Beautiful Man
Beautiful Man

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Created and performed by Freye Björg Olafson, Hyper is a conceptual dance piece, incorporating projected videos, pictures, and even a little bit of 3-D. Different dance routines are choreographed to form a kind of narrative. We see her first in the flesh, wearing a simple black dress, and performing a playful and seductive dance. Subsequent dance routines involve her wearing a full-body costume outlining the musculature of the human body, and finally a skeleton costume under blacklight. These routines are peppered in between other videos depicting various methods of bodily manipulation: hypnosis, meditation, and the Skinner Release Technique. I have to admit that I don’t know much about reviewing dance, though as a layperson I found this exploration (and dissection) of the body’s physique at times funny, sometimes absurd, at time erotic, and always mesmerizing. Definitely a great pick!

Performance About A Woman (A)
I sometimes feel weird about reviewing works in progress, because they aren’t meant to be taken as finished products, and yet it’s all I have to go on. To complicate things further, Performance About A Woman is designed to be a perpetual work-in-progress which explores identity, the nature of performance, and the liminal space in between. The piece incorporates improvised dance, stand-up comedy, and fictionalized biography – but these are just the pieces. Liz Peterson manages to weave these pieces into a remarkably vulnerable, hilarious, charming, and honest experience in the lobby of the Theatre Centre. “May I make sustained eye contact with you?” she asks. The audience murmurs with laughter. “Yes, yes, well it’s like this!” she claims excitedly, attempting to create an improvisational dance move to represent her particular experience of you. “It’s like… it’s like floating,” she says, stretching her limbs as far as she can in every direction. “Except…. I can’t float,” she says, collapsing and catching her breath.

Audience interaction is an integral part of the piece, exploring the ways in which not only this particular performance but identity itself is socially mediated. Peterson’s performance combines an interesting paradox: it’s vulnerable in places, but due to the fictionalization of her biographic details, it’s not clear which parts are really her, and which parts are fiction, and how much that matters when we think of how we’re perceiving her. Is she acting, or is she confessing? Yet Peterson possesses this rare quality in an actor that allows her to be present and intimate even while she’s being playful and evasive, and that alone makes this play something you want to see. Overall, this play is partly intellectual, and wholly entertaining, and unexpectedly touching: this is a piece of theatre I will probably continue mulling over for a long time to come.

Beautiful Man (A-)
If you’re frustrated with the ubiquitous depictions of sexualized violence against women in pop culture, Erin Shield’s new play Beautiful Man is something you need to see. The play turns pop culture on its head: here we see three women in white, at a salon (and then other locations, including a gym) discussing their favourite crime drama. But the story is about stories within stories. The start by discussing the hero: a woman cop, who, after a fight with her fiancé, winds up watching a Game of Thrones-eque television show in which Amazon queens have male slaves. In this show, the queen is also watching a play, in which men are also exploited and oppressed.

The play was packed, and the entire audience – including myself – was doubled over in laughter for much of it. It presents us with a kind of thought experiment in which we imagine a world where men are treated the way we see women treated all the time: objectified, used as props for narratives instead of being important characters in their own right, and being exploited constantly as victims of not just violence but sexualized violence. The effect is both funny and sad. The humour is mostly a result of the cognitive dissonance we experience. Men simply aren’t treated like this, and so the men seem intensely feminized, reminding us how normal it is for us to see women in these positions. The absurdity of the violence is also magnified in this context, reminding us that it is, in fact, spectacle and exploitation, rather than contributing to the ‘reality’ of the fictionalized world.

Anusree Roy, Ava Markus, and Melissa D’Agostino are all brilliant as the three main characters– their banter is lively and realistic, and portraying both earnestness and irony with great comic timing. Brett Donahue as the Beautiful Man is on stage the entire time, mostly on display, and provides a delightful visual of the moments that the ladies are gossiping about. He has almost no lines – maybe five – but they are all exactly on point and provide excellent punctuation for the main story. (Do you see what Shields did there?)

It’s worth noting that one needs a good familiarity of both crime drama (hard to miss due to its ubiquity these days) and also Game of Thrones to really appreciate this production. My date has not watched GoT and so a lot of the references eluded him. There were points where I was getting confused with the layering of all the stories, and it strikes me that the play might benefit from some more editing (cutting ten or fifteen minutes off this sort of thing might make it even stronger). I got a bit lost during the discussion of the puppet show, for example, and I would have liked more of a resolution at the end. But these considerations aside, this show is a definite must-see!

Ramble (B+)
‘How does one dance an old dance in a new place?’ asks the front of Ramble’s program. Aimée Dawn Robinson’s dance piece attempts an answer. It is a collaborative work, involving dance, music (K Scott Maynard) and live video mixing (Renée Lear). This is an outdoor dance that is being performed indoors, as well as a dance that is improvised each time she performs. The performance explores, amongst other things, the ways in which one’s environment can shape, limit, and inspire movement, the ways in which our movement can at times be in harmony with, and at odds with, the structures that surround us. But really this is also a collaborative improvisation, bringing together a sense of unity but also of play, and the ways in which we affect and move each other. A very communal experience indeed.

Lac Athabasca (B-)
Directed by Len Falkenstein, Lac/Athabasca was inspired by the disaster in Lac Mégnantic. The play is an attempt to view the particular events that took place as having wider significance than their own historical particularity. In other words, the events are representative of a larger story, and the show is something between historical fiction and creative non-fiction. The story brings these threads together to explore the ways in which we are severed from ourselves and our environment, pitting us against it, and us against ourselves. The narrative is strong at points, weak in others, at times turning itself into a bit of a morality play. Aside from this, the story might have been stronger if it didn’t feel like a lot of the actors were alternately reaching for and swallowing their lines, often failing to connect with each other and the audience. The best scene of the show though is strong, and depicts a sincere moment of connection between a struggling worker and a stripper dancing her way out of debt. Moreover the concept behind the play is deeply relevant, the first performance being on the day when Rolling Stone released a story about the ever-worsening effects of climate change. The play is pushing a very timely question, namely: when will we figure out that the monster in pursuit of us is ourselves?