This is one of those crazy weeks when it’s difficult to know what to see. I’m missing the opening concerts of Jan Lisiecki’s mini-festival with the Toronto Symphony, a gala concert from Aprile Millo and the opening of Tapestry Briefs: Booster Shots. But I am a sucker for ambition, and that’s what clinched it. I had to go see the one night of Extensions of Us, a multi-disciplinary recital that I am hoping might lead to more of the same, an attempt to create something genuinely new & original. How could I resist?
The “Us” is a five performer team:
- Two dancer / choreographers:
- Jennifer Nichols
- Justin De Bernardi
- Two singing actors
- Adrian Kramer
- Lucia Cesaroni
- Pianist and music director Mai Nash
No wonder i’m thinking of ambition in a program of extensions, a series of performances where in some sense or other someone is reaching above or beyond. The title probably comes first of all from Nichols’ Extension Room, the large multi-purpose space where the performances were presented tonight, a combination of workout space and dance studio. Many of the pieces were especially wonderful in the way they exploited this long quirky room. Nothing looked average or usual.
The physical elements of the movement and the romantic dimension in the performances all come back to some kind of extension:
• “Son pochi fiori” and “The Cherry Duet” – from L’Amico Fritz by Mascagni
• Traumerei – by Schumann
• Canzoni Napoletane: “Mamma” & “Core ‘Ngrato”
• Arias from Verdi’s La Traviata: “Un di felice”; “È strano…Ah fors’e` lui…Sempre libera!” and “De miei bollenti spiriti”
• “Rejoice, beloved” – from The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky
• Variations for the Healing of Arinushka – by Avro Part
• La Dame de Monte Carlo – by Francis Poulenc
• La Séparation – Nocturne in F by Mikhail Glinka
• Scenes from West Side Story by Bernstein: “Dance at the Gym”; “One hand one heart”; “Maria”;”Tonight”
It’s a mixed program in several different idioms. The Schumann, Glinka & Pärt were perhaps the most recognizably conventional, in the combination of an eloquent piano solo from Nash with dance. In many of the others, the relationships of the parts are wonderfully problematic. When we’re watching a pair of singers in a scene such as the one from La traviata and two dancers are also involved, it’s not clear what we’re seeing.
As Cesaroni, portraying Violetta, sings of her dream of love, and we see Nichols & De Bernardi dancing, are we seeing Violetta’s dream enacted? Is Nichols also Violetta at this moment?
I was especially moved by the Poulenc, a flamboyant solo by Cesaroni , illuminated by Nichols’ dance. This is a very daring piece of work, a kind of negative virtuosity, where Nichols illustrates a very precarious existence, literally balanced on the edge of falling. She’s a negative image of the singer, taking us to psychological depths that are only implicit or shadows of the surface we experience in the text of the song. Nichols’ willingness to allow herself to be by turns contorted or grotesquely exposed takes her movement beyond mere dance. This is the obverse of the usual in ballet or dance recitals, when the performers are all so uniformly beautiful that one comes to demand beauty at every turn, and where the expectation of virtuosity that is a kind of display tyrannizes the performers, requiring spectacular physicality and beauty. It’s also nicely transgressive to see non-dancers dancing.
I’m not quite sure what to call this. Is it a recital? A multi-media piece or a series of pieces? The broad mixture of styles of presentation are inevitable with the eclectic program. While Cesaroni & Kramer crossed the disciplinary boundary (as they not only sang but were choreographed a bit), neither dancer sang or spoke. It will be interesting to see if they’ll go further next time. I do hope we’ll see more from this group. Hm, notice that I keep referring to them with a pronoun. Maybe next time their group will have a name.
But there must be a next time!