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originally published April 2008



A line in the press release read, “it is abandoned and joyful, intimate and tender,” not only is “it” those things but it’s also touted as “flirting with obscenity” and “notoriously adventurous,” the latter from Toronto Life magazine. With all those condensed words in just the opening paragraph, instantly you would think – this is a show that has to be seen.

So what is “it”? It’s a show that’s been travelling abroad and through Canada that included a stop at the LSPU Hall. Neighbourhood Dance Works made the jump to bring /DANCE/SONGS/ to St. John’s in partnership with a Toronto based production company. The show is the latest creation of Artistic Director Ame Henderson who has worked with under Public Recordings which she created “in 2004 as a vehicle for the production and dissemination of performance work of an interdisciplinary nature.”

It’s a perfect fit for Henderson who says that /DANCE/SONGS/ is “a dance in the shape of a rock show,” which sounds like something Bjork would think up. The clash of two typically dissimilar art mediums that are separated by their differences; and sure enough when I was presented with the visual feast it was indeed a clash of sound, dance, and video but there was some twisted beauty within that complete chaos. Henderson has combined them because of their differences, disrupting “the dance concert with wit, energy and excess,” just like a good ‘n proper rock show.

There certainly had to be a lot of pent up energy in the performers. The show features Chad Dembski, who was nominated for a Dora Award for Best Performance, along with Claudia Fancello, from Montreal who has worked on a number of Henderson’s shows. Rounding out the cast very distinctly is Matija Ferlin who is originally from Berlin, Germany and seemed to be meant for /DANCE/SONGS/. It is without question a physically demanding performance leaving its cast looking as though they’d been put through the ringer by the end. Smiling between each song, it’s evident that they love what they’ve created and snap into other versions of themselves immediately at the first tone, note, or noise of the soundscape behind the next performance.

Henderson also recruited Eric Craven. He’s the guy behind the music – ever so important for a show based in dance shaped like a rock concert. That was recognized by the Toronto Alliance for the Performance Arts at the 2006 Dora Awards, where Craven got a nomination for his contributions to /DANCE/SONGS/. Some parts of the soundscape had touches of a Daft Punk flavour which really worked for me as well as the more mellow pieces and the interesting ways that sound was used. A mic being put entirely in one performer’s mouth to make a repeating and rather grotesque noise is one example coming to mind. Admittedly, part of me was distracted thinking about how unsanitary that was.

If there was any critique to be made it would stem from that wondering of my thoughts in that there were perhaps some things that carried on for a little too long. It would be fair to say that /DANCE/SONGS/ is not for everyone. It is a show that is more interpretive than most, even for a dance production. It was incredibly organic which really worked for the show and there were times that it was difficult to determine if the performers were either constantly in character or if they were all just really being themselves as members of a band would be. Sometimes it seemed like something that was a living art piece, like I was really in an art gallery, not a theatre.

A highlight was a piece introduced as Milk Carton, which seemed to have the most dictated ‘story’ being told in the song. It was communicating the idea of being lost, missing people on the sides of milk cartons. Also of note was the piece where the three performers did yoga-like manoeuvring up against the raw back wall which was flooded with a live video close up shot of what was going on. In fact the live video was consistently interesting and almost added a fourth presence on stage. Daniel Arcé, who directed the live shots, added a new dimension by showing the audience things up close and extremely personal.

The show is meant to be that way and Ferlin directly spoke to the idea of personal space before introducing a piece at one point. Not to mention the fact that the stage was set up in a round with seats on the sides as well as in front and as if that wasn’t getting close enough, the performers told everyone to pull their seats up as close as possible for the encore. It without a doubt gave a different experience being closer and did make it all the more interesting.

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August 2020
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