Dance All-Stars

A Chutzpah! Festival presentation. At the Norman Rothstein Theatre on Thursday, February 22. No remaining performances

In some ways the show title Dance All-Stars was a misnomer: the standouts of the Chutzpah! Festival's mixed program were often the musicians and other artists who provided accompaniment. But the collaborations made for some rare and unexpected juxtapositions.

Local emerging choreographer Alison Denham performed her duet, Lovedone, with Billy Marchenski, while musicians sat on-stage. Boris Sichon trotted out a series of oddly enticing percussion and wind instruments: the eerie, ululations of a yuma-like horn echoed through the hall at one point; at another, a drum evoked waves rolling onto the shore. Eric Wilson played cello, with Raphael and Amnon Seelig from Israel's Eightvoices adding resonant, medieval-sounding vocals to the mix.

Lovedone started out as a contemporary chronicle: Denham and Marchenski clung to each other, but she repeatedly tried to slip out of his embrace. The choreography was almost violently sensual: sometimes she would mount him, legs spread-eagled, feet shaking in ecstasy. But then, in a nice twist, the two donned historical outfits over their street clothes (she, a long velvet robe; he, a jacket with tails), and the choreography suddenly shifted to more traditional lifts and turns, with the music sounding like an old-fashioned dance. The emotionally intense Denham and Marchenski successfully played the formality of her grandparents' simpler era off the casual relationships of contemporary times. As for the soundscape, it added depth and mysticism.

There was more contrast between the accompaniment and the movement in Edmond Kilpatrick's ambitious Haunted. The choreographer was joined on-stage by fellow Ballet B.C. corps member Simone Orlando in a piece about a man's struggle to get over a breakup. It was at first odd to see these true dance stars' balletic grace juxtaposed against the gritty street style of the wildly talented spoken-word-cranked local group the Fugitives. With Mark Berube at the piano, Barbara Adler and Brendan McLeod threw their entire bodies into rapid-fire riffs on sex, obsession, and breaking up. Yet everything coalesced in the third movement, when the Fugitives performed an old-timey blues number revved up by the rhythms of stamping feet and clapping hands: Kilpatrick found an abstract, angular vocabulary that channelled the vibe of the music, while Orlando let loose a groove that seemed to flow straight from her soul.

Elsewhere, I loved Torontonians Roberto Campanella and Robert Glumbek's version of James Kudelka's soudain l'hiver dernier: set to Gavin Bryars's orchestrated take on a tape loop of an elderly homeless person sadly singing “Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet”—over and over—it is a noble, neatly tailored tribute to one man supporting another through hardship. As for Israeli artist Asher Ben Lev's absurdist excerpt from the full-length Avi Cohen, just how do you sum up a guy in tube socks and a headband hyperactively kicking a stuffed dolphin through wine-bottle goal posts to Bjí¶rk-like caterwauling? Like I said, it was an evening of odd juxtapositions—and some were odder than others.