Menegon, uber-talented, drummed for the classes, had performed his Beat Suit Projects piece, Speedin' in Eden, and directed the festival. And people say I'm busy....

This is the largest fFida yet. Just this year, fFida co-founder Allen Kaeja handed the reigns to another in order to focus more on his company Kaeja Dance, and has since secured a five-month gig and a couple of films for his dancers. To my mind, this is just one example of positive run-off from fFida: success that will point towards more well-deserved recognition for independent dance.

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