17 January 2020
Jennifer Dallas, Artistic Director of Kẹmi Contemporary Dance Projects, says that she is inspired by choreographers who are playing in the cracks between disciplines. Dallas herself has been able to turn this “playing” into award-winning productions. In Kittly-Bender she successfully brought the worlds of dance and theatrical clowning together on stage, exciting audiences and winning the Dora Mavor Award for Best Female Performance in the dance division in the process. In Known, Kemi Projects’ first show since the success of Kittly-Bender, Dallas writes and choreographs, but turns to collaborators to bring the story to life.
The five characters introduced remain unnamed throughout, so it makes most sense to identify them through their dominant characteristics and aesthetic. Developing these qualities is imperative in order to be a good theatrical clown. All five donned the red nose in this performance. The clowns of Known can be identified as the Queen Clown (Jasmyn Fyffe), the Sprite Clown (Jessie Garon), the Fancy Clown (Jolyane Langlois), the Shy Clown (Sahara Morimoto), and the Troublemaker Clown (Ann Trépanier). Their personas have most certainly been mentored by director John Turner. Turner himself is a both a clown and instructor of clowning, best known as the “Smoot” half of the award winning Canadian clown duo Mump & Smoot, and as the founder and Artistic Director of The Manitoulin Conservatory for Creation and Performance (MCCP).
Watching the evolution of the relationships between these characters is what is most enjoyable about the production. The humour in clowning is found in the exaggerated actions of the character. Every action and reaction is blown out of proportion eliciting joy and laughter. In Known, a simple gathering descends into mirthful mayhem when clowns are coming over. Our hostess tries desperately to keep the evening on track, but her guests don’t seem to want to cooperate.
Troublemaker is definitely the evening’s instigator. Her actions are all in the name of fun, but her fellow party-goers are not all that nice or accepting of her, tending to scold her or turn their backs on her antics. It is easy to empathize with her when she turns to the audience and gives an innocent, questioning look that seems to say, “What did I do?” And she really is the life of the party, encouraging the others to dance raucously around the room, herself channeling Elvis, until each is finally trying to out-do the other. And the oranges, why can’t she just leave the oranges alone!? Oranges are peeled and given out to audience members. Oranges are hidden in pockets. Oranges are greedily devoured on stage with all of the rinds and peels left carelessly behind. After their feast, the guests leave our hostess alone on stage. It seems to be a natural ending to the events of the evening.
However, the show goes on and the levity of the previous two acts changes dramatically. The final act is somber. Four clowns return to the stage, dressed in red and black, with a mournful song on their lips. They are seemingly searching for something in the heavens or honouring their friend. As their song ends, the lights dim and they leave the stage once and for all.
Known is an ambitious production touted as a collision of dance and clowning. Dancers do tend to make wonderful clowns because of their understanding of movement and physical storytelling. Strong performances are further supported by the bright set design created by Cheryl Lalonde and music by sound designers John MacLean and Liam Smith . Vocal coach Fides Krucker mentored the singing and vocalization throughout the production. The dance, the music, and the singing though are all there to showcase the clowning and so Known is most recognizable and enjoyable as a theatrical clown show.
Known is currently playing a sold out run at Artscape Young Space, Intergalactic Arts Collective, until January 18, 2020.