photo by Alejandro Jimenez

A periodic cry, almost a scream, penetrated the performance space as the audience arrived and settled into their seats. It was unsettling, but mostly ignored. Choreographer Daina Ashbee’s Pour– presented by TO Live in association with Native Earth Performing Arts and The Theatre Centre- seemed to begin when a figure (dancer/interpreter Paige Culley) began pacing across the front of the stage, still in total darkness. But it began in earnest when the stage lights flashed on, directed into the audience, giving an overwhelmingly bright whiteout effect that against the white stage floor was nearly unbearable. Culley stood front and centre, naked except for a pair of jeans, staring deeply into an audience that initially squirmed with discomfort but quickly settled into a solemn stillness. You could have heard a pin drop, however the first sound we did hear was the button being popped open on Culley’s jeans, a sound so loud and resonate it reverberated in the room.

Pour is about the relentless cycles of pain, vulnerability, and resilience of women. Culley’s nakedness is used to confront and discomfort the audience. The work stretched time, Culley’s movements around the stage were unhurried, making use of repetition to impart trauma and then a numbing to that trauma. Around the midway point two audience members left, followed by two more. They missed a conclusion that was guttural and primal, repetitive to the point of desensitization, and then boredom. I was glad when it was over. The work was strong and the performance breathtaking, demanding much from both the artist and the audience.