Choreography by Alvin Erasga Tolentino. A Scotiabank Dance Centre, Co. ERASGA, and Dancing on the Edge copresentation. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Friday, July 15. No remaining performances
In some ways, the world premiere of OrienTik/Portrait marks the beginning of the end of an era for choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino. His residency at the Scotiabank Dance Centre has largely worked toward this duet with Toronto's Andrea Nann, accompanied by percussionist Eileen Kage and pianist Alison Nishihara.
OrienTik/Portrait is a rich, almost formal exploration of what it means to be Asian and Canadian; all four performers have roots in what was once called the Orient. Although the choreography might feel ceremonial, it isn't stiff. Nann, who has collaborated with author Michael Ondaatje in the past, is a captivating and talented contemporary dancer. She spent a decade and a half with Toronto's innovative Danny Grossman Dance Company. In OrienTik/Portrait, Nann balances Tolentino exceptionally well: they're his movements, but she owns them.
In the first duet, Co. ERASGA founder Tolentino and Nann move across the stage in careful geometric patterns. He proceeds to perform a solo to Kage's drumming, moving his hands frantically in front of his face as if playing stringless cat's cradle. After Nann's solo, the pair reconnect to perform a beautiful, balletic duet, arching their backs and splaying their arms as if their chests were magnetically drawn to the ceiling.
Partly because of these varied vignettes, OrienTik/Portrait feels like it is made up of many works sewn together. Granted, this could be an exploration of the many facets of Asia: Tad Ermitano's accompanying video installation uses Chinese script, and Kage's taiko drumming is a traditional Japanese percussion form.
With designs by Catherine Soucie and Janet Dundas, OrienTik/Portrait has as many costume changes as a Cher concert. They range, like the choreography itself, from the traditionally inspired (cream-coloured, ankle-length skirts and sleeveless tops) to the truly modern (Nann's slinky, ruffled dress).
Tolentino is known for his hybrid works. In the video installation, a hand paints the Chinese characters for metal, water, wind, wood, and fire. It plays a relatively small role in the piece-taking up only a few minutes near the end while the stage is dark and motionless-but it's memorable. Scotland native James Proudfoot adds another dimension with his lighting design. At the end of OrienTik/Portrait, two square spotlights scroll across the theatre, as if opening up the forum for discussion.
The predictable climax sees Kage place an eye-level drum in the middle of the stage so the audience can see her sticks dance on the skin. It's as fascinating to watch her perform as it is to watch the dancers; her work seems almost as physically demanding. Tolentino and Nann move on either side of Kage, clanging on haphazardly placed cymbals, while Nishihara breaks into a frenetic piece. This finale doesn't feel chaotic, but rather very well choreographed.
Tolentino will perform OrienTik/Portrait this fall in Belgium, France, and Spain. Although the premiere signifies the final stage of the choreographer's time as artist in residence, it also marks the beginning of what should be a long, prosperous life for his dynamic creation.