Retro musicals fire up Volcano at the Dancing on the Edge fest

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      With Volcano, dance artist Liz Kinoshita uses the language of a bygone time to express the here and now.

      The Toronto-born, Belgium-based choreographer draws on the song and dance styles of old musicals. But listen to the lyrics closely, and lose yourself in the shifting tempos of the fancy footwork, and you’ll realize Volcano is a clever meditation on the rush of our modern world.

      “The ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s—there are so many movies in that era that I could watch again and again,” she tells the Straight from a tour stop in Stuttgart, where her troupe is performing before heading back to Belgium and then over to Toronto and later Vancouver for Dancing on the Edge. “I, as a contemporary performer, can really appreciate them, to see how the timing and the weight shifts, and to watch these genius performers. They’ve really stood the test of time.”

      Part of her fascination with old movie musicals stems from the fact that, at the height of the form in the 1940s, a war was raging, and yet was barely mentioned in the day’s upbeat flicks—a fact she attributes less to simple escapism than to a mutual understanding with the audience that the world was on fire.

      In the studio, she started working with the vernacular in her own ways. Composing their own musical-style songs, her collaborating artists started expressing contemporary concerns in the classically rhyming lyrics. What emerges again and again in their words is the hectic pace of their globetrotting lifestyles—“A suitcase is all I need,” “Got to get out of the air!” Meanwhile, Kinoshita also started playing with tap dance and shifts in tempo, experimenting with the effects of speeding up the footwork and slowing it down.

      Playing out on a spare stage in dim light, removed from the high polish and grand sets of cinema, Volcano ends up striking an intimate, sometimes hauntingly contemplative tone.

      Volcano by Liz Kinoshita.
      Giannina Urmeneta

      And the title? Kinoshita bases it on her own experience of shifting tempos as an always-on-the-go travelling artist. Her busy touring schedule came to a grinding halt in Oslo when Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano, erupted in March 2010. Because it caused mass cancellations across European skies—the largest disruption of air travel since World War II—she and her troupe had to resort to a long, slow ferry ride back to Brussels for a performance.

      “It was a kind of beautiful moment, rather than getting on another airplane, to be on the open seas and have the skies above you,” she recalls. “And I remember being on the deck and really feeling like I was shifting gears. It was a minihiatus; it was a kind of suspension of time rather than an interruption—and we’re interrupted all the time these days.”

      But like the rest of the work, the title is not meant to be taken too literally. You could say the eruptions it refers to are the ones that happen through the hours and days of our lives.

      “It’s really about taking into consideration the ebb and flow of the performance,” Kinoshita hints. “It’s how we treat time, and how we take time.”

      Dancing on the Edge presents Volcano at the Firehall Arts Centre on Wednesday and Friday (July 11 and 13).